Tortellini Florentine Soup

By: Azure Stilwell

tortellini-soup

In honor of Fall, I have decided to post one of my favorite soup recipes. Given to us by a friend, we have tweaked it a little to make a lighter version. It has become a Fall staple in our home. You get the same great flavors with less fat and sodium. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 9-oz package refrigerated 3-cheese tortellini
  • 2 14-oz cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 10-oz container refrigerated light Alfredo Pasta Sauce (found at Publix or shelved if another store)
  • 2 cups shredded deli-roasted rotisserie chicken (remove skin)
  • 3 cups baby spinach (we like to use a 50/50 Spinach-Kale mix)
  • ½ cup sundried tomatoes (cut in half if you want smaller chunks)
  • 1 oz of grated parmesan cheese (fresh has a more potent flavor so you use less)
  • 1 loaf of crusty Italian Bread

Directions:

  1. In a big pot, cook tortellini according to package directions. Then drain and set aside.
  2. In the same pot, combine broth and alfredo sauce. Stir in chicken and tomato strips. Heat just to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes.
  3. Add cooked tortellini and spinach to chicken mixture, cook for 1 to 3 minutes to heat through and wilt spinach.
  4. To serve, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and break off a hunk of Italian bread.

Yields 6 servings. Great for freezing so you may want to double recipe.

This Year, I’m Going to Make Fifty Nifty

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

happy birthday

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.

– Oprah Winfrey

This month, I’ll be turning 50. The big five-oh. The ultimate F word. Vintage 1966, limited edition, genuine original parts. Five perfect 10s.

Heck, I’m still amazed to be around after that aneurysm rupture. I’m just now starting to feel strong again and more like me. So instead of mourning the passing of my youth, I’m going to celebrate. All year long. I’ve even got a list of 50 things I want to do now that I’m fifty. It’s not a “bucket list,” per se, more of a “ways to celebrate” and/or “things I want to do” before I turn 51.

  1. Get back up to 10k steps a day.
  2. Visit Edisto. (How have I never been?!)
  3. Go to the Chihuly Exhibit in Atlanta.
  4. Go to a college football game. It’s been years since I tailgated.
  5. Get a pair of invisible glasses so the world can see my eyes again.
  6. Go horseback riding.
  7. Hold a snake.
  8. Finally paint my bedroom a soft Tiffany blue.
  9. Camp out.
  10. Give up social media and electronics one weekend a month.
  11. Kiss a stranger.
  12. Get back to doing “hanging abs” at the gym.
  13. Get a digital eye exam so for once, I won’t second guess “which is better, one or (click click click) two.
  14. Visit an old friend.
  15. Scatter Jessie the Cat’s ashes on Pickett Street.
  16. Volunteer for a non-environmental cause that I love.
  17. Learn to shag well enough that I can do it sober.
  18. Plant something and watch it grow.
  19. Take some type of an art class.
  20. Take those electronic guitar lessons that Beth gave me for Christmas.
  21. Compile a new “hearts” print.
  22. Get down to my (revised) goal weight.
  23. Skinny dip.
  24. Learn to knit and/or crochet so I can be a yarn bomber!
  25. Pick one of my many pinned projects on Pinterest and make it a reality.
  26. Take a huge leap of faith. Subject undefined, but do something without a safety net.
  27. Be a tourist in my own town one weekend. Go to the places people come to Columbia to do and see, like the Zoo. Also go to at least one place that I’ve never been before.
  28. Read The Stand by Stephen King. All the way through this time.
  29. Replace the “orester” on the back of my car with a new chrome name plate, or at least an F.
  30. Make a special 50 mug at Mad Platter.
  31. When I splurge, let it be on something wicked good, not a box of every day cookies or vanilla anything.
  32. Get to know our neighbors.
  33. Create a fairy garden.
  34. Donate blood.
  35. Kayak on a local river.
  36. Earn the Toastmasters “Table Topic” of the day award.
  37. Go tubing on a local river.
  38. Take a hike.
  39. Visit Pretty Place in the Upstate.
  40. Dance at the Greek Festival. (Last year, I was too dizzy!)
  41. Celebrate the New Year.
  42. Up my shoe game.
  43. Sing at church (instead of mumbling and mouthing.)
  44. Learn a magic trick.
  45. Have coffee with someone new once a month.
  46. Have coffee by myself once a month.
  47. Clean and organize the cargo area of my car.
  48. Go bird watching.
  49. Have lunch at The Dixie in Greenwood, SC, the town where I grew up.
  50. Take more bubble baths.

Don’t Ever Say ‘No’ to a Life Experience

By: Stacy Thompson

antarctica

Antarctica

I once read an article about a study by Cornell University psychology professor Dr. Thomas Gilovich in which he noted “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation.” Meaning, although buying material things will provide initial happiness and excitement, the feeling fades through time as one becomes accustomed to the new object and then seeks to move on to the next material thing. (Anyone else singing Madonna’s “Material Girl” in her head?) To contrast, Dr. Gilovich’s study indicated that over time, those who spent money on experiences noted increased satisfaction and reported that the experiences became an ingrained part of the person’s identity, and in general fostered greater happiness.

I have traveled not only early on in childhood (moving around with my Army Dad) but since settling in Columbia, my parents have continued to place a premium on creating experiences for us individually and as a family. As the real world has taken over (i.e., jobs, mortgages and other responsibilities), I still believe that breaks from reality through travel are an absolute must – which is why I have for several years repeated to my mother my new mantra, I will never say ‘no’. Yes, it’s a double negative, but it is nothing but positive!

penguins1

Penguins!

Below are some of the experiences that have become a part of me (the international version), and a short list of excursions I highly recommend as additions to your bucket list:

  1. Antarctica – Truly one of the most remote, untouched and amazingly beautiful places on Earth. The coldest, driest, highest and windiest of all continents also boasts fascinating villages of tuxedoed, flightless birds that captivate for hours!
  2. Brazil – Became my second home when I moved there in high school and again during graduate school. I’ve studied there and worked there, but can attest to the fact that there is no place better to actually LIVE. The people are full of love, music, dance and true appreciation for taking each day as it comes.
  3. New Zealand – Trapped in a rental car with your parents for two weeks??? To some it may sound like the perfect nightmare, but for me it was beyond a perfect dream, particularly when that place was the land of the Kiwis. It boasts a gorgeous countryside, charming natives and just enough thrill-seeking (bungee anyone?) to keep you on your toes.
  4. Zambia – A nation within the last continent I had to touch to reach all seven, but the one that touched my heart the most. No touristy stops during my time there, but the dedication of the missionaries living there and the lives they constantly impacted will stay with me forever.

    everest

    Mount Everest

  5. Nepal – Not simply my most challenging trip ever, but one where the people made the adventure even more meaningful. My mom and I hiked on foot from Lukla (the most dangerous airport in the world. Google it, you won’t be disappointed) to Kalapathar, the overlook to Base Camp of Mt. Everest. It took over two weeks to complete the “Mother of All Bonding Experiences.”

Don’t ever say ‘No’ – and may the sum total of your experiences be beyond anything money can buy!

The Birthday

By: Angie Sloan

August 26, 2016. Today, my sweet daughter, Ila, turned three years old. Today, another family lost their daughter to leukemia. She was four. I never met her, but she lived here in birthdaythe Midlands and I’ve followed her story for several months on Facebook. Her name was Kaylin.

Tonight, as we sat around the dinner table, laughing and celebrating little Ila’s big day, I reflected about how Kaylin celebrated her last birthday. I wonder what kind of cake she had? What was her favorite gift? Was she sick then? Did her parents have any idea, as she blew out her candles, that this would be her last birthday? Although I smiled and participated in the festivities with my daughter, my heart was overcome with grief for their Kaylin. I felt such guilt for celebrating. Yes, it is my daughter’s special day, but they lost their little girl. Then I felt equally as guilty for not wholly participating in Ila’s celebration. Did this experience not teach me anything? I should be celebrating each and every moment with the people I love.

I have often wondered how parents and grandparents survive the death of a child. I have mentally tried to put myself in their place. I cannot fathom what they must feel. Just thinking about it makes me physically ill. Do they ever recover? How do they go on with their lives? How do they wake up and get out of the bed in the morning? I imagine everything feels empty. I would be overcome with grief and consumed by sadness. How do they do it? How do they go on living?

Then, I think of the siblings and the friends left behind. The older siblings who were once protective of their little brothers or sisters. How do they cope? And the little ones…do they even understand what’s happening? How do you explain this to their friends? How do you explain death to a child?

My daughter seems to sense that something is “off” with me tonight. She’s curled up in my lap, almost as if to comfort me. She knows. As I hold her in my arms, I am so grateful to have this moment with her. To hold her. To feel her warm breath on my chest. To smell her sweet hair. To look down at her long eyelashes, as my tears fall. And I am thankful to have a healthy little girl. Grateful to have three healthy children. Happy to see my house in disarray, because it’s living proof that they are still here. They are here. They are happy. They are loved. Tonight, as we celebrate her birthday, I am so unbelievably grateful.

Because earlier tonight, someone lost their daughter.

In loving memory of Kaylin. May her family find peace as they grieve for this sweet angel. Please remember that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Share this story. Do what you can to make a difference.

Dear Church Lady

By: Chaunte McClure

dear church lady

Dear Church Lady,

At least 20 years have passed since the day you made a positive impact on my life, but I’ve never taken the time to say thank you. Perhaps you never thought twice about those few moments we shared, somewhere around the spring of 1996, but I’m a firm believer that it’s never too late, while we’re alive, to express gratitude.

When I was a college student visiting home one weekend, our paths crossed while in the parking lot either before or after worship service. I honestly don’t remember what we talked about or if you were just being cordial. I do remember these words: “You know, you’re a beautiful young lady.”

I had what you obviously thought was an unexpected reaction because you gave me an unexpected response. I was surprised to hear such a complement, so blushing, I quickly turned away, too shy to even make eye contact with you. Noticing my response, you said, “I see you don’t take compliments well, do you?”

You were spot on. No, I didn’t take your polite expression well because I wasn’t accustomed to getting compliments about my physical appearance. You were the first person, as far as I can remember, to call me beautiful. As a result, it didn’t take long for me to believe that I am beautiful.

This is not a vain attempt to stroke my ego but an opportunity to say thank you for building my confidence. Thank you for telling me that I’m beautiful.

With a grateful heart,

Chaunte McClure

Thanks to Every Woman blogger Crissie Kirby for inspiring this entry. Read her post To the Mom of the Little Boy in Church.

How to Help a Grieving Parent

As an infant loss mother who has lost two littles ones far too soon, I’ve learned a whole lot about the process of grief and the way this process relates specifically to those parents who have lost a child. It is an incredibly difficult road to walk, but I have found that having comfort-grieving-parentsothers walk alongside of us can be more helpful than anything else.

That being said, there is a reason that parents who have lost children tend to look for other parents who have also lost children as a means of support and encouragement. The reason is that there are some popular habits of well-meaning individuals that can actually trigger great pain for a grieving parents and, because of this, many end up choosing to retreat to a community of people (even across the internet) who they know will be a “safer” option to process with.

I fully believe that knowledge is power in these situations, and I have seen first hand the encouragement and comfort that can come from a group of people who are determined to be courageous in walking this road together, whether they have experienced child loss or not! I wanted to take some time to talk about some of the most popular mistakes individuals can make in trying to comfort a grieving parent and instead offer alternatives that could be much more healing. It is my hope that nobody reading this would ever have to put these four tips into practice, but I know that if the time ever came this advice would be useful.

Tip #1: When in doubt, ask questions.

It is a natural instinct for individuals in our culture to meet traumatic events with logical conclusions. We are a society of problem solvers. I can’t count the number of times people have started infant loss conversations with me by saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” It is immensely difficult to process, as a grieving parent, that your child must have died for a reason. Regardless of your religious beliefs or lack thereof, this is a comment that many grieving parents talk about as being very difficult to swallow. There is no question that anyone who says this is well-meaning. You’d be hard pressed to find an individual who would maliciously speak to a grieving parent about their loss in hopes of causing further pain. My advice, though, is to ask questions rather than offer conclusions or comments about the loss of life. Try opening the conversation by asking, “How are you feeling today?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” This will put the ball into the court of the parent and allow them to share (or not share) what’s going on inside and any specific needs they might have.

Tip #2: Don’t make assumptions about practical ways to help.

This is similar to the advice above, but relates more to the “do something” friends who feel like they are helping most when they are actively serving their grieving friends. These friends are the friends that make the world go round. They are absolutely necessary and they have hearts of gold. If you want to do something to help ease the pain, ask your friend the best way to go about doing that. When we lost our first daughter, our friends started a meal campaign for us where people signed up to bring us food almost every night for a few weeks. The gesture itself was so heartwarming, but I started to realize that I had a hard time getting the meals down, knowing they were brought to me because my child died. On a second note, not everyone feels this way, but cooking is very therapeutic for both me and my husband. I missed working with my hands and I missed how my mind could take a break from the reality of grief as I would delve into a new recipe or experiment with ingredients in the kitchen. When we lost our second child we actually requested that people not bring us meals. We had a few meals show up, but only for the first week or so, and from people who didn’t know we felt this way. Again, the gesture was comforting, but in the end we decided to be vocal and admit that we would rather cook together than be brought a ready made meal. What’s great, though, is that there are so many out there who might love this gesture and everything about it. That’s why my best advice is to ask!

Tip #3: Whatever you do, don’t bring up the conversation about future children.

It’s a natural inclination to wonder what’s next for the grieving parent. This may come as a surprise to you, but we had countless individuals ask us within the first few months of our losses what our thoughts were about moving forward (i.e. with expanding our family). Throughout my experience in processing with other infant loss parents, it seems to be split pretty much down the middle regarding how people feel about timing future children after loss. Some want to get pregnant or adopt right away because it feels right to them to do so, knowing their other child can never be replaced, yet longing to bring another child home. Others want to take their time in the grieving and healing process and wait years and years before even thinking about having another child. Both of these are okay, but this is an extra sensitive topic for the grieving parent. Post-loss, many parents feel a lot of guilt regarding this topic. If they want to get pregnant right away they fear people will judge them for “moving on” too soon, and those that want to wait fear people will judge them for not processing fast enough. Either way, allow the conversation to unfold naturally from the parents’ side, and if it doesn’t, don’t push the topic.

Tip #4: Don’t disappear for fear of doing the wrong thing.

I know these tips can make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells around a friend or family member who has recently (or not so recently) lost an infant or child. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable in these situations. Everyone processes loss so differently, and it’s okay to feel like you have no idea how to help. The worst thing you could do is to disconnect from them for fear of hurting them further. When in doubt, tell them how YOU are feeling! Tell them you want to help but you don’t know what to say. Simply tell them you are so sorry and that you wish you had the words to say to make it better. Sharing YOUR heart with them will help them to feel more comfortable sharing these hard moments back with you. My family is far better off because of our friends and family and their willingness to be vulnerable with us as we were vulnerable with them.

There is much more advice I’d love to give, but we’ll wrap it up with these four tips for helping a grieving parent. Whatever you do, just remember that it takes an entire village of people to support an individual or a family going through infant loss or child loss. It might be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but it will be worth it. Your friend or family member will always remember those who did everything in their power to make an ounce of positive difference.

Necessity, Insanity and The Road Less Traveled

By: Rachel Sircy

If necessity is the mother of invention, then I think that insanity must be invention’s father. Below is a picture of a gluten free chicken pot pie casserole that was invented (sort of) by yours truly in an attempt to recreate a favorite dish from my childhood.

gluten free casserole

The inspiration for this concoction was a casserole that my mother used to make on busy weeknights and that my sisters and I always looked forward to. The casserole consisted of a chicken pot pie-like filling and it had stuffing on top instead of a pie crust. I am not sure where she got her recipe – probably The Pampered Chef. That was her main source for everything culinary in those days. In any case, it seemed easy enough for her and it was just delicious to me.

My version of it looks pretty good if I do say so myself. And it ought to look pretty good since it took me 3 ½ hours to make it. It took 3 ½ hours of mostly active cooking time even using rotisserie chicken as a short cut so that I didn’t have to cook my own chicken. What I would love to tell you is that I got carried away by my own creative genius and just lost track of time, but about halfway through I started to despair. My feet hurt and I wondered what kind of world it would be even if I did make it to the other side. Would the world be one whit bettered by the invention of a gluten free chicken pot pie casserole? Probably not. But here I was, every surface of the tiny galley kitchen in my tiny apartment was covered with food, measuring equipment, pots, pans, mixing bowls…

gluten free casserole

I had to press on and finish for my own sake. I don’t know how soon into the project I realized that I had bitten off (so to speak) more than I could chew. I think I told my husband pretty early on that he should go get us something to eat and that the baby could have a peanut butter sandwich for dinner.

gluten free casserole

gluten free casserole

gluten free casserole

You might wonder what would make such a simple-looking casserole dish take so long and cause a grown woman to despair of life and her aching feet. The answer to that question is precisely why I chose to tell this seemingly pointless story of domestic failure. The answer to that question is that living and cooking gluten free is HARD. A lot of gluten free literature will tell you that gluten free living doesn’t have to be hard and that you can have (almost) all your old favorites, just in new forms. And I appreciate what that literature is trying to do. It is trying to keep newly-diagnosed celiacs from curling up into the fetal position and weeping. Most newly diagnosed celiacs will do that at some point anyway – say – the first time a loved one eats a hot Krispy Kreme doughnut in front of you and says, “Wow, this is so good. I mean, like SO good. Do you want…oh no, you can’t have any. Sorry.”

It’s hard to live without the things that you love and have grown accustomed to. And the truth is, you just can’t have all your old favorites in new forms. No matter how many GF doughnuts you unwrap and thaw, you’re not going to get that same airy, fatty, perfectly textured doughnut that you once took for granted. And celiac disease can make you feel lost in the kitchen, even if you once knew your way around pretty well. All your old short cuts and easy substitutions are suddenly gone. For the first few years, it feels like you are reinventing the wheel every time you attempt to put any kind of a meal together. I used to have a small, but tried and true repertoire of dishes that I loved both to cook and eat. I loved inviting people over for dinner and feeling like I had nailed the meal. But when I got my diagnosis and the very, very long list of things that I could no longer eat, I panicked. It was as if I had suddenly lost my sight and was going to have to figure out how to navigate the world in total darkness. For my first few years, I clung desperately to a cartoonish picture of a healthy plate that a dietician had given me. She had said to take the starches and grains you know are safe and just insert them into this picture. So we had rice and boiled potatoes with every meal for longer than I care to remember. I used to really like rice and boiled potatoes. But I got to a place where I was eating just to survive. All the food that I loved seemed off limits to me. Even acceptable foods could not be cooked the way that I used to cook them, the way that I used to like them. So, eating became another chore to be checked off at the end of the day. Sometimes I even ate vitamin-fortified, gluten free cereal instead of having to chew my way through one more tasteless meal.

But, to any new celiac out there reading this, things get better. Not easier, but better. I made a pretty good casserole. It didn’t taste like Mom’s, but that is both bad and good. In some ways, it tasted better. My mom used to make this stuff using canned chicken, canned vegetables, canned cream of chicken soup and Stove Top stuffing. That’s what made it such a perfect dish for weeknights. You just open a box and a few cans and you’re already halfway done. That’s just not possible for a celiac. This recipe took me over 3 hours because I had to make gluten free stuffing from scratch for the casserole’s topping. I chopped chicken, potatoes, celery and carrots to go inside the casserole, I had to cook them down to the right consistency in a cream sauce that I made from scratch before assembling the casserole to go into the oven. Each of these tasks is time consuming, especially when you’re looking at two different recipes and using them as guideposts to make a completely new recipe. But, in the end, homemade stuffing beats any of the boxed stuff by a mile. And no can-o’-partially-congealed chicken soup could beat a homemade cream sauce. Mom’s stuff was cheap, easy and the processed food that bound her casserole together satisfied my cravings for fat and salt – which is something that my casserole didn’t quite do. My casserole was good, but in a real food sort of way. It didn’t give me that junk food high. But, there is something about eating real food that you worked hard for. This casserole of mine wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever eaten (neither was my mom’s version), but it was pretty good. More importantly than that though, it is something that I’m proud to have made. It took some time and attention to detail and some real nuttiness to come up with it in the first place, but it was all my own.

Celiac disease is not fun, but I am thankful that the damage it causes to a human body can be controlled without medicine. In fact, the damage can be reversed by a change in diet. It’s not a simple change, for sure, but it is something that an individual can control. Celiacs don’t have to rely on expensive medication or treatment by a specialist. Each celiac is in control of her own health. That feeling of self-sufficiency is one of the great gifts of celiac disease. It comes only with time and perseverance, as does anything worth having. I can tell you that I would never have left the rut of eating processed food or cooking without the aid of boxed and canned everything if I had not been forced to do so. If I hadn’t been forced out of that rut, I would never have known what it feels like to think up a dish and then figure out a way to create it on my own. That feeling, by the way, is awesome.

gluten free casserole

If I ever remember exactly what I did to make this casserole, I will share the recipe. Until then, get in your own kitchen (gluten free or not) and get in to a recipe that is over your head. It may turn out, or it may not. But the food isn’t the point. Independence is only achieved through practice, and it is well worth a few botched dinners.

PS: It may be a hammy suggestion, but the suggested reading for this post is Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.