Change is Coming

By: Lara Winburn

winds-of-change1

I am not sure if you have missed me, but I have been away. I have been drowning in change. Since June 1st I have:

  • Resigned from a job, which felt a little like a break up since I liked my little work family. There was a lot of “it’s not you it’s me.”
  • Started a new job, which is a lot like a new relationship where you want them to like you and think you are smart and funny and pretty.
  • Sold a house (in one day). We were homeless for two weeks, testing not only our marriage and parenting skills but the kindness of our friends. (Thank goodness for generous friends and my cow.)
  • Finally moved into our new forever house…which is currently a construction site and our house. I knew it was bad when the electrician asked, “Are you living here full time?”

Times, they are a-changing. If I find out I am pregnant anytime soon my husband’s head may explode. (NOT that I am trying to get pregnant – that would just be the change that broke the camel/husband’s back.)

The funny thing about change is the impact it has on some more than others. To be quite honest, I feel a little unaffected by change. Change is hard, but hard is not the same as bad. Maybe it’s because my life is such a mess – or what I what I would like to call “fluid and changing.” I do not ever consider myself organized enough for the change to be felt. (Translation: When you are a hot mess you do not feel the storm when it comes.)

That being said, I started talking with other people about change and there are some folks with really strong feelings about it. Take my best friend – she is very “Type A.” She is tidy, organized and keeps notepads for making lists everywhere – in the car, kitchen, next to her bed and probably the bathroom. When she mentioned she hates change, I was not surprised. Her ship is always on path, so a change in the winds would be difficult for her.

But my husband is not “Type A” at all. Let’s call him “Type Z,” or whatever the opposite of A is. He also started talking about his struggle with change. It made me wonder about the man that carries as many clothes in his car as in his closet…why does change bother him? Maybe he is not the mess I am. He has always maintained that although he may look disorganized, he knows where everything is. After 16 years, maybe I believe him.

Does change bother you? Or will someone out there just admit that they, like me, have gotten quite good at rolling with change because they always seem like they are rolling along in a pinball machine of life. One thing I hope to change is my absence from the blogging world. I have so much to tell you about, as all of these changes are also many new adventures.

Sitting Pretty

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Since having my follow-up arteriogram in early September, I have been experiencing significant soreness in my hips, lower back and shoulders. I didn’t think that I should be sore from the procedure, so my sister and I brainstormed. Thinking back, the soreness occurred the week I went back to eight hour days at work. I thought I was sitting pretty during my staggered return to work, but Sister brought up a good point: it had been nearly six months since I’d sat at my desk for eight hours. I wasn’t sitting as I should, in addition to my body readjusting to sitting for long periods of time.

sitting properly

I did some online research and indeed found out that I wasn’t sitting as I should and/or taking appropriate breaks from my office chair. (From Greatist, here’s how we should be sitting at our desks.)

My biggest problem is that my short legs won’t reach the floor, so I tuck them up under my hips. Not the proper way to sit. Also, since returning to work, I’ve been working non-stop on the upcoming Green is Good for Business Conference and taking few breaks. I’ve now ordered a foot rest and back wedge, and starting the first of the week, I’m also setting an alarm for the top of every work hour to remind me to get up and move.

Here’s hoping that the next time I post, the soreness will be a thing of the past, like the aneurysm.

The Instant Pot

By: Leah Prescott

Do you often scramble for dinner ideas on the commute home from work? Do you try to plan the evening’s meal while standing in the grocery aisle at 5 PM? Do you find yourself stopping for fast food because there just isn’t time to defrost the ingredients to cook? If these scenarios sound familiar, you need to keep reading! (If I sound like a terrible infomercial, I apologize; I’m very tired.)

Instant Pot As I have said before, I absolutely love reading product reviews and time-saving tips and tricks. As a matter of fact, as a stay-at-home mom and homemaker, I sort of feel that reading blog posts, scouring Pinterest for recipes, and flipping through Better Homes & Gardens is just a form of continuing education or professional research….right? In the spirit of giving, when a product “lives up to the hype” I feel a moral obligation to share it with my friends. So I am happy to share a product that has transformed dinner time and taken a lot of stress off of me: the Instant Pot.

The Instant Pot performs multiple tasks and serves as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer, rice cooker, sauté pan, yogurt maker and warmer. When I first got it, I immediately got rid of my rice cooker and my slow cooker, and I was already saving space. This thing does it all and it does it fast. (Please note I am just an enthusiastic consumer and am not being compensated by Instant Pot for my endorsement!)

I encourage you to read some of the many reviews online that delve into some of the nitty gritty of this appliance. For now I will just share some of the dishes we have made and loved over the last 6 weeks:

  • Baked potatoes: Done in less than 30 minutes, perfectly soft and moist.
  • Balsamic chicken: 5 minutes to prep, 45 minutes and done.
  • Beans & Rice: From brown rice and unsoaked dry black beans to a one-dish meal in less than 45 minutes. That’s right: dry beans and rice start to finish in 45 minutes! We have already made this recipe four times!
  • Mac & Cheese: This takes only about 20 minutes and is SO much better than instant.
  • Rice: Comes out perfectly and no monitoring the hot stove.
  • Ribs: Fast & delicious.
  • Potato Salad: Crazy easy and tasty. The potatoes were the perfect consistency and the eggs cook right in the pot with them! This was my first attempt at potato salad and I am happy to have found such a simple method.
  • Oatmeal: Delicious, quick and no burning the bottom of the pan while I am in the shower.

As the weather gets cooler, I will definitely be using the Instant Pot for soups and chili. The fantastic thing is that you can sauté veggies or meat right in the pot before switching it to slow-cooker mode. (That was always my gripe with my crock pot: I hated dirtying an extra pan and having that additional step.) Also, after you set the machine on, it will automatically switch to the warm setting when the cooking is complete. This thing really puts my old slow cooker to shame!

For me, the major drawback of this item was the cost. The Instant Pot retails from $150 to $260 depending on the features you select. (The newest and latest is Bluetooth enabled!) I was happy to find a deal on Amazon for an older model and now that I have used it for a few weeks I consider it money very well spent. Also, I am saving space, money, and time which is worth a lot! The Instant Pot is a game-changer for a busy family; check it out at http://instantpot.com/

The Great Tamale Project

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

Of all the cuisines, Mexican is one of my all-time favorites. I love queso and chips as much as the next guy, but for me the ultimate Mexican dish is tamales. And they are hard to come by. Not many restaurants serve them and it’s even harder to find a person who makes them. I know. For years, I’ve wanted to learn to make them. I’ve always been told that they are soooooo hard to make. They are soooooo complicated. They are such a project that someone’s grandmother might make them for a very special occasion. So, I’ve merely dreamed and aspired to become a tamale cook for a very long time.

I came across an old 1980’s Mexican cookbook that a friend was throwing out. I scooped it up and there it was: a tamale recipe. I read it over and over again because I just couldn’t grasp what was so difficult about what I was reading. And then it happened. I bought a Boston butt and I made tamales.

I don’t know what I’ve been waiting on. I let others convince me that this was some insurmountable task. But here’s the news flash…it is not difficult to make tamales. At all. It takes some time, but it’s not hard. And, they were fabulous!

I trimmed the excess fat and cubed the meat.

Simmered on the stove with peppercorn, bay leaf & onion.

making tamales

Guajillo peppers are soaked then pureed into enchilada sauce.

making tamales

Look at this color! Shredded pork is mixed with the enchilada sauce. It tastes much better than canned sauce, for sure.

making tamales

Instant masa is super easy to work with.

making tamales

Spreading masa on the corn husk.

making tamales

You just spread and pat it out with your fingers.

making tamales

Top with masa with a little of the meat mixture.

making tamales

Then you fold the sides over the filling and tuck under the pointed end.

making tamales

Ready to spend an hour in the steamer.

making tamales

Steamer is all loaded up with tamales.

making tamales

My first plate of homemade tamales!

OMG! My tamales were fantastic, if I do say so myself! The sauce has out-of-this-world flavor. It’s so simple to make. You soak the chiles in hot water to soften them up, then remove seeds and purée them with the soaking liquid. Then you cook the purée with some garlic, flour, vinegar, cumin and oregano. Nothing difficult about that. The pork is stewed with some garlic, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns. After it’s cooked, you shred it, mix with sauce and refrigerate overnight. Nothing hard about that. You also save the pork broth for the masa. Refrigerate that overnight so you can skim the fat off before mixing up the masa.

The next day, you simply mix the masa with warm broth, shortening, and baking powder until it becomes a soft, wet dough. You soak your corn husks in hot water for about an hour to make them pliable. Then, it’s just a matter of spreading out some masa, add some filling and fold. They steam for about an hour and then you are ready to dig in. The masa was so soft and tender and flavorful. This is key because even in restaurants I’ve had tamales with dried out masa and it ruined the whole dish. The pork was tender and that sauce, oh the sauce!

And none of this was hard to do. It takes some time, but anything worth doing is worth the time. My parents came to dinner and we all fell in love with the tamales. So much so that later that week, I made another batch. A double batch!

Time to Get Grateful!

By: Shannon Boatwright

Ah...the grateful life!

Ah…the grateful life!

I’ve blogged in the past about being a “Grateful Groupie”  and the importance of having a focus of gratitude in our lives. In addition to that blog entry, I’d like to provide a little more information and inspiration to this beautiful concept of being grateful. I recently came across an article called “4 Reasons to Get Grateful” in the September 2015 issue of All You magazine. The article really helped to open my eyes even more to the benefits of being a grateful human being. Upon reading the article, I immediately thought of things in my own life that totally validate their reasons for being grateful.

Reason 1 – “Being grateful can spark new friendships.”

I experience this on a daily basis with my amazing co-workers at the school where I teach. If it weren’t for the friendship and support of my fellow teachers, I think I would seriously lose my mind in this stressful, middle school environment! We have all bonded on so many levels thanks to sharing our gratefulness for each other’s company and assistance. I truly believe that when you are vocal about your gratefulness for others, it will not only spark an appreciation from those you tell, but can prompt lovely friendships too.

Reason 2 – “Being grateful might lead to fewer aches and pains.”

The article states that, “researchers suspect that those who feel grateful take better care of their bodies.” When we have a grateful outlook, I believe we engage in more positive activities and habits. When the mind and heart are in a positive, thankful state, I really think the body will respond!

Reason 3 – “Being grateful helps you heal.”

I’ve always been a believer that positive thinking leads to positive things! If I’m focused on all the negative things in my life, then YES, chances are I’m going to start physically feeling bad. It never fails with me. But if I hold my focus on the positive things in my life and the things that I am grateful for, I truly believe that positive focus leads to feeling good and even to a state of healing.

Reason 4 – “Being grateful helps you sleep better.”

In my Grateful Groupie entry I mentioned keeping a Gratitude Journal. I need to do better with this! Goodness knows, I need all the help I can get with sleeping better. Shutting off my brain seems to be an impossible task, especially now that I’m deep into the school year again. My mind and subconscious are plagued with to-do lists and worries. Even my dreams are exhausting! The article says,

“A study in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being found that writing about what you’re thankful for in a journal for 15 minutes each night might help you worry less at bedtime, as well as sleep longer.”

I really believe this to be true! I know for me, I absolutely cannot watch anything stressful on television before I go to bed. No intense dramas, no stressful news shows, NO horror stuff (EVER no matter what time of day!) – no shows remotely negative for me before bedtime! I have too vivid of an imagination. I have to watch something light and fluffy. Only happy stuff for me before bedtime because my mind and subconscious will latch onto what I see before bed and affect me to the core. I even try not to make my “To-Do” list right before I hit the sack because then my mind tends to feel overwhelmed with all that I have to get done. I’ve definitely discovered that if I allow for happy and positive things to enter my crowded mind before I go to sleep, I tend to sleep better. When I allow and remind myself to think of all the things I’m grateful for before I pass out, I go to sleep with a positive vibe instead of a heavy heart.

Let’s face it, folks….it’s time to get grateful! And let’s do it more often. There are just too many benefits to recognizing all the things we have to be thankful for.

Right now, in this moment, think of just three things you are grateful for today – no matter how big or small, deep or trivial. Repeat those three things and allow a smile to brighten your face. I bet you could name more than three things, huh? 😉 That’s the joy in life…despite all the bad nonsense that seems to surround us, there really is a whole lot of good that we should be focusing on!

I challenge you all, myself included, to dedicate more time to being grateful. It will only benefit us on some level! Let’s do it and lead happier, healthier, more fulfilled lives.

It’s Almost Fall

By: Chaunte McClure

It’s almost fall, y’all! You know, that time of year when the air is crisp, the mornings are foggy, leaves are colorful and utility bills are lower. Gah, I am looking forward to all of the Fallabove, but especially the decrease in my light bill. Can I get an amen?!

It was so refreshing to step outside the past two mornings to feel the cool air on my warm skin. Unfortunately, I didn’t spend much time savoring the fall-like temperatures, but I take pride in knowing that more mornings like those are ahead.

Spring and fall are my preferred seasons, although neither of them stick around long enough in South Carolina. Spring is a welcome change after 20 and 30 degree temps. Of course, I welcome fall after consistent 90 to 100 (plus) degree days along with the added humidity we have in Famously Hot Columbia.

The first day of autumn is just a week away and that not only means cooler weather, it’s also a sign of cool events like the South Carolina State Fair. It’s the place to go for family fun, bizarre foods, people watching and to hear the announcer say, “Meet your party at the rocket.”

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard (or seen), the rocket is standing taller. Now it’ll be easier for your son or daughter, who has to bear the embarrassment of hearing his or her name inserted before “. . . meet your mother at the rocket,” to find the iconic figure. The missile has been raised 12 feet higher, towering about 78 feet tall. The South Carolina State Fair is October 14-25. Experience it!

I’m also making plans to attend USC’s homecoming. Go Cocks! I’m excited about seeing the new alumni center and enjoying camaraderie with friends. Maybe I’ll luck up and get a picture with Cocky.

It’s been awhile, but one fall, I made a trip to the Upstate to Nivens Apple Farm where you can pick pumpkins and apples. They have a playground and pedal cars for the kids. Nivens also has hay rides, farm animals, and a corn maze. Get lost in the excitement of being on the farm. It’ll make for a fun day trip.

What fall activities do you enjoy?

Tattoos

By: Brady Evans

I am currently holding myself back from getting a tattoo.

I look around and see coworkers, strangers, and people I admire intellectually, professionally, and socially with tattoos.  I watch the news and see tatted skin.  I drive tattoo-1179512through Lexington and into Columbia and pass by at least 6 tattoo establishments.  No one talks about tattoos anymore.  When referencing someone, no one ever says, “AND he had TATTOOS!”  No doubt they are becoming more acceptable and more the norm.

I heard a story on NPR about Ice Man (by the way, I remember when he was found in 1991 – I was just in elementary school but it made a huge impact on me) and I heard that he was tattooed.  Tattoos have been present in our culture for a long time!

So, I am sitting here holding myself back from getting a tattoo.  I already have two.  This surprises most people.  These two stay hidden all of the time – one is on my ribs and the other on my shoulder.  They stay hidden because I am still not sure what people think about them.  I wanted them in a place that was covered day to day.  But then…what’s the point of a tattoo if no one sees it?  Are tattoos for the wearer or the viewer?  A part of me thinks both.

My dog died.  That’s what my new tattoo will be about.  The grief my husband and I have experienced is new to both of us and has surprised us both.  For some reason I think that tattooing her memory on my body will help.  It probably won’t.  It will, however, give me a reason to bring her up (when people ask about the tattoo – if it is not hidden).  I will see it in the mirror and be reminded of her.

What’s your opinion on tattoos?  Tacky?  Unprofessional?  Sweet?  Do you have a tattoo?  Why did you get it?