Learning from our pets

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Walker & Ryder

I have two cats (hang on, you dog people – it gets better). Walker and Ryder are named in honor of two prestigious international golf tournaments (the Walker Cup and the Ryder Cup – yes, my husband and I are both golf nuts), not their preferred mode of movement.

In fact, Walker has always run at top speed everywhere he goes, including up and down stairs. That changed earlier this year when he developed diabetes. The disease weakened his hind legs so he walks a bit awkwardly most of time now. But lately I’ve noticed him picking up the pace, even tackling the stairs now and then. Yesterday he raced the length of the house twice for some invisible reason, clomping along the wood floors with the grace of a miniature furry elephant.

How different his approach to life is from Ryder’s. Like Walker, we got her as a teeny, weeks-old kitten from the shelter and she’s lived a life of love and luxury for years. Yet she still shies from my hand when I reach to pet her, hides from strangers or really anything out of the ordinary and hates any change to her routine. She’s sweet and affectionate when it’s her idea, but otherwise she’s pretty much, well, a cat. Whereas Walker, I believe, is really a reincarnated dog who follows me around and enjoys meeting new people.

Walker & RyderBecause of this, we’ve started taking Walker with us when we visit our weekends-for-now-retirement-for-later home near Beaufort (on Cat Island – go figure) and leaving Ryder at home. It’s steps from the marsh with huge windows and a large screened porch, interesting new smells and lots of birds and other wildlife to observe. It seems like cat heaven – and Walker is loving it, while Ryder, sadly, is missing it. (We did try, but she spent the entire visit flattened under a low piece of furniture and bit us when we tried to load her up to return home.)

I don’t know why they’re so different, but it makes me wonder: Am I more like Walker, going for the gusto despite his limitations, or more like Ryder, afraid of change and more comfortable in a known, if cramped, space? Some of both, I suspect.

How many times do I forgo an adventure in favor of the familiar? Order the same dish, wear the same four outfits over and over, run the same route around my neighborhood, get the same haircut every time? Of course, there’s value in knowing I’ll enjoy my entrée, my clothes will be comfortable, I won’t get lost and I won’t look (too) bizarre.

But what might I be missing in life by settling for the routine? It’s something to think about.

And also: Am I secretly a dog person?

I think I’ll ask Walker.

Bread and Life

By: Rachel Sircy

bread

I have posted two entries on this blog so far, and both of them have mentioned my celiac disease. My first post, the introductory one, also mentioned my Christian faith. This post is about how those two things came to be very deeply connected for me.

First, let me give a brief explanation to those out there who may not know exactly how celiac disease works. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder and it is believed to be genetic. It is not a disease that a person can catch, only inherit. It is a genetic disorder in which my white blood cells are hardwired to fight off a particular substance in wheat, rye, barley, and all grains derived from or related to those grains. This substance is actually a string of a few different proteins which have been lumped together and labeled “gluten.” From what I understand, everyone’s body is hardwired to protect itself from too much gluten. But for some reason, my white blood cells freak out at even microscopic traces of gluten. When any trace of gluten enters my digestive system, white blood cells flood my small intestine and begin to cut it to pieces. They cut off small finger-like structures – known as villi – which line the small intestine, because the villi are how nutrients from food are absorbed into the blood stream. If there are no villi, then no gluten can be absorbed into the blood stream. But then, if there are no villi, then no nutrients from any food that a celiac consumes can be absorbed into the blood stream.

The funny thing about celiac disease is that its symptoms are really all over the place and a person can have all, some or none of them. Historically, it has been one of the most misdiagnosed diseases in America. The reason that the symptoms seem random and unrelated to each other is because what celiacs actually suffer from is not the disease itself, but the chief problem that the disease causes, which is malnutrition.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten free diet seemed impossible and insane. I thought that people couldn’t possibly live like this. It was made more difficult because I had never heard of anyone who did lead such a lifestyle. My husband and I were newlyweds with hardly any money when I was told that from now on I would have to start buying special bread that cost $6.00 a loaf if you bought the good stuff, and $3.00 a loaf if you bought the cheap stuff. The cheap stuff was nearly inedible. And though I was not a very experienced cook when I got married, I had a little repertoire of dishes that my husband and my guests seemed to like. The only thing was that every single one of them contained gluten in some form or other. Worse still, I liked to bake more than I liked to cook. Now, instead of buying one 5lb bag of flour that worked for any baking, dredging, battering, etc., I found that I was going to have to purchase at least five 1lb bags of different kinds of flours.

 

Everything I knew about how to cook and how to stay on a grocery budget was obliterated by a simple trip to the gastroenterologist.

 

I suddenly found that I needed flours I’d never heard of – white rice flour, amaranth flour, potato starch, soy flour, tapioca starch and almond flour to name a few. Each little 1lb bag of flour cost two to three times what one 5lb bag of regular flour cost. And, I found that I would need to become a chemist on top of everything else. I couldn’t just open a bag of flour and use it anymore. Flours had to be mixed together in precise ratios and those mixtures were good for one thing and one thing only. Potato starch, white rice flour and tapioca starch could be mixed together to make a flour suitable for dredging meat. But I used that same combination as the flour to make a beef gravy and ended up with a substance that was not gravy, but was grayish and was the consistency of wet sand. I was told that I would ALWAYS need a substance called Xanthan gum, that I would need it for every baking recipe. So, I spent about $12 for 8oz of the stuff. I just threw the remaining 4oz or so of it away last year. I figured that after nearly 8 years, it probably wasn’t good anymore.

In short, everything I knew about how to cook and how to stay on a grocery budget was obliterated by a simple trip to the gastroenterologist.

I wasn’t sorry, exactly, that I had gone to the doctor. I had been sick for quite some time – years, actually – but the symptoms were so random and varied that no one had ever thought to attribute all these nagging little complaints to one illness. In childhood, I had a few gastric problems – gas pains, occasional constipation – but nothing that wouldn’t seem normal for any child. The first signs of celiac for me were random little things that were often attributed to a lack of sleep and possible anemia (I wasn’t anemic as a child, but was borderline and always had the outward symptoms). I developed allergies and frequent bronchial infections which were often accompanied by acute asthma. These allergies were not always with me. They began to develop when I was in the fourth grade, and year after year the number of things I was allergic to increased and the intensity of the allergies increased as well. I was constantly fatigued. I have memories of telling my mother as she woke me up for school, that I felt just as tired on waking as I did when I went to bed. That feeling would sometimes persist throughout the day and there eventually came to be week-long stretches at a time when I would go through the motions of daily life in a complete haze. I would get on the school bus and by the time I reached school, I had no memory of getting dressed, no memory of what I had eaten for breakfast, no idea what homework I should be turning in. Until I was 22 years old, I had this vague sense that something was not right with me. But I didn’t know how sick I was because I didn’t know, or couldn’t really remember, what it felt like to be well.

After my diagnosis, being a Christian person who believes in miracles and divine healing, I began to pray to be healed from celiac disease. I didn’t want to suffer with the symptoms anymore, but neither did I want to have to up-end my whole life to get well. I just wanted to be made whole and be able to eat whatever I wanted. I prayed for months on end but I never felt any better and I never felt any hope of getting better. I decided to quit the gluten free diet and just go on blind faith that I was healed. I decided that I was fine. I should have listened to my father when he told me that faith can be many things, but it should never be blind. The more I ate what I wanted, the sicker I became until one day at work, I broke down crying silently at my desk. My stomach hurt, my body ached all over, and I couldn’t think. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. God was a miracle worker, so I had been told. Why wasn’t this miracle coming?

I decided to go back on the diet, but I was angry at God. I wanted to just be well and normal at the same time. I didn’t want to have to watch everyone else eat my mother’s homemade chicken and noodles while I sat with a sad little bowl of gluten free spaghetti that was melting into the chicken broth my mother poured over it. I bought food that tasted worse than the boxes it came in and I prayed. And slowly the answer came to me. There never would be a healing. I wasn’t meant to get over this. One evening, after attending a women’s church conference, I fell to my knees on my bedroom floor and asked God to explain Himself. If I wasn’t going to be healed, fine, but I demanded to know why. And there was no thunder, no lightning, just a thought that occurred to me at that moment. There was a lesson in this disease that I was supposed to carry with me for the rest of my life. My body was the physical mirror of my ethereal, eternal soul. I couldn’t consume any food that I wanted and expect that food to fuel my body. Certain things would cause me to suffer from malnourishment. Not all food is food for me. Some of it, some very innocent and delicious-looking food, is actually the opposite of food for me. A simple, seemingly wholesome piece of whole wheat bread can take away my ability to be nourished by anything.

And this paradox was also true for my spirit. I have known the longing as a Christian to just be like everybody else. It isn’t convenient to make time to feed my soul with the things that really nourish it, like prayer and Bible study. It cramps my entire lifestyle to make room for God. But if I try to nourish myself with anything other than God, I will quickly find that I am too sick to be nourished by anything.

As C. S. Lewis put it: And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

I will be the first one to tell you that while changing everything I ate and the way that I cooked – and tripling my grocery bill to boot – seemed impossible to me at first, it has been worth every moment of deprivation, every annoyance, every pan of gritty gravy. I have been sick and now I am well. Six dollars a loaf is a small price to pay for bread that can alter your quality of life.

Suggested Reading: “Mere Christianity,” by C. S. Lewis

It is essential that you seek professional advice for all issues concerning your health. Do not take any of the information in this blog as professional advice or official communication from Lexington Medical Center. Posts and comments on this blog are not intended to be professional advice, unless implicitly indicated in the blog post, and do not necessarily reflect Lexington Medical Center policy or corporate opinion.

AirSafe 2016

By: Shannon Elizabeth Boatwright

Every 3 years the FAA requires every commercial airport to conduct a full scale emergency exercise involving an aircraft accident with “victims.” This event, called AirSafe, provides priceless training for first responders and officials, and serves as a test to make sure all involved know exactly what is expected of them in order to help others and save lives.

AirSafe

My 8th Grade Honors Drama students at Chapin Middle School were invited to participate in this incredible event. Talk about a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these kids! When my old friend, Fire Chief Glenn Williams, reached out to me about the event and invited my students and I, once I understood more of what the event was about, all I could think was…Wow! What an amazing experience this could be for my students and at this time of year as we remember 9/11. Glenn put me in touch with Captain Daniel J. Ruggiero, who was in charge of the entire event at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. As I learned more about the event and the roles my students would get to play, I knew I had to do whatever I could to make this happen and allow my students to partake in this unique experience.

AirSafe

With full support from the school district and my administration, on September 14th, 2016, 38 of my honors students participated in the full scale mock disaster drill. Their role was to portray plane crash victims. When they arrived they were given an actor symptomatology tag which displayed their symptoms, each being given specific injuries to act out – fake blood and all! Which naturally the kids thought was especially cool, as it added an element of reality for them and everyone involved. Once the disaster drill began, first responders came to the scene, rescued all the passengers and begin triage to determine their priority.

AirSafe

For my Honors Drama students to have this opportunity to create and portray very unique roles that provided valuable training for fire rescue and EMS personnel, well, there’s no denying it was a priceless experience for these young actors. Not only was it a super cool acting gig for these students, but it was also an eye-opening experience that allowed them to recognize, understand and appreciate the crucial role of our first responders and all that they do to keep us safe.

AirSafe

As a teacher and director of the arts, I am ever thankful for this opportunity that my students were able to experience. I am also thankful that myself and my chaperones had the opportunity to deepen our appreciation for our awesome first responders. A huge thank you to my friends, Fire Chief Williams and Captain Ruggiero, for the invite!! And here’s to all the first responders – your dedication to keeping us safe are appreciated beyond words!

Dear Working Mom

By: Ashley Whisonant

Dear working mom,

I know you are exhausted.

You wake up extra early to pack lunches, book bags, pick out clothes, check homework, or gather after-school activity gear. You probably also notice the toys on the living room floor, the left over dishes from dinner last night, or the toy you promised to fix last night. Don’t get discouraged.

I know you feel like a failure most days – same here. The feeling of not being 100% at work or home, it’s a constant battle. The guilt you feel if you do have a successful, full day at work, but then miss an activity at preschool for the kids. Why can’t you finally figure out a halloween-cupcakesway to volunteer at 9:30 in the morning to make stick horses AND get to work by 8:30? Don’t get discouraged.

Let’s not even start on Pinterest. Pinterest is basically a working mother’s worst nightmare. You are addicted to the cute and perfect snacks and art projects. When can I fit this in my already-over-extended day? I would LOVE to make graveyard cupcakes with tombstones for my boys’ preschool classes – sure. Let me try and do this after working all day, cleaning up from dinner, and trying to be present to my boys, after baths and bedtime. It’s okay to just buy cupcakes for the party. Really, it is. Don’t get discouraged.

I know there are times you feel selfish. Wanting just a free night or weekend away. The voice in the back of your head telling you, “How can you leave your precious babies when you are already gone all day?” “A dedicated mother would never do that!” Don’t get discouraged.

Being a working mother is tough. Don’t get discouraged. You are enough for your children. They think you are amazing. Keep reminding yourself that you are amazing.

Sincerely yours,

A fellow working mom

 

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!