A Much Needed Special Day

By: Ashley Whisonant

Gray

Shortly after we became pregnant with my youngest, Gray, my husband and I decided we would complete our family with two. For whatever reason, I never imagined myself with more than two or even a little girl. Even looking at a family picture now, I feel we are complete.

I frequently find myself feeling guilty for my second born. With my oldest, Weston, we were mentality present for all his firsts. He had our full attention, all of the time. I remember the excitement of watching him roll over and crawl. The moments of him running to meet me at the door when I pulled in the driveway from work. He was our whole world.

Gray

Gray will never know the feeling of being the only one. He adores his older brother and thinks he hung the moon. I remind myself to take mental pictures of Gray’s firsts- crawling, walking, waving. I work hard to not let life get in the way and give him the same experience as his brother, but it is different.

I needed to do something special for my second. While Weston was camping with my husband, I planned a special day for just Gray and myself. One of his favorite places is the beach. He could run up and down, racing towards the waves for hours. I was determined to have a special weekend with him. 

Gray

When he got up, we painted and shared a breakfast laughing together. Our drive down to Sullivan’s Island was not filled with screen time, but real conversations with my two year old. He pointed out all the things he saw, colors he liked, and we sang Disney songs. We arrived to an almost empty beach-in July! It was as though someone knew how much we needed the time together. I truly lived in the moment with my second born. The laughing, playing, running, and swimming was just what we both needed.

After our day together I realized he is not missing out. My guilt is internal, not with him. He feels my love and knows how much I care about him. I need to let go of my guilt and enjoy the moments with him.

Why Is It So Hard to Take Our Own Advice?

By: Jeanne Reynolds

worry

I’m writing this on Saturday as Hurricane Matthew churns up the coast with nothing in my stomach but black coffee and a big ole knot of anxiety.

Columbia appears to have escaped relatively unscathed, but our beautiful weekends-for-now-retirement-for-later home on Cat Island near Beaufort (see previous post) sits right at the point of landfall. Our neighbors sensibly fled days ago, and without power or internet service, our security cameras are down. So we’re left literally in the dark, wondering and waiting to see if or how much damage there is.

The common sense advice I’d give anyone else in this situation is there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it right now, so it’s pointless to worry. We’re well insured — including flood insurance — and there’s nothing in or around the home that can’t be rebuilt or replaced. And we’re fortunate to have savings to cover those pesky deductibles. The important thing is we’re all safe, right?

Easier said than done. No matter what we advise others, it’s so hard not to worry. It seems almost irresponsible not to worry a little, as if I don’t care or live in some bubble disconnected from reality. Maybe worrying will somehow prevent the worst from happening, like paying a proactive penance.

Well, wrong. My page-a-day devotional includes many passages about letting go and letting God. If fact, it goes even further, saying worry is a sin because it’s an act of disbelief. Wow, and I thought that extra glass of wine and a little occasional gossip were my biggest vices. Clearly, I have some serious work to do.

And like so many parts of my life, it’s a work constantly in progress. I really don’t think there’s a “cure” for worrying — it’s more of a day-by-day, incident-by-incident, conscious choice. If you have tips that’ve helped you, I’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, I’ll keep taking two steps forward, one step back.

But I’m trying not to worry about it.

A Healthy Recipe Guaranteed to Please Your Pickiest Eater

I Know This Because I Am One, and I Love This Stuff

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

I’ve been eating healthier for about five years now. I best describe my “diet” as simple clean eating: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins instead of pre-picky eaterpackaged, processed foods or fast food. I love eating this way, but do occasionally miss some of those comfort foods we all know and love.

That all changed when I tried a recipe for Cheesy Taco Bake from a now defunct website called The Naked Kitchen. The best way to describe this recipe? A healthy “Hamburger Helper,” without the hamburger. Double this for freezing! Your kids and/or picky eaters will LOVE it; I know because I have a palate of a six-year-old.

Warning: There’s a little upfront work with this recipe as you must pre-make the enchilada sauce and taco seasoning. However, once you make both, you’ll have plenty to use for several batches. In a hurry? You can always use store-bought enchilada sauce and taco seasoning.

Cheesy Taco Bake 

(Makes 8-10 servings)

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 6 heaping tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp Taco Seasoning *
  • 4 heaping tbsp Homemade Enchilada Sauce **
  • 1 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 small onion, diced (Being the picky eater I am, I skip the onions and use onion powder instead.)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) no salt added black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 7 ounces organic firm tofu (you can also substitute with quinoa or any other protein source)
  • 8 ounces whole grain pasta of choice, cooked
  • 1/2 cup croutons, finely crushed
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked rice
  • 4-6 ounces shredded cheese

* Homemade Enchilada Sauce

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 12 ounces no salt added tomato paste
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • sea salt to taste

** Homemade Taco Seasoning

  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp sea salt

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a medium sauce pan heat olive oil over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot add the flour, reduce heat to low and stir until completely dissolved.
  • Add in the enchilada sauce and broth. Stir well and then add the nutritional yeast and taco seasoning. Mix well, remove from heat and set aside.
  • In a large sauté pan add 1 tbsp broth and heat over medium high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent.
  • While the onions are cooking, use a fork and mash the tofu into small crumbles.  Add the crumbled tofu and black beans to the pan and stir well. Remove from heat.
  • In a large bowl add the cooked pasta and rice, the onion, bean and tofu mixture, and the cheesy enchilada sauce. Stir well and transfer mixture to a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.
  • Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top (if using) and then the croutons. Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

A Fall Treat

By: Azure Stilwell

pumpkin-muffins

This is my favorite month of the year! I love the cool weather, the festivals, the fair, and Halloween. It’s all about yummy foods and fun.

One of my favorite muffins to make during the Fall is so simple I didn’t think it would actually work when I found the recipe on Pinterest. All you need to make these pumpkin spice muffins is one can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling, but real pumpkin) and one box of spice cake mix. You mix both ingredients together, bake, and enjoy. They look like rustic muffins because they come out all lumpy on top, but they taste fantastic. My boys love it when I make cinnamon cream cheese icing to go on top but they taste great with or without the icing. If you want to dress them up then pipe on the icing and top with a candy corn pumpkin. So cute!

To make the muffins:

  • 1 can of Libby Pumpkin
  • 1 box of spice cake mix

Combine ingredients with a large wooden spoon. (Your mixer will thank you for not using it.) Spoon the mixture into greased muffin cups.Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

To make the icing (optional):

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, and then cinnamon and vanilla; mix until smooth.

An Aerial View of Childhood

By: Angie Sloan

As a parent, you spend most of your time “in the weeds,” tending to the daily grind of raising happy, responsible, well-adjusted little people. Your ultimate goal is that they turn out to be great adults. You hope they will find themselves in a life they love, surrounded by people who love them as much as you. You do all you can to guide them to this path. You help steer them in the right direction.

Looking back at my childhood, there were a lot of people in my corner. My cheering section was full and I always received the encouragement I needed to succeed. But there were pivotal moments and conversations that I recall that made a tremendous difference in the paths I chose.

There was the English teacher who encouraged me to write. She loved my work and always made time to read my imaginative short stories. I look back and realize that she was a major influence in my love of writing. She told me, “Write from your heart. Keep it genuine.” Even now, when I write something, I have to feel it, or I scrap it before I ever click ‘save’.

At different periods in my life, I worked at a radio station. I remember talking with the program director about various career paths. His words to me, “Never confuse a hobby with a career.” I was almost offended at the time, but hindsight provided clarity. He was saying, love what you do, but don’t lose your love of what you do because you “have to do it” for your livelihood. Great advice!

Jack and Ila coloring at Flight Deck

Jack and Ila coloring at Flight Deck

There were so many other conversations that stick out in my mind. But this post is not about me. It is about having the privilege to witness one of these conversations, as a parent.

Jack, my 8-year-old, is consumed with WWII. Over the course of a year, he has read about 40 books on the subject. He retains everything he reads and loves nothing more than to talk about it. I know more about the war than I ever have, as Jack educates me on a daily basis. He seems to have an understanding of it that reaches far beyond his years. This weekend we went to Flight Deck Restaurant for lunch. Being new to the area, it was his first time going there. He was in awe of all of the memorabilia. He pointed out different planes…that’s a spitfire…that’s a B-17…and so on.

After our meal (which was delicious) the owner made his rounds through the restaurant. He stopped by our table to check on us. I introduced him to Jack and told him how much he loved the place and about his deep interest in WWII. The owner was impressed. It’s not every day you meet an 8-year-old with such knowledge about WWII. As busy as he was, he stood there and talked to my sweet boy for a long time. Jack was thrilled to talk with him about the different planes and battles of years past.

Before he left our table, he extended his hand to Jack. I will never forget what he said to my son. I don’t think Jack will forget either. With absolute sincerity, he shook Jack’s hand and said, “I am so impressed with your knowledge. Tell me your full name so I can remember you, because you will do great things and I want to say I met you when you were a kid.”

Jack smiled and said, “I am Jack Sloan.”

He said, “I am Ted. I hope you come back and visit us again. Remember, Jack Sloan. You will do great things in this world.”

Jack was quiet as he walked away. I could see what an impact those words had on him. I know there will be times in Jack’s life when things are hard. There will be times when he loses his way. My hope is when his path is dimly lit, he will reflect on those words and remember that he is destined for bigger things.  That greatness is a choice. I hope he strives to be like all those WWII soldiers he looks up to.

And I hope that Ted knows that he is now a part of that destiny. Such a simple gesture with such a big impact. Jack will never forget that conversation. And neither will I.

Selfishly Selfless

By: Stacy Thompson

volunteer hands

Volunteering your time, expertise and efforts benefits not only the person, animal or cause you choose, but YOU as well! I stay pretty busy with work, family time and football (see my prior blog post as I welcomed in the football season!) and sometimes it seems there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. However, I’ve found that my work outside of work provides so much joy and satisfaction, not to mention value beyond a paycheck, that missing it would be missing out.

  • Volunteer to meet other people – As a volunteer member of the Junior League of Columbia, I regularly have opportunities to meet other volunteers while giving back to our communities – some work outside of the home, some inside, some are Gen-X, Gen-Y and Millennials – but we all have one common focus on improving the health and well-being of children and families in the Midlands. The work we do also brings us closer to other non-profits with shared missions and opportunities to learn more about these amazing organizations that have broadened my outlook as well.
  • Volunteer to expand your skills – I volunteer monthly (and sometimes more than monthly) through the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Program. At times I may counsel individuals at Transitions or assist callers in the Ask-A-Lawyer program. In the past year I’ve volunteered with the Wills Clinic, drafting wills for senior citizens – not within my area of practice, but a good way to learn a new skill while helping someone in the process.
  • Volunteer to gain purpose and perspective – Too often I get bogged down on how my day went or the stress I have in work. Volunteering takes my mind off my relatively minor troubles and gives me renewed energy to continue helping where I can and when I can. In addition, the health benefits of volunteering are widespread (not my conclusion, but certainly can be found in a number of articles, including a few on the Corporation for National and Community Service website.)
  • Volunteer to gain pride in your community – It’s easy to complain, and even easier to sit and do nothing about it. Instead, become involved in change for the better, even if it simply means taking a meal to a friend or supporting a fundraiser at a local school. Find the cause or the organization that you feel may improve our community, city, state or nation and pledge to donate your time and efforts, even if it is simply talking about their mission to a friend (or ten) or helping to organize a fundraising event. Every little bit helps and every little bit matters.

Volunteering is the ultimate selfishly selfless act – you give a lot, gain a lot and learn a lot about yourself and others.

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Adoption

By: Jordan Tate

jordan tate

The day we picked you up felt like a dream. I wondered if what everyone else said would be true. I already loved you but I wondered what it would feel like to see your face. The day we picked you up I stared at all of the pictures your caregiver had sent me throughout the week. I was so jealous of her. I was so jealous that she was caring for my son, and that week–it felt like a year. All of the pictures of you looked different, so the day we picked you up I wasn’t exactly sure what you would look like.

But, oh, my son. You were even more perfect than I could have imaged.

The day we picked you up we passed the time during the 4 hour car ride by revealing one letter of your name at a time to my parents and brother, who were riding in the car alongside us on the interstate. I was messaging back and forth with them and with my friends, who were jumping out of their seats with excitement for this day. These friends- you know them now. They are the friends that wept with us when we laid to rest your sisters. They are the friends that pleaded each day for a fast and smooth adoption. They were among the first to know when we matched with you. They had a blast guessing your name.

The day we picked you up my heart beat faster than it ever has before. I had a hard time catching my breath as we walked into the tiny little agency in Alabama where your caregiver was holding you.

jordan tate

They were right. They all were right. Meeting you was just like what everyone said. It was like I had known you forever. I cried and cried and cried and I only fought back the tears when they started to block my view from your perfect face. I cried as I held you. I cried as I remembered your sisters and how holding you felt just the same as holding them except this time it was better. This time there was no pain. It wasn’t hello and goodbye, it was just hello. Hello and I love you.

It was so worth the wait. We didn’t wait long. But if we had it still would have been worth it. I would have waited decades just to meet you and know you and call you my son. You were so worth every part of this crazy journey.

We put you in your car seat and I was shocked at how normal it felt. I was shocked by the normalcy! You see, we met our other children and they didn’t come home with us. Those times were the times I was shocked by how abnormal it was to leave the hospital empty handed. It felt eerie and wrong and terrible. Leaving with you was the best part. Leaving with you was the start of our life together as a family. I sat in the backseat with you and stared at your face. You looked tiny in that carseat. And then it was mother’s day and I was stuck in a foreign state and we barely had any baby gear but it didn’t matter because you didn’t leave my chest except for when your daddy stole you to lay on his.

I don’t understand why it all felt so normal. I can’t express why it all felt so right. But everyone should know this. Everyone should know because there are many ways to grow a family and growing ours this way was a dream I wish everyone could live. There was no hospital. No labor and no delivery. There was just the deep and miraculous understanding that babies grow in hearts, not just in bellies.