Maybe Not Home for the Holidays?

By: Stacy Thompson

Even though stores have been displaying Christmas and other holiday wares for several weeks now, generally the spirit doesn’t move me until after Thanksgiving. The weekend after Turkey Day, I put up my outdoor tree (as is the custom in Cayce – if you haven’t Christmasdriven the Avenues, Moss Creek or other neighborhoods in the 29033 zip code, I highly recommend it), start nailing down my gift lists (thank you Amazon Prime) and begin the internal debate of whether to put up my indoor tree. This debate is waged because, as a single person with no kids, I am the only one who has to drag out the boxes from the attic, assemble the pre-lit tree, hang about 10,000+ ornaments and then find room for the knick-knacks that I’ve accumulated through the years. Then, sometime after the big day, I alone get to wrap up said knick-knacks, de-ornament and disassemble the tree and then drag everything back into the attic. So the internal debate is waged between the nostalgic side of me that loves to stare at a decorated Christmas tree glowing in the night and the more practical side of me that wonders whether, truly, my dog give a hoot about a lit tree.  The jury is still out…

The holidays are an amazing time to travel, particularly when your team is playing in a bowl game (fingers crossed!) – but even if you’re not into chomping hot dogs in a football stadium this holiday season, here are a few of my favorite holiday locales…

  1. Vail, Colorado – You can’t beat a white Christmas, lights and snow everywhere – you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a fully dressed-out Santa flying down a mogul field.
  2. Nuremberg, Germany – The Christkindlesmarkt is amazing – Lebkuchen (gingerbread), nuremberger sausages, Glühwein…not to mention the ornaments and keepsakes for sale amongst hundreds of local vendors.
  3. New York City, NY – Likely freezing cold, but always festive. Don’t miss seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, ice-skating at Rockefeller Center under the tree, walking through Central Park or simply perusing the window displays on 5th Avenue.
  4. Roatán Island, Honduras or the Abaco Islands, Bahamas – If cold weather isn’t your thing, consider heading south. You really can’t go wrong with any of the islands or coastal resorts of Mexico, but Roatán and Abaco have amazing snorkeling and beautiful beaches. You can still have a “White Christmas” just on the sand instead of the snow!
  5. At home, with family and friends…for obvious reasons

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Celebrating 40

By: Chaunte McClure

Amid my excitement about turning 40, I created a short list of ways I wanted to celebrate. I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I usually don’t make a big deal out of birthdays. That’s just the way it was in my family, but I’m changing, because now I have a greater appreciation for life and I’m grateful for every single day, no matter what’s packaged in it.

During my thirties, darkness seemed to hover over me; even when there were rays of sunshine, they seemed to quickly find a hiding place behind the clouds. Many days it seemed I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but it was just a shadow and I’m still walking – walking in victory.

So, yes, I ought to celebrate and enjoy life and so should you. Go places you’ve never gone and do things you’ve never done. It’s my desire to accomplish both every year. This time, I went to DR, but you don’t have to travel to a Caribbean nation. I wanted to, in honor of the big 4-0.

Here’s a peek at what I did:

Flying High

parasailing

While relaxing on the beach and hiding from direct sunlight under the resort’s palapa umbrellas, I had an impulse to fly high. I watched other tourists take flight and from below,  it looked so fun. My husband didn’t even take me seriously when I said I wanted to parasail. After inquiring about the cost, he hurried back to the room to get money before I changed my mind. There was no turning back though. This 40 year old had the audacity to sail through the air while attached to a boat. I guess if I was really daring I would’ve gone solo, but the tandem ride put me at ease. I was a little nervous on the way up, forcing myself not to look back for fear of having a nervous breakdown. Once we got to the highest altitude, I was fine, even looking down to see what I could identify below in the beautiful, clear blue waters. If you ever decide to give it a try, remember, it’s mind over matter. Just enjoy the flight and the views!

Getting Dirty

celebrating 40

We also had some dirty fun while riding the countryside trails in a dune buggy, splashing through mud and squinting through the occasional dust clouds. It certainly was an interesting way to see the authenticity of the Dominican Republic, passing modest, colorful homes, the cutest kids waving hello, farmland, and makeshift roadside stands while making stops at Macao Beach and a natural cave. Minus the fumes we inhaled from the other dune buggies, this was an awesome experience. By the way, ladies, no need to shampoo or curl your hair before this ride.

Horsing Around

horseback riding

I expressed interest in going horseback riding a few years ago, but I never really pursued it. Fortunately, it was an activity offered with one of our excursions. After saddling up, I was praying the horse didn’t detect my anxiety or take off galloping around the ranch without the rest of the group. Thankfully, they were obedient to their trainers. While making our way around the ranch, somehow, perhaps because of the peaceful ride, my mind drifted to the 23rd Psalm. In between hearing the Spanish dialogue between the two guides, I kept thinking about the shepherd and green pastures. I never made the connection between it all, but I’m sure it’ll come back to me in the form of a sermon, or maybe a blog entry.

Making Memories

celebrating 40

That vacation is in the books, but it was fun making memories and sharing some of them with you. I have one more month in 2016 to celebrate turning 40 and four more before I turn 41.

I’m fabulous at 40, and I’ll still be fabulous at 41. Oh, I had a birthday photo shoot, too.

Hometown Tourists

By: Ashley Whisonant

congaree park

This past weekend, my boys and I had absolutely no plans. This is a very rare occasion. Between soccer games, play dates, vacations, and birthdays our weekends have been jam packed. My husband and I wanted to spend the free day as a family, outside enjoying the beautiful fall weather, but we didn’t want to drive too terribly far.

Enter Congaree National Park!

Just a 50 minute drive from Lexington, we packed the car and headed down to arrive at nine. With lunches in book bags, we first stopped at the Visitor’s Center. They had tons of displays for the kids to look at and learn from. We also picked up two scavenger hunts for them to complete as we “hiked.”

congaree parkThe trails were perfect for my two and five year old. There was tons to observe and only a small amount of mosquitos! The trails did have some roadblocks because of trees falling, but the boardwalk was amazing. It stretched close to a mile over some swamp areas. That area was my favorite!

After two hours of hiking around, we stopped at the picnic tables to have lunch before heading home. It was the perfect morning! Don’t miss out on this amazing park in our backyard!

Priceless Notes

By: Shannon Boatwright

So, I think recent times have been incredibly stressful for many of us. As a teacher, my life has been especially busy, stressful and overwhelming. Nothing I can’t handle. But between major teacher observations, preparing for my big honors drama production next week – taking on the role of not only teacher, but director, producer, costume/set/props master, stage manager, media relations, etc. – plus, teaching my regular classes, and fulfilling my regular duties, the ten to twelve hour work days start to weigh on ya. All the work responsibilities are of course on top of family needs and activities. And I won’t even bother to go into the stresses of the recent election.

priceless-notes-left-on-my-white-board-at-school-from-students

All that being said though, it’s the smallest, most random acts of kindness that can lift one’s heart and help get one through the busy and tough times. They say the smallest acts of kindness make the biggest differences in a person’s life. Like a sweet smile, a genuine compliment, or someone taking the time to open the door for you and greet you; a kind note can light up a person’s world.

This has been the case for me lately. I don’t know if God and the universe whispered the need to those around me, but I have been blessed with random, precious notes of kindness in the past month that have warmed my heart, brought me to tears and given me the strength to keep moving forward, knowing I’m appreciated and loved. No lavish gifts necessary. It’s the little things in life. These tokens of gratitude and love, these lovely little findings that bring the biggest smiles and instill a positive energy in me that helps to remind me of why I do what I do.

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Over the past month, I have gotten to school super early, before most teachers show, to get work done and prepare for my classes or rehearsals, and I’ll go to update my whiteboard and find these fabulous notes that my students have left on my board. And though some teachers may get aggravated that their board was messed up, I positively adore these notes they leave me. It is never easy for me to erase them when I have to. So, I always make sure to take a picture of their heartwarming notes, to forever cherish and to look at in those moments when I’m struggling.   

Just last week, two of my students from one of the fun academies at my school, called Random Acts of Kindness, busted into my Zumba fun academy while I was teaching. They had papers in their hands and smiles on their faces that truly lit up the room. With giddy excitement, they left these precious notes for me to read when I was done teaching. Their notes said that they were thankful for me, stating that I make them excited to come to school and that my class always puts a smile on their face and is the best part of their day. To read those words, written by a middle school student….whew, brings tears to my eyes. It’s what we live for as a good teacher. To know that I’m making a positive difference in someone’s life. To know that I’m inspiring someone and that someone appreciates what I do….it’s truly priceless!

priceless-note-from-the-hubby-on-my-mirror

I’ve also had the joy of coming across unexpected notes from my incredible family. Waking up to a note on the bathroom mirror written in lipstick by my sweet husband, finding a lovely note from my pre-teen daughter, hidden under her bed covers, because she knew I’d find it when I went to wash her bed linens, super cute handwritten notes from my son, letting me know he loves me… just seeing their handwriting and knowing that they’re thinking of me and love me – truly priceless. My daughter even left a random sweet note on my iPhone charger and I absolutely love it. My amazing Mama dropping by unexpectedly with an awesome gift and card, for no special reason, just to say she loves me! I’ve even gotten random texts from family members and dear friends saying hello, they love me and are thinking me. Those kinds of texts that make you respond out loud with a drawn out, “Awe….” and make you sit there wondering how in the world they ever knew you needed that sweet message in that moment. It’s all absolutely PRICELESS. Priceless treasures that fill my heart and soul.

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Not only do these random notes of love and kindness fill me with positive vibes, replenishing me with faith and encouragement, but they also remind me of the power of random acts of kindness and they serve as a lovely reminder of the strength a simple positive message to another individual. They remind me to pay it forward and to make a conscious effort to spread the positivity, taking the time to recognize someone else’s hard work or voice my love and adoration for someone else. Spreading the joy… it works wonders, in so many wonderful ways!

I felt this topic was appropriate considering the time of year we’re about to enter. In sharing all this, as Thanksgiving is upon us, I hope that I can encourage others to remember that making the smallest effort of leaving a simple, sweet note for someone can make the biggest difference in their lives. Let others know you appreciate them, that you love them, and that you’re thankful for them.  Who could you leave a priceless note for? If you think someone rocks!, tell them. 😉 It’ll make you feel good, and I can guarantee it’ll make them feel good.

Thanks a Lot!

By: Jeanne Reynolds

thank you note

The holidays are fast approaching, so I’m trying to give you as much heads-up as I can:

You have to write thank you notes.

Yes, you really do. And I don’t mean a text, email or Facebook/Twitter/Instagram post. Even a phone call doesn’t quite cut it. If you really appreciate the thought and kindness of the gifts you receive, and you really want the giver to know it, there’s simply no substitution for a handwritten note on real paper.

This applies to the kids, too. Even a 4-year-old can draw a picture while you write a few words for him or her. Start the habit now and it just might stick for a lifetime. (They might even thank you later.)

Oh, no, you moan: I don’t know how. I never know what to say. I don’t have time.

Well, relax. I’m going to teach you right now. It’s easy, it’s fast and you’ll feel wonderful afterward (and so will the recipient of your note). If I’m wrong, you’re welcome to pepper my front lawn with leftover mistletoe balls in January.

First, get some blank cards with envelopes or nice stationery. I prefer not to use anything preprinted with “thank you” so I can use them for other purposes. You might be surprised how much you enjoy writing on beautiful paper. And make sure you have a decent pen that won’t leave ink blobs and smears all over the paper (or you). I’m not talking fancy fountain pen here, just one that rolls smoothly.

Now, write. The basic thank-you note has just three brief sentences after the greeting:

1st sentence: “Thank you for the …” Simply say what the gift is, adding an adjective if you like. Examples: “Thank you for the lovely vase.” “Thank you for the thoughtful gift card.” “Thank you for the pretty scarf.” “Thank you for the great bottle of wine.”

2nd sentence: Describe what you like about it or how you’ll use it. Examples: “My flowers will look so nice in it next spring.” “It will really help with our upcoming vacation.” “The colors are perfect.” “I know we’ll enjoy it some evening soon.” Even if the gift is ugly as Sasquatch and you can’t imagine what Aunt Jane was thinking, you can still say something pleasant and honest. Examples: “It’s so unique.” “I’ve never had anything like it.”

3rd sentence: Praise the giver. Examples: “You were so thoughtful to remember us.” “It was so nice of you to think of me.” “It was great catching up with you.” (Just because the gift was given in person and you talked a bit, you didn’t think that got you off the thank-you note hook, did you?)

Finally, sign off with words appropriate to your relationship — “Love,” “Sincerely,” “See you soon!” or “Happy New Year to you and your family!” and your name, and you’re done.

That didn’t take long now, did it? And you’re welcome.

Cheering On the Underdogs

By: Stacy Thompson

chicago-cubs

Once a year this Gamecock fan goes on a local radio program with an equally-passionate female Clemson fan to talk about the year ahead for our respective football teams. My cohort and I don’t speak of uniform colors, discuss what to wear to games or swap tailgate recipes (though I love a good dip or three!), but instead tout the strength of our lines, critique coaching staffs and herald our playmakers on either side of the ball. We relish the opportunity to give guidance to our non-football-lovin’ (male or female) listeners as we pass along phrases to repeat during the game that will convince all armchair Monday-morning quarterbacks that you know your stuff, including:

“The game is won or lost at the line of scrimmage.”

“The coach should utilize the tight ends more.”

“That player (after an astounding catch or run) just has incredible vision and a motor that won’t quit.”

“The ref clearly swallowed the whistle” (on a big play by the other team) or “good non-call” (if the play goes your way).

I love football, and frankly, all sports and sporting competitions. For this reason, although I am not a dedicated enthusiast of Major League Baseball (or even much of a casual fan beyond the World Series), I was immersed in the battle between two long-suffering franchises, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs. Part of me was rooting for Ricky ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn and Willie Mayes Hayes (see the movie ‘Major League’ to get the reference) to appear for the Indians, but mostly I was holding my breath with countless long-suffering Cubbies to end the 108 year drought and win a title.

In sports, we always love an underdog–a David vs. Goliath face off, nerd vs. popular jock showdown, a lovable loser. We root for the little guy not because we don’t want to see one overwhelming and dominating force, but because we feel like, hey, if that team/competitor with a clear disadvantage can overcome the odds to win, so can we. This year the Cubs were the best in baseball, both during the season and ultimately in the post-season, but they still had to overcome a supposed ‘curse’ to prevail–a curse that was, by most accounts, uttered by a slighted tavern owner who was turned away at the gate because he couldn’t bring his smelly goat into the ballpark. Yes, you read that right–a dude couldn’t bring an odorous farm animal into a public place and the end result was a team that could not win the final prize for 108 years. Whether the story was truth or fiction, it was the scapegoat (pun intended) for many near-misses and missed opportunities. Well, regardless, the curse is done and now most fans are now seeking out that next ‘best-to-never-win-it-all’ to cheer on.

The best and the worst thing about sports competition is that there has to be a winner, which naturally means there also has to be a loser. Learning to do either gracefully is the real takeaway in life, but watching the battle unfold can be reality TV at its best. Seeing players giving “110 percent” and “leaving it all on the field” may be cliche, but reminds us all that efforts don’t go unrewarded–even with the curse of a rejected smelly goat.

Congrats Chicago, and congrats Cleveland–you guys provided entertainment and hope for all us long-suffering fans of the underdog!

Easy Vacation Dinner After a Long Day of Hiking

By: Azure Stilwell

crack-chicken-recipe

This past weekend we took full advantage of the beautiful weather and went on a family mini-vacation to Helen, Georgia. The cabin we stayed in was absolutely beautiful, with breathtaking views of a lake in a little valley. Helen itself was cool but it was the winding back roads and color changing trees that made the trip for us.

During our trip, each family took turns cooking dinner. On my parent’s night my mom made “crack” chicken. This stuff was delicious. We used Hawaiian Sweet Bread Buns, lightly buttered and toasted in the oven as our base for the filling. A nice vinegar salad or coleslaw will balance out the richness of the chicken mixture very well. Below I will post the recipe for “crack” chicken but I also wanted to let you know that I hiked up almost a mile up to Anna Ruby Falls and it was absolutely gorgeous. (Though I nearly died from an asthma attack, the view was so worth the breathlessness). The hike was a not-so-friendly reminder that I have got to get into better shape, but eating “crack” chicken is not the way to that path. Just sayin’. 🙂

Crack Chicken

Ingredients:

  • Chicken breasts (4 or 5) or you can use chicken strips (but maybe change cook time to 4 hours)
  • 16 oz cream cheese
  • 1 packet of ranch seasoning mix (2 if you really like the ranch taste). We used Hidden Valley.

Instructions:

  1. Mix ranch and cream cheese together. Place chicken in crockpot and cover with cream cheese mixture. Set crockpot to low and cook 6 hours. Once this mixture is on, go have fun. Come back and move to step 2.
  2. Fry up 1 pack of bacon and break into tiny pieces (you want it to be kind of crunchy)
  3. Lightly butter and toast your buns of choice.
  4. Shred chicken mixture with two forks, place on toasted sweet bun, top with bacon bits, and enjoy the best chicken sandwich ever.

You’re welcome.