Raising Readers

By: Crissie Kirby

Let’s face it . . . we ALL have one or two (or more) guilty pleasures in which we indulge.  Some of these might not be good for us (smoking, excessive alcohol intake, overeating, etc.), but some might not be terrible (working out, writing, crafting, etc.). For me, my number one guilty pleasure is reading . . . few things excite me as much as beginning a new book and delving in to the world created by the author. I don’t know when my obsession with books began, though I do vividly remember reading issue after issue of Reader’s Digest as a child and any other book that even remotely piqued my curiosity.  Reading isn’t a terrible habit to have, other than I could easily while away any number of hours in a land where dirty laundry and dirty dishes and messy floors don’t exist. I fully believe that being a voracious reader has allowed me to become a semi-decent writer.  When I had children, I just KNEW that I would have children who would LOVE books as much I did, so to ensure that, I bought a small library of children’s books. We had Goodnight Moon and Rainbow Fish and lots of Dr. Seuss and many other not so famous children’s books.  Then the unthinkable happened . . .

I had two very busy little boys.

Little boys who wouldn’t sit still for books.  Little boys who exhausted me to the point that I could often not finish a book we started before bedtime because I would, myself, fall asleep before they even blinked one tiny eyelid. I was failing as a reading parent.

As the boys got older, I would try to tempt them by buying books that I (again) just KNEW they would love. Captain Underpants and The Magic Treehouse and other not so famous short chapter books adorned the bookshelves above the aforementioned little kids books that were ever so subtly gathering dust from years of not being touched, much less read.

Unfortunately, most of these books, too, met with the same dust-encrusted fate as the earlier ones.

I was crushed. I was heartbroken. The one habit I had that I had literally waited years to share with my offspring was falling quickly by the wayside. In many ways, I resigned myself that my children were going to be like so many other boys who just didn’t like to read.

But, I kept on reading when I could. Vacations. Late nights. When I should have been folding laundry. I read. I read because it was my one little guilty pleasure that I couldn’t give up. Sometimes it would be with actual paper in my hands; other times it might be with my Kindle or on the Kindle app on my phone, but read I did. I continued encouraging the boys to read. I accompanied them to book fairs where I bought books that I silently prayed wouldn’t just become more dust magnets in our house.

Then, the tide began to shift. As surely as the sun rises slowly each morning, I would catch the boys reading books or magazines (mostly the Lego magazine, but, hey, whatever works, right?) when they weren’t required to by school. For my eldest, the reading bug sort of hit him after watching Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief and he began to read one of the Heroes of Olympus books. I was dumbfounded. I had tried buying the short little chapter books in an effort to ease them into reading and he picks up a 500+ page book and starts reading it willingly? His recreational reading has taken an even more dramatic turn in the last few weeks and he has been quickly devouring more than more than one book at a time. At bedtime, he reads. On the way to and from school, he reads.  The other night, I found him reading at 1 a.m. How could I fuss at him? As my mom replied when I relayed the story to her, it sounded like something I probably did as a child too. My previously devastated reading heart swells each time I look around and notice my son with a book in his hands sitting in the car or sprawled on the couch or nestled under his covers.

Study after study has shown that reading improves vocabulary and general knowledge and helps teach patience.  As with learning to walk and talk, developing a love of reading, it would appear, is just something that develops when the time and conditions are right.  And I’m so grateful to finally be sharing my guilty pleasure with my sons.

Gluten Free and Not Broke

By: Rachel Sircy

When my husband and I first got married, I was a grocery-budgeting wizard. I could easily keep our food expenses under $100 a month. I shopped sales and bought store brands. I figured out meals made from ingredients that were inexpensive but that were also delicious. Unfortunately, none of these inexpensive delicious meals were gluten free. My dinners relied a lot on processed convenience foods like the just add water pizza crust mixes you can get for 1.00 each in some stores.

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, I had to give up all the basic knowledge that I had about how to shop for and prepare food. And my grocery bill quadrupled (that’s not an exaggeration). Suddenly inexpensive bleached wheat flour had to be replaced with countless tiny 1lb bags of bizarre powders – things I would never have considered edible before had I not been forced to turn to them. I learned a new vocabulary and new price tags. Amaranth, Teff, Xanthan gum were now words I knew and things I ate. Sickness forced me to eat some pretty horrible things in those days (thanks Bob’s Red Mill for your experiments with bean flours, but your beany bread was puke-worthy) and sickness also forced me to get over the sticker shock. The first bag of xanthan gum that I bought was 8oz and it cost me over $12. After a while, things stopped tasting like cardboard, and I stopped tearing up every time the cashier said the grocery bill total out loud to me. Sooner than I realized, $6 for a half-sized loaf of bread seemed normal to me. After all the terrible mishaps I made in the kitchen playing mad scientist with these tiny bags of ridiculously expensive flours, I was relieved to find a 4lb bag of all-purpose gluten free flour for $16. I was going into the grocery store trying to stick to a budget, but I was so clueless that if someone had told me that a bunch of bananas was $10 I might have believed them.

So, I’ve been broke for a while now. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. But the good news about that is that after several years of trial and error, I am finally learning how to be gluten free without breaking the bank. And now, I can take all of my mistakes and turn them into helpful knowledge for all of you out there reading this. Here are 5 tips that I hope will help you go gluten free without going broke:

  1. Keep it Simple: If you’re starting out on any kind of diet, the cravings for all the delicious food you used to eat will intensify. At least that’s what happened to me. I wanted doughnuts, fried chicken and Swedish meatloaf with gravy. Unfortunately, learning to cook gluten free was, for me, like starting all over at square one. I had no idea how to make these things with gluten free flours. Things are a bit easier now than they were nearly 8 years ago, but still, it’s hard to learn a whole new way of cooking and thinking about food. So, to keep you from making a bunch of expensive messes in the kitchen, do what I didn’t do: keep it simple. Realize that you will eventually figure out ways to make gluten free versions of your favorite foods. If you’re a beginner, start out like a beginner. A dietician gave me some very helpful advice when I was first diagnosed (and I should’ve listened, but I didn’t). She told me to just concentrate on making a balanced plate using foods that I was already familiar with. For example, have a piece of lean meat, two or three non-starchy vegetables that I already know how to make in a way that’s gluten free (i.e., steamed broccoli) and a starch like rice, or a starchy vegetable like a baked potato. You can get simple ingredients for a whole lot cheaper than boxed gluten free convenience foods and these basic meals will keep you fed and healthy while you figure out the more complicated dishes.
  2. Go Big or Go Broke: When I was diagnosed, there weren’t many gluten free all-purpose flours available on the market. And, as I said above, you had to buy a bunch of little 1lb bags of flour for anywhere from $3-$12 each and experiment by mixing them together to create different flour combinations. Each thing I wanted to make needed a different combination of flours. The flour mixture I used for dredging meat was no good for baking and the baking mix I had was no good for gravy. The gravy thing really hits home for me. Once I made the mistake of thinking that white rice flour and sweet rice flour were the same thing (who does that, right?) and ended up making a pan of stuff that was supposed to be gravy, but was really just salty, gray wet sand. Gross and costly. Anyway, my point here is that today there are more and more all-purpose gluten free flours on the market, and they are worth it! Don’t get me wrong, they’re still expensive. My favorite brand, Pamela’s Artisan Flour is $16 for 4lbs. Still, $16 for a bag of really versatile gluten free flour is SO much cheaper than having to have a separate mix for each dish that I want to make. So, skip all the cake mixes, cookie mixes and boxed gravy. You can usually substitute these all-purpose flours for wheat flour in almost any recipe. That not only means you save money, but it also means that your grandmother’s prize-winning cookie recipe is back on the menu!
  3. Make it Yourself: We all know that eating at home is cheaper than eating out. That is especially true for eating out gluten free. Most restaurants are not celiac safe anyway, but even if you’re not a celiac, you will pay more for gluten free options when you go out to eat. A few restaurants now offer sandwiches on gluten free buns, but be careful, you’ll be paying sometimes up to $2 more for that sandwich than if you purchased it with a regular wheat bun. As much as possible, cook at home. It’s cheaper and it’s healthier. I know that some of you are thinking about how much you hate to cook, and I don’t blame you. I used to hate cooking too, but now I really enjoy it. I found that what I really hated was coming home from work tired and hungry and having to put an hour or more into preparing a meal before I could eat it. The trick for me was to learn to cook on my days off – which took off most of the frustration that sapped the joy of cooking for me – and then freezing the meals in individual containers for later in the week. Now when I come home from work, there’s usually a home-made meal ready for me in the fridge or freezer. Also, let your crockpot be your guide. There are thousands of crockpot recipes floating around on the internet, many of them naturally gluten free. Throw everything into the slow cooker and let it do the hard work for you.
  4. Just Because It’s Expensive Doesn’t Mean It’s Good: Remember that. I can’t stress that enough. I mentioned above that I used to spend $6 for a small loaf of whole grain gluten free bread. The loaf was so small and my bread consumption so massive at the time that I would go through two of those little loaves per week. So, that’s $12 a week I was spending on this bread. I thought it was a really great deal at the time because the bread was at least edible – and believe me there is some gluten free bread out there that definitely isn’t – but I was settling for this expensive bread. It was thick and dense and so tough that sometimes it actually cut the inside of my mouth when I ate it. But then, one day, my mother-in-law gave me a loaf of gluten free bread from Aldi’s that was about half the price of the other bread I’d been eating. And I found something amazing. Aldi’s bread was way, way better than the other bread. Each slice was roughly the size of a regular slice of bread and the bread was actually soft! I am totally going to shill for a grocery store here, but if you want to know where the best gluten free bread is, it’s totally at Aldi. They also have some of the best gluten free crackers. So, don’t get stuck on one expensive brand and think that it must be better because it costs more. You might be pleasantly surprised by a cheaper product.
  5. Cut Down on the Cost of Other Groceries: This seems really obvious, probably, but it isn’t always. I used to tell myself that I was just going to stop into Whole Foods or Earthfare for one thing, but it was never just one thing, it was always ended up being at least 5 things. If I stopped in to grab some GF crackers to go with a pot of chili that I was going to make, I ended up getting my chili beans there. Now, the only thing wrong with the bean selection at higher end grocery stores is that they can be $3 a can. I use two cans of kidney and one can of black beans in one pot of chili. That’s $9 just for the beans to go in my pot of chili. I have since switched to purchasing store brand beans at another store that I can get for less than $1 per can. Truthfully, I really don’t notice a difference in the quality of the beans. So, be a smart shopper. When it really matters, go for the best quality you can afford (and remember, like I said above, price isn’t always and indicator of quality). However, when it comes to something like chili beans, my book says it’s okay to go with the cheapest can.

Well, I hope this lesson taken from my mistakes will help some of you avoid the pricey pitfalls of going gluten free!

Accidental Blessings

By: Shannon Boatwright

“you deserve to be in spaces and relationships that make you happy. that feed your soul and help you grow. you are worthy of connections that are loving, nourishing, kind, and authentic. so before you settle for anything less than, remind yourself that the places you visit, and the people you journey with through life, should make you feel safe, loved and enough”

– alex elle

Coming across this particular quote was an accidental blessing.

One of my favorite radio stations is q93.5. I follow them on Instagram. This past Sunday they posted this quote by Alex Elle, wishing everyone a good morning. I had no idea who this Alex Elle was. In fact, upon first read earlier in the day, I thought, maybe it’s from some of the DJ’s named Alex and Elle? Later on Sunday night, before diving into a load of stressful work, I treated myself to one more scan of Instagram, secretively hoping for some uplifting inspiration to help lift my head out of my state of overwhelming work and life stuff. I allowed myself to read the q93.5 Instagram post again and really soaked in the words. I thought, wow, this is lovely. This is gold. Priceless truth for your life.

I immediately knew I needed to find out who Alex Elle was. I Googled the name and came across this site  www.alexelle.com – a beautiful discovery for sure. Come to find out, this Alex Elle is a brilliant writer, a woman who shares her passion for life, love and healing through poetry, narrative writing, storytelling…At first glance over her website and blog, I have fallen in love with her positive spirit of hope, self-love, healing, and positive living. I immediately signed up for her email newsletters of encouragement and plan to follow her blog.

My accidental blessing of coming across this incredible woman’s amazing work as I simply sought out a quick escape before trudging through required, aggravating school work, has enriched my life. I only hope that I’ll continue to pursue her encouragement and let it help build the strength that I know is within me. If I could do what she does and have the means to dive into my writing, share my own personal journey, and spread joy, love, encouragement and hope into others lives, and actually make a living at it, I WOULD TOTALLY DO SO!

Here’s to praying that my accidental blessing will lead me to wonderful achievements. I know I’ve already scored by discovering a gorgeous mentor in Alex Elle. We’ll see where life leads me. I certainly agree with what she says in her quote. Amen, amen and amen to that one. I’m ever thankful for the priceless people in my life that come to mind when I read her words. As I scan over her other words of encouragement, I am reminded of the power within – the power that we have to make great things happen for ourselves.  Hmmmmm…maybe God and the universe is trying to tell me something? Maybe it’s time to pursue new goals and make greater things happen so that I can make more of a difference in other’s lives as I enrich my own?

Spring Must Do List

By: Ashley Whisonant

With Spring officially here, I have been dreaming of flowers blooming, warmer temperatures, and outside fun with my boys and friends. In honor of my favorite season, I have created a short to-do list to help keep my priorities in check!

Spring Must Do List

  • Set up a mini Easter Egg Hunt in our backyard. Fill up eggs with little treats, stickers, and Lego people.
  • Clear out a small patch of grass for a *few* veggies to grow
  • Sit on the back porch, reading a book and watching my boys play
  • Walk the neighborhood after dinner three times a week
  • Clean out the playroom
  • Visit Saluda Shoals Park to bike or trail walk
  • Make a day trip to Charleston to walk The Battery and Rainbow Row
  • Have a picnic lunch at Virginia Hylton Park
  • Meet girlfriends for Happy Hour at a restaurant with an outside patio
  • Drive home with the windows down
  • Walk Lake Murray Dam during my lunch break
  • Attend an event at Icehouse Amphitheater

What am I missing?! Post your suggestions for spring below!

Letting It Go

By: Jeanne Reynolds

When your husband thinks you’re so stressed out you need to go away for the weekend instead of cooking and cleaning for him, you should probably listen.

I don’t deal well with chaos and clutter, and when you’re having the entire inside of your home repainted, you have both. There’s a point — or a couple of weeks — where it gets worse before it gets better. I was at that point late last week.

It’s not just the painter’s gear everywhere and the furniture pushed together in the center of every room, it’s the stuff that has to come out of the large furniture to make it light enough to move. And then of course you can’t just cram it back in later, because it’s the perfect opportunity to sort and reorganize and discard/donate/regift.

I found things in my dining room buffet cabinet I didn’t even know I had. I certainly hadn’t seen or used some of them in 10 years or longer. I clearly didn’t need them, and some I didn’t even like. Why, then, is it so hard to let them go?

These items fall in several categories:

  • Things people gave me that I never really liked or used much. Exhibit A: Two pairs of glass candlesticks received as wedding gifts from a group of co-workers. Lovely, but they hardly fit my lifestyle, plus I don’t even remember the names of any of the givers.
  • Things I once liked but my tastes, needs or decor have changed. Exhibit B: A peach-colored tablecloth with lace overlay. A hand-me-down from my mother that I used a few times but peach doesn’t do it for me these days.
  • Things that are perfectly good — in some cases still new — but I just don’t need them and never have. Exhibit C: Multiple sets of crystal tumblers.
  • Things I love that I might not use much, but when I need them, I need them, and just looking at them makes me smile. Exhibit D: A few silver serving pieces and a large Waterford crystal vase.
  • Things I don’t use but have strong emotional ties to. Exhibit E: My grandmother’s green glass butter dish with domed cover. It was the one thing she told me she wanted me to have as she lay dying in the hospital. I mean, c’mon.
  • Things I like and use all the time: Exhibit F: A set of woven cotton placemats and napkins. Yes, my husband and I actually have dinner once or twice a week in the dining room with cloth napkins!

The items in the last three categories were easy decisions. It was the first three that caused the most mental anguish — and there were lots more of them than the others. What if I suddenly need one of those faded green napkins? Isn’t that crystal decanter too good to give away? And shouldn’t I save that old blue tablecloth for picnics? I was riddled with doubt and indecision as I packed up each item, whether for donation to a charity thrift store or to pass along to a friend or family member who will love it anew.

I know I’m not alone in this, hence the dozens of books and magazines telling us how to simplify our lives and declutter — not to mention the proliferation of self-storage businesses on seemingly every street corner.

I think what the problem really comes down to is not discarding the items but feeling like I’m discarding the people I associate with them. That’s what’s hard to separate. But really, if a family relationship depends on whether I hang onto some old china and linen, then I have bigger problems than a crowded cabinet.

Now, can I interest you in a set of vintage Stetson china dinner plates?

To Move or Not to Move

By: Azure Stilwell

The last few weeks I have been struggling with my depression. I am still doing the ECT treatments but my energy level has been zapped. Since my oldest left for college I have felt lost here in Columbia. I feel like I want to move back to Augusta. When I lived in Augusta before, I had a great psychologist. My parents also live there so I had family support that I don’t have here in Columbia. The problem is, my husband hasn’t gotten any good job leads and we cannot move without a job in place.

I wonder if my reasons for wanting to move back to Augusta are right for my family. We have a good life here but it just feels incomplete. I am very family oriented and not having anyone here is hard on me. It was easier when my oldest was in high school because we wouldn’t move him away from his friends, but now that he’s gone Columbia feels so lonely. My youngest is still in elementary school so we don’t have the same reasons holding us here that we did with my oldest. I feel like it would be good for all of us to get a new start but I don’t know if that’s selfish thinking. We have a lovely home, my son is in a good school system, and we all have friends here that we would miss. Is it fair to ask them to give these things up so I can be near my parents?

I am not in a good place right now so maybe a move would help me find myself again. Wouldn’t it be better to move and be me again than to stay and be a shell of a person? The struggle is real and I pray every night that God will give us the answer but so far that has not opened a job in Augusta. I just don’t know why I feel so strongly that we are meant to move if we really aren’t? I’m so desperate to feel whole again I would do just about anything at this point if I thought it would help.

5K With a Little Help From My Friends

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

In November of last year, I blogged about walking the Get to the Green 5k to celebrate the second anniversary of my survival from a near fatal brain aneurysm rupture. Today I’m proud to announce that I did it: I walked 3.1 miles. I didn’t run, as I’ve always hoped to do, but that doesn’t downplay my walking on the very day I had the rupture.

Those of you who are familiar with the story of my brain aneurysm rupture may remember that I had to “re-lean” how to walk during my rehabilitation. I wasn’t paralyzed, per se, but my muscles had atrophied after being in bed for a month. The whole time I thought it would be a cinch and would all come naturally. I even had thoughts of walking in downtown Atlanta while at Shepherd. But it wasn’t easy, and it took a lot of assistance and patience.

The process was complicated somewhat by a breathing impairment created during intubation. My vocal cords were damaged, and I had two surgeries and a trach tube while in rehab. The result is an impaired airway that impacts my voice and my breathing to this day.

One of the reasons I decided to do the 5k was 1) because I could; and 2) to keep me engaged in my strength training and balance work. Even up until the day before the walk, I was a little anxious, mostly about my breathing limitations. Any concerns I had were put to rest the day of the race, when my sweet friends and family gathered at Maxcy Gregg Park to walk with me.

I’ve been so fortunate to have such a great support system during my recovery, and they did not disappoint on the anniversary either. About 12 special friends joined me for the 5K, including one who is dealing with MS and another who walks with a cane due to issues from an AVM. One of my nurses showed up, who is recovering from back surgery. My cousin came from Charlotte with a sign of support that she carried throughout the race. And my sweet sister had created t-shirts for our team, so we looked the part. It truly was a team effort.

I know I walked the 3.1 miles – I had a sore hip and full Fitbit to show for it – but I almost felt carried by my loving friends. We laughed and talked and looked at houses along the way, and we were at the finish line before I knew it.

Next up, I want to add “hanging abs” back to my strength training program. I know you can’t rush these things, but it’s on my 50 in 50 list. So I’m hoping to be able to do one again by September 24.