Shop Smarter, Not Harder

By: Rachel Sircy

Living with any chronic condition usually means having to means that you have to make serious lifestyle changes. For those of us who have to make drastic changes in what we eat, grocery shopping can become something we dread and eating out can become nearly impossible.

For celiacs like myself, you have to learn a whole new way of thinking about food and you have to learn a whole new language: label reading. Learning to become an expert label reader and spot the hidden gluten in food takes time. Meanwhile, as you struggle with all this new information, you get hungry. Really hungry. I don’t know about you, but when I become hungry I get desperate, and desperation leads to bad food choices and bad food choices (particularly for someone with a chronic condition) leads to bad health.

So, what can you do to prevent yourself from becoming desperately hungry while you’re re-learning to shop? Well, firstly, listen to that piece of advice your mother gave you and never, EVER shop hungry. If you have diabetes or high cholesterol or celiac disease, there are very few convenience foods out there that are safe for you to eat. Be sure to eat before you go to the store. And, if you have found a portable snack that is healthy for you, take it with you.

Of course, we can all find ourselves in an emergency situation, and while we’re re-learning about food and how to shop for ourselves again, these two smartphone apps can be real lifesavers:

ShopWell – This app is perfect for those of us who haven’t quite mastered label reading, or who are in a hurry to get in and out of the grocery store. In our modern world of pre-packaged everything, it’s hard to know just what the ingredients in something are and whether or not they’re good for you. The ShopWell app allows each user to plug in personal health information, such as if you want to follow a gluten free diet or if you are a diabetic, pre-diabetic or have high cholesterol. The app has a built-in barcode scanner for food and when you use it to scan a food item, the app will tell you if that food has ingredients in it that are good for you and your individual dietary needs.

If you find yourself completely confused, or in a hurry, you can turn on the app’s location device while you are in the grocery store and the app will point you in the direction of healthy food. It can tell you the general area where you should be searching for food that is right for you in the grocery store you happen to be in. It’s like having a registered dietician in your pocket!

Find Me Gluten Free – My mother (who is also a celiac) introduced me to this app. It’s perfect for those times when you find yourself out of the house for longer than you expected, or your in a city that you are unfamiliar with. This app uses your location to find restaurants in your immediate area that offer gluten free items on the menu. The first time I ever used it, my family was out Christmas shopping in a city that was 2 1/2 hours away from where we lived. We were starving, but we didn’t know anything about the area and had no idea where we could eat. We turned on the app and found out that Red Robin has the option to serve most of its sandwiches on gluten free croissants. While I really don’t recommend eating out a lot for celiacs (cross contamination is almost always an issue), there are times when you need to eat pronto. Thanks this app, Mom and I were saved from becoming hungry enough to make some bad food choices.

So, when learning a new way of life, do it smarter, not harder. Save yourself some time, some headache and be good to your body by letting these apps take some of the guesswork out of shopping and eating out for you!

My Muse, My Mina

By: Shannon Boatwright

I recently created a big production with my honors drama students. Typically, in my creative process, music is the inspiration behind my works. But in the case of my Land of Stories show, it was my amazing daughter, my Mina, that was the absolute driving force of my inspiration.

This incredible child of mine was positively smitten by Chris Colfer’s beautiful, fairytale treasure of creative genius, “The Land of Stories” books series. She would read passages and chapters from the books to me out loud with such excitement – saying “Mama, I wish I could just dive into the book and live in the story!” She would hand me the book and demand that I read certain pages. She was absolutely taken with this opportunity to escape into this awesome world with fabulous characters and great adventures. What a beautiful thing storytelling is!

Naturally, we had to have the entire book series, making sure to get the next book as soon as it came out. For her birthday back in December, we even framed the book covers to hang in her room. I wish I could personally share with Chris Colfer the joy he helped to create for this precious girl. I just know that he’d be proud and that he’d adore my Mina and her zeal for his fabulous stories!

I have learned to listen to that voice of inspiration, that lightning strike that demands my attention. When a vision repeatedly creeps into my mind and heart, I know I’m supposed to listen and take action. In the case of my recent big production with my honors drama students, I am so thankful that I allowed myself to be guided by my inspiration and let my little muse, my Mina, capture my attention and fill my heart with her excitement. Thanks to her joy for this incredible book series, I let my passion for writing, producing, and directing mold this special creation. I’m ever thankful for my brilliant girl’s love for fabulous stories and for sharing her passions. And I’m still overwhelmed with gratitude at the outcome: the gift of working with such fabulous people and young stars to make my product a successful reality.

All that being said, if you ever feel that glorious wave of inspiration and it overwhelms your heart and mind, go with it! Follow that road of inspiration and let it take you places and make great things happen! Every time I have followed the lead of my inspirations, I’m always thankful that I did.

My prayer, hope and wish for my own children is that they never lose that ability to be taken by something positive and wonderful, and are never fearful to share their joys and inspirations. And I will certainly be forever thankful to my angel girl, Mina, for sharing her passion for Chris Colfer’s awesome books. I hope and pray that she never loses that twinkle in her eyes and her love for great stories!

Through the Eyes of Love

By: Jeanne Reynolds

Mom is turning 85 in a couple weeks. My siblings and I, our spouses and assorted offspring are using the occasion to gather from three cities in two countries for a mini-reunion. It’ll be the first time we’ve gotten together that doesn’t involve a funeral in many years. So, long overdue, and likely to be a lot more fun.

Mom isn’t too Internet-savvy so I feel pretty sure I won’t blow a surprise by telling here about the birthday box. A couple months ago, I wrote and emailed a bunch of far-flung family members and friends, inviting them to send a card, letter, photo or email to celebrate her birthday. I’m putting these in a large decorative box I got at the Dollar Store (hey, it’s really pretty — don’t judge) that we’ll present to her during the trip.

I haven’t opened the sealed envelopes, but the notes that came through email I kind of had to read so I could print them out nicely. Which gets me, finally, to why I’m talking about this.

I’ve learned things I never knew about my mother. One of them is how many people think she’s a ton of fun and admire her brave spirit and sense of adventure. Well, OK, it’s her 85th birthday and nobody is going to send the written equivalent of a bouquet of dead roses, but still.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I appreciate about Mom. I bake great cookies because of her, and nobody outdoes me with curling ribbon and a pair of scissors. Weekly trips to the library as a child instilled my love of reading, which I think has everything to do with my love of writing. Classical music and Broadway show tunes are — thanks to her — part of my repertoire, too.

But reading about her solo trip halfway across the country to meet the family of her brand-new groom who had just shipped out to Guam, or the stories she made up with my cousin Rob about the unidentified couple in a mysterious family photo, helped me see a new side of her.

I guess this must be a little how parents of a wild child feel when they hear the teacher or his best friend’s parents rave about how well-behaved, polite and helpful he is. Huh? Are you sure we’re talking about the same person? I mean, this woman can drive me nuts, rendering me speechless with some of things she says, her alternate-universe “memories” and her rapid changes of plans.

Mom will probably still drive me batty sometimes (and no doubt I’ll return the favor). But this experience has encouraged me to look at her a little differently. Maybe I could try taking off the daughter glasses now and then, and seeing Mom through clearer eyes — eyes of love.

Happy birthday, Mom!

OZONE AWARE: Help Take Care of the Summer Air

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

We have another month until it’s official, but it already feels like summer in the Midlands.  Here in the Midlands, summers are known for festivals, homemade ice cream and playing in Lake Murray. But there’s something else that heats up when the Midlands starts getting warmer: ground-level ozone. Here’s the dirt on ground-level ozone:

Good up high. Bad nearby. Unlike the good, protective ozone layer in the stratosphere, ground level ozone is a harmful air pollutant that affects all of us. It’s formed when emissions from everyday items combine with other pollutants and “cook” in the heat and sunlight. (Gasoline-powered cars and trucks are the most common source of emissions in our area.) Weather also plays a key role in ozone formation. The highest ozone levels are usually recorded in summer months when temperatures approach the high 80s and 90s and the wind is stagnant or light.

Ground-Level ozone affects everybody. At ground level, ozone is a health hazard for all of us, especially the young and elderly. Those who are active and exercising outdoors may experience breathing difficulties and eye irritation. Prolonged exposure may result in reduced resistance to lung infections and colds. Ozone can also trigger attacks and symptoms in individuals with pre-existing conditions, like asthma or other respiratory infections like chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Stay alert all summer. Remember, the highest ozone levels are typically found on days that reach the high 80s and 90s and when the wind is stagnant or light. Stay tuned to your local meteorologists, as they will be notifying the public of Ozone Action Alert days when ozone levels are forecasted to reach unhealthy levels. Or use Enviroflash to sign up for free air quality forecasts.

Don’t just breathe, do something. Fellow breathers, you can become a part of the solution. There are simple, easy steps you can take to reduce harmful emissions during ozone pollution season. Be a clean air warrior and click here to get started. 

For more information on ground-level ozone, visit Clean Air Midlands or SC Department of Health and Environmental Control.

 

The Joy of Pets

By: Stacy Thompson

I’ve been a rescue mom for many years now, and I have brought into my family too many dogs, cats, hermit crabs, fish, gerbils, etc to count. Anyone who has ever had a pet may have multiple reasons for sharing their space with something other than a plant or a human, but know that there are many more reasons to get a pet, beyond the obvious:

  • Pre-wash—No need to rinse a plate when a slobbering tongue can take care of it!
  • Electric blanket—Mounds of fur much warmer and cuddlier than anything requiring a plug!
  • An ear…but no mouth—Pour your heart out with no judgment and no talking back!
  • Alarm clock — Best way to wake up in the morning!
  • Alarm system — To secure the perimeter and warn of impending doom (real or imagined!)
  • Foul weather warning—Retreat to the walk-in closet when the clouds appear!
  • A reminder to take naps—We all should take naps, multiple naps…
  • Validation that sometimes just walking back into a room is an event—Even if you just left two minutes ago.
  • Knowledge that there is pure joy in simply running around a yard…not to reach a destination, but because it’s there.
  • Reminder that even though that squirrel may never be caught, it can still be chased— or, although some goals may never be realized, they can still be chased.
  • Unconditional love

Tailgate Withdrawal

By: Stacy Thompson

For those that may be concerned about my lack of recent posts and a lack of sports-related themes…fear not!! I am merely a victim of TWS (Tailgate Withdrawal Syndrome) — a very real affliction that will likely play itself out in 120 days (or so). If you think someone you know may suffer from this same illness, read the warning signs below and have them contact me to assist in my endeavor to form a meaningful support group…

  1. You watch the sun come up over Williams-Brice Stadium from your tailgating spot and wonder why your friends are running so late…in May.
  1. You sit in your fold-out chair under your Gamecock tent on Saturday morning drinking a cold one and eating chili…at 8:00 a.m.
  1. You begin purchasing family-sized bags of Tostitos scoops during the week…and large quantities of mayo…and jumbo-sized bags of shredded cheese…
  1. You begin to tear up and jump up and down when you hear Sandstorm or cry like a baby and break out in goose-bumps when you hear 2001.
  1. You obsessively troll the food.com, recipes.com and cook.com websites for new ideas to fit with your tailgate theme menus for the upcoming season (which you already have marked on your calendar with the preceding day off to execute your masterpiece of a menu).
  1. You view utensils, food receptacles and serving ware at Target only for their value in terms of tailgate utility and aesthetic.
  1. You pack and unpack your car with tailgate gear, with the same rhythm and grace as a Nascar pit crew…while timing yourself to achieve maximum efficiency and speed.
  1. Your ears perk instantly when you hear the words “tail” and “gate”…even when used in a derogatory fashion to describe your rear-end’s inability to pass through an entryway (you may have to talk this one through, but eventually you’ll get it).
  1. You make large quantities of appetizers and sweets…just because.
  1. You watch and re-watch most every game from the 2011, 2012 and 2013 football seasons…remembering not only the grandeur that is college football but the amazing food and camaraderie that was had by all.

See you all soon!

Viva Las Vegas

By: Ashley Whisonant 

Las Vegas is known for excess in almost everything! On my most recent work conference trip, I decided to do my Vegas trip a little differently. I wanted to enjoy myself, but see some of the other sights. I enjoyed a glass of wine or two, but I also ate some amazing food and saw some gorgeous attractions that were FREE!

Let’s start with the food, shall we?

After I arrived from the long flight, I was craving a juicy burger. Gordon Ramsay has a fun burger joint in the Planet Hollywood hotel. The wait staff was attentive, the décor feisty, and the food delicious. My Hell’s Kitchen Burger was moist and full of flavor.

For breakfast one morning, I ventured over to the Paris hotel for a French crepe. My crepe was filled with creamy lemon curd and fresh strawberries, and was topped with lemon pound cake and homemade whipped crème. This was a breakfast for champions!

What Vegas trip is complete without some pool time?! I found a few hours to lounge in the sun at the Bally Hotel and Casino pool. Freezing cold water, but great views!

Looking for some free exploring and fun?

The hotels and casinos are themed to the max. They remind me of the theming Disney World resorts take on. Obviously there are adult twists mixed in!

I visited the gondolas at the Venetian, admired the ceilings, and toured the gardens in the Bellagio.

Can Las Vegas be done differently? Yes! You can leave without gambling or drinking to excess and still enjoy yourself. Travel away!