Experimenting with Tradition, Part 2

By Rachel Sircy

Last time I wrote about how my mother found a gluten-free all-purpose flour blend to make our beloved egg noodles for the traditional Midwestern chicken and noodles dish (creatively titled, eh?). Well, here is a picture of it cooking on the back burner:

Noodles cooking on the stove

Noodles cooking on the stove

 

It doesn’t exactly look tasty, but it worked for us. I was so worn out from cooking by the time we sat down to eat that I didn’t even bother taking a picture of the noodles on my plate. But the noodles were actually not half bad, they just weren’t that pretty while cooking. The pot below is the pot of regular chicken and noodles. It looks a bit more appetizing.

Picture 2

Ready to eat!

It’s difficult to try to recreate certain ingrained traditions, but I think that Mom came pretty close to doing it this year. The noodles were of a pretty good consistency that first day, though gluten-free concoctions don’t keep well and by the next day, they had fairly well dissolved in the liquid. I didn’t take a picture of that either. I think you would all thank me for that.

Another food tradition that I especially wanted to recreate today were the frosted Christmas cookies that were always on my grandmother’s table this time of year. I wanted to have them while we put up our Christmas tree, which is always something of a special family party at our house. We turn on the Peanuts Christmas soundtrack and Bing Crosby and take it easy. Our Christmas tree is pretty plain as far as Christmas trees go. My husband and I are extremely sentimental and so we don’t have that sort of catalog-ready tree with all the matching ornaments and gorgeous bows. We don’t even put garland around our tree. Honestly, we wouldn’t have room for garland. We have the multi-colored lights that we loved when we were kids and at least one ornament to commemorate every year that we’ve been together. Many of the ornaments on our tree were handmade by my husband’s late grandmother – like this one below:

Picture 3

Since Grandma Sircy has passed away, I have started trying to carry on the tradition of making a holiday ornament for everyone in the family. Here is a shoebox full of my efforts for this year:

Picture 4

Knitting some memories

Really, I had no idea how seriously people can take the whole decorating thing – I mean, changing out themes and color schemes every year. During the holidays, my husband and I like to be kids again. We surround ourselves with things that we enjoy and things that we remember. Picture 5So, we have Grandma Sircy’s lovely handmade ornaments, we have ornaments from my husband’s alma mater, Centre College, we have an ornament for every Christmas we’ve ever spent together and a whole lot of Spiderman ornaments for some reason (though my husband made the sacrifice to leave them off the tree this year to make way for a growing number of princess-themed ornaments). Now that we have an almost-three-year-old girl – whose birthday happens to be just three days before Christmas – we have a lot more pink on our tree. And, plain as it is, I think our tree is a pretty wonderful sight.

 

Anyway, all this is to say, that around our house, tradition is pretty important and this includes food as well as decorations. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has made shortbread cookies from scratch for just about every holiday on the yearly American calendar. These cookies are the best I have ever tasted. Seriously, I know that there are a lot of people that would say that their grandma cooks best, well, I have to say that I’m pretty sure that I can provide quantifiable evidence that my grandma can bake better than yours. Taste one of her frosted shortbread cookies and see if I’m kidding. Or her homemade butterscotch pie – a recipe that originally came from a cookbook printed in 1959, the days when nobody felt guilty about eating butter, and that she improved upon. That pie is so good it’ll make you want to slap anybody’s momma – it doesn’t even have to be your own. Well, I was homesick for some of those cookies. Unfortunately, I am no baking prodigy. My shortbread (even before I started baking gluten free) was always either greasy or dry to the point of tasting like vanilla ashes. And so, I have found that sometimes we must sort of set aside tradition and do what we can do.

That is where this wonderful book comes in:

Picture 6

I know that a whole lot of people are familiar with the Cake Mix Doctor, Anne Byrn, but for all you gluten-free people out there in Columbia tonight, she has a gluten-free book. Actually, I think she has a few gluten-free books out now. I have the first one that she came out with and I have to say that almost every cake that I’ve made out of this book has been awesome. I say almost because I wasn’t crazy about the coconut pound cake or the sweet potato pound cake, but other than that, this book is the bomb. I think the deal is that I really just don’t like pound cake. Anyway, she had a recipe for slice and bake sugar cookies that you can make from a yellow cake mix and *Hallelujah* here they are:

They are really, really good. Of course, they’re not Grandma’s shortbread cookies, but they’re what I could do. My mom worked on Thanksgiving to pull together egg noodles to bring back a dish that we thought we’d lost. They weren’t like the noodles that I remember her making when I was younger, but they were a pretty good substitute. And that’s what I have done here. I’ve made a pretty good substitute, not quite the real thing, but then I could never make my grandma’s cookies anyway – only she can do that. My friend’s daughter used to tell us, whenever she’d helped make something we were eating – “you know, I put a lot of love in that.” Really, that’s what makes my grandmother’s cookies and Grandma Sircy’s ornaments so amazing. You can’t duplicate a grandmother’s love, and so you can’t duplicate anything that she does for you. And, I’d like to think that since I made these cookies for my husband and my daughter, that even though they came from a box (and the frosting came from a can) that there’s a lot of love in them too and that that love overrides the fact that I kind of cheated making them. Maybe I’m kidding myself about that last part, but maybe not. Don’t tell me if I am kidding myself. I like the illusion.

Suggested Christmastime Reading: Isaiah 9:6 and A Christmas Carol

 

 

 

What’s in a name?

By Jeanne Reynolds

If you’re like most of us, you’ll probably spend more time than usual with extended family this month: aunts, uncles, grandparents, in-laws, parents of old school friends.

Have you ever struggled with how to address them — especially as you get older and are no longer one of “the kids”?

This came up the other day when I stopped by a friend’s football tailgate and the conversation drifted to the topic of their parents — former neighbors of ours — and then on to the names by which we address our in-laws.

I became really intrigued by this, and started a sort of informal survey of other friends and family members. Turns out this is a tricky issue for most of us, and goes beyond family to pretty much anyone a generation older than us. If you’ve spent the first 20 (or more) years of your life calling someone Uncle Joe, it feels weird to start saying just Joe. And if your high school BFF’s mom was Mrs. Smith, how old do you have to be to call her Mary?

In-law nomenclature seems to bring its own set of unwritten rules. If you started out from day one calling your intended’s parents by their first names, no problem. But if they were Mr. and Mrs. Jones when you were dating, when is it OK to segue to Bob and Judy? Does it depend on how long you’ve been married, or your age, or your relationship with them? I’ve been married for almost 25 years, and am just now experimenting with first names for my in-laws. It feels a little odd but seems to be OK. It’s certainly less confusing when there are several Mrs. Reynolds in the room.

I experienced another spin on this generational name-calling last year when a friend’s daughter came to work for me as a summer intern. Like most companies, we’re all on a first-name basis from the president on down, so Mrs. Reynolds wasn’t going to cut it if she wanted to position herself as a capable professional. (Also out: “Yes, ma’am.” Not sure which was harder for her, being a good southern girl.) It was probably even more confusing for her when she went home in the evening. I imagine this:

Her mom: “How was work today?”

My intern: “I got a great new project from Jeanne … I mean Mrs. Reynolds … I mean … oh heck.”

Yes, the names we use for each other do matter. They can indicate respect, professionalism, status and intimacy. It can be annoying when someone takes the first-name liberty inappropriately (think telemarketer) and a slap when someone refuses that permission. And it’s very much a personal preference. An online search found numerous articles offering advice on when it’s appropriate to use first names, but mostly for business situations. When it comes to personal relationships, we’re kind of all on our own.

If in doubt, you could always just ask. More likely than not, most people are just happy to talk with you and really don’t care that much. So don’t be surprised if you hear some version of that old joke: “You can call me whatever you want. Just don’t call me late for dinner.”

 

December Wish List

By Ashley Whisonant

December is a month my family and I wait for all year long. I especially love the excitement it brings to my little ones, not just on Christmas morning. I am making an effort this December to focus more on family time together and not get wrapped up in having a “perfect” Christmas.

Here is my top ten list for things to do together as a family:

  1. Bake Christmas cookieschristmas-cookies-553457_1280
  2. Watch at least one Christmas movie a weekend
  3. Visit Santa as often as possible
  4. See the lights at Riverbanks Zoo
  5. Volunteer twice before Christmas
  6. Surprise Elf one of our neighbors
  7. Stroll through Saluda Shoals Park
  8. Decorate an ornament
  9. Send a surprise package to a friend
  10. Attend Christmas Eve mass

I hope this list is just the tip of the iceberg for my family this holiday season. I want us to focus on the times together and not the things we receive.

Happy Holidays, friends!

Wear Your Pearls, Girls, on National Wear Your Pearls Day

By Chaunte McClure

Just over two years ago I shared my story of dealing with and overcoming depression in a post titled I Survived, Part 2. That’s definitely not a period of my life that I’m proud of; however, I am glad that I came out of it.

About halfway through 2015, I was in that dark place again after a traumatic experience in February of that same year. This was my second encounter with depression, but this time, I sought professional help.

During my first visit, the counselor read off a list of symptoms and after each one, I acknowledged whether or not I suffered from any of them. There were enough yeses to determine I was in the right place at the right time to get the service I needed.

For many reasons, people often don’t seek support, but it’s necessary. Untreated, my mild case could’ve turned severe.

Because of the stigma of depression and mental health disorders, patients hide in shame and secrecy.

The first time, I was unfamiliar with depression and it was not until I overcame it that I realized I was depressed. Little did I know I was flirting with danger and literally putting my life at risk. Knowing the signs of depression and understanding that it’s a serious illness helps.

Thanks to local author and motivational speaker Deanna Bookert, December 15 is National Wear Your Pearls Day, a day designated to bring awareness to depression and anxiety. National Wear Your Pearls Day Dec 15

Besides her love for pearls, Deanna chose this bead because it represents a process and struggle. She wants sufferers to understand that “although we have hard times in our life, something valuable will come out of it.”

Millions of Americans suffer from depression, including children. Though it’s not a disease to be proud of, it’s definitely not one to be ashamed of either.

Join other women across American on December 15 and wear your pearls, girls, in support of National Wear Your Pearls Day. National Wear Your Pearls Day Proclamation

 

Social Security Disability Myths

By Stacy Thompson

As an attorney practicing in the area of social security disability, I often get asked “But what is it you DO, exactly?”  Many people are either unaware of the Social Security Administration program for individuals who are unable to work due to medical problems, or believe that the process to obtain benefits is simple, straightforward and quick.  I spend a lot of my time educating people on the program itself, but I make my living because the system itself is anything BUT simple, straightforward and quick.  In representing claimants for the last seventeen years, I’ve heard my share of myths involving the SSA disability process, so allow me to debunk a few –1200px-US-SocialSecurityAdmin-Seal.svg

  • If a doctor states I am unable to work, I will automatically be approved for benefits.

Having the support of your treating doctor in your application can be helpful, but does not guarantee that you will be awarded.  SSA will obtain medical information from all treating sources, including hospitals, clinics, physicians, etc., and will make a determination as to whether your limitations and restrictions would keep you from working.

  • I can’t return to my past work that I have been doing all of these years, so I should be approved for benefits.

The definition of disability under the social security regulations is an inability to perform any work due to a physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments); the inability to do your past work is one facet of the determination process, but when taking into account age, education and any skills you have from past work, SSA must also decide whether you could perform any other work that exists in the national economy.

  • I have a terminal condition but it’s still going to take me months to be awarded benefits.

SSA has established a list of “compassionate allowances” – conditions which may expedite the processing and handling of benefits.  In compassionate allowances cases, benefits may be awarded more quickly and without the usual process involved in an application.  For a list of compassionate allowances, go to:  https://www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances

  • SSA denies everyone / SSA approves people who really don’t have anything wrong with them.

Yes, these two statements are contradictory, but are frequently believed – many claims are turned down initially (only about 30% of the cases filed are approved initially) and should be appealed.  Of the cases that are appealed through to the hearing process, about 45% are approved by an administrative law judge.

On the flip side, I run across those who believe that they have a friend, neighbor or acquaintance who is on disability but is not deserving. I always point out that the process is very thorough and arduous – SSA does not easily approve anyone, and sometimes there is much more going on medically than may meet the eye.

  • I must be out of work a year before filing for benefits.

Although the regulations do require that an individual have a condition, or combination of conditions, that has lasted or could be expected to last twelve months longer (or result in death), the latter part of that definition is important – if your condition may be expected to last a year or longer, then you may file for disability benefits at any time.  I recommend filing as soon as possible, given the average application time is between two and three years from filing to award.

  • I must have an attorney or representative to obtain benefits.

An attorney or non-attorney representative is not required to file for or obtain benefits.  However, an experienced attorney/representative can certainly assist with the development of your claim and in preparing you for your hearing.  The hearing itself will be before an administrative law judge, who is an impartial adjudicator, however, having someone who is knowledgeable in the applicable rules and regulations can certainly improve your chances of success.  Attorneys and non-attorney representatives who are eligible to charge a fee do so on a contingency fee basis, which means payment of fees comes from any back pay awarded (generally 25%).

The above are only a few of the myths surrounding social security disability and do not answer or address all questions/issues involved in these types of cases – for more information, visit the SSA website at www.ssa.gov.