A Wedding in a League of its Own

By Chaunte McClure

In ministry, I’ve had many firsts, but my experience earlier this month was out of the ballpark. I officiated my first wedding and it happened to take place at Spirit Communications Park, home of the Fireflies, a minor league baseball team in Columbia. It was nothing short of creative and fun.

The couple, both softball coaches at South Carolina State University, had an “A League of Their Own” themed wedding. No fairytale princess gown, no tailored tuxedos, and no formal bridesmaid dresses.Reese Wedding Party

The bride, Cheretta, wore a custom dress made from white and red baseball jersey fabric Reese Vowswhile the groom, Calvin, dressed in the same colors, wore slacks, a blazer, and a baseball cap. They both wore red Chuck Taylors. The bridesmaids were decked in softball themed dress uniforms and white Converses and the groomsmen stood tall in white slacks, blue button-up shirts, white slacks and blue Converses.

The couple stood above the dugout and vowed to love, honor and cherish one another until death as family and friends sat in the stands and witnessed the Reese’s Field of Dreams.

The game wasn’t over after the wedding because the Reese’s came to play all day, even at the reception. With baseball instrumentals and theme music playing, the announcer introduced the bridal party and the new Mr. and Mrs. The couple ditched the traditional first dance for a first pitch and guests could nibble on peanuts until dinner was served.

baseballThe menu? Items you’d find at a concession stand as an option and food you’d find at your family’s cookout as another option. Oh, this event was a homerun. Every detail was well thought out and executed.

It made for a unique opportunity and certainly a memorable moment for my first time as a wedding officiant.

May the Reeses never strike out and pitch countless innings of love, honor, and respect in their marriage.

 

Music, The Virtual Time Machine

By Shannon Boatwright

“The music that touches you in your youth is magnified as you get older. Each record can be a virtual time machine – all you need is to hear a second or two and you go back to that place and time when you first heard it.  It’s a brilliant feeling when music touches you so profoundly and stays with you through time.”

  • Rob Halford

Music, for me, is an incredible source of inspiration on so many levels. Rob Halford is considered a Metal God. His voice is out of this world – his vocal abilities and range have put him on the top of the lists as one of the best voices of rock.  After reading up on him, what I really like most about him is his passion for music and his recognition of its ability to truly transport people.  One of my favorite drummers, Brad Wilk, posted this quote by Rob on his Instagram. It really caught my eye because I truly cannot imagine life without music. Music is what helps to fuel my world, keep me motivated, keep me inspired.  All types of music have this lovely ability to take you away, envelop you in its graces and flood you with memories, visions and dreams.Music, The Virtual Time Machine

When I hear certain music, I am most definitely transported to another time. Sometimes instantly. For example, if I hear “Coming to America” by Neil Diamond, I am instantly transported to my living room back in my elementary and middle school days when my mother would blast his music while we cleaned house. She would have it playing loud and proud and I secretively loved it, especially this song. I can see the room, I can smell the fragrances of our home, I can see my Mom singing along and getting taken away by the passion of the song. Growing up with a professional pianist mother who loves music immensely and music is literally her life, well, you get influenced! It’s inevitable. Whether it was classical music, Neil Diamond, Abba, Julio Iglesias, gospel music, classic rock or Yanni – music has always filled the homes that I grew up in.

Music was and is a source of therapy, a source of freedom, a source of great escape. And goodness knows, when I hear certain songs, I am totally transported back in time!  I can hear a song from the movie Annie and instantly be transported to the early 1980s when I would act out the entire movie in my living room for my family. I can hear the song “Dumb Dog” from when Annie is singing to the dog Sandy and instantly feel myself back in my childhood backyard where I used to sing the song to my own dog as I wandered around my yard pretending I was on the streets of New York. I can even smell the pine trees!  When I hear the Guns-n-Roses’ song, “November Rain” I am totally taken back to 1992 when my best friend Tammy and I went to the Metallica/Guns-n-Roses concert at Williams Brice Stadium and thought we were the coolest chicks ever.  Or, “Crockadile Rock” by Elton John, which takes me right to my varsity cheerleading auditions in which I overcame insecurities and went for it, having a blast with the choreography, making the varsity team.  I think of my team and Coach Elliott every time I hear that song and I can literally feel the school carpet under my sneakers as I rehearsed and auditioned.

I could fill page after page of the songs that create a time machine for me that transports me back to glorious moments and memories in which I can still remember the setting perfectly, recreating the moment in such a way that I feel I could close my eyes and still feel, see, and touch everything around me from that special moment in time.  It’s a brilliant thing indeed to be touched so profoundly!  My wish is that my mind and heart are able to always hold onto to this sensory ability that music brings out in me. Here’s to hoping my virtual time machine never breaks down! I hope and pray that music will always have this magical ability to transport me, allowing memories to flood my senses.

Where does your virtual time machine take you? What songs transport you to fabulous moments and special memories?  Pay attention and take note of these priceless songs and allow them to take you back, so that they can stay with you throughout your lifetime!

Reading for Your Life

By Rachel Sircy

Well, this post will be interesting, I hope. It’s a combination of two posts: the first part touches on the physical ailments caused by chronic stress and the second part is a summer reading list. Sounds pretty far out, eh? The part about stress was my idea and my husband (who, as I’ve mentioned before, is an English teacher) recommended that I do a post offering a summer reading list. As it turns out, reading can alleviate the physical effects of stress according to a 2009 study done by the University of Sussex, so the two subjects would seem to fit together nicely.

Firstly, stress. According to the American Institute of Stress (yes, oddly enough there is such an institution) between 75 and 90% of all visits to American healthcare providers are the results of stress related disorders. Chronic stress (that is the persistent feeling that you cannot cope with all of the demands on your time and energy) can lead to increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections, ulcers, heart attacks, depression, anxiety, autoimmune disorders (remember if you have celiac disease, this is an autoimmune disorder!), ulcerative colitis, etc. And stress will worsen the symptoms and damage to your body from any other illness (whether acute, like a cold or chronic like diabetes). You can read more about the effects of stress at the American Institute of Stress’s website: https://www.stress.org/stress-effects/.

So, the major point here is that we want to avoid stress as much as possible. According to Dr. Mimi Guarneri of The Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, deep breathing is the best way to stop an acute stress response in its tracks. She recommends breathing in for a count of 5 seconds and out for a count of 5 seconds. These deep breaths will force your heartrate to slow and will cause many of the other automatic stress responses in the body to stop suddenly. Reading, too, can counteract the immediate physiological effects of stress according to that study I mentioned above conducted by the University of Sussex. According to their study, people who were exposed to rigorous physical activity to increase their muscle tension and heartrate experienced a 68% decrease in heartrate and muscle tension (these are two of the main physical effects that a person who is stressed will experience) after just 6 minutes of reading. Other relaxing activities such as taking a walk and listening to music did not produce the same kind of dramatic decrease in stress levels.

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See the article: http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/4245076.Reading_can_help_reduce_stress__according_to_University_of_Sussex_research/

Dr. Guarneri believes that spiritual health is crucial to both physical and mental health, and I completely agree with her. I can’t think of a better way to cut back on our chronic stress levels than to connect ourselves with Truth and know that all of our efforts really do count for something. I have shared my Christianity in the past and written blog posts about how both our body and soul are connected in God’s eyes. God sees us as whole people who need to care for both our spiritual and physical selves. So, my summer reading list is going to be a very short list of 3 books that I have felt both entertaining and spiritually challenging and/or uplifting. Keep in mind that these books may not be lining the bookshelves of Lifeway, but they have managed to engage me and challenge me spiritually.

  1. The Lord of the Rings Series: I think we all know that these are great fantasy adventures and that they are also inspiring stories. Despite not having any direct religious references, Tolkein’s deep Christian faith shines through every part of these novels.
  2. The Screwtape Letters: This imaginative novel written in a series of letters from an older, wiser demon to a younger, inexperienced demon on how to tempt a human soul is a great read. It is also a challenge for any Christian as C.S. Lewis picks apart “acceptable” sins that Christians sometimes wink at such as gluttony and selfishness.
  3. Girl Meets God: This memoir by Duke Divinity professor and Episcopal priest, Lauren Winner, is one of the best spiritual memoirs on the market today, in my opinion. It’s the story of Winner’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity, told with a deep love for both faiths and with a great deal of personal honesty. If you prefer non-fiction to fiction, I would recommend this book.

There are, of course, plenty of good reads out there, just waiting for you to put your hands on them. Frankly, I was pretty self-conscious about putting together a reading list. I’m not as avid a reader as I should be, and I’m definitely no critic, so I kept my book reviews to a minimum. I hope that this little list will be helpful for anyone looking to lower their stress level by escaping into the world of a good book!

Happy Reading!

Mama Mia!

By Jeanne Reynolds

Abba fans, sit back down — this isn’t about their song or the movie (and now a sequel) by the same name. But it does sum up my recent trip to Italy.

You know what it’s like when you look forward to something so much for so long, it can’t possibly live up to your expectations?

This trip was nothing like that. It. Was. Amazing.Tuscan countryside

What did I like best: the scenery, the art and architecture, the mind-warping antiquity, the food, the wine?

Yes.

A quick overview of our itinerary: Direct flight from Charlotte to Rome, 3 nights there including a private day-long tour with a guide, drive to Tuscany for 4 nights in Siena, drive to Sorrento for 2 nights there, and finally back to Rome for our flight back the next day.

We didn’t come close to seeing it all, but we saw a lot: the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, catacombs. And that was just in Rome. In and around Siena we climbed winding staircases up towers (400 steps in one case), marveled at museums full of priceless treasures, visited towering cathedrals and walked ancient medieval streets. Near Sorrento, we traveled up and down an impossibly narrow cliffside road with hair-raising turns, and then in a chairlift to the top of the Isle of Capri (yes, while wearing capri pants!). On the way back to Rome we visited Pompeii near the foot of Mt. Vesuvius and were overcome with wonder and sadness at a lost civilization.

Ignoring well-meaning advice from family members, we didn’t even consider a prepackaged, city-a-day group bus tour. That kind of trip has some advantages, but it wasn’t the experience I craved for my Italian adventure. Instead we stayed in very small bed-and-breakfasts I found online (I highly recommend Booking.com) and found our own way around using maps, GPS, phone apps and helpful locals. A couple of our accommodations were wonderful, one was mostly convenient, but all were clean, affordable and safe.

When we wanted to eat — and did we ever! — we asked our B&B hosts for First pizzarecommendations or just walked until something looked good. The results ranged from good to extraordinary, usually accompanied by the local house wine (or vino della casa, as we like to say). We tried wood-fired pizza with a thin, crisp crust, fried artichokes, Tuscan-style steak with rosemary and olive oil, grilled squid, crusty bread and of course, pasta. It’s hard to describe what was so wonderful about it, but fresh, local ingredients using old family recipes and al fresco dining are hard to beat. And the gelato … one of us had it every day (sometimes twice). It’s that good. And no, sadly no, nothing in the grocery store freezer case can possibly replicate it.

And guess what? Neither of us gained an ounce. Because first, the meals impress with flavor rather than size, and second, we walked an average of 5 miles a day, up and down hills and stairs. (Remember that tower? 400 steps up means 400 down, too.)

Of course, wonderful doesn’t necessarily mean perfect. Trying to figure out when we could park where in Siena without a ticket or a tow was challenging, and let’s just say Americans have a different standard when it comes to public bathroom facilities. And despite the GPS, maps and road signs, we frequently got turned around trying to find our destinations.

So, now that I’m a wily veteran of la dolce vita (that’s a joke, of course — we could go to Italy every year for the next decade and not experience all its wonders), here’s some advice:

Go.

Yep, that’s it. I was going to include a 7-point list of tips about protecting your passport and cash from pickpockets, how to tell if the gelato is homemade and which shop in Anacapri is best for handmade Italian leather shoes (surprisingly affordable, by the way). But there are dozens of guidebooks that can tell you that and a whole lot more.

And really, this isn’t about Italy. It’s about finding a way to visit the places and do the things you dream of. Life is too short not to.

That’s the advice I hope I remember myself.

 

 

When the teacher becomes a student: Motivated to action at the Richland Recycles Education Day

By Mary Pat Baldauf

Compost Day 3

Every May, Richland County hosts a Richland Recycles Education Day at the State Fairgrounds. Local environmental groups devise a short lesson and staff a table, which groups of invited students visit to learn more. In years past, I’ve led my own lesson, but limited now by the volume of my voice, I instead offered to assist as needed as a volunteer. I was assigned to the  Atlas Organics booth, where I learned more about composting and was even motivated to start an office vermi-composting bin.

I started composting at home about six years ago when I transitioned to a more plant-based way of eating. Using more veggies and fruits led to fruit flies in my house, and when I complained about it, one of my sustainability sidekicks recommended that I get it out of the trash via a compost bin. I’m what they call a lazy composter; I just toss my food scraps in the bin and add browns every so often, but I rarely turn it or add water. And neither of my bins are in the sun, so I don’t monitor the temperature either. According to Atlas educator Leslie Rodgers, that’s okay. I’m probably missing out on some great soil amendment material, but I’m diverting my food waste, and that is a good thing.Compost Day 2

For the event, Leslie brought a mini vermi-composting bin to explain the compost process to students. I was quite taken with the process and decided to make my own. I once tried to compost at work, but it created some issues with fruit flies and bugs. I wasn’t actually composting, but saving my fruit scraps to take to my home compost bin, thus the problem.

Compost Day 1

 

By the end of the day, I left with a new appreciation for composting as well as a scoop of red wiggler worms to start my own. I put them in a coffee tumbler and kept them inside until I could get them home. Three days later, the worms are still in the container on my night stand. I have good intentions to start a bin, but until I do, I’ll keep them moist and fed.

 

(To Be Continued)

 

Stunning Success

By Shannon Boatwright

For the 2017-2018 school year, this phrase, “stunning success”, has become my new favorite…

Stunning

adjective

extremely impressive or attractive.

synonyms remarkable, extraordinary, staggering, incredible, outstanding, amazing, astonishing, marvelous, phenomenal, splendid;

 

This phrase, “stunning success” was used to describe one of my productions with my honors students this past year – and by the playwright herself, no less.

My 2017-18 school year has been one of my busiest – which I say that every year and each year I seem to top myself in the busy department. But this past year, I can with confidence say, was a remarkable, outstanding, marvelous, impressive year! Certainly stunning!

I had my heaviest workload yet as a teacher/director responsible for the success of three big productions throughout the school year.  One of the productions being the school district musical. This was a huge undertaking that required an enormous amount of time and effort, and my first time ever directing a school district wide production. Needless to say, it was a major relief when myself, my production team and cast’s hard work paid off with, yes, a stunning success.

I produced and directed one of largest, most successful 8th grade honors drama performances, gaining recognition from the playwright, Lindsay Price with the reputable, drama resource company, Theatrefolk.

Stunning Success: Shuddersome: Tales of Poe

And using the same fabulous resource of Theatrefolk, I produced and directed another play from their catalogue by playwright Lindsay Price, called Box, for the 7th grade honors drama end of the year production. It too was a surprising, stunning success.

pic 1To know that you were able to inspire audiences and talented, young individuals, is a real gift. I’m exhausted from having such an overwhelming, busy school year, but I am ever grateful for the hard work and dedication having paid off.  So I’ve decided that the phrase, “Stunning Success”, is my 2017-2018 mantra that I plan to continue grasping ahold of as I enter new phases of my life. I hope that I can continue doing extraordinary things, making remarkable differences in others lives and continue to create stunning successes!

And I’d like to take the moment here to remind you and myself, that we have the ability to be stunning in everything that we do. We don’t have to accomplish major things, achieve big awards or direct huge shows to be stunning. We can be stunning in the little things as well! So my challenge to myself and to everyone is to do your best to be stunning – find ways to be extraordinary, marvelous, outstanding and amazing on every level. Whether with a smile or act of kindness to a stranger, in the special time with family & friends, in taking steps to take care of yourself…infuse a dose of fabulousness in all that you do. I am certain it will make your life more splendid. Stunning, in fact. 😉