Hooked on Giving

By Chaunte McClure

The nightly news stories on deaths, threats, thefts, kidnappings and assaults lead some to wonder: are any good people left in the world?

Of course, there are and I learned of a group of them in Columbia who are hooked on giving and they are taking their craft to Main Street.

They are the Yarnbombers of Columbia and other generous knitters and crocheters in the area who are hanging handmade hats, and scarves for the homeless and less fortunate on the “giving tree.”

Earlier this month winter accessories adorned the giving tree, but last night when I drove by, the tree was bare.

You can change that because anyone can give and anyone in need can take a free, colorful, knitted find to keep warm.

Yarnbombers 1

The “giving tree” is in front of Mast General Store on Main Street. Hang a hat, wrap a scarf, warm a heart during this season of giving.

While you’re downtown, visit the State House Christmas tree. It’s a perfect spot to pose for a Christmas card photo. The official tree lighting ceremony is November 27.

By Mary Pat Baldauf

The holiday season is getting close, and I can’t wait to kick it off with the Holiday Lights on the River at Saluda Shoals Park. (I’m excited to see that this year’s presenting sponsor is once again Lexington Medical Center – thanks, LMC, for spreading the joy!)

With a million lights sparkling through more than 400 themes, there are a variety of displays, including the Dazzling Dancing Forest, the Twelve Days of Christmas, a Victorian Village, Old Man Winter and much more. I especially like the holiday train, featuring a special car for naughty kids like me.

Depending on your schedule and personal preference, there are many ways to enjoy the lights. You can enjoy the lights in the warmth of your car or bundle up and take a Winter Wonder Ride. Or you can bring a group by van or by bus! (My personal favorite way is the Sleigh Bell Stroll, early in the season, which allows you to get up close and personal to the lights by walking through the park.)

Holiday Lights activities will be available every night except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas. Nominal fees ($1-$10) for activities apply with Holiday Lights admission. Fun-filled family activities offered at Holiday Lights on the River include:

  • Hayride shuttle to the Wetland Walking trail
  • Saluda Shoals train
  • A laser light show along the wetland trail
  • Tube slide
  • Crafts
  • Santa’s Claus’et Gift Shop
  • Roast marshmallows
  • Visits and photos with Santa (Dec. 8– 23 only)

Holiday Lights is open every evening from 6-10 p.m. November 22 through December 31. If you haven’t been, make plans to visit this year. Or, if you’ve been in the past, it’s time to make Holiday Lights an annual tradition. You’ll love it!

For details on activities, admission prices and other details, visit http://www.icrc.net/holiday-lights.

What is YOUR favorite part of the holiday season?

Mindfulness. Are You Capable of Being in the Moment?

By Shannon Boatwright

I admit it…I am a multi-tasker. So much so that sometimes it’s more a problem than an efficient way of life. Not always mind you! I do pride myself on being a true multi-tasking Queen. But, indeed it literally is as if my mind is never at rest. Ever. So yes, there are times when my mindful restlessness hinders me, instead of allowing me to truly live in the moment.

A View That Inspires Mindfulness

I’ve spoken of this subject before in other blog entries. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’m a mother & a fine arts teacher plagued with worry and to-do lists galore, and happen to be a very creative person consistently inspired by different things… which makes for a very busy mind!

So what is mindfulness really? The basic, to the point answer is, being in the moment. It’s all about truly observing your surroundings, thoughts and sensations – free of judgement – simply taking in the world around you and engaging all of your senses. Mindfulness is a sense of recognition and awareness of your environment and flat out being present.

Let’s really think on this… When we speak of mindfulness, what we’re really talking about these days, is what most people refer to as meditation. Do you meditate in your daily life?A fascinating quote by Blaise Pascal, a 17th century mathematician, states, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” Especially thinking on our world today, that is completely overdosed with media and constant drama, I honestly think this would be literally impossible for some people. To just be. To sit quietly anywhere really. So yes, I could see where that sad fact could lead to unhappiness.

Scientists have discovered many benefits to meditating and have valid proof on how it can help treat all kinds of emotional and physical issues.

Check out these science-backed benefits…

  • Soothes your achy back. Long term meditation can lead to pain relief.
  • Helps with hot flashes. Studies show that mindfulness, yoga, and deep breathing have a chilling effect on hot flashes.
  • Sweetens slumber – helping you be better rested and less depressed.
  • Provides an escape. Meditation turns on the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, the flip side of fight-or-flight, decreasing heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension.
  • Increases self-control. Mindfulness can literally help you distance yourself from cravings.
  • Helps with IBS! Yes, studies show that mindfulness stress reduction can help with tummy issues.
  • Meditation literally can help you be happy – it curbs activity in the brain’s amygdala, which helps govern anxiety, stress and anger.
  • Improved cognition. Better memory!
  • Creates in you more empathy and compassion. Goodness knows the world needs that!

While the thought of “doing nothing” may drive you a bit mad, as it does me. It’s something we should all seriously look into attempting to accomplish if we really want to make the best of life and most importantly, of a healthy, well lived life. So daily, I plan to make an honest effort to be mindful. Yes, I said it. Even amongst my constant busyness that consistently instigates my nonstop mind, I vow to take those precious moments to just be, to notice, actually use my senses to take in the world around me and appreciate my surroundings as I hopefully rest my mind.

Do you engage in real mindfulness on a regular basis?

If so, #1 I am jealous! #2, how do you accomplish it?

A Meditation on the Benefits of Celiac Disease

by Rachel Sircy

I have been sick most of my life with various and seemingly unrelated symptoms ravaging my body. I have suffered body aches, severe fatigue, mental fog, mood swings, the inability to gain weight, borderline anemia and so on. No one ever imagined that these varied symptoms were possibly all related. Finally, when I was in my early 20’s and just married, I started to develop terrible gastric problems. Every time I ate I would experience such intense stomach pain that I would have to lay down for a while. It got to the point that I wasn’t able to eat more than about a handful of food at a time. I dreaded going to the doctor for these problems, but my husband put his foot down and told me that I could either go to the doctor on my own, or he would drag me there himself. I was afraid I had an ulcer. My husband was afraid that I had stomach cancer. The symptoms had gotten that bad.

Before I went to the doctor, I prayed a simple prayer: that no matter what the diagnosis, I would not have to be on medicine my entire life. The thought of taking pills every single day was something that I dreaded. I got what I prayed for, but my answered prayer turned out to be much more burdensome than I had expected. Instead of taking one or two pills every day, I would have to completely change my relationship with food, what I ate and how I cooked. For the first few eight months or so after my diagnosis, I lived in a sort of denial. I thought that perhaps I had been misdiagnosed or that perhaps if I prayed hard enough, I would be miraculously healed. I do believe in miracles, but no miracle was in my future. Or, rather, the miracle that I got was not the one that I wanted. I refused to stay on a strict gluten free diet for that first eight months and I even went back to the gastroenterologist to try to talk him into retesting me and seeing if he had been mistaken. I stayed sick and when I went back to the gastroenterologist, he told me that there was no need to retest. The tests, he told me, had come out clear as day. There was no mistake in the diagnosis. He actually looked at me and said that he was sorry that I had celiac disease, but “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

I was fairly distraught after that. One night, alone in my room, I knelt down by the bed and cried, begging God to heal me and let me go back to the way of cooking and eating that I had always known. In that moment, crazy as it may sound, I think I heard from God. I didn’t hear an audible voice or anything, but an idea came to my mind so strongly, an idea that was so contrary to everything that I had been thinking and praying, that I knew the idea didn’t originate with me. The idea was something like this: Do I really need to be healed so that I can continue to eat powdered doughnuts and McDonald’s hamburgers? No, the point of this disease would be to serve as a constant physical reminder that it isn’t okay to just fuel my body (or my soul) with easily accessible junk. I was going to have to think about what I ate. I was going to have to put the health of my body before my cravings. Somehow, that night, I understood that this new way of relating to food, would make me a more careful and purposeful person. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Each time I drive down the road wondering what I’m going to do for dinner and thinking that my life would be so much easier if I could just pull over for fast food, I am reminded that food is for nourishment. My lifestyle is difficult because I choose nourishment over convenience. It has occurred to me since that night that this is a spiritual discipline as well as a physical one. This gluten free lifestyle is my own personal sacrament. Deuteronomy 30:19 records God’s statement to the Israelites: “[…] I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: choose life.”

This blog post was really supposed to be about the possibilities of a cure for celiac disease. Pharmaceutical companies are working even as you read this on drugs that could cure celiacs via immunotherapy drugs or protect celiacs from gluten contamination by creating drugs that isolate gliadin (the protein that causes the violent auto-immune response in celiacs) and making it undigestible. At first, I thought that anything that could cure celiac disease would be a welcome answer to prayer, but as I began to write, I realized that my prayer was answered years ago. Choosing life is never an easy decision, but it is one that is well worth it. Almost 10 years into my diagnosis I am a healthier person all the way around. I’m not saying that everyone should avoid these drugs or therapies if they ever become available. By all means, if you can become healthier through better science, I say that is a good thing. But as for me, I think I will continue to do things the hard way, choosing to remember that the ability to deny myself means that I am not a slave to my cravings. There is a great freedom in self-discipline.

Just something to think about…

My Not-So-Secret Recipes

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I love reading about food, restaurants and recipes. I have a thick white binder stuffed with recipes I’ve clipped from magazines and newspapers or begged from friends and family. Most of them I’ll probably never make, but there are a few I go back to time and again. You can tell them by the yellowed paper they’re printed or written on and the splatters of overly enthusiastic stirring.

If you flip through the pages of this notebook, you may notice a skew toward baking, and two types of treats in particular: brownies and muffins. Although I love these freshly baked goodies as much (or more) than the next person, the abundance of brownie and muffin recipes isn’t so much because they’re my favorites as it is because it seems so hard to find a really great, foolproof recipe for either.

“This one looks really good, and pretty easy,” I’ll say to myself as I clip out yet another recipe. “This one never fails,” a friend assures me as she emails me her version. And yet the results are never as roll-up-your-eyes-and-slap-your-momma wonderful as I hoped.

Until now.

I’m going to share with you two nearly perfect recipes, one for brownies and one for apple-cinnamon muffins. You can thank me later.

Oh-my-goodness brownies

OK, this one is more advice than a recipe: If you need to bring a dish to a potluck, tailgate or holiday meal that people will rave over, make brownies. And use a boxed mix. Yes, you read that right. I’ve made many scratch versions over the years and there isn’t enough difference to make it worth the trouble. The secret is to not stop there. First, substitute Kahlua or Amaretto for half the water called for. You won’t taste the liqueur but the flavor will be subtly rich and decadent.

Then, make your own frosting. This makes all the difference in the world. That travesty in a can is the frosting equivalent of spray cheese. Never, I repeat never, use it. Making enough chocolate frosting for a pan of brownies takes about 3 minutes and 4 ingredients: butter or margarine, cocoa powder, powdered (aka confectioner’s) sugar and a little liquid, which can be water, milk, vanilla, coffee or the liqueur you used in the brownies. I don’t measure and the proportions are to taste depending on how sweet or dark you prefer it, but it’s roughly equal parts butter and cocoa powder, about two to four times that much sugar, and liquid to spreading consistency. For example, ¼ cup butter, ¼ cocoa, ½ cup to 1 cup sugar and a teaspoon to a tablespoon of liquid. Combine the butter and cocoa first, then gradually add the sugar, tasting as you go and alternating with a little liquid at a time to loosen it up.

This might sound tricky but it’s really not. Do it once or twice and you’ll be able to whip it up in your sleep (and you might find yourself dreaming about it, too). Get ready for ooh and aahs.

Oh, two more tips: Line your pan with foil with enough overhang on either side so you can lift the whole thing out and put it on a board to frost and cut. No more brownies stuck in the pan. And don’t overbake, unless you prefer dry, crumble brownies (if you do, you stopped reading this long ago). Test for doneness before the minimum baking time is up and keep testing until they’re just barely done.

Best-ever apple-cinnamon muffins

This recipe is a combination of a few I clipped, with modifications to make them easier for what I typically have on hand. I like these because they actually rise up like they’re supposed to and they’re not too sweet. They’re great for breakfast or with a cup of hot tea on a cold afternoon.

Combine in a large bowl:

  • 2 cups unsifted flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix in just until dry ingredients are combined:

  • ¾ cup milk (skim or low-fat is fine, even lactose-free)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil (original recipe calls for melted butter or margarine but this is easier and works fine)
  • 1 egg

Gently stir in as many of these as you want:

  • 1 cup chopped apples (any kind, and no need to peel them)
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Line a 12-cup pan with paper liners and use an ice cream scoop sprayed with nonstick spray to fill each cup. Sprinkle a little sugar and cinnamon on top of each muffin. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Old Friends

By: Ashley Whisonant

 

I recently read a quote about friendship on Pinterest that spoke to me.
“In the end, you always go back to the people that were there in the beginning.”

Wow. It was right on target for the weekend reunion I had with a close childhood friend.

I have many people I would call a friend. Different friends have come in and out of my life, during the times I needed them most. God works mysteriously that like. He knows exactly who we need and when we need them. The special thing about old friends, they are know where you are and where you came from.

My oldest friend to date, Shelby, has been around since third grade. Ya’ll – that’s over 20 years of friendship. We have known each other from the very beginning. Bad boyfriends, laughs, cries, silliness, and stories fill our memories. Luckily, we have recently reconnected.

Spending a night visiting with her in Charleston has made my week such a bright spot. The laughing and dancing we did Saturday night was as though no time as passed. I would go back to our friendship over all the others. The ease and comfort is like none other.  The quote rings so true for me.

The Top 10 Sports Movies

By: Stacy Thompson

Three of my favorite things: I love sports…and I love movies…and I love lists, so what better way to celebrate all three than with my list of favorite sports movies!

  1. Seabiscuit – A little horse with a big jockey wins hearts and races. The book by Laura Hillenbrand was riveting, and the movie more than delivered.
  2. Bull Durham – Really just a good-ole rom-com with the backdrop of a minor league baseball team. The stellar cast, including Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner, deliver quotable lines galore. “Throw it at the bull.”
  3. Rocky – The ultimate underdog story set in an underdog town in the most brutal of sports. The original can’t be beat.
  4. Jerry Maguire – More about the sports agent than the sports, but a solid and entertaining story nonetheless.
  5. A League of Their Own“There’s no crying in baseball.” Seriously, is there a better quote in any sports movie???
  6. Hoosiers – Again, a classic underdog movie with a predictable ending that still manages not to disappoint.
  7. Rudy – I cry each and every time Rudy sits on the bench reading his letter of acceptance to his dream school…and then cry again when his teammates have his back…and then cry again when his dad walks in the stadium…and then cry again he gets on the field.
  8. Chariots of Fire – Of course the song is running through your head right now (pun intended) but the movie itself is a classic.
  9. The Blind Side – Some of the plot may be a bit overdone, but the genuine heart of this movie will leave you feeling good. Period.
  10. Miracle – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watch this move. The political climate surrounding the 1980 Olympic Games was intense enough – add to it a team of USA amateurs going up against the Goliath Soviet Union team and the tension multiplies. Even though you know the ending, hearing “Do You Believe in Miracles” is sure to make the goosebumps pop!!

What are your favorite sports movies?