Introducing the Nation’s Newest STAR: Columbia, South Carolina

By Mary Pat Baldauf

Allow me to introduce the state’s first STAR certified community, my employer, the City of Columbia.LOGO_Best_star_seal_3star_r

STAR Communities, the nation’s leading framework for sustainability and certification program for evaluating local sustainability, recently recognized the City of Columbia for achieving a three-STAR rating. This achievement makes Columbia the first STAR-certified community in South Carolina and only the 64th in the country.

STAR Communities provides support as localities benchmark progress, and a robust third-party verification process ensures accountability. STAR helps communities evaluate their strengths and weaknesses across seven areas: the built environment; climate and energy; economy and jobs; education, arts and community; health and safety; and natural systems. There are over 500 outcomes and actions that comprise the evaluation.

Several items stood out among Columbia’s sustainability initiatives:

The December award presentation was the culmination of a two-year journey that began in September 2015. Personally, this was the first major project I took from start to finish after returning to work from my rehabilitation from a ruptured brain aneurysm in March 2015. And while the certification is certainly a personal victory, it’s also a big darn deal for the City of Columbia and our community partners.

STAR Award to City Council

With the certification, Columbia becomes a member of a pretty exclusive club. Fewer than 70 local governments have been certified with STAR Communities. Other STAR certified communities in the Southeast include Atlanta, Birmingham, Louisville, Memphis, Raleigh and Winston-Salem.

“We are incredibly excited and proud to be the first city in South Carolina to achieve a STAR rating,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin. “Our City staff and community have proven their commitment to making Columbia increasingly sustainable across a variety of performance areas, and this recognition provides us with an assessment backed by data that will help us determine our next steps. Through our Climate Action Protection Campaign (CAPC) and other programs, we will continue in our bold commitment to protecting our planet and fulfill our responsibility to our children, their children and beyond.”

The City’s participation in STAR was underwritten by grant from Siemens Cities Center of Competence (CoC), which is dedicated to working with cities to undertake key challenges as cities strive for economic growth and long-term sustainability.

For additional information, check out the City of Columbia’s STAR dashboard.
 

Toast the Season with Christmosas

By Mary Pat Baldauf

I have always enjoyed a good mimosa, the classic mix of champagne and orange juice, so I was intrigued when I saw a recipe for “Christmas Mimosas” on Pinterest.

Aside from a shot of Bailey’s in my morning coffee, Christmas day is generally pretty quiet for my family. My sister and I, both single without children, spend the night with my mother. We eat, sleep, put together puzzles, take a ride to see lights and exchange gifts – mostly relax and spend time with one another. But something about those “Christmosas” caught my eye, so I added them to my to–do list.

The ingredients are pretty simple; I picked up the grape juice and champagne during one of my many shopping trips and asked Sister to get the rest during hers.  I chilled the juice and prosecco and used frozen pomegranate seeds. I pre-chopped the grapes and bought sliced green apples and chilled those, too. I also popped the bag of cranberries, which are so plentiful during the holidays, in the freezer.

Come Christmas morning, I just tiptoed into the kitchen and put everything in a pitcher. (I did make a couple of adjustments. I didn’t have time to chop the apples finer, so didn’t add them. The cranberries were lovely, but not so good to eat, so I’ll probably add fewer next time.) Once Sister and Mom were up, we made a toast to my father, who passed away six years ago, and mark the passage of another year of fun and antics as the “Baldauf Chicks.”

This could definitely be the start of a new tradition. They were as pretty as they were delish, Sister and I sipped on them all day. (Mom was dizzy from a holiday illness, so we limited her to one.) So whether you save this to your holiday folder or make a batch for your next winter event, you can’t go wrong with these Christmosas.

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Christmas Mimosas (aka Christmosas)

Ingredients

  • 2 Granny Smith apples, chopped
  • 1 c. whole fresh cranberries
  • 1 c. green grapes, halved
  • 1 c. pomegranate seeds (also known as arils)
  • 1 c. sparkling grape juice
  • 1 bottle champagne, prosecco or cava

Directions

  1. In a large pitcher or punch bowl, add apples, cranberries, grapes and pomegranate seeds. Pour over sparkling grape juice and champagne just before serving.

 

 

 

 

Shop Late, If You Must, But Don’t Forget to Shop Sustainable

By Mary Pat Baldauf

There are still a few days left for holiday gift shopping, and if you’re like me, you’ll be using every last hour. A shopper at heart, I love buying gifts for the special people in my life. As a “green girl,” I shop with sustainability in mind and wanted to share some tips so you, too, can be a more sustainable holiday shopper on the last few days of this holiday season.

Think local. Studies show that every dollar spent generates twice as much income for the local economy, and who doesn’t like that? Because locally produced products are created here – not shipped in from across the country or even across the world – the footprint of your gift will be smaller and result in a cleaner, healthier environment.  Working for the City of Columbia, I do a lot of shopping in the Main Street District. My favorites for local goods include Soda City, Columbia’s Main Street market, and Uptown on Main, who also wraps gifts for free.

Consider consumables. Having issues with clutter myself, I refuse to create more for the holidays, for me or for others. My standard gift is usually a recycled-content ornament, but this year I’m only buying gifts that can be eaten or experienced. The Cotton Mill Exchange at the SC State Museum has a great selection of Palmetto State gifts, including gourmet foods produced within our borders. Or select a gift card to a local restaurant, bakery or micro-brewery. Personally, I’ll be asking Santa for a gift certificate to Spotted Salamander, a downtown Columbia café featuring inventive Southern cuisine with fresh, high quality local ingredients. And don’t forget Blue Flour Bakery’s fat and fabulous sugar cookies; with locations in Columbia and Irmo, they’re always a convenient treat.

Another favorite consideration? Think experiential. In the Midlands, it’s easy to find Nickelodeon Marquissomething for everyone on your list to enjoy, like tickets to a play or attraction you know they like. A donation in the name of your recipient will go a long way, too. At the top of my list is a membership to The Nickelodeon, Columbia’s art house theatre on Main Street. Experience gifts are true memory makers, and they don’t take up space on a shelf or need wrapping, either.

 

When you buy gifts, do you consider its impact on the environment and/or local community? Where is your favorite place to buy sustainable holiday gifts? And what is it you recommend there?  

Becoming a Better Adult by Taking Baby Steps

By Mary Pat Baldauf

Have you ever heard of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU)? It’s a nine-lesson class on money management taught by financial guru, Dave Ramsey. The class focuses on the basics of budgeting, dumping debt and planning for the future. My boss had referred to it so much over the years that when my church offered it, I registered right away.1000-dave-ramsey-quotes-on-pinterest-dave-ramsey-financial-176713

Financial Peace University is offered nationally at different locations, many at churches and faith-based organizations. I was a little skeptical of a money class offered at a church, but it’s a non-denominational program offered at different churches in the Midlands, from my Presbyterian USA church (Eastminster Presbyterian) to United Methodist with a lot of churches in between.

Our class met on Wednesday evenings, and consisted of 10 people: three couples, a mother and son, and me. We met from 6:15 to about 7:30, where we watched DVDs and then held group discussions. For the $99 course fee, we received a book, workbook and a year’s access to a website featuring the video lessons, budget sheets and other online resources.

Ramsey breaks his class into the following seven baby steps. None of these steps are anything new or earth-shattering, but he presents them in such a way that really motivates you to think about things differently.

  1. $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund. (This was the hardest step for me, and I just completed it.)
  2. Pay off all debt using the “Debt Snowball.”
  3. Three to six months of expenses in savings.
  4.  Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement.
  5. College funding for children.
  6. Pay off home early.
  7. Build wealth and give.

One thing that wasn’t a baby step was the recommendation to use cash to “feel” your purchases. Ramsey says, and I agree, that when you use cash, you tend to be more careful of your purchases and automatically spend less. Still, it’s taking some time to get used to using cash. (Thankfully, you can also use checks and/or a debit card for those purchases that don’t work as well with cash.)

The hardest part of the course for me was committing to nine Wednesdays in a row. Going to class every Wednesday decreased my eligible gym days by one, which most weeks left me with no “rest day.” I ended up missing two FPU classes, but was able to watch the videos online at my leisure.

Another hard part, I’m embarrassed to say, was saving $1000. I’d started an emergency savings account a few months before I took the class, so I had a small head start, but it’s not easy to find additional money in your paycheck. I played games with myself to find it: if I passed on spending anything, such as a new lipstick or dinner out, I’d transfer an equal amount to savings.

Completing baby step one, the $1000 savings, has been quite empowering. I know that if I have a true emergency, such as car trouble or a leaky toilet, I will have the money to cover it without having to use a credit card or ask Mom or Sister for help. It’s such a relief to know that it’s there, and thankfully I haven’t had to even think about using it yet.

I completed the class just before Thanksgiving, but I already feel so much better about things. I feel like a grown-up, in a good way, being prepared and thinking toward the future. I’ve now started on Baby Step Two, paying down debt with the snowball method. You rank your credit cards from lowest balance to highest, and start on the lowest one first. As you pay one off, you add that money to the next account, and so on until the debt is gone. Dave recommends starting with the lowest first to have some successes and build on that momentum. This will take longer than a couple of months, but I’ve budgeted to pay off one credit card by the end of December. (YAY!)

 

Getting Back to My Roots

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

No, I’m not doing one of those DNA “Who Am I” things that I keep seeing on TV. I have a cousin who does a lot of family tree researching, and that’s enough for me. Instead, I’m working on getting back to my hair color roots. I’m in the process of growing out the color and going back to my natural color – whatever THAT is.

I started coloring my hair as a teenager, starting with an innocent summer experiment with “Sun In.” It turned my dark brown hair a brassy orangey blonde. Next was my first professional “color correction,” and from there, I was hooked. I’ve been coloring my hair so long I don’t really remember the actual natural color.

After the aneurysm rupture, I said that if I’d had my head shaved for surgery, I would’ve started over with my hair color. I meant it, even though I continued to have it colored when I returned. I often admire and become a little jealous of friends who’ve bucked the temptation to color and sport their gray as it grows in. I also have a good role model; my mother has beautiful white hair (even though it took her some 40 years to flaunt it.)

After nearly 10 years with the same stylist – I’ll spare the drama – it was recently time to find a new one. Thankfully, I was able to get a quick appointment with my friend, Erin, who I’ve wanted to try for a while now. (I don’t know about you, but when I’m ready for a cut, I’m ready, and I don’t like to have to wait more than a few days.) Sometime during the haircut, I started telling Erin about my silver hair coming in, and before I left, we were talking strategies to go gray gracefully.

Because I’d already been a while without a cut and color, I had a good head start, no pun intended. And Erin went a little shorter than usual to give it another boost. To take the edge off the color and soften the contrast between the light and darker shades, she recommended that a glaze for my next appointment, which I made before leaving. After what seems like forever and a day, the appointment is next week, and I can hardly wait.

Right now, I still have quite a bit of blonde, so I’ve gotten no comments on the color. I’m waiting, though, and I’m sure as folks start seeing the gray, I’ll get plenty of feedback. Since I really want to do this, I’d like to think it won’t bother me. But society is so focused on youth and beauty, that I know not all of the comments will be positive. I’m determined to stick it out, though. (One caveat. If I get there and hate it, I won’t hesitate to have it colored again.)

Attached is a selfie after my cut with Erin. You can obviously see the darker roots, but the gray isn’t really showing yet. I’ll be taking pics throughout the process, and look forward to sharing one with more gray soon.  For now, I’m curious. Do you color your hair? Would you (or have you) decide to go gray? Any words of wisdom as I undertake this project?

The Economic Benefit of Recycling

 

By: Mary Pat Baldauf 

RecycleMoreSC is a statewide campaign that promotes the economic and environmental benefits of recycling. It’s also a call to action challenging residents, businesses, organizations and local governments to do their part to recycle more. The campaign’s goal is to reach a 40 percent recycling rate by the year 2020.

Recycling is a good practice not only for the environment but also for the present and future economic climate of the state. A study released by the College of Charleston shows that recycling has a $13 million impact on the state’s economy. In addition, more than 50,000 direct and indirect jobs are associated with the recycling industry.

To reach the “40 by 2020” goal, it will take South Carolinians (like me and you) to recycle and to recycle correctly. The process has changed a lot, especially since curbside recycling began some 28 years ago. Even if you’ve been recycling forever, there are some things you need to know. Take a moment to review these three important links before you recycle again.

If you’re rushed for time, perhaps the most important link to review is Recycling’s Dirty Dozen.

Thanks for doing your part to help South Carolina’s economy and the environment through recycling.

Do you recycle? Why or why not? Does RecycleMoreSC motivate you to recycle and/or recycle more?  

Brush Up on the Basics During National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Every year over 30,000 US families lose someone from a ruptured brain aneurysm. About 40% of those experiencing a ruptured brain aneurysm will die. Those that survive often face significant challenges, greatly impacting their lives and the lives of their families. Today, at the beginning of National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, I re-tell my story to raise awareness of brain aneurysms.

On the evening of March 18, I noshed on some dark chocolate covered espresso beans left over from a road trip to see Modest Mouse in Charleston. I ate a lot, at least ¼ of a pound. Then later that evening, I felt a sharp electrical-like impulse go down my part line, and then down my head. Then it felt like ice cold water running down the sides of my head. I felt really weird, like I was outside of my body; I even told my sister that I thought I was dying.

She said that I threw up and felt better; I don’t remember that, but I do remember refusing her suggestion that we call Mom or go to the ER; I said, “No, I just ate too many espresso beans,” and went to bed. She found me unconscious by my bed the next morning.

Aside from being a woman over the age of 40, I had few of the risk factors. I’d lost and maintained an 80 lb. weight loss. I had LOW blood pressure, so much so that I had taken meds to prevent me from having constant vertigo. I never smoked except for one or two cigarettes in college. So I had no idea I may be having an aneurysm. (Unaware to me until after the event, which could’ve been far too late, I did have a family history. My father’s sister, Rose, had one and survived, and they lost two cousins to aneurysms.)

The doctors say that my aneurysm was about as bad as they get, and my family didn’t know if I would survive for three long weeks. Even then, the doctors couldn’t predict a full recovery. I was fortunate to have wonderful care and to go to a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta for follow-up care. My story ended well. I’m still alive, and while I do have some very mild deficits, I’m a living, breathing success story.

From someone who’s been there, I urge you to use this month to learn more about aneurysms, including the risk factors and symptoms. If you have a history of aneurysms in your family, make it a point to talk to your doctor this month.

There is plenty of information available about brain aneurysms. You can talk to your doctor or consult the internet; my favorite site is the Joe Niekro Foundation. I’m not a doctor, but I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have or speak with you or your small group about my experience.

Solmates: The Socks That Helped Save My Life

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

I was recently on a trip to Golden, Colorado and slipped away to see the charming downtown. After a day in renewable energy meetings, I needed a break and something different for dinner. I also wanted to get a surcie for my sister, who would face a crazy few days without me at the house to care for the menagerie and keep things in order.

As I walked into one store, I saw a rack of brightly colored mismatched socks and gasped in joy. The sales woman looked at me a little funny.

These are the fab socks I bought for myself in Golden.

“These socks helped save my life,” I said. “They’ll be the perfect gift for my sister, who is bravely caring for four crazy animals while I’m here in Golden.”

Flash back to a little over two years ago – March 18, 2015 – when I suffered my ruptured aneurysm. Sometime between midnight and 5 a.m., I either fell out of bed or tried to get up, but unbeknownst to me, passed out on the floor.

At 5 in the morning, my alarm went off. And off. And off. Sister eventually got up and came into my room, quite annoyed that I’d left for the gym without turning off my alarm clock. She huffed in, turned off the alarm and was probably cursing at me under her breath when an array of bright colors caught her eye. Because those colors were on my feet in the form of my crazy bright Solmate Socks, it called her attention to me, lying unconscious in the floor. Otherwise, Sister might’ve missed me and perhaps only found me when she went to work, which at that time was mid-afternoon. I may not have made it. (I tell you, those socks helped save my life!)

Coincidentally, it was Sister who started my affection for Solmate Socks. She put a pair in my stocking one Christmas, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Purposely mismatched Solmate Socks are whimsical, comfortable and downright cheerful. They’re so comfortable and great to sleep in, which is mostly when I wear mine.

Solmate Socks was started in the year 2000 by Marianne Wakerlin with the simple idea that “Life’s too short for matching socks.” As a lifelong textile artist with a wonderful eye for design and keen instinct for business, she knew there was a market for beautifully crafted, mismatched socks made right here in America.

The company quickly grew out of a small room in her house to three different offices in the US and the UK. Solmate Socks’ product line also expanded to include hats, gloves, and scarves in addition to mismatched, colorful socks.

After 15 years of hard work and success with the company, Marianne decided to put down the proverbial knitting needles and retire. But as it worked out, she kept the business in the family. As of January 2015, Marianne’s son, Randy, and her daughter-in-law, Lisa, are the new owners.

Continuously demonstrating a commitment to protecting the environment, protecting the health and safety of employees, and nurturing relationships with local businesses and communities, Randy and Lisa are firmly committed to keeping Solmate Socks an eco-friendly, American-made company with a focus on developing fresh designs and products and an emphasis on supporting local businesses.

Eco-friendly? Yep! All Solmate products are knit from the ingenious repurposing of recycled cotton yarn. (It was the recycled part that initially motivated Sister to buy my first pair for me.) Solmate collects remnants from t-shirt factories that would normally go into a landfill, grinds them down to basic material and re-spins that material into their own yarn. These recycled yarns are free from harmful substances, made with respect for the environment and respect for human rights. Using recycled yarns means that Solmate Socks decreases the amount of cotton waste sent to landfills. Their yarns also reduce the amount of water, land, pesticides and herbicides used to grow new cotton fibers as well as eliminates the need for harmful chemicals to dye virgin cotton yarn.

While I can’t guarantee that a pair of Solmate Socks will save your life, I can promise you that you’ll love these fun, funky socks. We’ve seen them in very few stores, but they are available online and on Amazon. Check them out today. They make great gifts, but you should also treat yourself to a pair.

How Much is Too Much?

Disclaimer: Our bloggers are not health experts. Contact your physician if if you are thinking about starting a new dietary program.

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

It started innocently enough. Saturday afternoon, I found a carton of Edy’s Mint Cookie Crunch at Target. Ahh, Mint Cookie Crunch. Delightfully refreshing mint light ice cream with chunks of chocolate sandwiches with half the fat and one-third fewer calories than regular ice cream. It’s hard to find. So when I saw it at Target, I thought that I better get some while it’s still available. Sometimes I over eat ice cream, so I thought twice about it, but thought that I could control my portions. The next day, the half-gallon was empty, and besides the cup that my sister enjoyed, I’d eaten it all.

I wrote the ice cream down in my food journal, and with exercise, I was somehow able to keep my calories down to a reasonable number, despite the many half-cup servings I had during those two days. But what really bothered me was my lack of control and the really large amount of ice cream that I ate in less than 48 hours. I rationalized it by thinking that “everybody does that every once in a while,” but this time, that didn’t make me feel better. So I took to the Internet.

Binge eating is such a strong term for overindulging, I thought, but according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), Binge Eating Disorder (BED) will soon join the ranks with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa as an “official” eating disorder. Binge eating is characterized by insatiable cravings that can occur any time of the day or night, usually secretive, and filled with shame. Bingeing is often rooted in poor body image, use of food to deal with stress, low self-esteem and tied to dysfunctional thoughts.

Could I have binge eating disorder? Distinguishing between overeating and binge eating is sometimes difficult, even for the eating disorder professionals. Compulsive eating and emotional eating are terms that have been around for years. BED is a distinct entity and not merely the occasional craving, over-eating when you are hungry, or the overindulgence during the holidays. According to Cynthia Bulik, PhD, “Every binge is different, just as every craving is different, and every binge eater is different but the scenario is the same.”

According to ANAD, Criteria for Diagnosis of BED includes:

  • Loss of control over amount of eating
  • Marked distress over binge episode
  • Occurs at least 1x per week for 3 months

And, three or more of the following:

  • Eating more rapidly than normal (i.e. 2 hour period)
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
  • Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or very guilty over after overeating

So yes, I overdid it, but according to the ANAD definition, I’m not a binge eater because it doesn’t happen on a regular basis. (Saved by the “once a week for three months” clause.)

In my research, I found a great article about binge eating in Self, called “How Bad is Binge Eating. In the article, several professionals discussed binge eating, both anecdotally and clinically.

“It’s okay to binge every now and again,” says Mike Fenster, M.D., cardiologist, professional chef, and author of The Fallacy of the Calorie. “All things in moderation, including moderation. However, two important caveats do apply: intensity and frequency.”

Fenster recommends following the 80/20 rule. “Try to adhere to your usual healthful approach at least 80 percent of the time,” he says. “But there are special occasions, vacations, and life moments that call for a willingness to throw caution, and nutritional guidelines, to the wind. But a special occasion should not become standard fare. That ‘once in a while’ jumbo waffle sundae can’t morph into a nightly ménage with Ben and Jerry.”

Whew! Anyone got Edy’s?

Let’s talk. Am I the only one who occasionally binges or do you have binges, too? What do you most often binge on and what brings them on? What do you usually do after your binge?

Strengthening Saturday: A New Addition to My Toolbox

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

“It was great! No cleaning, no responsibilities and no guilt. Just rest and relaxation.” That’s how I described a recent overnight stay at a health facility following a vocal cord procedure to my friend/counselor/life coach, Nancy.

Recently, we talked about how I could replicate that without having to go to the hospital. Twenty minutes later, I’d devised “Strengthening Saturday,” one day each month dedicated to rest, renewal, rejuvenation and refreshment. (If only Saturday started with an R!)

Following are the terms of “Strengthening Saturday:”

  • Designate the fourth Saturday of each month as Strengthening Saturday. (That week is usually a busy one for me each month.)
  • Sleep until I wake up; maybe go back to sleep even then.
  • Have no “to do” list for that day; only do the things I want to do including, but not limited to, watching Netflix; creating something; reading; and/or catching up on my writing.  
  • Unless there is something I WANT to do outside of the house and need to be presentable, stay in my PJs or lounging clothes all day.
  • Eat foods that are low-prep and healthy. Unless I want something sinful, which I’ll totally allow during a Strengthening Saturday.
  • No social media allowed. (Lumosity and Words with Friends, yes; Facebook and Twitter, no.)
  • Tell Mom and Sister not to include me in any plans on a Strengthening Saturday.
  • Maximize my senses. Play music I love or listen to a podcast; have some flowers or other beautiful thing in my room; light a candle; take a long hot bubble bath or freshen my bed clothes; eat wonderful food; cuddle with the cats; etc.
  • Will put the guilt of not “being busy” aside, just for one day.

As I continue to grow, build and yes, even still heal a little, I think Strengthening Saturdays will be a game changer. I can’t wait for the first one!