Priceless Notes

By: Shannon Boatwright

So, I think recent times have been incredibly stressful for many of us. As a teacher, my life has been especially busy, stressful and overwhelming. Nothing I can’t handle. But between major teacher observations, preparing for my big honors drama production next week – taking on the role of not only teacher, but director, producer, costume/set/props master, stage manager, media relations, etc. – plus, teaching my regular classes, and fulfilling my regular duties, the ten to twelve hour work days start to weigh on ya. All the work responsibilities are of course on top of family needs and activities. And I won’t even bother to go into the stresses of the recent election.

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All that being said though, it’s the smallest, most random acts of kindness that can lift one’s heart and help get one through the busy and tough times. They say the smallest acts of kindness make the biggest differences in a person’s life. Like a sweet smile, a genuine compliment, or someone taking the time to open the door for you and greet you; a kind note can light up a person’s world.

This has been the case for me lately. I don’t know if God and the universe whispered the need to those around me, but I have been blessed with random, precious notes of kindness in the past month that have warmed my heart, brought me to tears and given me the strength to keep moving forward, knowing I’m appreciated and loved. No lavish gifts necessary. It’s the little things in life. These tokens of gratitude and love, these lovely little findings that bring the biggest smiles and instill a positive energy in me that helps to remind me of why I do what I do.

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Over the past month, I have gotten to school super early, before most teachers show, to get work done and prepare for my classes or rehearsals, and I’ll go to update my whiteboard and find these fabulous notes that my students have left on my board. And though some teachers may get aggravated that their board was messed up, I positively adore these notes they leave me. It is never easy for me to erase them when I have to. So, I always make sure to take a picture of their heartwarming notes, to forever cherish and to look at in those moments when I’m struggling.   

Just last week, two of my students from one of the fun academies at my school, called Random Acts of Kindness, busted into my Zumba fun academy while I was teaching. They had papers in their hands and smiles on their faces that truly lit up the room. With giddy excitement, they left these precious notes for me to read when I was done teaching. Their notes said that they were thankful for me, stating that I make them excited to come to school and that my class always puts a smile on their face and is the best part of their day. To read those words, written by a middle school student….whew, brings tears to my eyes. It’s what we live for as a good teacher. To know that I’m making a positive difference in someone’s life. To know that I’m inspiring someone and that someone appreciates what I do….it’s truly priceless!

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I’ve also had the joy of coming across unexpected notes from my incredible family. Waking up to a note on the bathroom mirror written in lipstick by my sweet husband, finding a lovely note from my pre-teen daughter, hidden under her bed covers, because she knew I’d find it when I went to wash her bed linens, super cute handwritten notes from my son, letting me know he loves me… just seeing their handwriting and knowing that they’re thinking of me and love me – truly priceless. My daughter even left a random sweet note on my iPhone charger and I absolutely love it. My amazing Mama dropping by unexpectedly with an awesome gift and card, for no special reason, just to say she loves me! I’ve even gotten random texts from family members and dear friends saying hello, they love me and are thinking me. Those kinds of texts that make you respond out loud with a drawn out, “Awe….” and make you sit there wondering how in the world they ever knew you needed that sweet message in that moment. It’s all absolutely PRICELESS. Priceless treasures that fill my heart and soul.

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Not only do these random notes of love and kindness fill me with positive vibes, replenishing me with faith and encouragement, but they also remind me of the power of random acts of kindness and they serve as a lovely reminder of the strength a simple positive message to another individual. They remind me to pay it forward and to make a conscious effort to spread the positivity, taking the time to recognize someone else’s hard work or voice my love and adoration for someone else. Spreading the joy… it works wonders, in so many wonderful ways!

I felt this topic was appropriate considering the time of year we’re about to enter. In sharing all this, as Thanksgiving is upon us, I hope that I can encourage others to remember that making the smallest effort of leaving a simple, sweet note for someone can make the biggest difference in their lives. Let others know you appreciate them, that you love them, and that you’re thankful for them.  Who could you leave a priceless note for? If you think someone rocks!, tell them. 😉 It’ll make you feel good, and I can guarantee it’ll make them feel good.

Getting Through the Holidays Gluten Free

By: Rachel Sircy

thanksgiving

Growing up it was Thanksgiving, not Christmas, that was my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving was always a big deal in my mother’s family. All of the family gathered at my great-grandmother’s house which stood at the end of a little holler just outside of Portsmouth, Ohio. Her house was tiny and there were nearly always at least 40 people in attendance at this feast of feasts, so to say that it was crowded and chaotic would be an understatement. People ate in the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, one or two would stand up next to the washer and dryer and used them for makeshift tables, and there were always people on the porch and porch steps and scattered around the yard. It was too much for the adults to try to control the kids, so we generally ran around the house like wild hillbillies (which is in truth what we were). The food was always good and plenteous. There was enough for 40 people to eat it for at least two days (because Thanksgiving then was the entire weekend, not just one day). All that running, playing, screaming and eating were so much fun that Christmas day (which was spent at home with just my parents and sisters), even with all its toys, just couldn’t compare.

The first Thanksgiving after I was diagnosed as a celiac, I divided my time between my mother and my grandmother’s houses trying to smile while I choked down a gluten free version of my mother’s homemade chicken noodles. Chicken noodles or beef noodles is the Northern substitute for macaroni and cheese at Thanksgiving. The only version of this dish worth eating is the homemade version where someone has made the egg dough and cut and dried the noodles a day or two ahead of time. When put in with the chicken and the broth, the noodles puff up and are essentially just thinner and longer versions of dumplings. My mother’s noodles were sort of famous in our family, and they were my favorite thing to eat. No one in my family had ever heard of celiac disease or the gluten free diet before my diagnosis and our early efforts to work with gluten free flour often went awry. Case in point: in an effort to not leave me out, my mother made a small batch of gluten free egg noodles and set aside a bowl of chicken noodles just for me. They were horrible. Despite the fact that the noodles were really gritty, they were melting into the chicken broth and becoming one big pile of goo. As a celiac who has loving, helpful family members I have had a lot of practice pretending that food made specially for me – food that’s just oozing with love and is also just oozing – is delicious. You can develop the ability to smile so hard that it stifles your gag reflex. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good at hiding my disappointment that first Thanksgiving and I think I ended up crying into my sad little bowl of egg noodle ooblec.

Well, now that I’ve gotten that depressing little story off of my chest I’m going to share some helpful hints for gluten free holiday cooking and eating:

  1. DON’T forget to remind everyone of your specific dietary restrictions. If you’re a celiac, make sure that everyone who is bringing food is well aware of what that means. There are a lot of people who are on the gluten free diet because it’s the latest fad, and this is bad news for celiacs because it makes the disease seem less serious. However, if you’re a celiac this is your life at stake. Don’t take it too lightly just because you don’t swell up and go into anaphylactic shock any time you eat something you shouldn’t.
  2. DON’T budge from your diet. Sometimes you eat things because you don’t want to hurt Aunt Martha’s feelings or because Nana makes the best banana pudding there is. Remember, your health is worth more than someone getting all huffy because you snubbed her dish and, despite what you may feel at the time, there is more to life than banana pudding.
  3. COOK your favorite dishes yourself. I bring my own dressing and pies to Thanksgiving. It’s just easier that way. I know that my kitchen is totally gluten free and safe. Your friends’ and relatives’ kitchens are not totally gluten free and therefore their dishes will never be totally safe for a celiac. (I will share some tips for gluten free stuffing/dressing. And you can make any family recipe for macaroni and cheese gluten free simply by substituting gf pasta for regular pasta). If you are able, you might offer to make all of the questionable dishes for the dinner (by questionable, I mean anything that contains bread, breadcrumbs, pasta and any pastries.)
  4. BE SURE that gluten free serving utensils are kept separate. Again, I bring my own. Mine are distinct enough from everyone else’s that they’re not easily mixed up. I hate to break it to you, but if your little sister removes the serving utensil from the regular dressing and sticks it in your gluten free dressing, you can’t eat that dressing anymore. A real gluten free diet is beyond strict, but remember, you are doing this to keep on living and being well. This isn’t a hippie health food craze. It is your life.

Most of all, remember to be grateful. That can sound totally stupid on your first or second Thanksgiving as a celiac, but, in time, when your body has healed itself, the gratitude will come more easily. You will look back on the years of sickness and understand just how blessed you are to have a disease that can be cured simply by eating differently. I always think to myself that I could be lying in a hospital receiving chemotherapy, but I’m not. I am just eating food made from funky ingredients. Those funky ingredients have made me well and whole. Thank God.

Tips for Gluten Free Dressing:

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Lately, gluten free ingredients are really holding their own against what we call “regular” or “normal” food. You can purchase gluten free flour that can be substituted cup for cup for wheat flour in any recipe. Only people who have been gluten free long enough to remember the umpteen-gazillion little bags of Bob’s Redmill flours (almond, rice, amaranth, soy, etc) and the 8oz bags of Xanthan gum that sold for 12 bucks can really appreciate how amazing that is. So, if you like to make your own pie crusts (I never did), it’s now easier than ever to do it gluten free. You can also buy pre-made pie crusts from Whole Foods that are pretty decent. (I recommend the Whole Foods brand.)

For dressing or stuffing (whatever you want to call it), gluten free bread works pretty well. I think that you could use pretty much any family recipe that you have for dressing. The only thing I would suggest is if you don’t toast the GF bread before using it, watch the liquid to bread ratio. While GF bread is so dry that it’s impossible to eat right out of the bag, it also has a tendency to fall apart and melt in too much liquid. I don’t mean get soggy, I mean it can melt in too much liquid. So, if you want to make a really moist stuffing, you might want to lightly toast the bread first, just so it holds up to the liquid a little better.

Also, I know that the holidays can be expensive no matter how you cook, but gluten free cooking is really expensive. I used to pay about $6 for a loaf of gluten free bread because I thought that the cheap stuff just wouldn’t taste as good. Cheap gf bread is about $3.50 a loaf, and keep in mind that the bread slices are about 2/3 the size of a regular slice of bread and the loaf is maybe half as many slices as a regular loaf. I was buying two loaves per week at $6 each for myself at one point – that’s a staggering $12 per week on bread for just myself. At the time I didn’t make $12 an hour at work. For those of you trying to do a gluten free diet on a shoe string budget, I feel you.

Good news, though. Aldi actually makes gluten free bread now. Their slices of gluten free bread are actually bigger than most other brands, though the loaves are still kind of small. BUT, the best part about this news is that Aldi’s gf bread is actually the best gf bread I have ever tasted. It still has to be toasted before being eaten, but after it’s toasted it’s softer than any other gf bread I’ve tried. That six-dollar-a-loaf bread was so thick and cardboard-like that after I toasted it, it would dry my mouth out and sometimes cut my gums in a way that looked like I had somehow scraped the inside of my mouth on the sidewalk. I have also made some of the best dressing with Aldi’s bread. The stuffing for the chicken pot pie casserole that I made a while back was with the Aldi’s bread and it was by far the best part of that dish.

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Another cost saving measure that I started a while ago was saving the heels and crusts of my bread. I have never eaten heels of bread and gf bread crusts (even Aldi’s) can be seriously dry and unpleasant. So, after a while of getting physically ill over the money I was wasting throwing those heels and crusts away, I decided to start grinding them down to make breadcrumbs and cubes that I have used in other dishes. No more waste and no more buying packaged breadcrumbs and whole loaves of bread just to make dressing. I stock quart freezer bags in my pantry and whenever I cut crusts or grind up heels, I just toss them into one of the bags (I often measure them as I put them in the bags to make recipes more precise) and put them in the freezer. They keep really well and are such a handy cost saver!

Well, those are all my holiday food tips for this post. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section and I will be more than happy to answer them or find an answer for you!

Suggested Reading: “Simply…Gluten Free Quick Meals” by Carol Kicinski. It’s not literature, but it’s so amazing for any gf cook. She does a whole Thanksgiving meal in this book with really simple recipes and ingredients, plus she has a section about basic flour mixtures and how to stock a gf pantry. This is my go to recipe book.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Here at the Every Woman Blog, we are thankful for you, our readers. Thank you for visiting the Every Woman Blog day after day, following our bloggers’ funny stories, momentous occasions, and reflections on life.

We hope you take time to reflect on all that you have to be thankful for. We wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving with those you love.

Thanksgiving
The year has turned its circle,
The seasons come and go.
The harvest all is gathered in
And chilly north winds blow.

Orchards have shared their treasures,
The fields, their yellow grain,
So open wide the doorway –
Thanksgiving comes again!

–Old Rhyme.

God’s Other Plans

By: Mary Pat Baldauf 

I skipped church Sunday morning to take care of a few time-sensitive tasks. I hate to play hookey from church because God never played hookey on me during my recovery (except maybe on that day I contracted c. Diff.) but I was starting to feel some severe pressure to get a few things done.

My rehab hospital in Atlanta is doing a “Where Are They Now” feature on me for their next magazine, and I have to get them a photo. I started out looking through my Facebook photos and got lost in the journey of the last eight months.

My new motto is to enjoy the present and everything in it. Thankfully, my present is being documented by a personal photographer, my sweet sister Beth, who is still amazed at every thing I do. (Because, she explains, the initial prognosis was that I would never do some of this stuff again.)

I remember when I was in my first days at Shepherd Center, someone commented that God must have big plans for me for bringing me through the aneurysm rupture. I still have a lot of questions for and about God, but today, I think he is okay with me skipping church. After all, if I hadn’t stayed home, I would’ve missed the goodness and warmth of those couple of hours.

#MPBStrong

For today’s post, I thought I’d share a handful of the greatness that has happened since I’ve been back in Columbia. There were many other great moments, but these were the clearest shots (aka best for the magazine.) I made it into a collage for the blog, but sent the magazine these photos individually. (They only need one, so I’m going to make them do the choosing.)

As we move into Thanksgiving week, I thank everyone who made the past eight months possible. Whether you prayed for me, sent a card, welcomed me back with a great hug or helped me celebrate, you are all such an important part of my life. Together we are #MPBStrong.

The Tree of Thanksgiving

 

By: Leah Prescott

Out of the entire year, the next few weeks may be my very favorite. The sugar high of Halloween is fading (the trick is: throw away just a few pieces of candy each day, so as not to arouse suspicion) and the full-on panic of the holidays has yet to fully descend. There is a peace and thoughtfulness in this season that I want to stretch out into the rest of my year. You see, I used to love November because it led up to December (and thus Christmas) but now I’m coming to appreciate it more for its own merit. As I grow a little older and (hopefully) a little wiser, I am finding connection to a depth of thankfulness I didn’t understand before. I’m realizing that gratitude isn’t about our circumstances or even despite of our circumstances. In fact, it has nothing to do with our circumstances at all!

As a Christian, I can give thanks for one reason alone: my God is King! (Psalm 95:2-3) That’s something that doesn’t change with my immediate surroundings or even with the turmoil of the world I live in. God is good, and worthy of thanksgiving! Just that knowledge alone lifts my heart and helps put everything else into perspective.

As I’m teaching multiplication and reading about the Renaissance with my little ones, I’m conscious that there are even more important lessons to be learned. I desperately want to give them the gift of gratitude and I welcome your suggestions. I want to share one way of doing so by creating a Thanksgiving Tree.

Thanksgiving Tree

This has been one of our favorite traditions that we have come to look forward to. We choose a few branches and display them in a vase. Throughout the next few weeks, we take turns hanging paper leaves on the tree with things we are thankful for written on each one. This is a simple but special tradition we look forward to, and it makes a beautiful centerpiece. At dinnertime, we read some of them and talk about all we have to be grateful for.

I hope your November is peaceful and full of gratitude!

Feeling Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving! Here on the Every Woman Blog, we wanted to slow down for a moment in order to focus on what Thanksgiving is really about – appreciating all of the wonderful blessings in our lives. We asked the Every Woman Bloggers what they are most thankful for in their lives. Check out what they had to say and then tell us about what – or who! – makes you feel thankful.

Shannon: John Wooden once said, “If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.” I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing this incredible man back in the day when I was working in Los Angeles, and I plan to take Mr. Wooden’s words to heart because I know that I will be much happier if I magnify the many blessings in my life. I have so very much to be thankful for, so my personal goal this holiday season is to focus on all of my many blessings!  😉

Brady's son

Brady’s son, Benjamin

Brady: My son! He has totally changed my life and made me value things differently.

Chaunte: After having the privilege to help serve hundreds of homeless men and women recently, this holiday season I am thankful for everything and everyone God has blessed me with. Sometimes I have a desire for more, but that experience made me realize that I really have enough, and I’m grateful.

Elizabeth: Every Thanksgiving I am most thankful for my family and the fact that we are all healthy and together.

Crissie: This year was crazy busy. I am so grateful to God for sending me on a new path in my life ~ becoming a teacher. It has been one of the hardest, but most rewarding, jobs I’ve ever held.

Lara: I am most thankful for my family – the family that raised me and taught me what was important and the family that raised my husband and taught him what was important – so we would be able to pass those same lessons down.

Leah: We just wrapped up our semester with our homeschool hybrid group, and I am overwhelmed with thanks for all it means to our family. I am thankful for every single teacher and staff member as well the many volunteers and our host church. For me, it takes a village to be a homeschool mom and my village is fantastic! And I’m thankful every day for God’s mercy through each season of life. I feel like I need that mercy more each day. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Katie: For me, Thanksgiving is a time to slow down, soaking in time with family and friends. I love this time of year! Life seems to slow down long enough to get together and create new memories. Many of my memories are with family and I am so incredibly thankful to have them in my life!  Family is there to celebrate your successes, laugh with you, and lift you out of your darkest corner. My family is my rock and I couldn’t imagine the holidays, or my life, without them!  Wishing each of you a wonderful, memory-filled Thanksgiving. 🙂

Mary Pat:  After my father and grandmother passed away, Thanksgiving wasn’t the same. I’m so thankful for The Elliott family, close friends who’ve adopted us as part of their Thanksgiving family. We enjoy traditions similar to the ones that were part of our Thanksgivings – like great food and a kids table – but have also started some new ones, including a mid-afternoon walk and movie.

Sherree: I’m so very thankful for a community that supports me even when I fall. The love that has been shown to my family since moving to the area is just overwhelming. That is something I treasure and I’m so happy to have found. From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

Beyond the Thanksgiving Table

By: Katie Austin

In just a few short days, Thanksgiving will be here and we will be gathering around the family table to feast and reflect. This is by far one of my favorite holidays, not just because of the delicious food that will be savored, but more importantly because we will be with family and friends. We will each pause for a few minutes to answer a simple question: What are you thankful for?

Give thanks

A simple question with many possible answers. A question that is asked every year at this time when we gather around the holiday dinner table. What am I thankful for? My thoughts also include who I am thankful for.

As I sit here typing my next installment for the Every Woman Blog, I begin to ponder possible answers to this question. There is so much that I am thankful for! How do I sum it up into a few short sentences? Maybe the answer to the question is no one answer? The intent of the question is for you to reflect and let those close to you know how blessed you are to have them in your life.

“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received.
Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling.
Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.”
– Henry Van Dyke

 Then, as I execute the next keystroke on my laptop, it hits me. I get it now. The question I should also be asking is not just “what” or “who” I am thankful for, but “when” am I thankful. It’s like I reached up and turned on the light bulb over my head! I understand now.

What about the other 364 days of the year?

Yes, we should each take time during the holiday season to be thankful, but this should extend past the Thanksgiving table. Gratitude is good for us. Feeling grateful every day is an attitude.

When you sit down with your loved ones for Thanksgiving dinner, be thankful for what and who you have been blessed with in your life. Cherish time spent together. Soak up the day and create new memories. Then, when the day is done, find ways to be grateful as a part of your daily routine.

Here are a few easy ways to work gratitude into your daily life:

  1. Spend time with family and friends. Schedule time to spend with those you love not just during the holidays but as often as you can. If family and friends live out of town, plan time to catch up over the phone, by texting, on Facebook, on Skype, or any other method that works. Life can change in an instant, so be grateful for time spent with those you care about.
  1. Volunteer. There is no greater gift you can give than by lending a hand. I look for volunteer opportunities once each quarter. This way, I am involved in my community at least 4 times a year. The community is grateful for your time and you will be thankful for the opportunity.
  1. Empower yourself. Instead of expecting the worst from life, expect the best! Take charge of your own destiny. Be thankful for every day you open your eyes and have the opportunity to do something wonderful!

Wishing each of you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and I am so thankful to be a part of the Every Woman Blog family!