How a Mixer Changed My Outlook

By: Azure Stilwell

This month I celebrated a milestone birthday. I turned the big 4-0h! It was a great birthday complete with 40 e-cards sent from my husband. My extended family chipped in to get me a Kitchen Aid mixer. I’ve wanted it for years but I could never justify spending that much money on a mixer, so it was a wonderful surprise.

It actually got me to thinking about why I was so afraid to purchase something that I obviously wanted for a very long time? Why should I feel the need to justify a purchase to anyone outside of my immediate family? I think I worry too much about what others think. So, for my next 40 years I am going to try and not worry so much what others think of me and focus more on my wants and needs. I might even learn how to make my own pasta with my brand new Kitchen Aid mixer! The point is, I don’t want to spend years wishing I had something but being too embarrassed to buy it because of its cost – especially when I know I will get tons of use out of it. It’s funny how wisdom really does come with age. 🙂

Celebrating 40

By: Chaunte McClure

Amid my excitement about turning 40, I created a short list of ways I wanted to celebrate. I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I usually don’t make a big deal out of birthdays. That’s just the way it was in my family, but I’m changing, because now I have a greater appreciation for life and I’m grateful for every single day, no matter what’s packaged in it.

During my thirties, darkness seemed to hover over me; even when there were rays of sunshine, they seemed to quickly find a hiding place behind the clouds. Many days it seemed I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but it was just a shadow and I’m still walking – walking in victory.

So, yes, I ought to celebrate and enjoy life and so should you. Go places you’ve never gone and do things you’ve never done. It’s my desire to accomplish both every year. This time, I went to DR, but you don’t have to travel to a Caribbean nation. I wanted to, in honor of the big 4-0.

Here’s a peek at what I did:

Flying High

parasailing

While relaxing on the beach and hiding from direct sunlight under the resort’s palapa umbrellas, I had an impulse to fly high. I watched other tourists take flight and from below,  it looked so fun. My husband didn’t even take me seriously when I said I wanted to parasail. After inquiring about the cost, he hurried back to the room to get money before I changed my mind. There was no turning back though. This 40 year old had the audacity to sail through the air while attached to a boat. I guess if I was really daring I would’ve gone solo, but the tandem ride put me at ease. I was a little nervous on the way up, forcing myself not to look back for fear of having a nervous breakdown. Once we got to the highest altitude, I was fine, even looking down to see what I could identify below in the beautiful, clear blue waters. If you ever decide to give it a try, remember, it’s mind over matter. Just enjoy the flight and the views!

Getting Dirty

celebrating 40

We also had some dirty fun while riding the countryside trails in a dune buggy, splashing through mud and squinting through the occasional dust clouds. It certainly was an interesting way to see the authenticity of the Dominican Republic, passing modest, colorful homes, the cutest kids waving hello, farmland, and makeshift roadside stands while making stops at Macao Beach and a natural cave. Minus the fumes we inhaled from the other dune buggies, this was an awesome experience. By the way, ladies, no need to shampoo or curl your hair before this ride.

Horsing Around

horseback riding

I expressed interest in going horseback riding a few years ago, but I never really pursued it. Fortunately, it was an activity offered with one of our excursions. After saddling up, I was praying the horse didn’t detect my anxiety or take off galloping around the ranch without the rest of the group. Thankfully, they were obedient to their trainers. While making our way around the ranch, somehow, perhaps because of the peaceful ride, my mind drifted to the 23rd Psalm. In between hearing the Spanish dialogue between the two guides, I kept thinking about the shepherd and green pastures. I never made the connection between it all, but I’m sure it’ll come back to me in the form of a sermon, or maybe a blog entry.

Making Memories

celebrating 40

That vacation is in the books, but it was fun making memories and sharing some of them with you. I have one more month in 2016 to celebrate turning 40 and four more before I turn 41.

I’m fabulous at 40, and I’ll still be fabulous at 41. Oh, I had a birthday photo shoot, too.

Turning 40

By: Chaunte McClure

Milestone birthdays tend to generate excitement among individuals and this one was no different for me. Last year this time I was looking forward to turning the big 4-0 and I was making celebration plans for 2016.

On my to-do list was to take a trip out of the country. After a few months of deciding where to go, my heart was finally set on the Dominican Republic.

In October, we took to the skies for about a four-hour flight to the beautiful Caribbean Island for some time to unwind, celebrate me and learn more about a different culture. Hurricane Matthew had me on edge a bit because I thought he would rip through DR and force us to cancel our trip. Not so! For six days, I got to soak up the sun and make new memories.

Domincan RepublicDomincan RepublicNot all of the Dominican Republic is attractive. Resort life keeps your mind on R&R, blocking the reality of what life is really like on the island. We spent most of one day exploring the countryside, where Dominicans live and work.

Domincan Republic

They work for very little, I might add. According to our tour guide, on average, they make about less than $400 per month. Because of tips, resort employees usually earn a little more annually. Teachers are on the higher end of the scale earning about $900 monthly.

Domincan Republic

One of our tour stops was at a public school tucked down a dirt road where sugar cane grow several feet high in nearby fields.

Domincan Republic

For the first time since I was a child, I got to taste sugar cane. And like this vacation, it was sweet!

I’ll share more later this month.

This Year, I’m Going to Make Fifty Nifty

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

happy birthday

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.

– Oprah Winfrey

This month, I’ll be turning 50. The big five-oh. The ultimate F word. Vintage 1966, limited edition, genuine original parts. Five perfect 10s.

Heck, I’m still amazed to be around after that aneurysm rupture. I’m just now starting to feel strong again and more like me. So instead of mourning the passing of my youth, I’m going to celebrate. All year long. I’ve even got a list of 50 things I want to do now that I’m fifty. It’s not a “bucket list,” per se, more of a “ways to celebrate” and/or “things I want to do” before I turn 51.

  1. Get back up to 10k steps a day.
  2. Visit Edisto. (How have I never been?!)
  3. Go to the Chihuly Exhibit in Atlanta.
  4. Go to a college football game. It’s been years since I tailgated.
  5. Get a pair of invisible glasses so the world can see my eyes again.
  6. Go horseback riding.
  7. Hold a snake.
  8. Finally paint my bedroom a soft Tiffany blue.
  9. Camp out.
  10. Give up social media and electronics one weekend a month.
  11. Kiss a stranger.
  12. Get back to doing “hanging abs” at the gym.
  13. Get a digital eye exam so for once, I won’t second guess “which is better, one or (click click click) two.
  14. Visit an old friend.
  15. Scatter Jessie the Cat’s ashes on Pickett Street.
  16. Volunteer for a non-environmental cause that I love.
  17. Learn to shag well enough that I can do it sober.
  18. Plant something and watch it grow.
  19. Take some type of an art class.
  20. Take those electronic guitar lessons that Beth gave me for Christmas.
  21. Compile a new “hearts” print.
  22. Get down to my (revised) goal weight.
  23. Skinny dip.
  24. Learn to knit and/or crochet so I can be a yarn bomber!
  25. Pick one of my many pinned projects on Pinterest and make it a reality.
  26. Take a huge leap of faith. Subject undefined, but do something without a safety net.
  27. Be a tourist in my own town one weekend. Go to the places people come to Columbia to do and see, like the Zoo. Also go to at least one place that I’ve never been before.
  28. Read The Stand by Stephen King. All the way through this time.
  29. Replace the “orester” on the back of my car with a new chrome name plate, or at least an F.
  30. Make a special 50 mug at Mad Platter.
  31. When I splurge, let it be on something wicked good, not a box of every day cookies or vanilla anything.
  32. Get to know our neighbors.
  33. Create a fairy garden.
  34. Donate blood.
  35. Kayak on a local river.
  36. Earn the Toastmasters “Table Topic” of the day award.
  37. Go tubing on a local river.
  38. Take a hike.
  39. Visit Pretty Place in the Upstate.
  40. Dance at the Greek Festival. (Last year, I was too dizzy!)
  41. Celebrate the New Year.
  42. Up my shoe game.
  43. Sing at church (instead of mumbling and mouthing.)
  44. Learn a magic trick.
  45. Have coffee with someone new once a month.
  46. Have coffee by myself once a month.
  47. Clean and organize the cargo area of my car.
  48. Go bird watching.
  49. Have lunch at The Dixie in Greenwood, SC, the town where I grew up.
  50. Take more bubble baths.

The Fillers

By: Lara Clark

Wednesday was my birthday. Cue the balloon. It was not a significant age, nor of much significance to report. I mean, all birthdays should really fall on the weekend because hump Growing olderday does not exactly scream par-tay. But with the passing of another 365 days, I did spent the day thinking about what my 29th year held and what my NEW 29th** year would have in store. The truth is, the older I get, the less convinced I am that I am ever going to have it all figured out. I still don’t understand much about insurance premiums, IRA’s (Roth or not), or coupon clipping…those things that I thought grown-ups understood.

With a little age under my belt (and under my eyes) I do understand a little more about unconditional love, heartbreaking loss, pure joy and fleeting time. This birthday, I wondered if maybe those grown-up things are what I should worry about and continue to muddle through the other stuff.

I recently watched the movie Boyhood and – this is not a spoiler, so I will tell you – the mother in the film says something to the effect of, “Life is just a series of milestones.” I don’t know why, but this quote just made me sad. Milestones are really pretty few and far between. I mean, obviously they are important… they are “milestones.” But what about the fillers, the in-between, the birthdays that fall on Wednesdays? I think I might need to hold a little tighter to those. I should free up the space in my mind that currently holds all those insecurities about whether I am where this grown-up should be in life. I am exactly where I need to be today or at least until I learn more and change a little here and there. I am “in between” milestones. Nice texts from my husband or tickle wars with kids on my couch are okay fillers too. Cue the balloons for those.

** I know Chaunte is right and I should tell my age proudly, but for now I will just admit proudly that I am aging.

Tell Your Age – Proudly

By: Chaunte McClure

Last week I celebrated my 38th birthday. Oops, did I just tell my age? Who does that? There are many women who won’t. Well, I’m not one of those women. I don’t quite understand why women (and I know some men do it, too) keep their age a secret. Does your age help crack the code to a master lock or a mind-boggling riddle? Could that number be the one to help the inquirer win the lottery? Or are you just ashamed of your age? Don’t be. Be proud of your age, whether you’re 18, 21, 50, somewhere in between or beyond. It’s great to age, you know. If you’re not getting older, you’re dead. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s true. We should be grateful that we are living and have lived to see each birthday that has passed.  I’ve heard people say when their birthday comes around that it’s just another day. No, it’s not just another day. It’s your birthday, the date commemorating the day that God, who created you, allowed you to be a part of this world. That’s worth celebrating.

Happy BirthdayI usually don’t make a big deal out of my birthday, but this year was different. I wanted to do something for myself for a change. I wanted a change of scenery and to do something different. I decided to drive to Atlanta, even if I had to go alone. Fortunately, I didn’t travel solo. I was in good company with a friend I met in high school, whom I reconnected with last year. We had a ball! We shopped, ate, shopped and ate some more. I treated myself to a little pampering at one of the most popular salons in Atlanta, too. Besides, it was my birthday.

Well my birthday has come and gone, but I’m looking forward to turning 39, 40, and every age that follows. And every time I’m asked my age, I’ll proudly say it. Regardless of where you are in life right or how you feel about yourself, be proud of your age and be thankful that you’re still alive.

I’m Chaunte McClure, inspiring you to rejoice, be glad and tell your age.

Chocolate Cake

By: Brady Evans

CakeMy birthday came and went in early March without much fanfare. Part of the problem might have been that I have a student who has been consistently wishing me “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” daily since August. It was hard to believe when the day had come that it was truly my birthday after all those wonderful salutations all year long.

Another problem, I guess, is that as you get older, birthdays matter less. Unless you are my mom (who blogs at leemalerich.wordpress.com if you want to check her out!), apparently, and then you throw yourself a wonderful party. That’s where this cake came into play – not on my birthday but on her birthday, which is two weeks after mine.

Maybe I went all out on the cakes (yes, there were two; I’ll share the other later) because I had truly not gone all out on my birthday. Or maybe it was because the skies had opened up and it had been raining for two days. What’s better than baking up a storm during an actual storm?

CakeI must confess that I chose this cake because the interior is deep dark chocolate and while my mom and I both prefer vanilla, our husbands do not. Also, I was in the mood to challenge myself by making homemade salted caramel.

The cake was described by the party guests as “shove your face into and eat away” delicious. Ina Garten makes a mean chocolate cake and the salted caramel frosting truly was the perfect contrast. The compliments I received for the baking of this cake at the party were embarrassingly plentiful, so use that as an indication of how quickly you should make this cake! Below are the recipes for the cake, the salted caramel and the salted caramel frosting.

Chocolate Cake (adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups whole buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons brewed coffee
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup good cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease your cake pans. (I like to use the wrapper from my sticks of butter).
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy (approximately 5 minutes).
  3. Reduce the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time and incorporate fully.
  4. Add the vanilla and mix well.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and coffee.
  6. In a third bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
  7. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended.
  8. Finish by folding the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it’s completely blended.
  9. Divide the batter between two 8″ round cake pan.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10-15 minutes and then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Salted Caramel (from Kimberly Taylor Images)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Combine the sugar, water and the corn syrup in a large saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Cover the saucepan and let it cook over medium heat for 3 minutes.
  3. After 3 minutes, remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.
  4. Do not stir from this point on, but instead swirl the liquid around the pan so that the caramel doesn’t burn.
  5. Continue to cook until the caramel turns an even light amber color (it will darken upon standing) then remove from the heat and let stand for about 30 seconds. This step will take about 5 minutes.
  6. Carefully, pour the heavy cream into the mixture. The mixture will bubble up, so watch out.
  7. Stir the mixture, again being careful. Add the butter, lemon juice, and salt. Stir until combined.
  8. Measure 1 cup into a glass measuring cup. Stirring occasionally, allow to cool until thick like molasses and warm to the touch, about 20 minutes.
  9. Save any extra in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Salted Caramel Frosting (from Kimberly Taylor Images)

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter at room temperature
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 3-4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 cup salted caramel (recipe above)

Instructions

  1. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.
  2. Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar into the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat to combine.
  3. Add 1 cup of the salted caramel and beat to combine.
  4. Add additional powdered sugar until the frosting is the sweetness and consistency you desire.