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?

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?

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?

Gluten-Free Traveling

By: Rachel Sircy                 

My last post was about some ways that you can stay gluten-free in an emergency. This post is going to be about a few things that I tend to do when I am traveling to help make sure that I don’t get contaminated.

Be Prepared: This is something that people will always tell you when you’re traveling anywhere whether you’re gluten-free or not. The thing is, when you have a severe allergy or intolerance, you really do have to be prepared to feed yourself. Never trust that you’ll be able to just find something to eat. Believe me, when I was first diagnosed I made the mistake of thinking that I could just “find something,” on a road trip. Those road trips were horrible and ended in tears. I’m not a person who does well when she’s hungry.

What do I mean by prepared, you might ask. Well…this is a picture of my toaster. It’s not fancy and it cost approximately $7 at Walmart.

This toaster goes where I go. It fits pretty well into the Aldi grocery bag that I use to carry my food for the trip in. If I am staying at a hotel where they serve continental breakfast, I will     sometimes check to see if they have any brands of yogurt that I know are gluten-free and I will perhaps take a banana, but mostly I bring my own bread and peanut butter (or Glutino toaster pastries if I don’t feel like being health conscious) and make my own breakfast in my room.

It’s also a good idea if you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination to pack easy to eat non-perishable snacks for the trip like food bars (Larabar, Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar, etc) and high    protein snacks like gluten-free nuts and jerky (most flavors of Krave, Oberto All Natural and Epic jerky are gluten-free, but always read the labels because things that contain Teriyaki are usually NOT gluten-free). I’ve also heard of people who travel with cans of tuna and a small can opener and some crackers so that if they find that they have nothing else for dinner, they won’t go hungry. I personally don’t like fish so that doesn’t work for me. The tuna thing probably wouldn’t work on an airplane, but there are travel containers of both peanut butter and hummus. Some bananas, crackers, and vegetables could turn a container of either peanut butter or hummus into a small meal. Remember that it is never a good idea to just wing it when your health is at stake. Don’t allow yourself to get hungry out there on the road or you will be tempted to eat things that will make you sick!

2) Call Ahead: Anytime you’re staying with friends or relatives have a good conversation about what you can and can’t eat and also how your food must be prepared. Lots of well-meaning people don’t know what is or is not contaminated by gluten, so help them out. Make sure Aunt Susie knows that she can’t just pick the croutons out of your salad before she serves it to you and that the kitchen must be thoroughly cleaned after she rolls out pie dough on the counter before she cooks anything for you for dinner.

Once, my husband and I stayed in a bed and breakfast in Charleston and my husband had the foresight to call the owner when we made our reservations and tell him that I had dietary restrictions. He gave us leave to use the kitchen to cook food for ourselves and we also got to talk to the cook about what I could eat for breakfast. During that stay, we met a woman who also had to be gluten-free, but who hadn’t called ahead to let the owner know about it and, unfortunately, she had quite a time trying to eat around all the contaminated food on her plate. So, don’t be afraid to tell people up front about your needs and just let them know (gently) that if they are unable to meet those needs, you won’t be able to stay with them.

3) Try a Gluten-Free Destination: That may sound a bit out there at first, but there are two celiac friendly travel destinations in either direction of Columbia. Charleston is a pretty food-forward city and while the cost of its trendy restaurants may mean that you can’t eat there all the time, many of those restaurants offer gluten-free meals (it is still quite the fad in dieting to be gluten-free). If you travel in the other direction, Asheville, NC has been featured in Delight magazine and, most recently, in Gluten-Free Living as a gluten-free travel destination. I have mentioned before (and I will keep mentioning it) that there is a restaurant in Asheville called Posana that serves exclusively gluten-free food. Not only is their food (and I do mean ALL of their food) gluten-free, but it is also delicious. Seriously, I dream about their fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese sauce and also their lemon blueberry cheesecake sometimes. It is a bit pricey as well, but it is a great place for a special occasion or a treat. These cities are great if you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

These are just a few of the things that I have learned from trying to travel and stay safe. Life’s a journey. Travel with a dependable toaster.