Back-to-School Excitement

By: Chaunte McClure

For the first August in seven years, I will not head back to (seminary) school. No more three-hour weeknight classes or eight-hour Saturday classes. However, I’m engaged in the thrill of gearing up for a new school year.

I’ve made a few trips to an office supply store to stock up on the one cent folders and composition notebooks. Last night I took advantage of the $5 uniform shirts and $6 uniform pants online. Because I waited until almost midnight to take advantage of the good deals, some of the items I planned to purchase were out of stock. Tomorrow I’ll rummage the rounders for the remaining items on my list, all in the name of being a blessing to some special little people in my life.

Besides the last day, the first day of school was probably one of the most exciting for me. The adrenaline rush usually kept me up late like Santa was coming to town.

I wonder if kids get excited about what to wear on the first day of school like we used to before school uniforms were required? I remember perusing the circulars for clothes I wanted (and almost never got) and planning my outfits. Uniforms must be a godsend for parents, and children too. Maybe it removes the peer pressure of having to meet others’ dress standards or being teased for how they dress or the clothing brand they wear. Based on my shopping experience, uniforms are certainly a less expensive option.

Moms, are you a fan of uniforms? Why or why not?

Fall Book Recommendations

By: Ashley Whisonant

fall-book-recommendations-2

It’s getting chilly enough in South Carolina to begin thinking about hibernating. The thought of fuzzy socks, a warm fire, soup in the crockpot, and a great page turner make me ready for the cold. Here are two book recommendations to enjoy this Fall: 

 “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn

If you have read Gone Girl, this suspense novel follows a similarly twisted plot. The main character, Libby Day, is one of the only survivors after her mother and two sisters are murdered in their home. As a young girl, Libby is convinced that her brother committed the crimes. Many years later, Libby revisits that dark night to assure herself that her brother is the monster she believes him to be. With so many turns in the story, you question if you have the right killer named yourself. Once the truth is revealed at the end, even a close reader would be shocked.

“Results May Vary” by Bethany Chase

Caroline had the perfect life. An adoring husband and an amazing job as a museum curator – until she got a shocking revelation at an art show. After being together since their high school years, Caroline thought she knew every part of her husband. After his betrayal, she must come to terms with being an “I” instead of a “we.” Her sister, Ruby, and best friend, Jonathan, work to show Caroline that it is not too late to discover herself. Such a beautifully written debut novel for Bethany Chase. At the end we find out, is it too late for a happy ending?

What are are your favorite recent reads?

A Pumpkin Patch Frame of Mind

By: Rachel Sircy

A Pumpkin Patch Frame of Mind

My favorite season has begun. Autumn always seems to suddenly appear just when I feel that I have had all the summer I can stand for one year. I always picture the progression of a year as another loop in the rollercoaster called life. On January 1st, we find ourselves at the lowest point on the circle and we run upward and counterclockwise through spring. We are fully upside down in the warmest and brightest days of summer. By mid-September, we begin our descent into the dark days of winter, and we all know that falling is the best part of any theme-park ride.

At the risk of being thought a weirdo, I am going to admit that I am a person who does not like to listen to music for its own sake. I would almost always rather hear a book on tape than a song on the radio, but this time of year I begin to crave music. My taste in music is at once eclectic and limited. I listen to gospel music year round for inspiration and edification, but, in the Fall, the little girl I used to be wakes up and demands Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts music round the clock. The Great Pumpkin Waltz and the Thanksgiving Theme song have been played so many times that my CDs are wearing out. The part of me that is a true hillbilly – I originally hail from the Appalachian foothills of Ohio – demands instrumental Bluegrass, Alison Krauss and the Cox Family’s country gospel album, and one Stephen Foster song, Hard Times Come Again No More, as performed by James Taylor and Yo-Yo Ma, to remind me of my home and my family across the Ohio foothills and the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. To me, music is typically a tool to accentuate the feelings associated with time and place. These songs bring out the Fall-ishness of Fall for me, just as salt draws out a food’s natural flavor.

Autumn’s great appeal is that it is paradoxically warm and wistful. We decorate with food – pumpkins, corn, squash – and with cornucopias and pictures of turkeys. We surround ourselves with images of plenty and we have a feast day set aside for the purpose of remembering to be grateful that those decorations are not merely the stuff of fantasy. And yet, the evening comes on sooner, the weather turns colder, we find ourselves too often indoors, and the impending Christmas season often causes more anxiety than joy. I know quite a few people who become depressed this time of year.

To those people, I would like to say that I understand. The saddest time of the year for me is February. It’s just that month when winter is still going strong, but there aren’t any family get-togethers or holidays or gift exchanges to look forward to. You just hunker down and pray to God that that stupid groundhog sees his shadow. Or doesn’t see his shadow. Truth be told, I don’t really know how the whole groundhog trick works. I know that February has Valentine’s Day, but Valentine’s Day rates as #2 on my list of tackiest holidays. Someday, maybe someday soon, I will publish my list of tackiest holidays in a blog post. I have softened on Valentine’s Day quite a bit since I was a teenager. My husband and my daughter make it kind of fun, but I have fun under protest. Pink, purple and red just do not go together and I feel like my eyes are being assaulted by Valentine’s decorations every year.

Anyway, I say all of this to tell you that I understand the feeling of seasonal depression and anxiety. But, I would like to offer a suggestion to anyone who feels blue this time of year: consider Fall a challenge. It is a two-sided coin, but a person doesn’t have to leave the side they land on to random chance. Cynicism is a monster that I seem to fight over and over again in my life. However, I think that with God’s help we can be vehicles for a very unnatural goodness. You can’t wait for times and seasons to make you happy. You have to make yourself happy in them. Every year when I was a kid I watched the Peanuts Halloween special – despite the fact that my family, as Christians, did not celebrate Halloween. I guess they figured a little cartoon from the 60’s couldn’t hurt too much. It is undoubtedly one of the weirdest cartoons I’ve ever seen and, in the end, Sally and Linus and Charlie Brown all end up pretty unhappy. Sally doesn’t get any candy, Linus doesn’t get to see the Great Pumpkin, and the girls at the Halloween party use Charlie Brown’s head as a model for their jack o’ lantern and his trick or treat bag is full of rocks. But Linus, as ever, has a great line that, like my Autumn playlist, brings out best flavor of the season.

Linus says: “You can look around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.”

Perhaps all those years of watching Linus skip out on the trick-or-treating and the partying of the Halloween special made me feel that Fall can be a season of sincerity. The way to love this time of waning daylight, this twilight of the year, is to choose to create an atmosphere free of hypocrisy and selfishness. The pleasures of heat and sun are beginning to be over, but they will come again next year right on schedule. It is time now to turn our thoughts to harvest, to plenty and, in my mind, to casting our bread upon the water.

In an effort to rid myself of any signs of hypocrisy and surround myself with sincerity (those are two separate acts, you know. You can easily rid yourself of hypocrisy only to be surrounded by nothing) I am going to attempt these three things:

  1. Make a list of things I am truly grateful for and hang them where I will see them every day.
  2. Skip out on Black Friday specials and instead give a little of my Thanksgiving and Christmas money to Harvest Hope.
  3. Be friendlier. My goal is to share not just food or money with someone in need. I plan to share time and friendship with as many people as I possibly can this Autumn.

If you feel a little down in the dumps this season, forget the candy and bobbing for apples and take the opportunity to sit in the pumpkin patch with Linus. It may be the craziest thing you ever do, but it just might make you feel better.

Suggested Reading: To Autumn, by John Keats

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.

It’s Almost Fall

By: Chaunte McClure

It’s almost fall, y’all! You know, that time of year when the air is crisp, the mornings are foggy, leaves are colorful and utility bills are lower. Gah, I am looking forward to all of the Fallabove, but especially the decrease in my light bill. Can I get an amen?!

It was so refreshing to step outside the past two mornings to feel the cool air on my warm skin. Unfortunately, I didn’t spend much time savoring the fall-like temperatures, but I take pride in knowing that more mornings like those are ahead.

Spring and fall are my preferred seasons, although neither of them stick around long enough in South Carolina. Spring is a welcome change after 20 and 30 degree temps. Of course, I welcome fall after consistent 90 to 100 (plus) degree days along with the added humidity we have in Famously Hot Columbia.

The first day of autumn is just a week away and that not only means cooler weather, it’s also a sign of cool events like the South Carolina State Fair. It’s the place to go for family fun, bizarre foods, people watching and to hear the announcer say, “Meet your party at the rocket.”

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard (or seen), the rocket is standing taller. Now it’ll be easier for your son or daughter, who has to bear the embarrassment of hearing his or her name inserted before “. . . meet your mother at the rocket,” to find the iconic figure. The missile has been raised 12 feet higher, towering about 78 feet tall. The South Carolina State Fair is October 14-25. Experience it!

I’m also making plans to attend USC’s homecoming. Go Cocks! I’m excited about seeing the new alumni center and enjoying camaraderie with friends. Maybe I’ll luck up and get a picture with Cocky.

It’s been awhile, but one fall, I made a trip to the Upstate to Nivens Apple Farm where you can pick pumpkins and apples. They have a playground and pedal cars for the kids. Nivens also has hay rides, farm animals, and a corn maze. Get lost in the excitement of being on the farm. It’ll make for a fun day trip.

What fall activities do you enjoy?

Halloween

By: Leah Prescott

Am I the only one who thinks that Halloween has gotten completely out of control? Once upon a time, Halloween was a night; now it is its own season. I suppose because we Americans are so addicted to sugar, it has somehow earned itself an extension into the whole month of October, stealing the thunder, in my opinion, from a lot of awesome stuff like autumn leaves and apple picking. When I was a child, we got candy on Halloween night (regular candy, like tootsie rolls and jolly ranchers), and that’s all it took to make us happy. Back then, the candy didn’t have to be orange or shaped like a brain or a mummy for us to enjoy it. And we certainly didn’t expect Jack-o-Lantern cookies and bat-themed fruit snacks to be served everywhere we went for the entire month.

Halloween

Remember when costumes were homemade? And not Pinterest-y homemade – I mean creatively cobbled together from whatever was lying around the house. Here’s a picture of my siblings and I at a Fall Festival on Halloween night many years ago.

Notice we are all in “costume” and yet none of us paid a penny to get into character. We were even dressed in theme: Noah’s Ark. I am the “dove” at the top (in my old ballet leotard). One of my brothers is Noah with the mop on his chin and the other one has a tiger costume literally made from a paper bag. My sister was wearing overalls because I guess caring for the tiger was a messy job. See how much fun we are having?

halloween

Now-a-days, costumes are amazingly elaborate and expensive. As if we don’t have enough to worry about with Christmas, birthdays and all the days in between, now Halloween has become an intense parade of Disney princesses and Marvel super heroes (and all those other boy things I can’t yet identify because my son is only two years old). People ask what your children are going to be for Halloween when October has barely begun. (I guess you have to start saving for those pricey costumes just when you finished shelling out all that cash for back to school.) I read that this year consumers are expected to pay $7.4 billion dollars on Halloween costumes. Now, I’m no mathematician or social trends expert, but I’m guessing that is, at a minimum, way, way, way more money than we have to spend as a country. And that doesn’t include all the extras like candy and event tickets. Just like so many other things in America, Halloween has become an opportunity for indulgence.

Pumpkin

I guess my takeaway from this post is that I want to enjoy Fall without orange and black pushing aside the yellows and burnt oranges. I want my kids to know they can create whatever their imaginations dream up, if they are willing to pull out the Mod Podge and poster paint. I want to minimize the sugar high and entitlement and look ahead to the attitude of gratitude that November brings. Mostly, I just don’t want my daughter to be one of 11 other Elsa’s at the costume party. Because where’s the fun in that?

Pumpkin Spice: Splurge, Then Substitute

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Ahhh, how I love Pumpkin Spice Lattes! Although it came out extra early this year – August 14th, to be exact – it signals the start of Autumn for me. I treat myself to one Pumpkin Spice Latte during the season, and I’m waiting until it’s cool this year, maybe early October. Why just one, you ask? Because that yummy Pumpkin Spice Latte isn’t just packed with flavor. It also has:

  • 380 calories, as many as seven Chips Ahoy! cookies
  • Eight grams of saturated fat
  • 49 grams of sugar, nearly double the amount found in 16 ounces of cola
  • 51 grams of carbohydrate, almost as much as four slices of white bread

No one buys a Pumpkin Spice Latte thinking it’s a healthy drink, but YIKES! More than one of those could derail even the healthiest eater!

Pumpkin Bites

This year, I’m getting my favorite seasonal spice via a couple of healthier, but equally delicious treats:

Pumpkin No-Bake Energy Bites: I first tried these over Labor Day weekend, and they’re wonderful! They’re a great on-the-run snack and/or pre/post-workout treat.

Pumpkin Spice Smoothies: Compared to the same size Pumpkin Spice Latte, it has half the calories and sugar, a third less carbohydrates and even a nice amount of fiber! And it’s cold and extra refreshing during those still-warm September days.

What’s your favorite fall food? Do you have a healthier version or do you just splurge during the season?