It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

By Janet Prince

Right now, we hear that everywhere we go….but the most wonderful time of the year brings added stress to most women.  We are so busy shopping, planning and wanting to make everything perfect for our loved ones that we forget about taking care of ourselves.  While we love giving to those in need through food drives, toy drives, and secret Santa’s, we also need to take time out for ourselves and enjoy this wonderful season.

Do you have a hobby or maybe have had your interest piqued in a hobby but just have not made time for it?  If you are like me, I feel selfish at times when I take time out for myself.  But in reality, no one in my family sees it that way.  By taking time out for myself, it gives me time to decompress and just think of what I am doing at the moment.  Taking time out for yourself can mean enjoying a great book, cross stitching, or shopping!  All things you can do on your own.  But taking a time out for yourself is so much more fun when you do it with your girlfriends!

daughtersRecently I discovered the wonderful new locally owned business in Lexington, AR Workshop.  I have taken several classes there with each one being different.  It is a great place to go with your friends and spend a few hours making something for yourself or as a gift and enjoying the fellowship of other women.  My latest project I attempted was making the big chunky blankets you see all over Facebook.  I went there recently with my two daughters, my best friend and her daughter and a friend of my oldest from grad school.  Needless to say, it was an afternoon of laughter and sharing and then walking away with a new blanket in our hands.  Now, I must be honest.  I was able to start my blanket, but had to have Ashley, the owner, and my youngest daughter finish it for me.  I am five months in to an 18-month recovery from back surgery and I just couldn’t hold out.  But I have to say my blanket turned out beautiful.

The making of blankets is now something both of my daughters have taken up and are making for Christmas gifts.  Don’t we all love a gift made by hand…which means it was made with love.

I encourage you to find a hobby that make you smile inside!  Then take that new-found passion and share it with others.

I hope you all enjoy the holidays surrounded by your families and loved ones from near and far.  As for my household, we are in the final countdown for my oldest daughters’ wedding right after the first of the year (can you say more stress!), but I have enjoyed every moment of helping her plan.  At the time of the wedding I will be exactly six months out from my back surgery and I am praying I will be able to walk up right and hold out for all of the celebration that night!

From my home to yours, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year,

Janet

5 GF Tips to Navigate the Holiday Minefield

By Rachel Sircy

Anyone with a gluten-related disorder knows that the most difficult time of the year is upon us. I mean, it’s a day that is nominally dedicated to thanking God for our blessings, but if we’re being honest, it’s an all day Eat-A-Thon. And, unfortunately for the celiacs in the world, most of the items on the menu for this day are covered in gravy or made of wheat flour. And throughout the holidays – no matter what particular holidays you celebrate – the menu remains heavy on the bread and soggy with gravy. So, below are the top ten things that help to get me through the holidays. Hopefully, they will make your gluten free minefield a little easier to navigate this holiday season.

  1. Cook Stuff: I know, there are myriad readers out there who don’t like to cook or who swear that they are genetically programmed to be unable to cook food. Well, I have been in those shoes before, too, and the only thing I can tell you, is to give it your best shot. If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you have to take charge of your health – which means taking charge of the food that you put into your mouth. Don’t rely on others to feed you. I’m sure that if this isn’t your first holiday as a celiac, you’ve had the experience of a well-meaning relative who says, “Yes, this dish is 100% gluten free” and then after you’ve swallowed a big mouthful of whatever it was, says “because there’s no gluten in barley flour, right?” As with almost anything in life, if you want it done right, you’ll have to do it yourself.
  2. Insist on Bringing What You’ve Cooked: This may seem like a no-brainer, especially given what I’ve said above about cooking for yourself. You might think, “Of course I’m going to bring what I’ve cooked.” However, those not afflicted with gluten intolerance can tend to think of gluten free food as gross or inferior or totally inedible or poisonous. Don’t be backed into a corner. If you are not hosting the meal yourself (hosting the meal yourself may be the best route to controlling the gluten level at the table), then insist on participating in the meal by bringing something. I usually choose to bring the dishes that I like best that are the least likely to be gluten free, like dressing and dessert. To avoid coming off as rude and distrustful, let the host know that you are simply trying to take on some of the responsibility for making the dinner safe for you. Most people hosting a holiday meal feel overwhelmed as it is and will appreciate the fact that you are lightening their load.
  3. Avoid Bouquets of Flours: Okay, so for years I avoided baking because when I was first diagnosed with celiac disease I went down the natural foods aisle at the local Kroger’s and was scared stupid by the incredible number of tiny little bags of flour: almond, rice, potato, amaranth, tapioca, etc. To this day I’ve never mastered mixing all those little bags of flour together to make something useful. It’s expensive and frustrating. My advice? Forget it! Don’t try making flour blends. Unless you’re really into masochistic torture. There are now plenty of really good flour blends on the market that can be substituted cup for cup with regular wheat flour. Some of the best brands I’ve tried are: Pamela’s Artisan Blend Flour, Cup4Cup (they have a regular and a multigrain blend, both of which can be used to substitute for wheat flour in almost any recipe), King Arthur Gluten Free All-purpose Flour and – believe it or not –Walmart’s Great Value Gluten Free All-purpose Flour Blend. I have baked or have eaten baked goods made with all of these flours and they really are delicious. You may forget that you’re eating gluten free. So, get rid of all those highly specialized recipes which require all those little bags of flours. Grab one bag of flour and you can break out your grandmother’s heirloom recipes and go to town.
  4. food-791640_1920Don’t Eat Just Anything: Potlucks are popular around the holidays, it’s a great way to get together with others and share the things that we love to eat. However, experienced celiacs wince at the mention of a potluck supper. It can be a nightmare for us. But remember that you can navigate these dinners successfully. The best thing to do in these cases is to talk to the host ahead of time and make him aware of your food sensitivity. Again, bring something if you can. At the party, eat simply. Raw fruit and vegetable and cheese trays are a great place to start. Next, go to anything that is in a package with an ingredients label and read it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. If a dish appeals to you, find out who made it and ask them what they put into it. Remember, if you don’t know what’s in a dish, you shouldn’t eat it.
  5. Be Prepared and Treat Yourself: Eating can be an emotional as well as a physical act. If you have to be gluten free, then you are going to have to prepare yourself for the holidays physically and emotionally. The best personal advice that I can give (gained through some painful experiences) is firstly: NEVER go to a party hungry. I know a few people who do go to parties hungry so that they can stuff themselves when they get there. This is a very bad idea for people who may not be able to eat anything but the raw vegetables. So, I recommend eating before you go. You’ll have to gauge this with where you’re going. For instance, I don’t eat a whole lot before going to my mother in law’s house because she is familiar with what I can and can’t eat and will always have a dinner that is safe for me. Office parties, church socials and large get-togethers where there will be a potluck are places where I try not to go unprepared. I eat beforehand so that I’m not dying of hunger while I watch everyone else eat. It’s also a good idea to bring a treat with you to enjoy at the party. It can be downright depressing to watch everyone enjoying things that you used to love (Grandma’s chocolate pie or Aunt Whatsherface’s Red Velvet Cake). It’s best, of course, when the party includes something for you, but this isn’t always the case. When you’re not able to take part in the festivities, you might feel cut off from the joy of the season. I have found that it truly does help, in these cases, to reserve something special for yourself that you can indulge in while everyone else is pounding down cookies and eggnog. Bring your favorite candy, cookie or snack and eat it while everyone else is having their dessert (because, let’s be honest, dessert is the most emotional part of the meal) have yours as well. What really matters is the sense of togetherness. If you’re not dying of hunger and you have a little treat help you celebrate with others, you won’t feel alone in the crowd.

The Last Thing You Were Truly Grateful for… What Was It???

By Shannon Boatwright

During the holiday season, though we’re consumed with Gift Wishes, massive To-Do lists, and the overwhelming feeling of never feeling like we have the time to do everything we always pledge to do better with the year before, you have to admit, it’s still always the season that wins our hearts.

Awesome Christmas movies, the school, church & other community performances and incredible special holiday events that make us think, make us feel, tug at our heart strings and create something in us that makes our hearts blossom in a way only the holiday season can do. If you have a heart, you know what I’m talking about. Those moments when the lump builds in our throats because a deeper meaning takes hold of us…

…whether it’s when Kevin from the movie “Home Alone” finally reunites with his Mama after successfully, comically pummeling the bad, robber guys…

…or when Buddy the Elf finds his Dad, inspires everyone around him with his joyful innocence, then helps to save Christmas…

…or when Clark finally gets his house lights to twinkle & gets his much deserved bonus…

…or when Cindy Lou Who helps to bring the Grinch to the good side and inspire his heart to grow…

I could go on and on! 🙂

Seriously, you know what I’m talking about… it’s just flat out the season that warms your heart in so many precious ways. Even the cheesy school performances can wet the eyes and fill your heart, no matter how bad the performances may be! It’s the thought and purpose that counts. It’s the coming together to remember the reason for the season. It’s the passion for giving and helping others. It’s that time of the year when you want all your loved ones right at your side. It’s the coming together to celebrate a beautiful season of love, giving and gratefulness.

So… amongst the busyness of the holiday season, what was the last thing you were grateful for? We can all name general things that we’re overwhelmingly thankful for, but without thinking too hard, what’s the last thing that happened to you that made you really stop and think, Oh My Goodness, I’m so thankful for _________.  Whether big or small, allow yourself to think on it. Allow yourself to take a moment during the holiday madness, step away from the commercialism, the shopping and party planning, and just really ponder those priceless moments that have warmed your heart and create a gratefulness in you that stops you in your busy tracks just a bit.

Just a few of my priceless moments…

Candy caneWhen my angel daughter and I get to spend quality time together and leaves me precious notes like the one you see in the picture that she left out for me this past Sunday…whew, talk about being overwhelmed with gratefulness!

IMG_2683

Candy caneWhen my angel son hugs and latches onto me, kissing me on the cheek, not because he wants something, but just because. When his 12-year-old boy self recognizes and compliments my hard work and is sincerely impressed with something I’ve accomplished. Those moments make my heart burst with gratefulness!

 

 

Candy caneWhen my amazing husband randomly comes over to me IMG_3908and sweetly, gently kisses my face and whispers in my ear, “I love you”.  And, the fact that no matter what or when, he can always tell when there is something wrong or if I’m upset or feeling bad. He has this beautiful sensibility and awareness…some sort of magical true love power of knowing me so well. I can even try to hide it, yet the man can always tell and is always ready and willing to listen, love and try to make me feel better. My heart melts with gratefulness!

 

 

I could go on and on and on and on, because it is in those priceless moments that we should feel real gratefulness. And at this time of year, it’s in these moments that we experience the reason for the season. The giving of our love, attention, time, efforts, togetherness and love ultimately can lead to an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness…if we simply take the time to recognize it.

So what was the last thing that happened to you that made you stop in your tracks and truly have a moment that made you say, “My goodness, am I ever grateful!!”

December Wish List

By Ashley Whisonant

December is a month my family and I wait for all year long. I especially love the excitement it brings to my little ones, not just on Christmas morning. I am making an effort this December to focus more on family time together and not get wrapped up in having a “perfect” Christmas.

Here is my top ten list for things to do together as a family:

  1. Bake Christmas cookieschristmas-cookies-553457_1280
  2. Watch at least one Christmas movie a weekend
  3. Visit Santa as often as possible
  4. See the lights at Riverbanks Zoo
  5. Volunteer twice before Christmas
  6. Surprise Elf one of our neighbors
  7. Stroll through Saluda Shoals Park
  8. Decorate an ornament
  9. Send a surprise package to a friend
  10. Attend Christmas Eve mass

I hope this list is just the tip of the iceberg for my family this holiday season. I want us to focus on the times together and not the things we receive.

Happy Holidays, friends!

Hooked on Giving

By Chaunte McClure

The nightly news stories on deaths, threats, thefts, kidnappings and assaults lead some to wonder: are any good people left in the world?

Of course, there are and I learned of a group of them in Columbia who are hooked on giving and they are taking their craft to Main Street.

They are the Yarnbombers of Columbia and other generous knitters and crocheters in the area who are hanging handmade hats, and scarves for the homeless and less fortunate on the “giving tree.”

Earlier this month winter accessories adorned the giving tree, but last night when I drove by, the tree was bare.

You can change that because anyone can give and anyone in need can take a free, colorful, knitted find to keep warm.

Yarnbombers 1

The “giving tree” is in front of Mast General Store on Main Street. Hang a hat, wrap a scarf, warm a heart during this season of giving.

While you’re downtown, visit the State House Christmas tree. It’s a perfect spot to pose for a Christmas card photo. The official tree lighting ceremony is November 27.

Make a Joyful Noise

By: Jeanne Reynolds

christmas carols

My husband has a great singing voice. As a teenager, he even turned down an opportunity to go pro with a barbershop group in favor of going to college. (Did I say he has good judgment, too?) My voice isn’t as strong, but I have a good ear for pitch and sing capably in the alto section in my church choir.

So this time of year, as carols and old favorites fill the airwaves, it’s not unusual for us to sing along with the radio — or even a capella — as we drive over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house or wherever. And we make a pretty good duet, if I do say so myself … with one exception.

No, it’s not “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” We can nail that, and don’t even get us started on the kids’ version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with the funny asides between lines.

It’s “The First Noel.” Yep, plain ole kindergarten-easy “The First Noel.” Not the whole song, though, just the chorus:

“NOEL, NOEL, NOEL, NOEL!” 

The louder, the more off-key, the more obnoxious, the better. It’s a family joke with a story behind it that I’ve long forgotten, which doesn’t make it any less funny … at least to us. In fact, we can barely get out the first two “Noel”s before we’re laughing so hard we can’t sing. Others along for the ride and hearing this, ahem, performance for the first time are somewhere between bewildered and stunned, and I’m sure would leap from the car if it weren’t moving.

This is the stuff of holiday memories! Our unholy chorus holds a place of honor in my heart, right alongside my famous gingerbread men, the hush of candlelight at Christmas Eve service and the hunt for bows the cats have stolen off beautifully (until then) wrapped packages under the tree. No, it’s not the pitch-perfect Norman Rockwell moments I’ll always remember. Rather, it’s the quirky, unique, only-family-and-your-best-friends-could-appreciate-it times that make holidays memorable. I’ll bet — I hope — you have some, too.

We haven’t had a sing-along yet this season, but I’m sure it’s coming. Don’t know when — Christmas is full of surprises, right? So now you have fair warning. If you’re around us and hear the opening notes of “The First Noel,” leave quickly — or better, yet, join in!