How to Make Instagram Instantly Better

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I am not a social media maven. No, let’s be honest: I don’t even like social media. I just don’t see the fascination of wasting hours trolling through tweets or tracking someone’s every movement on Facebook. (Fair disclosure: I have Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts, but only because I need them in my work.)

This blog and an Instagram account are as adventurous as I get in social media, and the Instagram account only came about more or less by accident. A conference I went to offered a drawing prize for attendees who posted throughout the event using its hashtag. I’d heard of Instagram but didn’t know much about it or why anyone would want to use it. But with that prize dangling in front of me — and a long trip with time to kill — I downloaded the app and taught myself how to use it.

Well, guess what? It was a ton o’ fun, and so simple even I could get the hang of it quickly. Just take a picture, type a short phrase about it, toss in a few hashtags and click share. I don’t have a lot of followers (you can be one: search for @jeannedreynolds) nor do I follow many people, but I have been able to connect with one or two long-lost friends and gained some insight into the personal lives of some of the creative, caring and really cool people I work with.

But — you knew there was a but coming, right? — the more experience I have with Instagram, the more posts I see that are, well, kind of annoying. Here, then, are my gentle suggestions for making the most of your Instagram posts:

  1. Post a picture of someone besides yourself. Of course I like you or I wouldn’t be following you, but your constant stream of selfies comes across a bit self-centered.
  2. Less is more. If you need to write a paragraph to explain your pix, try another social media platform. Don’t make me hit the “more” button and scroll, scroll, scroll to read your entire thought.
  3. Less is more, part B: Enough with the hashtags. I’ve read that posts with multiple hashtags are more widely viewed, but viewed by whom? Do you really care if you reach a tattoo artist in Alaska with your personal views? Two or three is plenty.
  4. Let’s see some variety. There’s one co-worker who I like and admire deeply, but 90% of her posts involve her drinking champagne, or her and her friends drinking champagne, or just two glasses of champagne by themselves. Two family members post mostly photos or videos of each other making puppy eyes or looking soulfully into the distance. OK, they’re somewhat newlyweds, but still.
  5. Save the sap. Related to #4, please save the long, heartfelt confessions of true love for your Valentine’s Day card. This person is a lot of fun to be around and has changed your life for the better, check. Ooey-gooey hearts and doves, check out.

If you haven’t tried Instagram yet, take a look at it. It’s a fast and simple way to vicariously share travel, meals, holidays and everyday adventures with your family and friends. Like me, you’ll probably gain new insights into how they think and feel and a new appreciation for how multifaceted each of us is.

It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words. Just be sure you’re only using a fraction of that on Instagram.

The Dove Made Me Do It

By: Angie Sloan

True confession: I love dark chocolate. It’s a weakness for me. Knowing how quickly I could slip over the edge and overindulge, I limit myself to the occasional bag of Dove Almond Dark Chocolate Promises. Yes, I know there are many other brands out there, many of them a higher quality or better taste. But I like Dove, and here’s why.

It’s the little affirmations.

Dove’s marketing team had a genius idea when they came up with this. Each time you unwrap a square of Dove, there is a little message in the wrapper. Most of them are instructional: “Play a grown-up game of tag with your friends” or “Share your smile with someone” – the list goes on.

After consuming about a half a bag in a PMS-fueled binge, I stacked all of the wrappers together and came up with a plan.

  1. Stop eating the chocolate
  2. Pick 5 of the affirmations and actually do them.

The first affirmation:

Buy something frivolous. Who needs an affirmation to do this one? But I am in a minimalist mindset, so it was a bit more challenging than before. Frivolous? Hmmmm. What to get? New shoes? No, not it in the mood to try them on. Jewelry? No. Just because Dove said it, doesn’t mean I need to spend a ton of cash. I pondered and thought about it.  Chocolate should not be this hard. And then it came to me. I wanted a bouquet of flowers. Nice, bright beautiful flowers. Bought for me, by me. No occasion.

The Peace Palace

Happy Hour at Barbara’s

Call an old friend just to catch up. This was easy. I called my friend Barbara. We’ve been friends for over 20 years and it was great to catch up with her. Later that week, we met up for a relaxing happy hour at her house (what she refers to as her “Peace Palace”) and we talked for hours. It was great fun! (See pics below of the spread she prepared). Thank you, Barbara. (And thank you, Dove.)  

Quote your dad. I read this one and it hit me right in the heart. I’ve not reconciled my father’s death. I’ve not grieved as I should. I haven’t even written about him like I did with my mother.

My dad

With her, it was my coping mechanism. But for some reason, I couldn’t do it with my father. My father had so many wonderful quotes. He possessed a deep wisdom that he kept well cloaked underneath his larger-than-life exterior. He always told me, “Speak to everyone at work, from the janitor to the boss. It keeps you humble.” This little chocolate wrapper made me think back to his words. I could almost hear his voice. It was healing.

Give someone a compliment. I think as women, we should empower other women. So I didn’t stop at one compliment, I did it all day! A compliment should always be sincere. I didn’t just say something nice to fulfill my chocolate obligation, I made sure what I said came from a real place. And it felt wonderful! If I liked someone’s earrings, I told them. If I liked her hair, I told her. At the end of the day, my cup was overflowing with good feelings.

Learn something new about a loved one. My cousin Tammy told me a funny story about her mother, my Aunt Sis. “Sis” as she was called, was a fashionista back in the day. She loved having matching shoes for each and every outfit she owned. But times were tight and she couldn’t afford to continuously buy new shoes. To solve her dilemma, she befriended the guys at the local paint store and began painting her shoes to match her outfits. I laughed when Tammy told me. But it was quite smart. She was trendy like that until the day she passed.

In total….

I plowed through countless numbers of delicious chocolates. Got some flowers. Spent time with an old friend. Reminisced the good times with my dad. Made random strangers happy. Learned a great story to share about my aunt.

This was fun and I was on a roll! I decided to select one more wrapper from the stack. And it read: Why not?

And that was all the affirmation I needed. It was permission…permission to polish off the rest of the bag of chocolate. After all, it provided me with inspiration to write this post. Why not indulge a little more?

Brush Up on the Basics During National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Every year over 30,000 US families lose someone from a ruptured brain aneurysm. About 40% of those experiencing a ruptured brain aneurysm will die. Those that survive often face significant challenges, greatly impacting their lives and the lives of their families. Today, at the beginning of National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, I re-tell my story to raise awareness of brain aneurysms.

On the evening of March 18, I noshed on some dark chocolate covered espresso beans left over from a road trip to see Modest Mouse in Charleston. I ate a lot, at least ¼ of a pound. Then later that evening, I felt a sharp electrical-like impulse go down my part line, and then down my head. Then it felt like ice cold water running down the sides of my head. I felt really weird, like I was outside of my body; I even told my sister that I thought I was dying.

She said that I threw up and felt better; I don’t remember that, but I do remember refusing her suggestion that we call Mom or go to the ER; I said, “No, I just ate too many espresso beans,” and went to bed. She found me unconscious by my bed the next morning.

Aside from being a woman over the age of 40, I had few of the risk factors. I’d lost and maintained an 80 lb. weight loss. I had LOW blood pressure, so much so that I had taken meds to prevent me from having constant vertigo. I never smoked except for one or two cigarettes in college. So I had no idea I may be having an aneurysm. (Unaware to me until after the event, which could’ve been far too late, I did have a family history. My father’s sister, Rose, had one and survived, and they lost two cousins to aneurysms.)

The doctors say that my aneurysm was about as bad as they get, and my family didn’t know if I would survive for three long weeks. Even then, the doctors couldn’t predict a full recovery. I was fortunate to have wonderful care and to go to a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta for follow-up care. My story ended well. I’m still alive, and while I do have some very mild deficits, I’m a living, breathing success story.

From someone who’s been there, I urge you to use this month to learn more about aneurysms, including the risk factors and symptoms. If you have a history of aneurysms in your family, make it a point to talk to your doctor this month.

There is plenty of information available about brain aneurysms. You can talk to your doctor or consult the internet; my favorite site is the Joe Niekro Foundation. I’m not a doctor, but I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have or speak with you or your small group about my experience.

Loss and Gain

By: Angie Sloan

They say that when a person loses their sight, their hearing becomes more attuned. They are suddenly able to hear things on a different level. I assume it is nature’s way of compensating for the loss of vision. It serves to help guide and protect the person from things they can no longer see.

What happens when a person loses (almost loses) their life? What happens after a near-death-experience?

I can answer that. And I am grateful that I can answer that.

After you have faced death, you are more attuned to life. The life around you. The singing of the birds. The feel of the sun on your face. The smell of the rain. You notice things that have become background noise. You feel the emotion of others around you. Rather than just noticing the father carrying his daughter on his shoulders, you feel the joy and exhilaration his daughter feels. You feel the love and adoration they have for each other. You notice the young couple in the restaurant, on their first date. You see the nervousness and anticipation in their eyes. You feel their hope for connection. You see the elderly woman shopping for groceries and feel her confusion when she cannot find what she wants.

You take notice of it all.

On March 1, 2017, I woke up feeling extremely short of breath. I simply could not get enough air in my lungs to walk to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for the kids. Luckily, my oldest son was home and helped get them off to school. I knew something was terribly wrong and once the kids were on their way to school, I called 911. An ambulance arrived within 5 minutes. My oxygen saturation was dropping and they took me to their nearest hospital. Seven people converged on me as I entered the emergency room. Even on oxygen in the ambulance, my oxygen saturation had dropped to 59. I was dying. I knew it.

I tried to stay calm. I knew that getting upset would worsen my situation. I lay there, on the gurney and thought about my life. I tried to remember what the kids were dressed in as they left that morning. I tried to remember their last birthday and what we had done for Christmas. I wanted to make a mental inventory of all the good memories, simple memories, in case that was my last day alive. My oldest son arrived as I was mentally preparing for what would come next.

Seeing him gave me strength. My mom instinct kicked in. I did not want him to witness his mother dying, so I made up my mind that I would get through this. They still could not get my oxygen saturation up. I had a massive blood clot in both sides of my pulmonary artery. The physician looked at me and before he could ask, I said, “Do it. Intubate me. Do whatever you can. I have to be around for my kids.”

And I prayed. I begged God to give them the insight and knowledge to save me. I was not ready to leave this earth. And just as they were about to intubate me, my oxygen saturation came up. My vital signs began to stabilize. I was still in critical condition, but things were improving.

Later than afternoon, they transferred me to ICU, where I stayed for the next 7 days. I was lucky that the physicians were able to shrink the clots in my lungs and my legs with high doses of Heparin and I eventually transferred onto the regular floor of the hospital. After 10 days total, I was released to come home just in time for Jack’s 9th birthday.

As we lit the candles on his cake, I made a wish. I wished that I would always take inventory of the life around me and that I would appreciate every moment. And that wish has been granted.

You don’t have to have a near-death experience to take inventory of your life. The good in your life. The things that matter. The things that don’t matter. I emerged a changed person. I felt like Mr. Scrooge on Christmas day. Being in the ICU for seven days will change your perspective. During my stay in the hospital, not one time did I ever think about the “things” I owned…the clothes in my closet, the car in my garage. I only thought about the people in my life. And the miracle of life itself.

The experience was a wake-up call. I was traveling 3-4 days a week for work. I was constantly on the road and rarely took breaks. I was under a tremendous amount of stress, which all led to the blood clot. I was consumed by what I “had to do” to provide for my family. And then I realized…I don’t need all of the “stuff” I had. I was existing, not living. My life was work, work, work. And for what? Things we didn’t need.

In June, I downsized to a smaller house. I got rid of the gas-guzzling car, and got a cheaper one. I had a HUGE yard sale and sold things I didn’t want or need. I ridded myself of the possessions that almost cost me my life. I traded all of that in for a simpler, more comfortable life. A life where balance is the priority. A life where I am mindful and present enough to savor the little things…those little everyday things. I don’t travel any more for work. I am home for my kids.

Most importantly, I am HERE for my kids. Present. Appreciative. Ever grateful.

Something to Chew On

By: Rachel Sircy

My last post was on the dangers of eating out at restaurants that serve gluten free food, but don’t have gluten free kitchens. I thought I would follow up on that by offering my opinion about certain gluten free products that are sort of in the same boat.

Anytime a person with an allergy or food intolerance purchases a product made by a company that makes a wide variety of products, or that attempts to appeal to a broad base of customers, the person with the allergy is taking a risk. Unfortunately for those of us with issues, there are more people out there who aren’t allergic to peanuts or who aren’t lactose intolerant or who don’t have celiac disease. These healthier customers are usually going to win out with most big companies because they are going to be making up a larger part of that company’s revenue than sickies like us.

Now, that being said, many large food corporations are realizing that the number of people with food intolerances and allergies is on the rise and that it is in their best interest to start making a niche for us or they’re going to lose a large portion of paying customers. BUT, people with serious conditions should not feel indebted to these companies for noticing us. It’s not personal, it’s business.

One thing that I’ve had to learn over the years is that as ecstatic as I am whenever I see a food product that I used to love that has suddenly “gone gluten free,” I shouldn’t feel as if the big-name company that produces that product was really interested in my well-being when they made it. I’ll admit, it does give me the warm fuzzies when I see my childhood favorite cereals like Lucky Charms and Cheerios are now gluten free. I sometimes catch myself thinking: “Wow, General Mills really cares that I’m happy. They’re giving me back a piece of my childhood.” And, of course, they are giving me back a piece of my childhood, for a price. So, write letters to the company if something makes you sick or if you are not satisfied with the way that the company is handling safety issues.

And of course, you have pay attention and learn whether a company’s safety policies are up to your standards, so read, read, read. Be picky, be demanding and don’t feel bad about it. Allergen free products are just a matter of money to most large corporations. The stakes are a bit higher for those of us with dietary issues. For us, allergen free food is about our quality of life. Don’t forget, the hardest punch you can throw is with your dollar.

I don’t mean to sound too cynical, but when you have a real issue with your health, you cannot afford to let excitement or nostalgia cloud your judgement. What I’m trying to get across here is that it is expensive – sometimes it’s really, REALLY expensive – for these companies to accommodate those of us with special dietary needs and since the regular customer base (I mean those with no dietary restrictions) don’t want the cost of the products that they’re used to buying to go up, it only makes sense that some companies might cut corners in order to still make a profit. That means that they might not test these products for allergens as rigorously as they should, or it might mean that they are producing these products in the same facilities as the gluten, dairy or nuts that you may have a problem with. Cross-contamination can happen at any stage of the process and it will still make you sick. (By the way, this includes your own home, so watch out!) I’m not saying that any of these companies definitely do cut corners, only that they might. We can’t be 100% sure. It’s always a little bit safer to go with a product that has a written guarantee on the side like this:

Labels like those generally come on specialty products that are a bit more expensive than the products that are more widely available and are marketed to a broader customer base. But, in the end, I’ve found that I’m willing to pay a bit more for certain products just to have that peace of mind about my health. Plus, I’m happy to help support smaller companies that have made efforts from the beginning to create food that is safe and healthy for all of us.

Let me finish by saying that I, too, purchase gluten free products from famous brand companies, sometimes. But, when I do, I try to make sure that I am keeping track of how I feel after I eat them. Keeping a food journal is a really good idea, especially if you have a food intolerance instead of an allergy. Food intolerances are much slower to affect the body. Sometimes you won’t feel bad until 2 or 3 days after eating something contaminated, so it’s best if you have a written record that you can look at. Record both what you ate and your symptoms even if your symptoms don’t seem related to anything you ate. Eventually you will start to see patterns in your diet and your overall health.

Hopefully this was helpful and gave you something to chew on for a while!

When Did You Grow Up?

 By: Ashley Whisonant

The day I have been dreading has finally come. My oldest “baby” started kindergarten this morning. I held back my tears and we walked down his hallway and into the room that will mold him into the student he will become. My confident little guy went from attendance check in to lunch choice with ease. He gave me a hug goodbye and sadly did not look back. Here are all the words I wish I could have said…

You will always be my baby. You are the one that made me a mom. I didn’t know how much I could love someone else until I met you. I am a ball of emotions. I am both terrified and overjoyed for you. All the experiences you will have, good or bad, will make you into our future young man. Remember to help others, even when it isn’t the popular choice. Find your voice and use it for good. Kids can and will be mean. Do your best to surround yourself with sweet souls. Remember to be yourself. Love you my sweet boy.

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?

5 Tips to Safely Watch the Solar Eclipse

By: Kristen Nida, Guest Contributor

On Monday, August 21, 2017, all of North America and parts of South America, Africa and Europe will be treated to an eclipse of the sun. Luckily for our community, Columbia, SC will have the longest total solar eclipse on the East Coast! While you are surely excited to witness this rare event, follow these tips to make sure you are doing so safely.

  1. Use Eclipse-Viewing Glasses: This eclipse might be a once-in-a-lifetime event, but remember that you also only get one set of eyes in your lifetime. If you plan to view the eclipse, you must obtain a pair of eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers, which should meet international safety standards. Ordinary sunglasses, no matter how dark, should not be used as a replacement for eclipse-viewing glasses or handheld solar viewers. For those of you who wear glasses, make sure to keep those on and put the eclipse glasses over them. Here is a link find to NASA-approved glasses
  2. Use Filters Properly: Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the sun. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your filter. The important thing to remember is to not remove it while you are looking at the sun.
  3. Drive safely: It sounds obvious, but be extra careful while driving during the solar eclipse. Do not look attempt to look at the sun while you are driving – even with eclipse glasses. Do not attempt to take photos of the eclipse while you are driving. Instead, exit the roadway and park in a safe area away from traffic to view the eclipse. If you must be in the car, prevent temptation by putting the sun visor down to block your view, and turn on your headlights when it gets dark.
  4. Don’t Forget Your Sunscreen: You can still get sunburned even when it’s not bright outside. Wear sunscreen and stay hydrated if you’ll be outside for a while. Choose a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF and remember to reapply every two hours.
  5. Supervise Children: Always keep an eye on children using solar filters. Make sure they are using them properly at all times.

How to you plan to observe the eclipse? Let us know in the comments section!

Rise Above!

By: Shannon Boatwright

How do you rise above? What does that even mean? To me it means that you be the better person in an ugly situation. You grasp hold of maturity, logic, empathy, intelligence, patience, bravery, kindness and love, as best you can in order to do the right thing. And you do this so that you can come out on top knowing that you approached the situation with a positive, thoughtful nature instead of falling prey to jumping to conclusions, attacking with negativity and getting tangled in unnecessary ugliness.

There are many organizations, schools, etc that use the slogan “rise above” in some manner. Why? Because it’s all about overcoming challenges.

Check out these definitions –

To rise above something:

  • to deal well with a difficult or unpleasant situation
  • to be morally good enough not to do something bad, especially something that most other people do
  • to be better than other things of the same type
  • to not allow oneself to be hurt or controlled by (something bad or harmful)
  • to be or become better than (something)

In today’s time, boy do we ever need to rise above! Seriously, things are getting rough!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on any kind of political or emotional tirade. I just want to put that reminder out there, for you, for me, for everyone, let’s make the effort every day, in every situation, whether big or small or colossal, to RISE ABOVE. Let’s consciously choose to be good and create positivity in our worlds, not negativity.

So how did you rise above today?

Dining Reminders and Suggestions for the Gluten Intolerant

By: Rachel Sircy

Just a reminder to those with a severe gluten intolerance: dining out is dangerous! Now, I don’t mean to say that you can never dine out if you have a severe gluten intolerance or celiac disease, but don’t forget that when you go out to eat, you’re heading out to a virtual minefield of wheat, rye and barley.

It’s been in the news recently that large pizza chains Papa John’s and Dominoes have started to offer gluten free pizza crusts that they warn customers are not for the really gluten intolerant. When I first read the article on these chains, I could only think of all of the warnings that I’ve read on restaurant menus and food packages – warnings that sound like this: “Customers with gluten sensitivities should exercise caution when consuming menu items labeled ‘gluten free.’”  This is pretty much exactly the warning that is printed on the Papa John’s menu.

I will confess to you, I have ignored such warnings for years. I don’t suggest following in my footsteps. I have made myself very sick on a number of occasions. Sometimes, the day after I eat out, I am stuck laying on the couch wishing I had had enough self-control to turn down dangerous food items. But, what’s worse is that a person with celiac disease cannot count on symptoms to tell them when their body has been damaged by gluten. Many times a celiac’s intestinal wall has suffered damage and their body is racked with inflammation and yet the person will feel absolutely nothing. There are no symptoms present in many cases of accidental gluten consumption for celiac patients. So, don’t let your feelings be your guide. Don’t be afraid to be that pesky person in a restaurant who asks questions and who sends menu items back. And don’t ignore the warning signs posted by the restaurant – they are there for a reason!

Unfortunately, many restaurants are trying to respond to the rising demand for gluten free food without considering why people really want to eat gluten free. I’ve said several times on this blog that following a gluten free diet is not necessarily healthy for a person who doesn’t have a gluten intolerance, but that is not exactly the popular opinion. People who don’t need to be gluten free are seeking out restaurants and stores that provide gluten free products. They will go where they can find these products, and they will pay a higher price to get them. These are the customers that Dominoes and Papa Johns are trying to reach out to. So, don’t be surprised when you go to a food joint all excited about their new gluten free menu item and find out that it’s not made for you. Those of us with real dietary needs are still on the back burner at most restaurants, so to speak. There are always exceptions to prove the rule, though. Chick Fil A apparently has gluten free sandwich buns that come in their own sealed packages so they cannot be contaminated by crumbs from other sandwich buns. Each customer has to assemble her own sandwich, which seems fairly safe, but remember the buns are not the only part of the sandwich that may have become contaminated with gluten; the chicken, lettuce and tomatoes are all suspect. Starbucks also has a gluten free breakfast sandwich that I feel pretty confident eating because the whole thing is assembled first and packaged in its own sealed plastic package. It is microwaved in that package, which is never opened in the store itself. So, there are a few options out there, but none of them are ever going to be as safe as the food you prepare for yourself.

We do have some hope, however. There may come a time in the future when gluten free restaurants may become popular enough to open up chains. For right now, there is only one restaurant that I can think of that is totally and completely gluten free and that is Posana in Asheville, NC. This restaurant is one I can recommend without any reservations (insert comedic drum roll) as every item on their menu is gluten free. They don’t serve anything that isn’t gluten free and so there is no risk of cross contamination. The food doesn’t come at fast food prices, so I might suggest that you save it for a special occasion, but it is worth it. When I went there, I had the fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese as an appetizer and I still dream about them. Yum. Their menu items are seasonal, but I’ve had their lemon-blueberry cheesecake and it’s to die for as well. If you’re gluten intolerant and you want a place where you can feel totally safe and where everything is made for you, then I would suggest making a trip to Asheville and pigging out at Posana.

If you’re really interested in Posana (it’s great food whether you’re gluten intolerant or not), check out their website: https://posanarestaurant.com.