Beyond Words

Words, Wit and Wisdom for Today's Style and Decision Makers

Step Up! February 17, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 11:59 pm


You either love them or hate them. Either way though, you really can’t avoid them and they are considered “the” way to get in shape. I’m talkin steps. Stairs. Whatever you want to call them. I wouldn’t go straight to I hate them but I certainly don’t love them. In a weird way, I’m kinda obsessed with them.


I wasn’t so obsessed with them on my recent trip to San Francisco though. Funny thing happened on the way to Alcatraz, Coit Tower, dinner, lunch, and everywhere in between: you have to climb a lot and climb a lot of stairs. What makes this doubly hard in the City by the Bay, is most ways of getting to those stairs are very hilly…as in straight up and straight down…again and again. And again! I quickly learned how out of shape I am and how in shape my friends are. Can somebody please call an Uber? I’M ON VACATION!




I “felt a blog coming” when I huffed and puffed up the above steps to Coit Tower, when my design friend showed us photos of one of her client’s stairs that have her grandkids’ names on each riser, and when I saw this set of eerie steps at Alcatraz:


I couldn’t help but wonder where they lead to and the stories of those who climbed them. Goosebumps.




“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Martin Luther King, Jr.


Staircases are not only necessary evils, many of them are famous. I have three favorites: Santa Fe’s “Miraculous Staircase” in Loretto Chapel, and Santa Scala and the Spanish Steps in Rome.


loretto-chapelBeing that I was born and raised in Santa Fe, that famous spiral staircase is both very familiar and special to me. My mom attended Loretto Academy and climbed up and down those stairs as a choir member.


The staircase is considered miraculous for many reasons, including its two perfect 360 turns with no visible means of center support as well as the fact that no nails were used in the structure; a structure made of wood not common to the area. Then there’s the mystery about who built it. When Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft so carpenters were called in to address the problem and recommended using a ladder due to space constraints. Not satisfied with that precarious idea, the Sisters of Loretto prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of their novena, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks.



spanish-steps  vatican  santa-scala

Another city that has its share of Catholic lore is of course Rome, which my daughter and I visited following her semester in Spain. We will never forget running into some of her friends who also studied in Spain ironically on the famed Spanish Steps, as well as pretending to be Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday” on them. The Vatican is also home to many stunning stairways, but the one I cherished the most in all of Rome was the Santa Scala, or “Holy Steps.” The steps can be found in the non-touristy Lanterna area and legend has it that Jesus walked up them before facing Pontius Pilate. Today, people crawl up on hands and knees. I still get chills thinking about seeing them.



Two other set of steps that caught my eye long ago are Paris’ famous lantern steps and the Potemkin monster-of-a-staircase in Odessa. Squeal!

paris-lights1   potemkin-famous-steps-in-odessa



Film has also given us some famous steps, including those Rocky gloriously ran up and the ones Scarlett ran down in “Gone with the Wind” right before Rhett told her, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

rocky gone-with-the-wind-atlanta-house-red-staircase




“There is no elevator to success. You gotta take the stairs.” Caridee


Not all staircases are famous but many are fun and fascinating. Take these for example. You have boxwood perfection, a Parisian piano for your feet, a lovely heart, the tops of steps with encouraging thoughts, book titles, a crazy rainbow palette, and a staircase with a slide. Yippee!


topiaries stairs-piano   heart   tops1 books-steps rainbow-from-traditional-home  slide-stairs


How fun would it be to do something like those in your home? Granted, they may not be your cup of tea or perhaps a tad too much, but it is fun thinking about unique banisters, risers, balusters, runners, and the likes for your home.



For risers, consider doing something different with them like these with numbers, tiles, and a gradient pattern. And how cool is the lighted staircase?

stairs-with-numbers   stairs-with-tiles1  teal-gradient-stairs_gal stairs-with-lights1



Staircase-wise, this contemporary black floating staircase and really cool jagged one are both so very interesting but I gravitate more toward the middle Craftsman-style and the last more traditional look.

fun cool craftsman better-homes-and-gardens



Glass is also an option. Out of these two, I find the first one amazing but the second one more me.

modern glass



When it comes to what to put on your stairs you, of course, can go with wood, carpet, or tile, but why not try a unique runner like these from Domino Magazine and Elements of Style? The middle one is pure perfection.

stairs-with-grass-domino-mag elem-of-style-stairs anteloperunner2_560px



And call me old school, but given the right room and décor, nothing says “grand” like a traditional some stair rods. And how cute are these runner clips?

traditional-staircase stair_rods_web stair-clips



Balusters and rails are where you can go fun without looking crazy. I’m raising my hand for the ombre balusters.

tree-banister rope-bannister oar-banister1  ballistar



I also like the idea of adding storage under your staircase; a normally wasted space. That bookshelf, floor, and light fixture! Swoon!

70bd651dc4750840918f78f1b998167e  space_under_the_stairs storage-space-books



And who doesn’t love this New York City fire escape-style shelf?




I can’t even say how gorge these entry stairs are. They give new meaning to “grand entrance.”

verandaentry1 verandaentry 14c8b2900138b0393ec33259c1c53804



If you’re a bride, think long and hard about having a photo shoot on a magnificent set of steps like this one:




Exterior banisters are a whole different blog, but I couldn’t let this gem of a simple iron piece of work and an insanely flawless porch go by.

exterior  porch_railings_with_flowers




“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and He delights in his way.”

Psalm 37:23


Lastly, there’s the proverbial stairway to heaven, and not Led Zeppelin’s. It is said that prayers are the stairs that lead us to God, so despite my aches and pains, I guess I’ll say my prayers and take the stairs.







A Sinful Sunday? February 5, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:17 pm

Editor’s Note: You may or may not have noticed my blog header has changed to “Beyond Words.” You may or may not have also noticed I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been in a bit of a lull regarding just the right words and just the right topics to write about. You could say the “write” words just haven’t come and, at the same time, I’ve been thinking of changing the focus and title of my blog. Sitting in mass this weekend I heard just what I needed to hear and voila: I’m back! My new “Beyond Words” blog will continue to be more of the same with maybe a few tweaks here and there. You need do nothing different to receive it and I can still be found at I hope you continue to read my words and as always, let me know when I get off the “write” track.





Happy Super Bowl Sunday…or as Father Larry said in his sermon, “the superest of all Sundays.” Well, kinda.


We all know it’s merely “super” because either the NFC team (New England Patriots) or the AFC team (Atlanta Falcons) will go home tonight World Champions. Again, kinda. Not really “world” champions, but Super Bowl Champions. It’s a day to be with family and friends and to eat, drink, and be merry. It’s also a day when, as Father explained, the 7 Deadly Sins rear their ugly heads.


Of course there is Gluttony. We eat foods we know we shouldn’t and we eat way too much. Many of us will also drink too much.


There is Envy. We are all envious of those pesky New England Patriots, their famed quarterback and coach, and all their past Super Bowl heroics. It’s said the only people rooting for the Patriots today are Patriot fans. The rest, are envious.


We will show Anger when the team we’re rooting for calls a bad play, turns over the ball, or when the other team scores.


Patriots fans will be full of Greed today, as they hope for their fifth Super Bowl victory. Quarterback Tom Brady will also be vying for his fifth Super Bowl title, which will make him the most prolific NFL QB in history…Super Bowl ring-wise at least.


Fans on both sides of the field will most likely display Pride as they cheer on their hometown boys.


The rest of us are sure to exhibit Sloth; sitting in front of televisions for virtually the whole day. Work? We’ll get to it tomorrow. Laundy? It can wait. Today is a day for America to take the day off!


As for the last of the deadly sins, Lust, let’s hope we don’t partake in it, if only that we lust for our team to win and not that Brady gets hurt!


All of this is, of course, fun and the game of football, but look ahead and as soon as tomorrow, and we are likely to be guilty of those very sins in our daily lives.


Do we work so hard to make more and more money that we neglect our family?


Do we eat even when we’re not hungry and serve ourselves whopping portions of what we do eat?


Do we get angry driving in traffic and envy those driving nicer cars than ours?


Are we so full of pride that we have lost our sense of humility?


Do we lie around watching mindless TV rather than going for a walk or volunteering somewhere?


And, do we lust after things that are immoral or just plain wrong and have impure thoughts or actions?


If you answered yes to any of those, no fear; you are not alone. At the same time you might tell yourself “no harm, no foul” if I cursed at the driver next to me or if I am proud of my accomplishments. The problem is, all these sins are the roots of greater sins such as murder, adultery, theft, and others.




So how can we avoid being sinfully proud, envious, and the like? By praying. It’s that simple. Simply pray every day. Pray for the gifts of the Capital Virtues.


Chastity will help you overcome lust and the infected acts it encourages.


Generosity will make you less greedy. Start by detaching from things of this world.


Temperance will overcome gluttony by helping you live in moderation.


If you have the gift of Brotherly Love, you will be less envious, which will lead to less badmouthing and a genuine happiness for others.


Anger can be weakened by meekness, which will help you control resentment while cultivating patience.


Humility will topple your pride and help you rely less on your will and more on God’s.


If you feel you have the sin of sloth, pray for Diligence and the ability to fulfill your duties in life, even when they are tiresome.


Whatever you do, don’t get overwhelmed. Instead, start with just one or two and watch how the others will be none too happy to creep into your life.


As I read my Facebook and Instagram pages these last few weeks, I see an incredible amount of envy, anger, pride, greed, and the need to insult and degrade. It is both alarming and disturbing how much hate and bitterness prevails. I have been guilty of them myself, but learned a good lesson on Friday.


As I was getting my hair done, my stylist and I were talking about the current state of our country, and after a lengthy discussion, I mentioned how I think it’s unfair that the “winners” of this election are being inundated with insults and abuse by those not victorious and are not allowed to be openly happy and celebratory. I was expecting a “Yeah, that’s just not right,” but instead my very wise and astute  stylist replied, “maybe it’s an opportunity for us to be humble.” Bingo.


What a great place to start.



The Real “Best Dressed” January 10, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 12:37 am



Normally today I would be writing all about the glamorous red carpet gowns at last night’s Golden Globes but I’m so done with Hollywood and all their antics that I’ve chosen to write about clothing waaaaaay more important than the millions of dollars’ worth of gowns donned last night. The line of clothing is called “Runway of Dreams” and it is amazing in so many ways.


Runway of Dreams is an organization developed by fashion designer and mom Mindy Scheier whose son was born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy. Early on Mindy realized it would be extremely challenging for Oliver to dress himself so she set out to create clothing that is both fashionable and affordable for children and teens with physical disabilities. I say genius!


I also say “I feel you,” as my daughter Kristen was born with a weak left side and sometimes struggles with zippers, buttons, and what not. When she was little, we would practice using every kind of fastener and we’d visit Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas to meet with experts and get specific tools to help her dress herself. I’m proud to say today Kristen is a college graduate and working professional and just last week applied to volunteer at Scottish Rite Hospital. Funny how life often goes full circle isn’t it?


Dressing independently is something most of us take for granted. We choose an outfit and put it on. Not so for the huge community of differently-abled people out there, all of who struggle to find clothing that is stylish and that they can put on by themselves. Getting in and out of clothing is a major challenge for them and things like putting things over their head, pulling up pants, and doing the various types of fasteners leads to frustration and dejection. And, it doesn’t end once their clothing is finally on. Think about how many times you go to the restroom or try on clothing. For the disabled, these simple tasks are anything but simple. Thanks to people like Mindy, there is now fashion for all.




Runway of Dreams lives by its mission of being “the authority on adapting mainstream clothing” and works to bring joy and pride to every person who wears the mainstream clothing with added adaptive pieces. It has partnered with various brands and retailers and works to integrate technology and design modifications into clothing. In a word, it’s genius.


Mindy didn’t and doesn’t do this alone. She created everything through the help of focus groups, on-line surveys, and of course the differently-abled themselves. She asked them their individual dressing needs and also went to schools and community centers and asked people with disabilities, their parents, and their caretakers their design ideas. From the responses she learned the three main areas of struggle were closures, adjustability, and alternative ways to wear clothes. From there, the Runway of Dreams team went to work.


Fasteners were replaced with washable MagnaReady magnets, the backs of tops were opened up so consumers could access them from the back rather than over their heads, and pant legs and sleeve lengths were made adjustable to allow the easy covering of leg braces or abnormalities. For autistic kids, tags were removed and for deaf and diabetic uses pockets for medical devices were added. By doing all of this, she is making fashion friendly and inclusive but perhaps equally important is that it is all empowering those who wear it and encouraging them to not only accept their differences, but embrace them.


By also collaborating with key fashion industry partners, ROD helps develop items that are in current lines but modified adaptively. One such line in Tommy Hilfiger, who embraced the concept wholeheartedly. Today, there is a line of children’s clothing with the Tommy Hilfiger brand that looks just like his traditional line except it incorporates ROD’s adaptive touch. The popular mainstream clothing line adjusts its clothing for special needs children by using snaps or the MagnaReady magnets instead of buttons and Velcro flies rather than zippers, to name just a few adaptations. This partnership was monumental, as it allows children with disabilities to dress just like their peers and classmates, something so important at any age. Best of all, the clothes designed for them looks just like any current lines and is no more expensive. In addition, Hilfiger uses models that are disabled to promote the clothing.




This group of consumers is bigger than one might think, comprising 20 percent of the population. It also has tremendous spending power and their voices are both passionate and strong. By making clothing that is often overlooked in the highly-competitive retail industry, a brand or store is not only proving compassionate but smart. In fact, Hilfiger’s spring collection sold out almost entirely within the first week of going on sale.


As Mindy herself notes, “While others might view Oliver’s physical challenges as limitations, I appreciate his incredible ability to embrace life and focus on what he has rather than what is missing.” It is her dream that Runway of Dreams as a whole embodies her brave boy’s message of true confidence and courage.


This, is way more inspiring and significant than any Golden Globe or Hollywood accolade.




New Year, New You January 2, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 12:55 am



Earlier today I did my annual “Polar Bear Plunge” in Austin’s Barton Springs Pool. Every New Year’s Day, hundreds of Austinites jump into the downtown spring-fed treasure that boasts a constant water temperature of 68 degrees. The “Plunge” is a way of washing off last year’s woes and starting the new year refreshed and rejuvenated. Today’s 72 degree weather made the jump a little easier than those of previous years with temperatures in the 30s and 40s accompanied by drizzle, but the water still felt freezing and it was still refreshing.


I’m ready 2017. Bring it!


Today is when many of us start anew and start our New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve blogged about them before and won’t bore you with great ones I’ve concocted or how to’s again this year. Instead, I’m sharing just a few ideas others have enlightened me with and that I’m hoping enlighten you as well.




If you’ve followed me for a while or know me, you probably remember I love Gretchen Rubin and her “Happiness Project” books. Once again Ms. Rubin nails it as she suggests we each choose one word as a 2017 mantra. A single word or short phrase Rubin notes, is easier to remember all year and easier to put into action than some long, thought out dissertation of goals and plans. She has chosen “Repurpose” as her 2017 focus word, as she hopes to make more of what she already has. I love it! Other years she has selected “Upgrade” and “Lighten Up,” and encourages all of us to choose something we can truly pour ourselves into. Here are some suggestions:














Less (as in negativity, procrastination, etc.)

More (as in exercise, prayer, etc.)




What will you choose for your 2017 one-word theme?






Another successful woman who inspires me is Rachel Zoe, who recently blogged in her Zoe Report on “What Successful Women Do in January.” Here are just three of the things that struck a chord with me:


Identify Big Picture Goals. It’s good to have goals but sometimes we overwhelm ourselves with having too many of them. Zoe recommends focusing on what you feel most in need of change. Don’t think small though, as these are big ticket items. Be specific with them, prioritize them, and make sure at least one of them is something that terrifies you. What? Why? Because, if you accomplish just that one thing during the year, think about how proud you will be.


Evaluate What Didn’t Work Last Year. This one makes perfect sense. Start this year by evaluating what didn’t work for you last year. Easy-peasy, right? But, after doing so, resolve to fix it and work to change it. Little things matter too. If you hate your job, work on finding a new one and at the same time, if the flowers in your flower beds drive you crazy, choose different ones. Everything is worth evaluating.


Picture One Person You Want to Prove Yourself To. It can be hard to motivate yourself day after day. Some days you just don’t have the “umph” required for a triumph. When you’re feeling this way, picture in your mind that one person you feel doesn’t believe in you or respect you. Then, go out and prove them wrong!





Something else I ran across that I liked is the idea of putting a small note into a jar (or basket, or box, or anything you want) stating something good that happened that day. On New Year’s Eve 2017, read them all and maybe, just maybe, you will realize it was a pretty good year after all!





On a more “heavy” note, is the idea of mapping…mind mapping. That’s what former Google career coach and job strategist Jenny Blake promotes. A “mind map” she says, is basically a visual diagram of your interests and goals.


Start by writing the year in the center of a piece of paper. From there, draw spokes for different themes that are important to you. These could be “business,” “personal,” “health,” “fun,” or whatever you want. Then, from those draw more spokes and write down what you want to accomplish in each area or what you might want to try out or experiment with in them.


Doing this will help you figure out the next project, hobby, or even career change that will make the new year happier and more successful Blake promises. The goal, she says, is to break out of linear thinking and instead “go broad, go big, and go sideways.” I’m on board!





Every year I also vow to grow spiritually so I really liked something I ran across called “Catholic New Year’s Resolutions.” These ways of improving my faith include:


One virtue I’d like to grown in

One sin I’d like to eliminate

One book of scripture I’d like to read through

One spiritual book I’d like to read

One prayer I’d like to learn

One way to improve my sacrament life

One saint I’d like to get to know better

If you’d like a free printable of these goals, go to




Finally, I end with something I read that I LOVED. I hope you love it too as it is some of the smartest advice I’ve heard in a long time. Plus, doing it not only benefits you, but others as well.


Lately I’ve been replacing my “I’m sorry’s” with “thank you’s,” like instead of saying “I’m sorry I’m late,” I’ll say “thanks for waiting for me.” Instead of saying “sorry I’m underdressed today” I’ll say “thank you for loving me just the way I am.” Doing this has not only shifted the way I think and feel about myself but it’s also improved my relationships with others who now get to receive my gratitude instead of my negativity.


What a concept! Happy New Year everyone and thanks for reading. I appreciate you more than you know!




Hangovers and Headaches December 30, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 11:48 pm



Going out tomorrow night? Ringing in the New Year with family, friends, and festivities? Much of those festivities will more than likely involve champagne and alcohol of some sort. New Year’s Eve is in fact the most popular drinking day of the year, followed by Christmas and not far behind is Thanksgiving. That’s a whole lot of alcohol in two short months. Cheers!


But, as we celebrate saying good-bye to 2016 and hello to 2017, we may also have one , or two or three or four, drinks too many and will regret doing so come Sunday when we wake up with a doozy of a hangover. Growing up, I had a friend who had a Bassett Hound named Hangover, which today is so funny to me, but real hangovers are anything but funny and in a word, blow. So, how best can you avoid one this go round?



Water’s Your Friend

Naturally the best way to avoid waking up with an aching head and queasy tummy is to drink less alcohol. But, it’s New Year’s Eve you say, so maybe the question should be, what’s the best realistic way to avoid a hangover? Well, I’m here to help my friends.


First of all, eat before going out and eat something hearty. Having food in your stomach will slow the rate alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream according to Dr. Keri Peterson who was interviewed by “Good Housekeeping” magazine. Peterson also recommends drinking a glass of water between every alcoholic beverage you down, which will help prevent an electrolyte imbalance that is responsible for a hangover’s worst symptoms.


Other than that, it’s all about portion control and self-control. Unless they’re your favorites, avoid dark liquors like whiskey, as they are thought to contain more “hangover causing” toxins than lighter drinks and, as hard as it might be, especially on New Year’s Eve, you might also consider skipping the bubbly. The bubbles in champagne help your body absorb alcohol faster, causing higher alcohol levels and possibly leading to increased chances of a hangover.




Hair of the Dog?

So, you eat before, you drink water, and you avoid shots of whiskey but you still wake up with a hangover. What gives and what next? Sadly, there are no magic cures and most wives tales are just that: tall tales.


First of all, continue to hydrate. Your body aches and it needs hydration, which all that alcohol (and possible vomiting) decreased. After that, the best cure? Sleep! Yep, if you can, sleep as much as possible. But, what if you don’t have the luxury of sleeping in?


Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. And hydrate more. Most experts believe that dehydration caused by heavy drinking is what leads to a hangover so it only makes sense to add hydration back into your bruised and battered body. Water, juice, and sports drinks like Gatorade that contain water, carbohydrates, and electrolytes are your best bets.


After hydrating, nutrition is probably most important. But, unlike many a popular myths, a greasy meal is not what you should go for. Instead, start with some easy-to-digest food like toast or cereal. There are also countless claims that honey sandwiches work wonders, but whatever you do, concentrate on getting calories back into your system and not on counting calories or carbs.


If you’re a regular coffee drinker, grab a cup of java but not for reasons you might think. The caffeine in coffee actually narrows your blood vessels and increases blood pressure, both of which make hangovers worse but if you normally have coffee in the morning, avoiding it will only add a caffeine headache to your already pounding head. Start the Keurig and possibly start the healing.


Once you have something in your stomach, anti-inflammatory pain relievers may help some of your symptoms. Think ibuprofen or naproxen. A small amount of GENTLE exercise may provide some relief too, but avoid anything that requires a lot of nutrition or that will decrease your already dehydrated state. Many also reach for Alka Seltzer. The famous plop-plop-fizz-fizz is full of bicarbonate or baking soda, which may soothe your aching belly, but the aspirin and citric acid in it may do just the opposite.




Something that won’t help is the old “hair of the dog.” Yes, that early morning Bloody Mary may trick you into thinking it’s cured your hangover but it’s really only a temporary fix and may actually make things worse in the hours ahead. Your body may in fact be suffering from alcohol withdrawal so adding more to it is not the answer.


Personally I would think about going into one of my favorite places, a sauna, in hopes of sweating out all those toxins but don’t do it! In fact, the last thing you need is to cause dangerous blood vessel and blood flow changes in your weakened system, which the extreme heat of a sauna could do.


There are pills that purport to help you avoid getting a hangover and others that claim to cure a hangover, but most do so with questionable results. There are also multivitamins for drinkers that contain ingredients thought to replenish nutrients alcohol diminishes but they probably won’t cure a wicked hangover. Then there’s milk thistle, the herbal supplement many swear by and which studies show helps support liver function. I guess it couldn’t hurt.


Lastly, a current trend is something a little more extreme: IV drips. Voluntary intravenous drips. Insanity! Not happening! But, think back. Think back to the misery you felt suffering from a hangover. Wouldn’t you do anything to relieve your aches and pains? Okay, tell me more.


The normal, everyday drips are filled with somewhat obvious things like ibuprofen and anti-nausea supplements in addition to B12 and B complex, vitamin C, and something called glutathione. Okay, tell me what all that means.


B vitamins are depleted by alcohol and at the same time, they protect your nervous system. (One reason heavy drinkers often exhibit mood swings and suffer anxiety and depression.) Getting a boost of them in an IV may speed-up your hangover recovery and help you feel energized and revitalized. Vitamin C supports your body’s immune functions while glutathione is thought to detoxify the liver and is an effective antioxidant. So, more glutathione in your body the more you can drink? That explains it!


Year by year, you don’t seem to be able to drink as much as you used to, right? In college you may have been the life of the party but by your 40s you’re more often the party pooper. This is in part because your body produces less glutathione as you age. Bingo!


These on-demand infusions may also contain electrolytes and other vitamins to ease hangover symptoms but they aren’t cheap. Averaging $200 a pop…or poke…iv hangover drips are gaining popularity and are often administered by doctors or nurses themselves. In fact, one group of ER physicians now have permanent residency at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Shocker.


So party on tomorrow night but party smart. Drink that water, don’t drink and drive, and wake up in 2017 with a smile, not a hangover!










Lessons and Wisdom December 24, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 5:43 pm



Encourage people to BELIEVE in you.


Always remember who’s NAUGHTY and who’s NICE.


Don’t POUT.


It’s as much fun to GIVE as it is to receive.


Some days it’s okay to feel a little CHUBBY.


Make your PRESENTS known.


It never hurts to ASK.


Bright RED can make anyone look good.


If you only show up once a year, make it SPECIAL.


Whenever you’re at a loss for words, just say

“Ho, Ho, Ho!”



Pass the Cheese Board Please December 22, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:32 pm



Tis the season for entertaining and any season screams “cheese!” to me! There are lots of parties to attend and lots of friends to host, and in between the meatballs and Christmas sweets, there’s nothing better than a solid cheese board. Filled with so many delectable flavors and delightful to look at (have you seen Instagram lately?!), a cheese board can please almost any guest. They are also easy to put together and in a pinch, you probably have enough items on hand to throw one together at the last minute. But, if you want to make a picture perfect one, what should you include? That, my friends, is half the fun and entirely up to you, although there are some guidelines. You don’t want to plop down a nut-covered orange cheese ball but you also don’t want to offer your guests overly fussy pairings. So, here are some go-to tips.




Choosing the Cheese

This is most important. But, before you head to the store, ask yourself how many guests you expect and whether your gathering is more formal or more on the casual side. From there, you can start thinking about cheese.


Tia Keenan, author of “The Art of the Cheese Plate,” (yes, there is a book on the subject and it is fabulous!) recommends “building flights,” just like you would for beer or wine. I’ve always heard to choose a cheese from each of the four basic categories of aged, soft, firm, and blue, but Keenan also says picking cheeses around a theme can be fun like choosing cheeses made from the same type of milk such as goat, sheep, or cow, or cheeses based on the region they’re from like Normandy in France or Somerset in England.


Personally, I like the first option and the variety it offers both in textures and flavors. For aged, I’d probably choose an aged white cheddar or smoked Gouda. If most of the other cheeses chosen are white though, I’d stick with a regular cheddar to add color to the plate. A nice soft cheese I like is Camembert and most, but not me, like a creamy Brie. Hard-wise, I love both Manchego and Parmigiano-Reggiano but I’m not a big blue fan, so I would offer either a mild Gorgonzola or mildly-strong Stilton. Roquefort will not be found on any cheese board I create!


Whatever you do, be sure to serve at least one familiar cheese. Not everyone is a cheese fanatic but almost everyone loves a good cheddar. Amount-wise, figure on offering 3-4 ounces of each cheese per person.


One thing most experts agree on is that a cheese plate should never include a flavored cheese or cubes of cheese. Sorry friends, I love a good flavored cheese as much as the next person and I adore the ease of grocery store packaged cheese cubes, but ixnay on the cheese tray.


Now, the set up.


Remove cheeses from the refrigerator one hour before serving. No one wants a cold piece of cheese and the flavors, aromas, and subtleties of each will be enhanced by keeping them at room temp. Keep in mind that cheese is actually a preserved food, so there’s really no need to refrigerate hard, aged cheeses unless you purchase them way in advance, which isn’t recommended anyway.


Once you have selected your cheeses, it’s time to put together the board. Always, always, always cut your cheeses before putting them on the board and do so on a separate board. Don’t leave it up to your guests to cut as some may not know what cutting utensil works with what cheese and you don’t want a mess on your board.


For soft and crumbly cheeses like chevre and blue, “Bon Appetit” recommends using a wire and for harder cheeses, think about their original shape and use a good cheese knife to slice them with while maintaining that original shape. Slice into wedges or strips that can be eaten in one or two bites. Throw in a few sprigs of Rosemary for adornment, and you’re good to go! It’s also a nice idea to label each cheese on the board. There are so many clever ways to do so. When in doubt, check Pinterest!



Pairing and Plating the Cheeses

Part of the beauty of a cheese board is what’s plated in addition to the cheeses themselves. Basically, your board should include something hard, soft, salty, nutty, and sweet. Most people I spoke with recommend a combination of any but not all of the following: crusty bread, baguettes, crackers in different sizes and shapes (but never seasoned), spicy mustards, roasted red peppers, Marcona almonds, raw honey, prosciutto, salami, figs, apples, pears, chutney, and cornichon pickles. If you like, you can also offer some good dark chocolate with sea salt. I’ve also served mini caramel apple bites and they were a hit!


But, don’t go crazy with pairings and just like the cheeses you choose, offer a variety. Choose things both sweet and savory but don’t overload the board. “Bon Appetit” suggests one bread or cracker, one in-season fruit, a jam or compote, and two savory options like pickles, salami, or mustard.




So, you have the ingredients, now what do you put them all on? That one’s easy.


Any wooden cutting board that’s in good shape will do, as will a pretty marble slab, a slate board like the rope-handled one pictured here, or my newest gem, a Himalayan Salt Block given to me by a dear friend. Once you choose the serving vessel, place the cheeses all the while making sure to separate strong ones from mild ones, and then add the pairings much like you would accessorize an outfit. Be sure to provide small plates and cocktail napkins nearby, as well as nice liquid pairings such as a good Sauvignon Blanc or subtle juice.


So there you have it: the perfect cheese board. They may look pretty and pretty complicated on Instagram, but they really are pretty simple! Have fun and bon appetit!