Beyond Words

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

No Doubt About It May 2, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 2:55 pm

I’m not sure how many of you have watched the amazing series, “The Chosen,” but if you haven’t, do. I won’t go into all the details, but just know that it chronicles the life of Jesus like no other show I’ve ever watched. It’s real, inspiring, emotional, and eye-opening. In a word, it is relatable.

 

There are many lines throughout the episodes that have caught my attention, but one that stands out is when Jesus told Thomas, the infamous “Doubting Thomas,” “Maybe don’t think so much.” I’ve always said I would probably be that “doubting Thomas” and to hear Jesus say those words to a fellow deep thinker hit home and made me think. In a good and healthy way.

 

Another line I connected with is when Jesus tells Simon, “Get used to different” after He invited tax collector (and possible introvert?) Matthew to join the other disciples and follow Him, raising many an apostolic eyebrow.

 

 

It’s not uncommon for introverts like me to overthink and not like surprises. It is our nature to notice and observe everything, boast a knack for details and empathy, and have a deep desire to solve problems and feel compelled to act. At the same time, we crave solitude and quiet. This includes our prayer and worship time.

 

In studying introvert strengths and how they make me different from extroverts, I’ve learned so much. It’s no secret that introverts prefer intimate and genuine small social settings so it should come as no surprise that I, and many a fellow introvert, do not like big stadium-sized churches. Those giant, energy-filled gatherings do not feed my soul and neither does their rock-style music and hands-in-the-air worship. It all makes me uncomfortable. And that’s okay.

 

As “The Powerful Purpose of Introverts” author and introvert Holley Gerth writes, we introverts ask ourselves, “Why does everyone enjoy the loud music, feel the need to join a ministry group, and love going on retreats but I don’t?” In a nutshell, because it’s now how we were divinely created.

 

Many introverts say faith is central to their lives and find our spiritual moments while reading in a quiet place or participate in a small group study. We relate to God and draw near Him better in more intimate settings and ways. Yes of course I love going to church, but the church we attend is smaller in nature and since it’s Catholic, is not prone to what I like to call “Six Flags Over Jesus” services. And please know I’m not judging or criticizing, just observing as a good little introvert does. Those mega-churches serve a purpose and change lives. They’re just not for me.

 

Many who know me well are often shocked to learn that I’m a full-blown introvert. They say things like “But you’re so outgoing and fun.” Yes, I for sure can be but only around those who give me peace. I can sense it in a heartbeat and my comfort level increases immediately when I do.

 

 

Introverts often feel awkward in a crowd, especially one in which we don’t know a lot of people. We don’t feel awkward because we’re shy or stand-offish, we feel awkward because people matter to us and we are wired to connect. Just not on an arena-sized level.

 

Think about it, big church services feed right into an extrovert’s wheel house. They emphasize emotion and outward signs of faith, which often make introverts uncomfortable. None of it leads to happiness for us, which should be one of many goals of attending a church service.

 

Spiritual experiences should give us a sense of connectedness, reduce (not increase!) stress, and boost our mental health and happiness. Turns out to extroverts, “happy” is synonymous with enthusiastic, excited, and ecstatic while introverts feel “happy” when content, fulfilled, calm, engaged, peaceful, and satisfied. Modern day culture’s extroverted spin on this concept complicates things for introverts who feel best with minimal external stimulation.  Extroverts are wired to spend energy, so an active service is perfect for them, while introverts are wired to conserve energy.

 

Learning all this released a “light bulb” moment for me as it explained why I’m not big on retreats despite being highly faith-filled and religious and why a recent bible study I joined was ultimately not for me.

 

I love bible studies and was so thrilled to join one I’d heard about for years. However, as I became a regular attendee I never felt myself with the reading assignments or the discussion. I also never felt comfortable with the opening and closing praise music videos complete with standing, raised arms, and other “six flags” moments. I love and respect the women who jumped right in and I tried and I wanted to, but if I’ve learned anything about being a card-carrying introvert, it’s to never ever try to be something or someone you’re not…especially an extrovert.

 

Enter my new bible study that’s much more intimate and comfortable for me. If someone asked “WWJD?” the answer would be both!  In His “only Jesus could” perfect way, Jesus was most likely both an extrovert and introvert. He preached to millions but often also went away to pray quietly and alone.

 

And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed.

Mark 1:35

 

Throughout the Gospels it is noted that Jesus went off for private prayer, including:

  • After the multiplication of loaves, Mark 6:46 says “He went up to the mountain to pray.”
  • “He went up into the hills to pray” after choosing His 12 apostles, as recorded in Luke 6:12.
  • Before the Transfiguration, Luke writes in 9:28 “About eight days He took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.”
  • Matthew 26:36-45; Mark 14:32-41; and Luke 22:39-46 all document that before the crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus went to pray alone.
  • As only Jesus could, He also preached what he practiced and invited the disciples (and ultimately all of us) to do the same when he instructed them: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” in Matthew 6:5-6.

 

Like Jesus when he’d go away to pray, introverts are often energized by solitude and recharged from the inside out and from our ideas and feelings. Our souls. It’s where we’re happy. And secure.  It’s where we find our strength.

 

 

Jesus was a quiet leader and is proof you don’t need to be an outgoing or brash extrovert to lead. Jesus, the most influential leader ever, focused mainly on just 12 people, traveled less than 200 miles from His birthplace, lived only to age 33 and spent 30 of those years in obscurity, was King of all kings but was born in a humble manger not on a throne or in a castle, and came as a baby not as an expert. Doesn’t sound like much of an extrovert to me. Can I get an Amen?!

 

There should be no argument that it’s more important to lead with inspired standards than inspiring personality and that sometimes silence is golden. I’m all for hanging with 12 of my closest and most loyal friends, but I can also sit and read for hours on end and am never bored when alone in my home. I take inspiration from the above examples of Jesus doing the same and from the apostle Paul who instructed, “Make it your goal to live a quiet life.”

 

 

This is somewhat easy to do as an introvert. Putting to use my analytical mind and retreating to reflect and pray give me more energy than any rock ‘n roll church service or prayer group can. Gerth writes about this and the nine “Sacred Pathways.” I lean toward the Contemplative path in that I feel closest to God through spiritual intimacy and quiet moments as well as the Intellectual one as I love to learn something new and the resulting “aha moments” about faith and God. I am also predictably in the Traditionalist pathway by loving God through rituals, symbols, repetition, and routine. They all fit the mold of an introvert’s tendency to like an orderly system, scheduling, and planning and are perfect for my cradle Catholic upbringing and life journey. If there is anything that incorporates quiet moments, repetition, and rituals, it’s a Catholic mass!

 

Most introverts love order and planning so perhaps a favorite scripture verse of ours should be John 13:19 in which Jesus says, “From now on I am telling you before it happens so that when it happens you may believe that I am who I am.” Nothing like giving a perpetual planner a little heads up to prevent them from becoming a doubting Thomas. I believe!

 

 

Gerth’s book has inspired and taught me so much. God doesn’t compare us to anyone else and neither should we. At some point we need to stop trying to be someone God never intended us to be and be who He carefully created.  He made me brilliantly and beautifully an introvert and I embrace it with grace. No doubt about it.

 

 

This One Takes the Cake May 1, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 1:51 pm

Happy month of May! Can you believe it’s already here? Boy has this year flown, especially after last year, which at this time seemed to drag on and on. Truth be told, May is one of my favorite months. I love that the weather is warm but not burning hot yet, it’s the month our daughter was born, it’s the month of Mother’s Day, and it’s the month I was born! Woohoo! I actually had her the day after my birthday and will forever consider her the best birthday present ever. My poor hubby used to lament that he’d walk into a store to buy birthday and Mother’s Day cards and come out broke. LOL.

 

 

Growing up, kids birthday celebrations weren’t the gigantic ordeals they are today. If we were lucky, we’d maybe invite a few neighbor kids over for a party of cake and cone-shaped hats. That’s it. No princess imposters. No pony rides. And we were just fine.

 

 

I was fine because my birthday meant my favorite cake: German Chocolate. My mom would always make one, complete with stacked round layers and that decadent coconut and pecan icing and mid-layer filling. To this day, it’s probably still my favorite cake, right up there with carrot cake, even though I rarely eat it and have never made one from scratch myself.

 

I go way back thinking of those memories and you’d think the cake itself goes way back to some small Bavarian village, but it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even originate in Germany. It all comes down to not geography, but grammar.

 

It’s actually more a case of a dropped possessive, so more punctuation than grammar, but this wordsmith is all over this story and I’m here to tell you that German Chocolate cake is a true blue American concoction. Its origin does however have something to do with German.

 

That would be Samuel German, an American by way of England. German arrived in Dorchester, Massachusetts sometime during the 1830s and met a man named Walter Baker, who owned the Walter Baker & Co. chocolate plant. German became his coachman and in 1852 perfected a recipe for a sweet and mild dark baking chocolate. German’s chocolate (do you sense an enlightenment coming?) contained more sugar than Baker’s previous version and was a hit. Up until then, a bar of chocolate was unsweetened and very bitter. Baker bought German’s recipe for $1,000 and marketed it as “Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate” which was later simply called German Sweet Chocolate by the adoring public. The simple dropping of an apostrophe explains everything. Punctuation matters!

 

 

But what about the cake itself? Not until June 3, 1957 did the cake using the chocolate appear when a recipe for it was published in the “Dallas Morning Star” as its “Recipe of the Day.” Submitted by Mrs. George Clay of Dallas, “German’s Chocolate Cake” called for an 8 ounce bar of German’s Sweet Chocolate and readers loved it. In today’s world, you’d say the recipe went viral.

 

 

By this time, the Baker’s brand was owned by General Foods, which in 1958 made the recipe available to the public in a booklet. The cake had an immediate and enthusiastic response, and requests on where to find the German’s chocolate bar were so numerous that General Foods decided to send pictures of the cake to newspapers all around the country and sales for German’s Chocolate skyrocketed. Later publications of the recipe permanently dropped the possessive and it’s remained so to this day.

 

As with any brilliant idea, many say the recipe was not original to Mrs. Clay, pointing out that similar cakes using buttermilk, sweet chocolate, and pecans had been popular in the south for some time. Clay is the one who submitted the recipe however, so let’s give credit where credit is due.

 

 

Regardless of who created the first ever German Chocolate Cake, we know it wasn’t someone in Germany. The cake has stood the test of time and today is still a favorite and can be found in bakeries everywhere, is just as good as a sheet cake, and boxed cake mixes make baking one a breeze. I might just have to whip one up myself!

 

Isolated Incidences or Isolation Consequences? April 26, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:05 pm

Many of the bloggers I follow are posting “this is what I posted last year at this time” posts and it got me thinking. What did I post in April of 2020? Predictably, a lot! I remember our daughter being home for nearly three months and walking with her every day…sometimes more than once-a-day. I remember when the virus was called Corona virus and then seemingly overnight became COVID-19. I wrote about it all. We were ordered to stay home so I posted about my favorite candle and diffuser home scents. We were all socially distanced so I bloggingly asked “who do you really miss these days?” And I of course wrote the pandemic requisite “United We Band” blog and stressed we weren’t stuck at home, we were safe at home. Turns out we were somewhat stuck at home albeit safe and many of us still are although several states, including mine, have opened up…at least officially. Also turns out all those predicted and promised “few weeks” to “flatten the curve” lasted much longer than expected and we are now learning some of the results of the isolation and lockdowns. Some are good, some are not so good, and some are a bit surprising.

 

 

THE QUARANTINE 15

It should come as no surprise that many of us, me included, put on weight in 2020. But, it might be worse than expected.

 

A survey by the American Psychological Association reported that 61 percent of the adults surveyed reported an undesired weight change…some an undesired weight loss…since the start of the pandemic. In total, more than 40 percent said they gained weight and the average weight gain was 29 pounds.

 

According to the Trust for America’s Health State of Obesity 2020 report, 42.4 percent of U.S. adults are obese, marking the first time the rate has topped 40 percent. Sadly, childhood obesity is also growing, with nearly 20 percent of those aged 2 to 19 obese. If you add these numbers with the 30.7 percent of adults who are overweight and the nearly 10 percent severely obese, this means 73 percent of the population is either overweight, obese, or severely obese.

 

Thank you COVID, right? We’ve been homebound for both work and school, bored, unable to participate in many of our favorite physical activities, and food was right there for the taking…either convenient in the pantry or ‘fridge or delivered to our doorstep with a simple push of a button. And now we’re paying the price. I know I am.

 

It’s important we get a handle on our new love handles, as unhealthy weight increases cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and mental illness. Besides, who wants to buy all new clothes now that we’re finally getting out and getting out of our year-long altheisure wardrobe?! You probably have a closet full of clothes you haven’t worn in months. Get out and wear it and get outside people! Things are opening up and it’s time to get off the overeating treadmill and get on a real one!

 

 

IT’S WHAT FOR BREAKFAST…AND MORE

And on that note, a funny thing happened on the way to us gaining weight last year: we seemed to crave breakfast cereal. Connection? I’m thinking yes. It may come across as and odd COVID creature of habit, but it does make sense.

 

We needed comfort during the stress-filled year and we longed for the good old “normal” days. What better way to serve a bit of nostalgia than to open a box of your favorite childhood cereal? For me that would be either Cocoa Krispies or Frosted Flakes and when I did opt for a bowl of cereal, I wasn’t alone.

 

Cereal sales jumped almost 10 percent in 2020 and even though that may not seem like a big increase, consider the fact that sales had dropped in both 2019 and 2018. Pretty sure Post and Kellogg’s loved learning that stocking up on non-perishable foods was just one of the many outcomes of not being able to shop for food as often as we were used to pre-pandemic lockdowns. Seemingly overnight shelf-stable foods were equally if not more appealing and considered “smart buys” than all those fresh perishable foods we’d been enjoying.

 

I have no idea where this trend stands today but I do know I still love those childhood staples.

 

 

HAIR TODAY GONE TOMORROW

It’s no secret that we saw lots of gray roots and growing out hair last year, but have you ever heard of telogen effluvium? Me either, but apparently many suffered from it and still are.

 

TE, as I’ll call it here, is temporary hair loss and excessive shedding due to a shock to one’s nervous system.  Yeah, pretty sure we were all living in total shock one year ago and extremely nervous so it’s not shocking that our bodies responded to it all in new and uncommon ways.

 

The not totally uncommon TE usually begins a few months after someone suffers a stressful or traumatic experience…think even something as joyous as giving birth as many a new mom experiences hair loss. With the pandemic, it’s all about stress and the increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

 

Chronic stress is known to create some annoying and dangerous symptoms and survey after survey has found that increased rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts increased last year. We couldn’t go to work or out to eat. Many lost their jobs and many lost their beloveds. Kids weren’t allowed in schools and churches shut their doors. We couldn’t visit with friends and families and many places of exercise were closed. Any one of these would cause stress and anxiety. We had them all at once. It’s no wonder we lost our minds and lost our hair.

 

Keep in mind that hair loss is totally normal under normal circumstances. We all shed 50-100 strands of hair each day. But, if you’re losing more than usual and notice clumps falling out, see a specialist. TE is reversible since it’s a hormonal imbalance and not genetic like say alopecia, so any hair loss you’re experiencing is very well temporary. It is, however, a wake-up call that you need to monitor your stress level, improve your diet, socialize safely, and get out in the sun and do some exercise. Be patient though, hair-loss treatments take time, usually three-to-four months, so don’t expect overnight success.

 

 

 

MAN’S BEST FRIEND SHOWS UP

Being forced to socially isolate and be apart from beloved social circles resulted in an abundance of loneliness (more of that in a bit) but that loneliness was somewhat alleviated by none other than man’s best friend.

 

Shelters, breeders, rescue groups, and pet stores all reported an increase in demand for four-legged people replacers. Pet adoption skyrocketed last year and we all know the health benefits of simply petting a dog much less owning one. And although dogs are my pet of choice, other living beings also proved beneficial, including everything from fish to plants. When real people aren’t available, we all still long to care for someone or something, need a reason for being and having a purpose, and if Fido or Flipper does that, then adopt and purchase away!

 

 

NOTHING TO SNEEZE AT

This one pertains mostly to kids; those kids who have been homebound and prevented from going to school and other places where they socialize. Lockdown policies were put in place to protect them but we’re slowly finding out they may adversely affect them down the road. Just ask their immune systems.

 

Immune systems of children aren’t designed to develop in isolation from the big bad world, which is full of bacteria, parasites, viruses, fungi, and other potentially harmful substances. But, interacting with these microbes is extremely important to build up immune systems. Important components in those immune systems that educate our bodies on how to fight illness and infection are still developing into adolescence, but lockdown and social distancing restrictions are also restricting needed exposure to microbes and thereby restricting fighting them. Yes, we need to prevent the spread of disease and practice proper hygiene, but we also need to allow our immune systems to interact with safe and essential microbes. Sadly, it might be our kids who suffer most from the elimination of this essential process for going on more than a year now.

 

Since the youngest among us don’t have fully developed immune systems, a year removed from maturing them is now predicted by some to show up sooner rather than later in autoimmune diseases such as asthma and common allergies. Even the air our kids have been breathing has been “masked up,” leading others to predict a future “pandemic youth” will show higher than average rates of allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. Perhaps it’s time to open up the schools and let kids be kids again.

 

 

MY ACHING BACK

This one comes as no surprise: we’ve become a nation of aching bodies. Hmmmm…can’t imagine why. We’ve sat in front of screens for more than a year, all while seeing our physical activity decrease. Enter aching backs, stiff necks, and sore shoulders…and a demand for physical therapy.

 

Working on laptops while lounging on a sofa, spending day after day slumped over a computer screen, and sitting at stiff and hard kitchen chairs to do homework and spreadsheets have officially taken a toll on our bodies (many of which are also heavier as I wrote about above) and now that we’re peeking outside our homes, physical therapists are hearing cries for help.

 

In 2020 physical therapy demands dropped dramatically but today many PTs and OTs report practices are almost back to normal thanks in part to pandemic-related injuries.  Not only are there the aching backs, there are injuries resulting from trying a new exercise such as running or biking when gyms closed as well as COVID-19 recovery problems. Therapists are seeing both patients with new ailments as well as those whose previous injuries have flared back up.

 

Doing things we normally do in not normal places has whacked us out, figuratively and physically. We are a society in pain. We are more anxious and more nervous. We are stressed out. Our emotions and brains are stressed and so are our bodies. The answer? It’s a simple one: keep moving! Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you.

 

 

NEVER MIND

In an odd twist of fate, as our bodies slowed down during the past 12 months, our minds have perhaps been busier than ever and raced. Maybe you’ve had trouble focusing or experience increased wandering of the mind. Perhaps your dreams have become more frequent and vivid or worse, you’re having more nightmares. Not to worry; it’s all related to lockdown brain fog.

 

Recent months of isolation and monotony have resulted in both mental downtime and a roaming mind. During “normal” times, we are usually mostly oblivious when our minds wander but when we lose control of practically everything – like we did last year – we notice everything and are more in tune with our minds, mindfulness, and wandering minds. It’s not a total bad thing though.

 

Our inner mental lives are important and it never hurts to pay attention to them. Mind wandering can help us make new connections and see familiar things in a whole new way and discover new things. It’s pretty safe to say we all gained new perspectives in 2020. Maybe we learned we actually prefer working from home. Maybe we didn’t miss all those “friends” we thought we would. Maybe we discovered new hobbies, books, playlists, or podcasts.

 

Sadly, those same minds have experienced more stress, anxiety, and worry, all of which are often linked to increased repetitive thoughts, zoning out, and rumination. We in turn are restless, are rest deprived, and own restless minds. Maybe you’re one of those who all of sudden doesn’t need an alarm clock or find yourself napping in the middle of the day when you never really had since you were forced to as a child. Restless minds both wander aimlessly and have spontaneous thoughts, the latter of which may help us plan better and make decisions more decisively. Spontaneous thoughts also help us process memories, both good and bad ones but when our minds wander our thoughts are often drawn to the future…a future we are all hoping is better and brighter.

 

 

THE EYES HAVE IT

I clearly remember hearing we were all going to have to wear masks but they were hard to come by. There was much debate as to whether home-made versions were really effective and talk of doctors not being able to access N95s was rampant. Now, a year later, most of us are still masked up and you can buy them everywhere.

 

Some are wearing masks sporting everything from sporting teams to cartoons, flowers to messages. Others are content with simple black versions or those blue “surgical” style ones.  Whatever ones are chosen, they’re said to prevent the sharing of the virus but they also mask personalities and prevent true connection.

 

Just yesterday in church something very random crossed my mind and I leaned over and asked my husband about it, which made him give me a “WTH, we’re in mass!” look, which got us both giggling. I quietly chuckled so hard that my eyes teared up and as I wiped the joyful tears away I thought to myself, “people may think I’m crying because they can’t see my smiling face under my mask.” That, made me sad.

 

Masks erase and hide some of our most expressive features. We’ve all had to adjust to a new normal where faces were concealed by masks but it has also forced us to look into each other’s eyes. And that’s a small good thing. They are, after all, windows to the soul.  Sometimes those eyes have looked fearful, sometimes happy, and sometimes sad. In the end, we just miss seeing anyone…really seeing them… and it’s time to open our eyes to getting out, going out, and being out.

 

 

FAMILY MATTERS

During the past year we’ve all become familiar with many new words and phrases including WFH, contact tracing, herd immunity, flatten the curve, and social distancing. One you may not be as familiar with is “she-cession,” which is an emblematic term referring to the fact that under COVID-19 restrictions and job displacement, women left the workforce at nearly four times the rate of men. You know it’s serious and prevalent when a new word is coined.

 

There’s so much more to this topic than can be addressed in this small space, but just know that many women stepped away from their jobs or were laid off to manage homeschooling their children and take care of their families during truly unprecedented times. Maybe they just wanted to be home with their kids. Maybe their spouse’s income was more substantial and needed than theirs. Maybe they had no choice and were true victims of a pandemic.

 

Whatever the case, the wage gap is ebbing closer and closer to what it was 20 years ago and men are more likely to say working from home has positively impacted their careers. At the end of 2019, back when we had no idea what was looming, more than half of American jobs were held by women. We need to make sure that is the desired state at the end of this year.

 

 

ALONE AND LONELY

And now the biggie…loneliness took hold of this country in a big way last year and we are only now beginning to see the repercussions.

 

In a word, social isolation has taken its toll on society. People are by nature social creatures and while restrictive measures were put in place to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, they also reduced the spread of what we all really need and crave: genuine person-to-person contact and communication. This lack – an undeniably long-term and unhealthy lack – of vital human interaction may be affecting us more deeply than we know or could ever imagine. FaceTime and Zoom calls were fun and novel at first, but quickly wore thin. No amount of them could replace a hug from grandma or a kiss from someone dear.

 

Yes, we all feel loneliness at various points in our lives but it’s usually short-lived and temporary. This collective bout of loneliness feels never-ending and sadly, when loneliness hits, it can be devastating.

 

  • Many aren’t sleeping well. Many are self-medicating. Others have taken to drinking more.

 

  • Anxiety and depression commonly characterize loneliness and their numbers skyrocketed last year. More than half of American adults said their mental health has suffered because of the pandemic. Prescriptions for antidepressants shot up 14 percent after the initial outbreak.

 

  • Suicides and drug overdoses have far surpassed the death rate for COVID-19 among high school students, an age that’s all about socializing.

 

  • In Japan, suicide claimed more lives in October than 10 months of COVID.

 

  • Those suffering from loneliness have a higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, a weakened immune system (not good during a pandemic!), and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

 

 

Before the pandemic, the elderly was cited among those hardest hit by loneliness and it’s this same age group that was slammed by the virus as well as the resulting isolation and loneliness. Images of nursing homes cut off from the world will likely forever haunt generations to come. People who fail to find meaningful connection for an extended period of time often give up. They stop trusting others and experience deep shame over their inability to connect. They are lonely but their fears and uncertainties prevent them from fixing it. They literally shut down.

 

 

Television is rarely a go-to recommendation for much, but during lockdowns it did prove helpful in the effort to ward off loneliness. Many turned to it to alleviate boredom and to have a voice of some kind permeating through their home, giving the illusion of company and companionship. TV has also provided a way for us to go somewhere and escape our inescapable isolation. We also turned to TV  to stay informed about the virus. We’ve learned however, that not all TV is a good prescription for loneliness. Most would agree that today’s news is probably the worst place to go for any sense of encouragement and can actually worsen loneliness with its incessant parade of negativity, division, violence, and fear. You’re better off sticking to old school comedies and movies and even a touch of silly reality TV than news reports about how horrible this country is.

 

We may never know the real long-term effects of our extended social distancing and isolation but we do know the resulting loneliness is hard on the mind and the body and that there is a real connection between isolation and pain. Most predict those affects will be far-reaching and very, very damaging.

 

 

So, as you go about your day today masked or unmasked, enjoy that bowl of cereal, pet your pet or water your plant, look people in the eyes, and reach out to those who need a friend. It’s now up to all of us to stay healthy and get healthy. We know the results of both of those are healthy and good.

 

 

 

 

Spread the News: Your Peanut Butter Choice Says Something About Your Personality April 18, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 3:02 pm

When I think of foods I avoid buying because when in stock and in house I have absolutely no self-control over eating them only in moderation, peanut butter ranks right up there. I love peanut butter. So much so, that I can and will eat it right out of the jar by the spoonful. Yes, I love me an old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a peanut butter cookie, but by the spoon is just a yummy to me. I only like creamy peanut butter though and this choosy mother only chooeses Jif. I know what I like, but what I didn’t know is my choice says something about my personality and so does yours!

 

 

 

Creamy or Crunchy?

By pure coincidence, a survey was recently conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Jif that examined the peanut butter preferences of 2,000 Americans and it found some interesting tidbits about peanut butter eaters…and it wasn’t that they’re nuts!

 

Respondents were evenly split by their crunchy vs. creamy preference and one-third of them described themselves as extremely passionate about their peanut butter preferences. So what did we discover?

 

Apparently those who choose crunchy may have a cheerier outlook on life, as 63 percent of crunchers described themselves as optimists, compared to 56 percent of those who prefer the creamy kind. Creamy fans also tend to be early birds (not this creamy fan!) and more introverted (yep, raising my hand) while crunchy eaters are extroverted night owls.

 

 

Amazingly, the power of peanut butter can be traced all the way back to childhood. When asked about theirs, respondents who like creamy peanut butter reported being teased more than their crunchy counterparts (47 percent vs. 28 percent) and some of that influence may stick around as 68 percent of creamy peanut butter fans said they’ve felt the pressure to fit in compared to just 50 percent of crunchy eaters. Kinda makes sense when you consider the introvert/extrovert numbers.

 

On a “I totally get that” scale, 63 percent of all respondents said they would pass on peanut butter all together if it’s not their chosen kind but on the “that’s ridiculous” scale, nearly half of them said it would be a deal-breaker to discover their date likes the opposite peanut butter version that they do. Seriously? First of all, if you’re talking peanut butter on a date, maybe it’s time to find a new date and secondly, just fall in love buy both kinds!

 

Lastly, both creamy and crunchy lovers also love animals and both prefer grape jelly on their PB&Js.

 

 

Spread It Around

In my unofficial peanut poll, I found that most people agree peanut butter in general is good stuff. But, many aren’t aware of the many surprising uses of peanut butter and its nutritional value. Let’s start with its interesting and fun uses.

 

  • My personal favorite is a hiccup eliminator. Yep, one spoonful of peanut butter will almost always get rid of those annoying hics. Give it a try next time. Even if it doesn’t work, it’s much more appetizing than sugar!

 

  • I’m guessing you’ve all heard the trick of concealing your pet’s medicine in a spoonful of peanut butter, which is also a trick you can implement with kids. It’s said you can also clean leather by rubbing a small amount of creamy butter on an item using a soft cloth and men can even shave with it should they run out of shaving cream…only the creamy version though!

 

  • If you’ve got a critter problem, look no further than a jar of peanut butter. Putting some at the end of a mousetrap will catch a rodent quicker than cheese and a mix of peanut butter, baking soda, and borax can be applied wherever you see ants. Just be sure to keep pets away from the baited area. Lastly and perhaps my favorite even though I hate bugs, this one is ingenious. When you finish a jar of peanut butter, remove the lid and place it on its side wherever you see any kind of bugs or spiders. The critters will crawl into the jar but will get stuck on any remaining peanut butter, making clean up a snap by simply placing the lid back on and tossing it away. Voila!

 

  • And speaking of bugs, all those that get stuck on your windshield can be a real booger to remove. Whether you have whole bugs or bug remains, rub some peanut butter on those spots, let it sit for 10 minutes, and hose it all off.

 

  • Being that peanut butter has lots of oil, it can also work as a great lubricant. Instead of using W-40 or other spray lubricants, apply a dab of peanut butter to squeaky door hinges, tools, and other items.

 

  • This same concept holds true for anything sticky like gum, glue, or price stickers. Rub a little in hair, carpet, or anything else gum is stuck in and wipe it away after letting it sit for a bit. And, instead of washing your glue-stained hands or supplies with soap and water, use peanut butter as its natural oils act as repellents and rinse it off. Now onto those pesky stickers that regardless of how carefully you try to remove them (are you listening frame makers?!), a sticky residue remains. But, not after you smear a small dollop of peanut butter on it and wipe away.

 

  • I have heard of applying peanut butter to scratched wood but had never heard of substituting peanut butter for butter while cooking, which is not only good in a pinch but will give your recipe a unique nutty taste. Has anyone tried this and if so, did it work well? If it’s a fish recipe you’re cooking only to be left with that foul fish smell in your house, try frying a tablespoon of smooth peanut butter to eliminate the pesky odor. Hmmmm…I guess it’s worth a try next time.

 

  • Two fun ideas that you can get the kids involved in is using peanut butter to make bird feeders and to seal the bottoms of ice cream cones. To make birdfeeders, simply roll any item like a pinecone or TP roll in peanut butter, attach a string, and hang. You can also spread peanut butter on a halved bagel, run a string through the middle hole, and hang outside. The birds will love both the peanut butter and the bagel!

 

  • To prevent ice cream cones from leaking out the bottom, scoop some peanut butter into the bottom before scooping the ice cream. It will not only prevent leaks and messes, it makes for a yummy treat at the bottom of the cone!

 

 

 

HISTORY SERVED US RIGHT

Those who discovered the makings of peanut butter would probably be shocked at its many interesting uses today but its history is equally interesting.

 

In the late 1800s, a number of people experimented with making a spread using peanuts, including John Harvey Kellogg, who invented Cornflakes, and famous botanist and inventor George Washington Carver. There is some evidence that the ancient Aztecs made peanut butter as early as the 14th century by simply smashing and mashing peanuts. The first person to patent peanut butter was Canadian Marcellus Gilmore Edson. The Montreal native originally concocted the product for people who had no teeth and received his patent in 1884.

 

A number of inventors are also credited with helping create the creamy spread we know and love today. The first peanut butter making machine was invented in 1904 and in 1922 chemist Joseph Rosenfeld invented the process by which smooth peanut butter is made. Thank you Mr. Rosenfeld!

 

Rosenfeld’s invention was later used in the making of Peter Pan peanut butter and in 1932 he began producing his own brand called Skippy.  Most peanut butter is made and consumed in the U.S. where good old Americans eat $800 million worth of the spread annually. Since it takes more than 500 peanuts to make one jar of peanut butter, that’s a lot of peanuts and a lot of peanut butter!

 

 

Today, whether you eat it straight out of the jar, in one of my favorite “Uncrustable” pre-made mini sandwiches, spread on a sandwich or apple slices, in curry sauces, or in the middle of Reese’s Cups, you could say peanut butter is almost as American as apple pie.

 

 

Health Nuts

And, contrary to what many believe, did you know peanut butter can also be good for you? Okay, so maybe not in a sugar and butter-ladened peanut butter cookie or white bread and sugar-saturated jelly sandwich, but in its raw, natural form, peanut butter packs quite the nutritional punch and can be an excellent source of nutrition as it contains protein, iron, and potassium along with other nutrients.

 

Made of roasted ground peanuts blended into a thick paste, peanut butter is not surprisingly protein rich. It is also a good source of Vitamins B6 and E, Niacin (B3), Manganese, and Magnesium as well as copper, which helps maintain bone health, immune function, and blood vessels. Some research also suggests that having copper in your diet may reduce the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. Those antioxidants – Manganese, Vitamin E, and B vitamins – also prevent and repair cell damage in our bodies, reducing the risk of chronic disease like cancer.

 

Also rich in a fat known as oleic acid, peanut butter may improve heart health and reduce the risk of diabetes. Oleic acid has been shown to help maintain good cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, thereby possibly preventing heart and vascular disease. That same acid has also been shown to reduce the body’s insulin resistance, which can raise your blood sugar and lead to diabetes. Research shows peanut butter’s Omega-6 may also have this same effect.

 

Peanut butter is thought to be fatty and not what you want to include in a diet longing to get rid of body fat, but the fats in peanut butter are the so-called “healthy” ones – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids – and foods high in them as well as proteins and fiber take longer for our bodies to digest, which helps keep us fuller for longer amounts of time, thereby reducing snacking and overeating. So, even though you blame peanut butter for a weight gain, it’s probably not the product but the amount you put in your mouth and how often.

 

As with anything though, it’s all about moderation as peanuts are high in calories and so is peanut butter.  A two tablespoon serving of regular peanut butter is generally thought to contain 207 calories, 9 grams of protein, 18 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 1 gram of sugar. So much for me dipping spoonful after spoonful and enjoying a little harmless snack!

 

On that same nutritional label, be sure to check for any added ingredients like sugar, vegetable oil, and trans fats and look for a version that doesn’t contain additives. If you’re really concerned, simply make your own peanut butter by blending roasted peanuts in a food processor.

 

There are possible health risks with peanut butter, not least of which are peanut allergies. It’s amazing how widespread they are today and I saw this troubling food phenomenon first-hand when I worked in a preschool for many years. At the start of my tenure, nary a student had a peanut allergy and if there were any, the number was minimal. By the time I hung up my teacher title, if you didn’t have a peanut allergy in your class you were considered fortunate. So many nut allergies. Peanuts. Tree nuts. Almonds. Air born. Ingested. Epi-Pens. Emergency medical forms. Separate allergy tables for lunch and snack. You name it. It was there. But why? Why wasn’t this the case when I was growing up or even when our daughter was growing up? Some blame chemicals and pesticides, but if one is allergic to whole, natural peanuts themselves, it’s got to be something else.

 

A new study by the Murdock Children’s Research Institute reports that introducing peanut products early in a child’s life prevented peanut allergy during randomized controlled trials. The research found changes to food allergy guidelines has led to a 16 percent decrease in peanut allergies among infants and also found a significant increase in parents introducing peanut into their babies’ diets since the guideline changes.  Is this a possible lightbulb moment?

 

During the 1990s, some guidelines recommended avoiding allergenic foods until ages 1-3 years but by 2008 advice started to shift slightly based on increasing evidence that delaying allergenic foods was associated with increased food allergy risks. International infant feeding guidelines changed in 2016 to recommend introduction of peanut and other allergenic foods before 12 months.  And the results are promising.

 

Peanut allergy prevalence between 2007-2011 was 3.1 percent, a number that dropped to 2.6 percent in 2018-2019, a 16 percent decrease. In addition, infants who didn’t consume any peanut products between 2018-2019 were 4.8 percent allergic while at the same time severe reactions to introducing peanuts early were uncommon.

 

Of course each child and each family is different and personal and professional health providers should always be consulted prior to any dietary changes.  Peanut allergies, whether arrived at early in life or later in life, can be fatal in some cases and care should always be taken.

Another word of caution regarding peanut butter is to always keep in mind that it is high in calories and while most of the fat in it is the “good” kind, peanuts also contain some saturated fat. They are also high in phosphorus, which can limit your body’s absorption of minerals like zinc and iron. If you are deficient in these minerals, a diet high in phosphorus may worsen your condition. Again, check with your doctor if you have any concerns.

 

You can go nuts when it comes to choosing peanut butter, but maybe for some of you it’s not actually peanut butter that is your best choice. Consider almond butter, as almonds have the highest concentration of nutrients per ounce and also contain those Omega-3’s that peanuts lack. Macadamia Nut Butter is also an option and although macadamians have more calories than peanuts, they have the highest amount of healthy fats of any nut. Another alternative is walnut butter, made from Omega-3 and Omega-6 rich walnuts, which have less fat and calories than peanuts. Lastly, how about a powdered peanut butter like PB2? I discovered the stuff a few years back and although it, once mixed with water, may not be the makings of a perfect PB&J, it is actually quite yummy with celery. Never say never!

 

 

I will say peanut butter is one of my favorite cookies and how cool is the traditional fork print on the tops of them? They are also, I might add, the one time I don’t mind using crunchy peanut butter as the nuts in it give the cookies extra depth and texture.

 

Whatever peanut butter you prefer, now you know there’s a whole lot more to it than crunchy or creamy. Spread the news!

 

Disclaimer: Test all items and people before using or ingesting peanut butter and contact a doctor before implementing a peanut-free or peanut-introduced diet.

 

 

A Brush of Color March 30, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:02 pm

If you could describe the year 2020 in one color, what would it be? How ‘bout 2021? If you said anything near gray for 2020 and yellow for 2021, you are not alone and you are right on trend. Just ask the color experts at Pantone, who chose the colors “Ultimate Gray” and “Illuminating” as their official 2021 “Colors of the Year.” Granted, both are for 2021, but how perfect might their choice be? Selecting two very different and independent colors, they highlight how different elements can come together to support each other. You think 2021 is listening?

 

When we collectively think back to the year 2020, we will most likely think of resilience and perhaps even dullness with a splash of doom. In other words, our world was pretty gray last year. A year’s worth of quarantine has a way of ensuring we all possessed a gray state of mind. On the flipside, we all had great hopes for and were optimistic heading into 2021, which the color yellow represents through Pantone’s Illuminating. You could say colors that totally contrast were brilliantly chosen and reflect resilience and positivity in their mood and attitude.

 

So who are these paint aficionados and why should you care? If for no other reason, it’s fun!

 

 

For more than 20 years Pantone’s Color of the Year has influenced product development and purchasing decisions in a multitude of industries including fashion, home furnishing, industrial design, product packaging, and graphic design. It took a year as tumultuous as 2020 to convince the paint pickers to pick two colors. The process of doing so is literally a full-time job…or many jobs.

 

Selecting a Color of the Year requires thoughtful consideration and trend analysis by color experts at the Pantone Color Institute. These color connoisseurs comb the world looking for color influences in everything from film to art, fashion to travel destinations, and beyond. Inspiration may also stem from new technologies, materials, textures, and other items that impact color and capture worldwide attention like say social media platforms and sporting events.

 

In short, the Pantone Color Institute is just that, a true institute in that it teaches and it learns. In addition to selecting the annual Color of the Year, this business unit of Pantone also highlights top seasonal runway colors, forecasts global color trends, and advises companies on color for product and brand identity. It also works with global brands and partners on seasonal trend forecasts, color psychology, color consulting, and emotion of color. Who knew, right? Sounds like a pretty fun job!

 

But back to this year’s colors. Let’s look at gray first.

 

 

I love gray. I think of yummy gray flannel or gray clouds bringing in an energized rain storm. Both my home and my closet have lots of gray in them.  It is a timeless color and a soothing neutral. I also love Grey’s Anatomy, although that has nothing to do with the color or its spelling!

 

 

The gray selected by Pantone is what they call “mid-tone,” as opposed to a heavier hue like charcoal gray. Its message could be one of fortitude and gratitude, resilience and composure.  Gray is a stable color and aren’t all of us looking for even a smidgen of stability after the most unstable of years?

 

 

Gray is also considered practical and rock solid and encapsulates steadiness and dependability. Think of the old saying, “Life isn’t’ black and white; it’s gray.” Gray is normal; gray is good. Dependable elements in our life are often gray: firm foundations, beach pebbles or river rocks, back roads, and a host of other elements that stand the test of time. We stood the test of time in 2020 and now we’re ready to say goodbye uncertainty and hello sunshine!  Enter Illuminating.

 

 

A bright and cheerful color, the bright hue sits in sharp contrast to its fellow Color of the Year. I’m not a big yellow fan but I get the idea behind pairing it with gray this year as yellow often brings with it positivity and promise.  It conveys a message of happiness and hope as we all search for ways to grab onto energy, clarity, and a brighter day.  It is a cheerful, welcoming, and friendly shade, as evidenced by a sunflower or sliced up pineapple.

 

 

Ebullient in nature and invigorating in design, yellow is finding its way everywhere. Think aspens turning and you’ll jump on board.

 

 

Together, gray and yellow just seem to work as a design palette, especially with contemporary or modern looks such as Scandinavian or Mid-Century Modern. And surprisingly, gray is being used as the accent color with yellow being more dominant, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.

 

The two also work well in a place we’ve all spent lots of time in lately: the home office. Whether for school work or work from home work, our home offices are screaming for freshness and a yellow and gray combo might be just what they need. Gray stabilizes our thinking and encourages contemplation while yellow heightens awareness, enhances intuition, and increases curiosity and originality.

 

 

Funny thing happened on the way to “stay at home” orders: we learned we wanted to change and update those homes. Paint purchases increased last year and DIYers took chances as many a homeowner took to brushes and rollers to alleviate boredom, accomplish long-held honey do’s, and simply improve their 24-7 scenery. Grays were chosen for relaxation, which was much needed even as we didn’t really go anywhere, while yellows found their way onto many an accent wall.

 

 

As with any color, be careful with both the yellow and the gray. A little bit of yellow goes a long way while gray, much like beige, can feel underwhelming if overused. Stick to just one or two areas, rather than floor/walls/texture/furniture combos and think of it as a way to soften more flashy tones and to create a rich environment.

 

 

When all is said and done, we all need a little gray in our life as well as a little yellow. It hasn’t been easy but gray skies are going to clear up and as Van Gogh said, “How lovely yellow is, it stands for the sun!” Chin up friends and paint away!

 

Springing for Easter Traditions March 20, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 7:45 pm

Happy first day of Spring! Today it’s officially Spring, which means Easter is just around the corner. It also means pine trees will start sprouting crosses on their tops. It’s true and it’s an Easter lore I’m learning about for the first time this year.

 

I’m not sure how I never knew this story, especially since I grew up in the Rocky Mountains where there are many pine trees, but it was news to me when I came upon it. And I loved it.

 

Apparently this time of year pine trees start their new growth. The tallest branch shoots forth and upward and forms the shape of a cross. If you look up and look around at certain pine trees you might see shoots developing making a familiar shape. The yellow shoots first form vertically followed by side buds, which eventually form branches and new growths that resemble a cross. They start slow and small, but as the days get closer to Easter, the tallest shoots branch off and form the familiar Christian symbol leading some believers to say “even trees know it’s Easter!”

 

The fact that this happens around the Easter season is likely pure coincidence, but who doesn’t love a wonderful legend? The crosses are more prominent and more readily seen on Loblolly Pines in the southern U.S. and on Ponderosa Pines in the west but can also be found on a variety of other pines as well.

 

I love this story and loved learning it just this year, and it reminded me of other Easter traditions that many either take for granted or don’t truly understanding the meanings behind them.

 

 

Take for instance the Easter Rabbit. Much like Santa Claus and Christmas, rabbits have nothing to do with the real meaning of Easter, Jesus’ resurrection, but like other Easter favorites they do represent “new life,” which is what Easter is all about.

 

As I mentioned above, Easter always occurs in spring and spring is when the weather gets warmer, flowers start to bloom, and animals come out of hiding after a long winter of hibernation. Lots of other animals like rabbits are born in the spring, which again brings up “new life.”

 

 

So, what about Easter eggs? Well, lots of animals like birds and lizards are born from eggs and many of them are born in the spring reminding us of new life once again. And if you think about it, Jelly Beans (one of my favorite candies) are oval-shaped just like eggs so it’s no coincidence they are an Easter basket tradition.

 

 

Jelly Beans are one of my favorite candies and another Easter custom is my favorite flower: the Easter Lily. Every year I buy myself one and even a grocery store variety is sufficient in that any lily smells divine and fills a room with its own heaven-sent scent. I can smell their fragrance just looking at the picture above. But why do we only enjoy them at Easter?

 

For many, the trumpet-shaped white blooms symbolize purity, virtue, innocence, hope, and life…the very spiritual essences of Easter. They’re mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, referenced several times in the Song of Solomon as well as in the Sermon on the Mount. Their religious tie-in goes further however.

 

 

Often called “white-robed apostles of hope,” lilies were said to be found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane after Christ’s agony. Tradition has it beautiful white lilies sprung up where drops of Christ’s sweat fell to the ground in His final hours. Today churches commemorate this belief by filling altars and aisles with Easter Lilies. Lilies have also played significant roles in tales concerning motherhood and purity, making them the fitting symbol of the greater meaning of Easter. They embody joy and life and serve as beautiful reminders that Easter is truly a time of rejoicing and celebrating.

 

 

Lastly, how exactly did ham get to be the meat of choice at our Easter tables? Tradition has it that hogs were slaughtered in the fall but due to lack of electric refrigeration; any meat that wasn’t eaten fresh in the cold months was cured so it would keep longer and be edible in the spring. It just so happened that, because curing take a while, the first hams were ready right around Easter. Thankfully today we have the finest of refrigeration so hams of all sorts can be found year ‘round. Still, whether honey-baked or smoked, chances are ham will be on many an Easter table.

 

So there you have it, all things Easter wrapped up nicely in a virtual basket of info. I hope you learned something, liked it, and have an Easter season filled with hope, love, and lots of Jelly Beans!

 

Sorry Not Sorry March 10, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 7:13 pm

In celebration of his birthday and literary genius while trying to make sense of cancel culture and its revocation of Dr. Seuss, last week I posted one of my favorite quotes of all time:

 

 

 

Truth be told, I’m not a huge Dr. Seuss fan but I’ve always loved that quote. Ironically, its message could not be more needed or timely. We are living in a time that has quickly become one in which some are being asked to apologize for how they were born and how God made them while others are demanding apologies for the most senseless of so-called transgressions.

 

 

A perfect illustration of this happened just a few days ago when I was chatting with a friend who mentioned that she had recently commented in a group text something she hoped one of the recipients wouldn’t scold her for. It wasn’t anything offensive or controversial but in this day and age of offending someone or making them mad, she was worried she should apologize for it. I promptly recommended she revisit that Dr. Seuss quote.

 

Can we just stop?

Can we please stop apologizing for everything?

I’m sorry, but it’s just all out of control.

 

 

As luck would have it, one of my favorite authors/bloggers/feel good humans, Courtney Carver, recently wrote about this very thing. Yes, we all need to apologize for our mistakes and our wrongs and not think we’re perfect or above reproach, but we need to stop apologizing for things we really don’t need to be sorry about.

 

 

Making amends is indeed healing and a truly heartfelt apology can go a long way. Be sincere about it though and never try to justify what you are sorry for. If you think you were justified, deep down you probably don’t think you need to apologize. If you don’t believe your sincerity, neither will they. As they say, making someone angry is one thing, but hurting someone is another. Always apologize for hurting someone.

 

 

 

It really all comes down to common sense and choices and as of today, I’m choosing to stop apologizing for:

 

 

  1. Being me. I can be a lot. And I can be a little. Huh? It’s true. I can be very opinionated and passionate but I can also be very private and need my alone time. I’m done apologizing for any of it. I am who I am and if I’m too much or too little for someone, they’re either not my people or quite possibly “those who don’t matter.”

 

 

  1. Being sensitive, emotional, and moody. I’ve learned that being sensitive is a strength and shows you have a big heart and besides, who isn’t moody?!
  2. Saying no. No is a complete sentence and say it unapologetically without going on and on. If something offered doesn’t make you want to say “hell yeah,” think about saying “no way.” I’m no longer saying yes to FOMO or the disease to please and I’m no longer saying “ok” or even “let me think about it” to any invitation I know I don’t want. I embrace my free time and am not going to apologize for saying no to something that steals it away from me. Think of it this way: when you say no to things that don’t excite you, you leave room in your life for the things that do.

 

  1. Giving and going too much. I know my comfort level of activity and I know what I can and cannot give or offer. Over-committing and the often resulting dysfunction stress me out and reduce my abilities and energy, which leads me to…
  2. Setting boundaries. These little boogers are essential for everyone. For me, they increase my passion, my stability, and my peace of mind. Know your limits. Dare to set your boundaries and don’t apologize for them.

 

 

  1. Thinking differently. Oh boy. This is a big one right now. Not a lot of gray out there but it’s not okay to feel like you have to apologize for what you believe or for not agreeing with someone. It’s also not okay for them to humiliate you for having a difference of opinion. Leave them with theirs and unapologetically walk away with yours. Travel the high road. Remember, if you are easily offended you are easily manipulated and besides, if everyone looks different but thinks the same it’s conformity, not diversity. Don’t apologize for thinking differently or disagreeing with even those you love.
  2. Changing your mind. Maybe at the time I signed up for something it sounded good, but things change…both inside and outside. It’s important to keep learning and keep growing and doing so often requires changing your mind. Be okay with that.

 

 

  1. Not responding. In today’s high-tech age, it can feel like a text, voice mail, or email requires an instant response but maybe we’re not up for an answer right away. Maybe you’re swamped with other things at the time. Maybe you need to think about your response. Maybe you just don’t want to. Stop saying “I’m so sorry for not getting right back to you” and instead thank them for their patience.
  2. Putting my mental and physical health first. Yep, not sorry here. At all.
  3. Keeping up with the Joneses. My house is not the biggest or fanciest, my posts aren’t always glam shots of me or fabulous destinations, my life is not perfect, and my body is far from picture perfect but I’m done apologizing for all of it. I’m good.

 

 

And while you’re at it, don’t be one of those forever offended types and expect apologies from everyone else. If someone hurt you but never said sorry, move on and offer forgiveness rather than harbor resentment, revenge, and ultimately bitterness.

 

 

marcandangel

The constant worry and stress over the perceived need to apology is both exhausting and has a way of quietly telling ourselves we’ve failed and we’re not good enough. It’s time to stop, so for the next week, pay attention to how many times you tell someone (or even think) “I’m sorry” or apologize for something.  Then think about how many of those apologies were really needed and merited. And again, of course if you did do or say something hurtful or harmful, apologize and own it, but stop apologizing for simply being you and not being something or someone else. Stop beating yourself up. There’s nothing to feel sorry about that for.

 

 

 

 

Have a Heart February 27, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 11:49 pm

Tomorrow is the last day of February…”heart” month…which means I’m getting this in in the nick of time. It’s time to talk about all things heart, and I’m not talking valentines.

 

Let’s cut to the chase.

 

  • Heart disease is America’s number 1 killer. It’s the leading cause of death with more than 655,000 Americans dying of it each year.

 

  • If you’re counting, that’s one in every four deaths.

 

  • If you’re counting on the clock, one person dies every 36 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease.

 

  • If you’re counting “heart attacks” and not just deaths from heart disease, that number is 805,000…the number of Americans that have a heart attack every year…which also calculates to someone in the U.S. having a heart attack every 40 seconds.

 

  • When it comes to cardiovascular disease, nearly 122 million American adults suffer from it. Some experts put the number at 48 percent of U.S. adults.

 

And since this country is on such a diversity hamster wheel, it’s important to note that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups. No “privilege” or “systemic” issue here. It hits all of us, costing around $219 billion annually for health care services, medication, and lost productivity.

 

 

Artistic Nature

What’s equally disturbing is that heart disease is almost totally preventable; some experts go so far as to say 80 percent of all heart disease is avoidable. And although not all heart attacks are fatal, even a minor one can cause damage and set you up for a lifetime of medication and long-term risks. We’ve all heard it said that living a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of heart disease, but when it comes to our hearts, what exactly does that mean?

 

The American Heart Association recommends focusing on what they call “Life’s Simple 7,” which are seven goals of eating a healthy diet; exercising regularly; avoiding excess weight; not smoking; and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar within healthy ranges. Others dumb it down even more by saying the three rules of prevention are do more, eat less, and know your numbers. Sounds simple, right?

 

 

Number one, eat healthy. Everything you eat or drink matters to your heart so you need to take your diet to heart. This means lots of plant-based foods and a healthy caloric intake. In fact, a plant-based diet has been scientifically proven to reverse heart disease and studies show that within three weeks of converting to one, people experience significant heart health improvements. Sadly, I’m of those who likes a little animal protein on my plate, so I need to take extra precautions and increase healthy food intake high in fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, healthy grains, fish, and low in dairy and red meat. Avoiding fried foods, baked goods, sugary drinks should be no-no’s for everyone. It’s also recommended you toss the salt, and not just over your shoulder for good luck but out of the food you eat. Also, reduce saturated fats from your diet increase flavonoids, which have a long history associated with heart health. Fruits, veggies, and tea are all great sources of these natural dietary compounds, as in wine. Yay wine! Lean protein is also key to heart-healthy eating, especially legumes like beans, peas, and lentils.

 

 

Second, exercise regularly, especially if you’re over 30 as the British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that a lack of physical activity is the greatest heart-disease risk factor for them.  Your heart is small, about the size of your fist, but it is a muscle, and what do you want to do with and for muscles? Exercise them! In short, do something active every day and get up and get moving as regular physical activity is key to keeping your heart healthy and pumping. How much is “regularly?” Most experts suggest working your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-to-high intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent of both each week. If you’re feeling like your head and heart are telling you to lose weight, you might need to increase those numbers just a tad while adjusting your diet. In addition to aerobic activity, it’s also recommended you do regular muscle strengthening and toning activity like weights and yoga. A good rule of thumb that’s easy to remember, at least for me, is that just 20 minutes of brisk walking each day can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30-40 percent.

 

 

Those two things will hopefully result in number 3: maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is a heart disease risk factor that is totally preventable. My sister-in-law, who is in the best shape of anyone I know, has always lived by the mantra “what you put in your body, you need to work off.” Chowed down on something not so healthy? Then get your butt out there and work it off. Recent numbers show nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults and nearly 19 percent of youth are actually obese, which is associated with shorter lifespans and a greater proportion of life lived with cardiovascular disease.

 

No one likes to talk weight or weight issues, but two areas that need addressing when it comes to heart disease are Body Mass Index and Waist Circumference. I know, so here goes.

 

BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters. A high BMI increases your heart disease risks. The CDC website has a handy-dandy BMI test that’s worth checking out.

 

Another method to estimate heart disease risks is waist circumference, which measures abdominal fat, known to place you at a greater risk for everything from heart disease to Type 2 Diabetes. As mentioned above, being overweight is a heart disease risk factor, but it’s especially worrisome if those extra pounds are around your middle. Research shows apple-shaped women are three times as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as their pear-shaped counterparts with fat mostly in their hips and legs. To measure your waist circumference, plate a tape measure horizontally around your middle, just above your hipbones. Keep the tape snug but not too tight and measure your waist as you breathe out. A non-pregnant woman with a waist circumference of more than 35 inches and a man with one more than 40 inches could be at a higher risk of heart disease and other ailments. Time to do those crunches and twists!

 

Number four is self-explanatory: don’t smoke.

 

It bears mentioning here what many are calling “the new smoking:” sitting. If you’re prone to spending large amounts of time each day sitting, take a stand. Researchers have learned that a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of death from all causes by 46 percent. Yowzah!  So, in addition to adding regular exercise to your day, you also need to simply move more throughout the day even if that means up and down your hallway.

 

Up next, prevent or treat other health conditions like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, which can collectively and individually lead to heart disease. These are the “numbers you should know.”

 

 

 

BLOOD PRESSURE

Your systolic blood pressure number…the upper one…should be less than 120 and the diastolic number…the lower one…should be less than 80.

 

High blood pressure, sometimes called the “silent killer” because it often lacks obvious symptoms, is something we all need to keep in check as it a major but modifiable risk factor for heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure.. The AHA and American College of Cardiology define high blood pressure as a reading of 130/80. Also known as hypertension, it can lead to heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.  If you have high blood pressure, it’s highly recommended you treat it with lifestyle changes and if needed, medication.

 

 

 

CHOLESTEROL

Then there’s cholesterol; a fatty substance that naturally occurs in human blood and is formed in the liver or comes from the foods you eat. It aids in tissue and hormone formation, protects your nerves, and helps with digestion. But too much “bad” LDL cholesterol and not enough “good” HDL cholesterol may lead to heart disease and stroke. Too much of it in fact, can cause buildup called plaque, which can cause arteries to harden and narrow…also known as hardening of the arteries…and result in blood clots that can block arteries and lead to heart attack or stroke.

 

 

Your cholesterol numbers are a combination of HDL, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. A healthy HDL may protect against heart attack and stroke while the higher the LDL level is, the higher your risk of heart attack.  When you get your cholesterol checked, you get a number for “total cholesterol,” and one each for HDL and LDL levels. You never want a high LDL level less than 100, which is considered optimal. And ideal total cholesterol number is considered below 200mg/dL. Anything between 201-239 is borderline high while 240 and higher is considered high.

 

 

BLOOD SUGAR

Appropriate blood sugar…or blood glucose…levels vary throughout the day and from one person to another. They are often lowest before breakfast and before meals and highest after a meal. For most people without diabetes, ideal numbers are considered less than 100 mg/dL before meals and less than 140 mg/dL after a meal.

 

 

What’s weird, is that anyone, including children, can develop heart disease. But what exactly is it?

 

 

 

It occurs when a blocked coronary artery cuts off blood flow to the heart, causing a section of the heart muscle to die. While a blood clot is usually to blame for the blockage, the problem starts long before that with the buildup of fatty deposits, known as coronary artery disease. Plaque builds up in your arteries, which causes them to narrow over time and ultimately reducing blood flow to the heart. When I think about this I immediately have visions of my heart pumping when I exercise and those arteries getting clogged when I eat certain foods. It’s a visual I hope to recreate every time I hesitate to work out or when I want to open that bag of chips.

 

Something a little harder to prevent and that can lead to heart disease is a family history of heart disease. My dad had a heart attack when he was young so this hits home to me. Because heart disease is so common, it’s not unusual to know of a family member who has suffered from it, but it’s still important to note that if you have a parent or sibling with a history of it you are increased risk of developing it yourself. The best advice here is to collect information on any blood relatives with heart disease, including how old they were when first diagnosed, and talk to your doctor. Still, remember that you might not be able to change your family history, but you can change other risk factors by being healthy and aware.

 

 

So how do you know if you or someone around you is having a heart attack? Here are some agreed upon signs to be aware of:

 

  • Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or go away and come back. The discomfort can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.

 

  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. A person may also break out in a cold sweat.

 

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, one or both arms, and/or shoulders.

 

  • Shortness of breath, which often comes with the chest discomfort but not always.

 

  • Nausea or vomiting.

 

As luck would have it for us ladies, women are more likely to have additional symptoms of nausea or vomiting and unusual or unexplained tiredness.  In addition, a heart attack can come on without chest pain, especially in women. Yay woman!

 

If you notice symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or someone else, call 911 immediately. The sooner you get to an emergency room, the sooner you can get treatment to reduce damage to the heart muscle. The chances of surviving a heart attack are greater the sooner emergency treatment begins.

 

 

By adjusting your lifestyle, you can not only improve your overall well-being and health, you can make a huge difference in improving your heart health too. Having a healthy ticker can also mean you have a healthy thinker, as people who stay in good cardiovascular healthy show less mental decline over time according to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

 

I’ll end with a positive note and one that makes my heart happy. Would you believe me if I told you just relaxing can bolster your immune system and slash your risk of heart disease? Well, it’s true!

 

A recent study out of Finland showed that lazing in a sauna for a few minutes 4-7 days a week can increase longevity and lower the odds of cardiac arrest. That, my friends, is music to this spa lover’s ears and heart.

 

And it seems you can take those Finns at their word, as saunas are a way of life for them. In fact, in a nation of 5.5 million, there are 3.3 saunas, which are as common as TVs. Sign me up! This enclosed use of intense heat…wet or dry…to stimulate perspiration and cleansing, is also popular in Turkish hammams and Native American sweat lodges.

 

Much of this does indeed make my heart happy and aren’t happy hearts what we all strive for? Think about all this…the eating right, exercising, and being healthy…as a glass that’s a person. Whatever is inside the glass will splash when you shake it. If it is filled with water, then water will spill out. If it is filled with coffee, coffee will spill out. If that glass/person is filled with anger, anger will spill out. If that person if filled with fear, fear will spill out. But, if that person is filled with joy, joy will spill out and a joyful heart will emerge.

 

Keep that heart of yours joyful, happy, and healthy.

 

 

What a Crock February 24, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:51 pm

Truer words have never been said and as many of us are experiencing or recently experienced a snow and ice-covered world, just hearing the words “crock pot” warm me up. To me, crock pots are the things where warm and yummy meals are made: chili, soup, stews, and the like. They’re also celebrating their 50th anniversary this year and boy do they have an interesting backstory.

 

 

First things first though. If you use “Crock Pot” and “slow cooker” interchangeably, don’t.  Come to find out that all Crock Pots are indeed slow cookers but not all slow cookers are Crock Pots. In fact, “Crock Pot” is right up there with Kleenex, Band-Aid, Q-Tips, and Scotch tape. Crock Pot my friends, is a brand name, which was news to me.

 

 

Also news to me is that the original slow cooker’s story is rooted in the Jewish Sabbath. The device was inspired by a story inventor Irving Naxon’s Lithuanian mother told him about a bean stew. Legend has it that she and other moms would cook a bean-based stew in their village bakeries back in Lithuania. The stew was called Cholent  and is a traditional Jewish dish that customarily cooks all day. However, it’s rooted in the Jewish Sabbath, which is a day of rest and no work for observant Jews. This means ovens were turned off so the stew would be put on heat before sundown Friday night and cook until the end of Saturday services the next day.

 

All of this got Naxon thinking so he created a portable device that consisted of an insert that was held up by a case with a heating device. He applied for a patent for it in 1936 but it wasn’t until 1940 that he got one for what he called The Naxon Beanery and voila, cooking history was officially stewed.

 

 

Naxon sold his Beanery to Rival Manufacturing in the early 1970s who rebranded it as the Crock Pot and ran with what they sensed was a genius and timely product. They quickly marketed it to a new and growing market: working mothers. Boasting the Crock Pot “cooks all day while the cook’s away,” advertising appealed to the new female work force who loved that they could put food in it before leaving for work and come home to a home-cooked meal. Truth be told, when my husband and I were first married I quickly learned he hated Crock Pot meals because his working mom served almost nothing but. He’s somewhat warmed up to slow cooker meals but they aren’t his favorites by any means.

 

Sales of slow cookers slowed down a bit in the 1980s, which some partially blame on a little invention called the microwave. Today however, slow cookers are as popular as ever with nearly 83 percent of American families owning one. Amazingly, their design has changed very little over all these years save for a removable insert. This is truly the sign of a great invention!

 

And on this subject, I’d be remiss to not briefly talk about slow cookers’ kitchen cousins, Insta Pots and Air Fryers. I have neither as I’m not a big appliance girl so what I share is what I’ve read.

 

 

The Battle of the Pots: Crock vs. Insta

Both Crock Pots and Insta Pots are popular kitchen appliances aimed at making cooking easier and more hands off. They have a lot in common and unique uses and they are both brand names. Here’s a quick comparison.

 

As mentioned above, Crock Pots are the original slow cookers, which is still their main use and draw. In recent years however, the brand has started making “multi-cookers” that can pressure cook, which is Insta Pot’s claim to fame. Traditional Crock Pots are slow cookers, while all Insta Pots are multi-cookers.

 

Crock Pots are best used for stews, searing, pulled pork and brisket recipes, short ribs, pot roasts, and chilis and soups. One huge advantage of them is that they are travel-proof in that they have latches and handles, making them a go to for pot lucks and parties.

 

When I hear “Insta Pot” I have visions of my mom’s old school pressure cooker used to cook beans, posole, and a host of other traditional New Mexican dishes. The pot was big and metal, had a weird little removable contraption on the top that wiggled and whistled, and the whole thing just seemed very dangerous to me.  Enter Insta Pot.

Known for its time and space-saving attributes, the brand is still fairly new, launched only in 2010. Nonetheless, it has an extremely loyal following as was the first product to make pressure cooking easy and helping busy families get food on the table, fast. As they say, Insta Pot, insta food.

 

Insta Pots are often considered merely electric pressure cookers, but they can also steam, warm, sauté, work as a rice cooker, and even slow cook ala a Crock Pot. Still, their main function and attraction is pressure cooking. This method of cooking cooks food by raising the boiling point of water and trapping steam, which results in reduced cooking time. And just like Crock Pot has introduced steam cooking, Insta Pots can be used as Crock Pot-like slow cookers; the results will just be a bit drier.

 

So, if you can only choose one, which one do you pick? In short, if your desire is solely slow cooking process, go with a standard slow cooker. If you want pressure cooking and the option of slow cooking, Insta Pot may be your best bet. Much, however, depends on what you’re cooking and how you want to cook it.

 

Luckily, both appliances save time. As “Good Housekeeping” reports, Crock-Pots are great for busy people, early birds, and anyone who likes to plan ahead. “Just throw ingredients together in the morning and come home to a finished meal.” Insta Pots on the other hand, are best for last-minute people and those who get home late as they can take advantage of the pressure cook function and get a hot meal on the table in a matter of minutes.

 

 

A few more things to consider include ease of use and price. Traditional slow cookers are more affordable then Insta Pots, which may have more functions but can also be a bit large for smaller areas. This is a plus for some, but for others using an Insta Pot can at first be a bit confusing and intimidating. I guess if you can afford both and have room for both, choose both!

 

 

Air Fryers

So there’s that…the diff between slow cookers and new-fangled pressure cookers. But what about the equally popular air fryer? Where does it stand in the kitchen appliance VIP league and how does it compare to a slow cooker?

 

Both countertop appliances are capable of cooking delicious meals and both cater to those who want their meals fast, particularly after a hectic day. They differ vastly however in how they cook and what they cook best.

 

You could say air fryers are basically mini convection ovens. They are ideal for anyone who wants their food quick but prefer true oven-baked meals. But don’t let the name fool you. Food cooked in an air fryer is not “fried” per se but instead, air is used to mimic the process and taste of fried food while almost completely eliminating the need for cooking oil. They are also increase the browning of food by concentrating more heat on the outside of the food.

 

So what is convection cooking? You’ve probably heard of it as many ovens offer a convection setting. Convection is one of two main methods of heat transfer, the other being conduction, which is the most basic way of doing so. It basically works in that something hot touches something cool and heats it up. It’s our basic ovens and is what is in play on a stove top as well.

 

Convection, on the other hand, is considered more efficient as it add the element of motion to the cooking process and heats food faster, sometimes reducing cooking times by 25 percent or more.

 

Convection baking, introduces a fan to the process, allowing hot air to be blown around and onto the food. This produces crispiness, which is what makes air fryers so popular. The air essentially bounces off food surfaces, cooks food thoroughly in minutes, and adds a lovely browning in the process. Since air fryers are smaller than traditional convection ovens and bakers, the fan is closer to the food meaning the food will cook faster. Keep in mind however, that because air fryers are small they have relatively small cooking areas meaning they can accommodate only about two servings at a time. They may not be the best bet for large families or anyone cooking for even a medium-sized group unless you don’t mind cooking in batches. Some also consider them loud, with decibels sometimes ranging about as loud as a vacuum cleaner.

 

But, the food results they boast make them worth it for those who love them. They produce crispy, evenly browned foods without having to actually deep fry them and are popular for lovers of French fries, tater tots, chicken wings, potato chips, chicken tenders, and a host of other foods. They can also be used to grill, bake, roast, toast, fry, dehydrate, and reheat certain foods. All of these options are perhaps what make them a bit intimidating to master and use for some.

 

A slow cooker uses moist heat to cook and simmer food over a long period of time. Its heating element in the base of the appliance emits heat up and transfers it from the bottom up across the sides of the pot. The food is heated from within and is surrounded by steam underneath the lid.

 

If you ask any air fryer aficionado, they will recite a list of benefits including the simple fact that they massively reduce cooking times and that you can have a healthy meal in less than an hour. They are ideal for dorms, apartments, campers, or any space with a small kitchen and they are portable and energy efficient.

 

Besides the raves of slow cookers mentioned above, they are also popular because they don’t heat up a kitchen, making them ideal for hot summer months and hot climates.

 

Head-to-head, if you like options in cooking methods, an air fryer will provide more versatility but if you want something simple and reliable, a slow cooker is the real deal.

 

Photo credit: E. Childress

In the end…whether it be an air fryer, a steam cooker, or a traditional slow cooker…choose what best suits your needs and wants, what you can best afford, what you have room for, and what makes you happy. Whatever you choose…and I know many who have all three…know that it all started by a young man just trying to make life easier for the women in his life. And that’s no crock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Storm? February 19, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 5:36 pm

 

Photo courtesy Becky M.

Well, we made it Texas. Barely and not completely just yet, but today there is light at the end of the tunnel. And that light, at least in my neck of the woods, is sunlight. I actually got a little teary seeing it this morning. It’s been that kind of week.

 

 

I35 Downtown Austin

After days of below freezing temperatures and five storms in seven days, Texas today is bathed in sunlight and bathed in hope. We are just learning that the state’s power grid was “this” close to a total black-out that could have lasted months, so having or hearing about any power right now makes all of us giddy and grateful.

 

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the ENTIRE state of Texas just went through a major and one for the books winter weather event. You might, in fact, know more about it all then we do as we’ve suffered through multiple power outages that left us snowed in and shut off. Meteorologists seriously have no comparisons to go to on this one. (And to everyone in my beloved Oklahoma who experienced similar weather: be safe and know I’m thinking of you too.)

 

It all started last Thursday with freezing and crippling rain and continued for an entire week with rounds of heavy snow, sleet, more ice, and pretty much anything cold you could throw at us in the way of wintery precipitation. We were warned it was coming but we had no idea.

 

 

At the beginning, it was shocking to learn every single Texas county was under a winter storm warning; all 254 of them.

 

 

Skier in downtown Austin

Records were broken left and right. Austin alone broke the previous record for consecutive hours at or below freezing with 144 hours. That’s six days. Six long days at or below freezing. Often without heat. Without power. Without communication. And without water.

 

It also recorded the city’s coldest temperature in 72 years and accumulated the most snow since 1937.

 

 

The forecast day after day was chilling. Literally. The entire area was in single digits.

 

 

At one point the storm measured 221 miles wide. That’s a storm as big as New York to Boston and longer than the entire state of New Jersey.

 

 

And…the area was given its first ever wind chill warnings.

 

Earlier this month Puxatony Peat predicted six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day and in true Texas fashion, the Lone Star State decided to get it over with all in one week.

 

 

This was the second snow event of the year for Austin, which in and of itself is highly unusual. But unlike the serene snow we received a few weeks back, which brought the kids out and flooded social media with beautiful winter scenes, this one was not fun and it wasn’t beautiful. It was ravaging. It was upsetting.

 

 

And for all you mountain mammas and northeasterners commenting “please, we get these all the time,” save your breath and move along. Austin was actually colder than many other places and waking up to 6 degree weather is no fun regardless of where you are. I’ve been in Buffalo and experienced 8 feet of snow fall in one fell swoop but didn’t experience massive power loss or frozen and busting pipes. It just doesn’t stay that cold for that long in these parts and our homes and energy grid are not equipped to handle it. More on that in a bit.

 

What we do deal with every year are torridly hot summers…April thru October…temps rarely go below 90 and 100s are common. We invite all you making fun of us to visit in July but without air conditioning and let’s throw in without water. Not so funny now, right? A dear friend of mine did joke, writing “Dear Mother Nature: have you forgotten we native Texans endure the insufferable summer season as a trade-off for moderate winter weather?” Mother Nature clearly didn’t care this past week.

 

 

It was a miserable week; and we personally didn’t have it as bad as others. Our power went on and off every day but it did come on. We had to boil water and internet service was sketchy but we have water. One minute power would be on, fireplace lit, and heat blowing and literally with no warning, everything would shut down. We’d put our puffers and beanies back on and sit in a darkened house with an inside temp that would quickly dip into the 50s. Often times we’d have no communication ability for hours on end. It was so weird and a bit creepy.

 

And then boom, power back on! (We are just now learning that these rolling outages literally saved the entire grid from shutting down so in hindsight, thank you outages!) We knew it was temporary so it was days on end of anxiety and walking around in layers, Uggs, and long johns under my yoga pants. Even our landline didn’t work. We’ve kept a landline because I remember during numerous tornadoes (we’re used to those!) the landline was the only phone that worked. Might be time to rethink this.

 

 

Still, we had it better than many. Multiple friends didn’t have power for days and still don’t.  Many still don’t have water. It’s been horrifying to hear their worries and know there was nothing they could do and nothing we could do to help. Some went to hotels or friends and families, but streets were impassable so why risk it? Others chose to stay put and in case pipes burst. Yep, many a frozen pipe burst as Texans historically do not insulate pipes, flooding entire rooms. Texas homes are also historically poorly insulated.

 

So what did I learn from it all? A LOT.

 

LESSONS LEARNED

I learned to fill bathtubs early on in case we lost water. Among other uses, this water could be used to flush toilets.

 

I learned to also fill pitchers, thermoses, pots, and any other vessels with water. Not only did this provide peace of mind, they were filled with pre-boil water stages water so they were safe to drink.

 

 

Photo courtesy Lana G.

I learned that when all else fails, you can use snow to flush those toilets. If more desperate, you can put a plastic bag in the toilet and toss after use. My husband swore he’d go outside before doing that!

 

 

I learned that my impulse purchases during last summer’s riots of Boundery lightbulbs and solar charges were lifesavers. Check them out!

 

 

I learned that as much as I love candles and how romantic and peaceful candles they can be, those lightbulbs were downright winners as I drank wine in an appropriate winter-themed glass that I didn’t even realize fit the them until a friend pointed it out.

 

 

Photo courtesy Sharon M.

I learned from my ingenious friend that you can make margaritas using snow like her version here and that if you live near a hospital you are less likely to lose power and water as the areas around them are considered critical power sectors. The same often holds true for fire stations.

 

I learned that my group texts and social media were lifesavers, lifelines, and entertainment.

 

I learned that, if you have power and/or can open your garage, you can use cars and golf carts to charge phones and other devices.

 

I learned that in times without power or water, use paper plates and other disposable utensils.

 

I learned that gas stoves are the only way to go as you can light their fuses even in the event of a power loss. We also have a gas heated water heater and fireplace.

 

I learned that one appliance you might want to reconsider is a touch faucet, as you can’t “drip” them and once battery power goes out, so does it.

 

I learned that even the smallest amount of ice is dangerous. On day one, my husband slipped and fell on our icy driveway and ultimately had to get X-rays. He’s fine but trust me; we haven’t left the house since. My Sunday paper sits on the still frozen driveway and has been for going on six days.

 

I learned that scammers…from insurance to plumbers to a host of others…start early.

 

 

I learned that when those beautiful icicles hanging from roofs fall, they are like spears and hit the ground. Behold but beware!

 

 

Photo courtesy Stephanie A.

The very first morning of the storm I learned how much I love and missed my morning coffee. No power? No coffee. However, I quickly learned to make several cups of coffee once power came on, put them all in a pot, and heat them when needed on the stove. Or use a French Press like my ingenious friend did.

 

I learned that if you’re a camper and have an all-season tent, pop it open if you lose heat and camp right inside your house.

 

I learned that you can cook on your outdoor gas grill if need be. Just dress warmly!

 

 

I learned you can make a quick heater out of a pot, candles, and some bricks. Granted, I didn’t try this and have no idea if it really does work but I saw it mentioned many times. Just be careful!

 

 

I learned what it’s like to live with “rolling” blackouts and my heart aches for those who do so regularly and repetitively.

 

 

I learned that dogs eventually end up liking the snow but that walking on ice and ice-covered snow makes them appear like they’ve been over-served at the nearby tavern. Can’t deny I didn’t laugh just a bit.

 

I learned I really missed my ever present glass of or bottled water.

 

 

WATER, WATER NO WHERE

 

And speaking of water, I learned that one minute we’re asked to drip our faucets to keep pipes from freezing but then suddenly asked to not drip them to conserve water.

 

Which brings me to: boil water advisories. Yep, if you had water pressure at all, you were instructed to boil water prior to drinking it. I learned that water quality issues are related to lack of electricity, frozen and broken water lines, and people dripping those faucets.

 

I learned energy constraints often have impact on the water system because the water system requires energy for treatment and pumping.

 

And, as a bonus, should you lose all water pressure, I learned you should turn off water heaters as they pose potential fire hazards at that point.

 

I learned that when building or buying a house you should demand water heaters…and pipes…be put in the slab, not in the attic. My husband suffered through busted pipes in Houston and we’ve experienced a water heater overflow that fell through the roof. Both his pipes and the water heater were in the attics.

 

I learned that nearly 12 million…probably more…Texans reported water service disruptions. That’s a lot of people people.

 

 

SNOVID

I learned there were many similarities between a year’s worth of COVID restrictions and our “SNOVID” constraints, including:

 

COVID taught us how to stay home but now we were being asked to stay home and learn survival skills.

 

Wipes and sanitizer work great when you don’t have water.

 

We were forced to stay home. Again.

 

 

Grocery stores were in demand but supplies and hours of operation were limited.

 

We rely heavily on our phones and other devices. Without them, we feel lost and out-of-touch.

 

Anxiety and uncertainty ruled the day.

 

We worried about similar things like the elderly and getting food on our tables.

 

 

On the bright side, hotels that have suffered for the past year were suddenly fully booked.

 

Schools that were just starting to reopen were again more shut down. Our kids continue to pay the price and will suffer down the road.

 

Masks were great at keeping your face warm while sitting inside a cold house.

 

 

Houston “traffic”

THE GREAT RED STATE TURNED BLUE…for a week

I learned that everyone is suddenly an energy expert. Except for all those “experts” we gave power to…actual and political.

 

I learned Texas is the only state with its own electric grid, which manages 26 million Texans’ access to electricity. There are three grids in the Lower 48: one covers eastern states, another western states, and the third covers Texas. Only Texas. This essentially means Texas is beyond reach of pesky federal regulations but it also means it can’t import energy from other states.

 

I learned a new acronym: ERCOT. The Texas electric grid is managed by ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which proved neither electric nor reliable.

 

I learned that this grid has some serious vulnerabilities and clearly needs improvements and inspection.

 

I learned that figuring out why things got as bad as they did energy-wise quickly and sadly turned political. Shocker, right?

 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott will rightly take the brunt of the criticism, particularly from the left, which is desperate to permanently turn Texas blue. Political blue; not cold weather blue. Look for them to run with it for months on end. Abbott is taking it like a big boy however, saying the failures are ultimately on him. But fault and guilt go deeper. Any minute now I’m waiting to hear it’s all Trump’s fault and Biden has the answers. But I digress.

 

One side is screaming “we need more fossil fuel energy, not less” while the other side touts and practically celebrates the fact that red Texas failed to protect its own; somewhat more concerned about the state of their beloved renewable energy policies than the state of Texas and its frozen residents. As with everything, there are not two sides to every story, there are three: one side, the other side, and the truth.

 

 

In reality, the answer most likely falls somewhere in between both camps. Yes, feel good green energy has it bonuses, but we need to ensure that they not only feel good, but do good. At the same time, boy am I glad the millions of Texas drivers weren’t all charging their electric cars at one time and I’m equally glad windmill blades are often made from fossil fuels (as is all that Plexiglas we see everywhere), which may support at least a few of the precious job losses the industry is currently suffering. And then there’s….drum roll…nuclear power. And before you get all “Three Mile Island” on me, keep in mind that when done right, it is safe and effective. Ask France, where nuclear power is the largest source of electricity. Call me crazy, but don’t count it out.

 

The truth is yes, Texas did not handle the storm well and we as a state were simply not prepared for this fluke of a weather pattern. I’ll give it somewhat of a pass in that it was a once in a generation storm and not something any Texas taxpayer would have approved expensive precautions for in regards to insulating windmills and/or solar panels, which froze and are useless when the sun isn’t shining. If anything, this storm proved that we cannot rely on those two energy sources as our base load and no amount of research or funding could have prevented downed power lines laden heavy with ice. It’s just what happens. All capacity to produce energy was reduced. Everything froze. The entire state was trying to heat homes and trying to get power at the same time. It all hit the proverbial fan.

 

 

I also learned Texas is the nation’s number one producer of wind energy and that 25 percent of the state’s energy is wind. Sadly, wind is a “use it or lose it” commodity and you can’t store it. All of us learned that not only did windmills freeze up or shut down, so did many natural gas wells, lines, and plants as well as oil pumps and drills and many refineries were forced to temporarily shut down due to the weather.  The irony that green energy failed during a snow storm in the midst of global warming in Texas is not lost on those who question total reliance on it.

 

I learned that it’s not uncommon for energy generating companies and plants in Texas to shut down and cut back during the normally low demand winter season to do maintenance on facilities and get ready for the peak load summer season. You can’t blame them for this.

 

Amazingly, I learned that five of the 16 member ERCOT board members don’t live in Texas and that one lives in Canada. Explain this to the millions of Texans who have sat for days in homes without heat and with temperatures below freezing.

 

I learned the tried and true “supply and demand” rule ruled as ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said in an interview. He explained that a main problem was an increased demand that the supply couldn’t meet and that when demand exceeds supply, demand needs to be cut. In short, cut off users who are demanding heat and power. This resulted in rolling power outages that varied from one hour to multiple hours; sometimes days.

 

IMHO, maybe it’s time we all start thinking with our heads and not just our wallets. Texas has for years opted out of paying for measures that may or may not protect us from similar storms due to expense, and somewhat rightly so. We need to increase our energy independence and utilization of our state’s vast natural resources and stop listening to outside sources that have nothing at stake but their pockets and agendas. I think we’ve come out of this learning that the less we use fossil fuels the more we ultimately need them. Green energy policies are promising but vastly under-researched and tested. Ultimately, maybe it’s high time we stop allowing politicians to make energy policies rather than those in the actual industries who know the realities.

 

In short, we need to insist our energy is a low risk mix of renewable and fossil fuel energy and use both efficiently. Texas perhaps should seriously consider winterizing plants and energy sources. It might be costly, but the cost of another event like this one is equally costly. In Texas that might mean solar during the hot summer months and fuel in the colder winter months. If nothing else, this storm proved Texas needs energy diversity and traditional sources if it wants to go out alone. Then again, I’m no energy expert.

 

 

SNOW TIMELY

As luck…or God would have it…in the midst of all this was Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Tradition calls for fasting and sacrifice during the 40 days leading up to Easter and its timing could not have been more perfect. How often do we take things like water and power for granted? All during the past week I’d think to myself, “this must be what it’s like to live in many a socialist, impoverished, or third world country” and it’s a state I pray our state or country never chooses to go by way of ill-advised policies. I’m so very grateful for my home, the water that flows from its faucets, the heat that blows, and the hardworking people who plowed the streets and got electrical lines up and running.

 

Stillness and quiet are all well and good, and I tried my hardest to appreciate them during those moments of complete isolation but it was hard. Hard because of the uncertainty of what the next hour would bring, whether a pipe was going to burst, heat was going to stop, and a host of other worries and anxieties. And this coming from a certified nester and introvert so you’d think all this should be right up my alley. It wasn’t though. I’m also a certified planner and worrier so the elements wreaked as much havoc with my soul and my emotions as they did with the streets and power plants. Yes I learned a lot from and during it, but I’m glad it’s over.

 

 

At the beginning of this piece I included a photo of our first snow storm this year vs. this storm. Weather is a crazy thing and weather in Texas is especially crazy. You have to stay on top of it and as my friend from California says, “everyone in Texas is a meteorologist.” She jests, but it’s kinda true. You have to be. But just be patient; the weather might be brutal, but as they say in Texas, just give it a minute.

 

I’ll close with something a friend saw and shared. It pretty much sums up the week and sums up Texas.