Beyond Words

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

The Inside Scoop July 18, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:00 am

You don’t often hear “thank you Mr. President” these days, but today we can boldly say just that to a past president because today is National Ice Cream Day thanks to President Ronald Reagan.  Yep, good ole’ Ronnie saw to it that a special day be celebrated the third Sunday in July to commemorate the frozen treat enjoyed by more than 90 percent of the U.S. population. It became official in 1984 and not only hailed all things ice cream, but helped the American dairy industry as well. Today, nine percent of all milk produced in the U.S. is used in making ice cream.

 

I’m not a big ice cream eater and really don’t buy it, but I do like a rare cone or scoop of it. Today there are many versions and flavors of ice cream, but according to the International Dairy Foods Association, how the frozen concoction got its start is debatable.

 

 

No specific date or inventor can be credited with creating the first ever ice cream but its origins do go way back. The Bible references King Solomon’s love of iced drinks; Alexander the Great was known to have enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar; Persians were said to have served their royal families a recipe using saffron, iced rose water, vermicelli, and fruit; and during the Roman Empire Caesar sent workers into the mountains to retrieve snow, which he would later flavor with fruits and juices.

 

That’s about all we know until more than 1,000 years later, when Marco Polo returned to Italy from the Far East with a recipe that resembled what we call sherbet today. Italy can also lay claim to developing what was called “Cream Ice” when in 1660 an Italian man named Francesco Procopio Dei Coltelli offered his makings to the public. By retrofitting a machine made by his fisherman grandfather, he produced a top-quality gelato blending milk, butter eggs, and cream. The treat was sold in Paris and became a hit. I’ve had gelato in Italy, and can say without a doubt it is the best in the world. Thank you Francesco!

 

 

The U.S. was a bit slower in discovering the love for a bowl of frozen anything.  Ice cream was first advertised in America in the “New York Gazette” in 1777, but the first official account of it stateside came in a letter written in 1744 by a guest of Maryland’s governor who wasn’t the only statesman to favor the dessert. Inventory records of Mount Vernon revealed two pewter ice cream pots belonging to George Washington and none other than Dolly Madison is known to have served a strawberry version at President Madison’s second inaugural ball. Thomas Jefferson was also an ice cream lover, and the Library of Congress today houses his original handwritten recipe for vanilla ice cream, which is pictured above.

 

Ice cream remained an elite confection until around 1800 when insulated ice cream houses were invented. By 1851, the manufacturing revolution changed not only America as a whole, but the ice cream industry as well when commercial ice cream production started in Boston. Steam power, mechanical refrigeration, the homogenizer, electric powered motors, new freezing processes, and motorized delivery all contributed to bringing ice cream to the masses. Fast forward to 2020, when U.S. ice cream makers churned out just over 1 billion gallons of ice cream. Maybe it was the lockdown. Maybe we just love ice cream.

 

 

The dessert’s growing popularity also led to offshoot enterprises, including the quintessential American soda fountain shop and its quickly popular ice cream soda. Think 1950s and you think soda fountain: cute little counter seats all lined up and staff people wearing striped outfits. You don’t get any more American than that.

 

 

MacKenzie-Childs

When religious leaders complained about congregations partaking in what they called “sinfully rich sodas” on Sundays, ice cream merchants responded by eliminating the carbonated water from the dessert and the name was later changed to “sundae” to remove any connection to the Sabbath. The result? A dessert concoction that even I can’t resist: the ice cream sundae.

 

Floats and Banana Splits also have stories behind their names. Philadelphia soda-shop owner Robert McCay Green inadvertently made the first float in 1874 when he substituted ice cream for regular cream in a classic cream soda. As for the ever-popular and oh-so-yummy banana split, its name and invention is widely attributed to David Strickler also of Pennsylvania who made one on a whim in 1904 when bananas were still a relatively new U.S. import.

 

 

It didn’t take long for retailers to take note and more and more prepackaged ice cream began being sold in supermarkets. Sadly, this commercial renaissance coincided with the slow but steady disappearance of ice cream parlors and soda fountains and today remnants of them like toy ice cream trucks, signage, and packaging ice cream tins are collector’s items sought the world over.

 

With growing demand came a variety of supply, including ice cream on a stick, ice cream sandwiches, and other concoctions, including the ice cream cone, which was invented in 1904. Back then there was just one type of cone but today there is a wide variety of choices, with waffle cones and sugar cones tied for the most popular ice cream containers.

 

One of my happiest childhood memories was my mom and dad packing my two sisters and me in the car and heading to Baskin Robbins for our pick of their 31 flavors. We loved 31 Flavors and it still holds a special place in my heart.

 

 

Brand loyalty is high in the ice cream industry. I personally prefer Texas’ own Blue Bell ice cream or Halo Top, a lower-calorie option. Others like everything from Häagen-Dazs to Breyers and beyond. A quick tidbit about Häagen-Dazs: it’s an American-made brand that got its origins not in Belgium but the Bronx.

 

Husband and wife ice cream entrepreneurs Reuben and Rose Mattus decided to start their own confection company in the Bronx in 1959. Reuben’s uncle had been hawking homemade Italian lemon-ices on the streets of Brooklyn since Reuben was 10-years-old and eventually expanded into a family-run business called Senator Frozen Products. Business was sparse and the couple knew they wanted a new name to evoke an aura of old-world craftsmanship. Both Jews of Polish descent, Reuben and Rose were drawn to the Danish language as Denmark was the only country that saved the Jews during World War II. Reuben came up with the name Häagen-Dazs, a Danish-sounding name that means absolutely nothing; and it stuck. It also worked as the brand rose to prominence, eventually being purchased by Pillsbury in 1983 and later by Nestlé.

 

Something I loved learning while researching this topic is that the majority of U.S. ice cream and frozen dessert manufacturers have been in business for more than 50 years and many are still family-owned. So loyal are ice cream eaters and so enamored with the product are they that it is said the brain of an ice cream lover has been likened to that of an addict. Yikes! There’s even a Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco.

 

 

So there’s the scoop on ice cream, but what about all the different kinds? What is the difference, you might wonder as do I, between ice cream, gelato, sorbet, and sherbet? According to realsimple.com, not all frozen treats are created equal. Here’s the scoop on that.

 

Ice Cream. The USDA requires any frozen treat labeled “ice cream” to contain at least 10 percent milk fat and the product must also get churned during freezing.

 

Gelato. If you’ve ever been to Italy, you know this stuff is the bomb. The word means “ice cream” in Italian but the two are not the same. Gelato also has a custard base like ice cream, but it contains less milk fat and less churned air, resulting in a denser texture and a softer, glossier look. Gelato is also traditionally served at slightly warmer temperatures.

 

Sorbet. Containing only fruit and sugar and no dairy, this is what you’ve been served as a palette cleanser during multi-course meals. Sorbet’s intense fruit flavor makes it the perfect refreshing accoutrement.

 

Sherbet. Sorbet’s creamier cousin, sherbet is basically sorbet with milk; usually buttermilk. It also contains cream, egg whites, and gelatin.

 

Frozen custard. This is what you’re looking for if you’re looking for creamy. Frozen custard is made just like ice cream but with added egg yolk, resulting in a delectable texture that’s similar to melted ice cream. This stuff is especially popular in the Midwest and South.

 

Frozen yogurt. Instead of milk or cream, frozen yogurt is just that: yogurt. It is usually more tart and lower in fat than ice cream.

 

As for calories and fat content, we all know ice cream is loaded with both, but what about the options? In general, ice cream contains at least 10 percent butter fat but often times that content is between 15-25 percent. Italian gelato, on the other hand, contains less than 10 percent fat while most sorbets are naturally fat-free. Don’t let that fool you though, as what they lack in fat they make up with in sugar. They also lack calcium since they’re non-dairy.  Calorie-wise, most sherbets and sorbets have the same number of calories as any “light,” “low-fat,” or “nonfat” ice cream or frozen yogurt. Interestingly enough, demand for low-fat or non-fat ice cream is just 4 percent.

 

 

Are you screaming for ice cream yet? Until then, I’ll leave you with a bevy of ice cream fun facts. Enjoy!

  • The average American consumes more than 22 pounds of ice cream and frozen desserts each year.
  • 90 percent of American households consume ice cream.
  • The ice cream industry has a $13.1 billion impact on the U.S. economy, supports more than 28,000 direct jobs, and generates $1.8 billion in direct wages.
  • The milk produced by a cow in its lifetime can make 9,000 gallons of ice cream.
  • New Zealand owns the title of top ice cream consumer in the world and Long Beach, California eats the most ice cream in the U.S.
  • Because of its yummy taste and texture, ice cream was used as a greeting when immigrants arrived on Ellis Island.
  • The Great Lakes region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin) is the most successful ice cream market in the U.S.
  • Pecans are the most popular nut flavoring and strawberry is the most popular fruit in ice cream.
  • Candy and chocolate pieces are the most popular ice cream confections.

 

MOST POPULAR FLAVORS

It’s hard to say what the most popular ice cream flavor is, as it varies with age groups. Those 14-17 like Mint Chocolate Chip best, 18-24 year olds choose Cookies ‘n Cream, those aged 25-34 prefer Cookie Dough, and Chocolate is the number 1 choice of those 35-44 and over. Still, Vanilla is often considered the most popular ice cream flavor in the U.S. with 29 percent of total sales.

 

 

 

Praying for the World One Bead at a Time July 11, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:00 am

“Continue to say the Rosary every day to obtain the peace of the world”

Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal, July 13, 1917.

 

I had my 90-year-old mom in town last month and during one stint, my husband had a bad sinus infection so we put him in the guest room and mom slept with me. One night while we were going to bed, she pulled out her rosary (as she always does) and reminded me that Mary asked us to pray a daily rosary when she appeared in Fatima, Portugal and said the above words. “It’s not too much to ask” were my mom’s exact words to me that night.

 

 

As long as I can remember, my mom has been devoted to the rosary and keeps one under her pillow. I too have rosaries everywhere – in my purse, next to my bed, and in my car. Truth be told however, I’ve never been a devoted rosary sayer. Not sure why, as I’m a cradle Catholic, believe in it, and like I said, have seen my mom say one all the years of my life. Sometimes I feel guilty because I don’t know the Mysteries by heart or even what days to say them on. I always have to refer to my little rosary “cheat sheets” to get through one, although I do have an audio one I absolutely love and often listen to as I’m going to sleep at night; particularly those nights when my mind races and I just can’t get to sleep. Like magic, it works every time. What does that tell you? Or me?!

 

 

So what is the rosary and why do Catholics use them?  Its history is quite fascinating and yes, biblical in many ways. In fact, it is, in essence, a compilation of the Gospel and leads us to contemplate Jesus Christ.

 

 

The name “rosary” is derived from the Latin word for “rose garden” and its beads are said to be like flowers on a stem.  The rosary and devotion to it has evolved over many, many years. Today’s rosary is most likely the result of two traditions that developed separately and were combined in the 1400s. One tradition is based on Christ and the other is based on Mary. Early versions were divided into three sets of 50, mirrored after the Psalms in the Bible. Over the years, the Marian and Jesus versions were combined and the rosary gave way to what’s called a “chaplet” of 50 prayers. It’s interesting to note that the word chaplet comes from the French word for “crown.”

 

 

A typical rosary has 10 sets of beads called “decades” followed by a larger bead. On each smaller bead a “Hail Mary” is said and on each large bead an “Our Father” is prayed.  When you recite the prayers, you move your fingers from one bead to the next one down or up on the rosary. Over time additional prayers have been added, including the “Glory Be,” the “Apostle’s Creed,” the “Fatima Prayer,” and “Hail Holy Queen” in addition to a new set of “mysteries.” The Mysteries are meditations surrounding the birth, life, and death of Jesus and his Mother. These are beautiful tributes that I won’t go into here, but if you’re curious look into them. Each can be attributed to the Bible and each is powerful in its own way.

 

 

The decade rosary beads are circular stranded and attached to a shorter strand that has a crucifix, one large bead, three small ones, and another large bead. A five-decade version typically has 59 beads. These beads might be made from silver, gold, glass, precious gems, pearls, or any number of materials. The one by my bed is similar to the above one as its made made from string-like ribbons and was handmade by my late niece. Mine is white though and even the cross is woven. It is beautiful in its simplicity and special in its origin.

 

 

As we pray the rosary we quietly meditate and its repetitive nature promotes a powerful and contemplative prayerful introspection. Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers can certainly all benefit greatly from this type of practice. The rosary teaches us how to just be and in some ways is the perfect prayer for busy people in today’s crazy, noisy, and confused world. It also settles our hearts and minds. We live hectic lives in a chaotic world, a world troubled by war, violence, hate, division, and brokenness. Amidst the chaos and confusion, our souls yearn for peace and clarity. The rosary puts things in perspective and allows us to see things as they really are while praying for things we hope for. It reaches deep down into our souls and puts us at ease, creating a peace that is rare and beautiful. Ultimately, it teaches us to slow down, calm down, let go, offer our struggles to God, and listen.

 

But it is more than that. It has the true power to heal and to make a difference in your life, the life of loved ones, our communities, our nation, and the world as a whole. I for one trust without a doubt that my mom’s many rosaries said on my behalf saved me and blessed me. I believe!

 

 

When we pray the rosary, we can bring our needs and struggles, and the needs of others, to Mary. She cares for us like a loving mother and wants to bring our troubles to her son Jesus. Being the good Son that He is, Jesus listens to his mamma! He listens when we pray in His name for the needs of our family and friends, for our schools and churches, our neighborhoods and neighbors, the sick and lonely, and our troops and leaders. Praying the rosary can bring peace to a troubled world, healing to broken hearts, and clarity to those in chaos.

 

 

The Feast of the Holy Rosary is October 7, a tradition that started in 1573. Devotion to it was made popular by Dominican preachers and Saints Philip and Louis de Montfort promoted the saying of it. A century’s old tradition, you could say the rosary “went viral” in May of 1917 when Catholics believe Mary appeared to three young village children in Fatima, Portugal. Among her many messages was the request of saying a daily rosary as well as getting spiritually healthy and letting Her be your guide.

 

Her message was simple and practical, but how do we get there? Maybe start by identifying things in your life that need to change. This could anything from bad habits to an unhealthy lifestyle, envy to gossip. Then, focus on ways to make improvements, ask God for advice, and invite Him into your decisions. You should also establish a daily habit of prayer and meditation. It doesn’t have to be long. Even just 10 minutes can make a difference.

 

 

And while I’m here and before I close, I want to squelch the common notion that Catholics “worship” Mary, statues, or even the rosary. Catholics agree that it is wrong to worship any image and that we worship only God as noted in Psalms 115 and 135.

 

Even ancient Israel was concerned about idolatry and the pagan culture. But when Jesus was born, God was seen in the flesh for the very first time. Although we don’t know exactly what He looked like, Christians began depicting Him in images. They did the same for Mary, the Apostles, and others. Keep in mind that for more than 1,500 years of Christian history, there were no printing presses and most people could not read or write. Art, in the form of paintings, stained glass, mosaics, and statues, served as important ways of teaching the Bible and religions as a whole. Today, they serve the same function in the Catholic Church as say family photos do. They are simply reminders of those who have gone before us and just as we ask others to pray for us, we ask them to pray to God for us too. We can never have too many people praying for us, right?

 

In today’s morally damaged society, the danger of idolatry is not too much idolization of religious statues and photos, but rather the worship of money, fame, sex, drugs, power, pleasure, and control. Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about “too much Mary” and focus more on “too little praying.” The rosary is a good place to start.

 

 

 

 

 

Married to the Perfect Dress June 30, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 10:06 pm

I recently attended the wedding of the son of some very good friends. It was semi-formal and every detail was carried out to perfection. No detail was overlooked and it felt both flawlessly formal and impeccably intimate. I knew I wanted maxi dresses for both the wedding and the rehearsal dinner, but not formal dresses.  As I began searching for the perfect looks, I quickly discovered doing so was going to be a real challenge. I also learned that I’m not alone in this predicament, as many have asked where I got my looks as they too have searched and searched for similar ones.

 

What is it with semi-formal and cocktail dresses for women, say older than mid-40s? The majority of dresses I found were sleeveless. Please. Retailers and designers: there comes a time when a woman either doesn’t want to go sleeveless or in many cases, shouldn’t go sleeveless. I am not a huge fan of my arms but I don’t hate them. Still, they are not, IMO, sleeveless material and neither are those of many a woman I see going sleeveless. Also IMHO, I believe after a certain age, unless you have truly “cut” arms and a body to die for, a woman shouldn’t wear a sleeveless dress; particularly of the semi-formal or cocktail variety and one that is form-fitting. That’s just me though.

 

 

Now granted, depending on the event, a simple sleeveless sheath or a fun Lilly Pulitzer number might be appropriate, but as with anything: gauge the audience and event and remember that even though it fits, it doesn’t mean you should wear it. When all else fails, do what my dear friend does to perfection: pair a beautiful silk blouse with white jeans or pants, throw on some heels, pearls or a subtle statement necklace, and you’ll look polished and perfect.

 

Speaking of fit, another obstacle I ran into while shopping for the wedding was form-fitting dresses. Again, we are of a certain age. Please design dresses to fit our “mature” bodies. Anything tight, clingy, and revealing is out for me.  I’m all about keeping it classy and comfortable as well as age-appropriateness.  If you absolutely have to have that form-fitting or sleeveless dress, throw on a colorful ruana or striking wrap. One wedding guest did this and it was stunning and a blogger I follow is forever wrapping herself in something and it always works.

 

Granted, many women in my age bracket have gorgeous legs and to them I say: show ‘em off! Me? I’ve never really liked my legs so I prefer midis or maxis. Anything that shows my knees is an almost instant no for me. This was also a challenge while dress buying. I saw a lot of pretty things but they were short. God bless all those sites that allow you to filter your search and I could click on midi and maxi and then search away.

 

Right up there with short and sleeveless is anything belted or tied at the waist, including any type of elastic gathering, although the latter occasionally works on me. I will say the belted/flowy look is all the rage this season, with the style everywhere. Cute yes, just not for my body and my shape.

 

 

Gauze Maxi Dress

Chico’s Gauze Maxi Dress

 

Ann Taylor Zebra Print Puff Sleeve Midi Dress

So what did I settle on? The above perfect hot pink maxi from Chico’s for the rehearsal dinner and a surprise subtle animal print from Ann Taylor for the wedding, also above. Both proved comfortable and exactly what I was looking for. They were no easy find however, and took multiple orders and returns to find. As with anything, I knew the minute I saw them and tried them on that they were it. I love when that happens!

 

 

For footwear, I opted for festive pink flats and mid-height woven natural sandals. I knew parking could be a distance issue, there might be lots of walking, I like to be comfy, and this girl planned on dancing at the reception! The winner of the “best shoes” however, went to the groom’s mom who chose adorable yet comfortable pointed-toe glitter flats. That mamma had her thinking cap on as she debated what shoes to wear and I have officially taken note!

 

 

Lelinta Rainbow Stripes Button Closure Shirt Dress

When shopping, my taste ranges from high-end to discount stores and I tend to go more traditional than trendy and a good caftan is always my friend for anything from a wedding to a swimsuit cover-up. One of my favorite dresses is pictured above and is from…drum roll please…Walmart! I follow a blogger whose posts are 90 percent designer and very expensive items, but not too long ago she posted a fabulous dress she found at Walmart. I immediately took a liking to it and bought it. You can’t believe how many compliments I get every time I wear it and the shocked looks I get when asked “who are you wearing?!”

 

I also like to practice a secret French commandment of not trying to make everything perfect. Leave something a little undone, whether it’s a messy bun, a Chanel jacket with jeans, or maybe unpolished nails with an otherwise polished look…excuse the pun!  I personally have not had a manicure since the 2020 lockdown and I don’t miss the commitment or upkeep at all. For the wedding I did brush a very subtle Essie “Ballet Slippers” (Queen Elizabeth’s trademark hue!) on my nails but stayed away from a bright color or over-manied style.

 

 

PICTURE PERFECT

When choosing any outfit for a special occasion, keep in mind that you will more than likely be photographed. There’s nothing less flattering than tummy, arm, or leg flaws front and center in a pic. Photos normally add pounds to you so check out all those body parts when deciding whether to purchase an item. This is the time of year when you might be taking lots of photos at weddings, graduations, and while on trips. It’s not only helpful to know what to wear for those photos, but how to look best in them.

 

Funny thing actually happened on my way to posing for photo after photo during our wedding weekend: the best pic of the bunch was an impromptu non-posed pic that the mother of the groom texted me. It was natural, casual, and the one that I said “frame that puppy!”

 

 

STRIKE A POSE

Whatever you’re wearing, don’t over pose…keep it natural and not so staged. And selfies; please limit them. They are overplayed and actually a bit vain, especially the older you get. High schoolers, college coeds, and millennials: go for it. Everyone else: put a limit on them. I personally rarely post photos of just me on social media and can’t remember the last time I posted an actual selfie of just me. All those “look at me drinking a glass of wine at this beach” or “this is me looking fabulous at this fabulous restaurant” snaps are snapping me into a photo frenzy. Give it a rest ladies.

 

All those beautiful photos you see online were not the first shot and the majority of them use filters and all sorts of beautification tricks and treatments but there certain posing tricks worth taking not of such as standing slightly behind someone else and at an angle. Other tips include tilting your head, turning your body 45-degrees so it’s not facing the camera head on, keeping your weight on one leg or crossing one leg in front or behind the other, standing up straight and maintaining good posture, pushing your chin forward and slightly up, keeping your arms slightly away from your body, and most importantly: relaxing! As for your hands, two good tips are to hold your fingers as if your nails are wet or to rest your hands on top of your thighs. Have pockets? Place one hand in one of them!

 

Now for the feet. Standing straight at the camera with arms straight down and feet together will make even the smallest of bodies look bigger. Instead, think “twist and shift.” Twist your body at the waist, turn one hip toward the camera, and shift your weight onto a slightly back positioned foot. Then, angle the foot that’s forward away from your body and turn your face toward the camera.

 

Where a camera is, is equally important. Consensus has it that looking slightly up toward the photographer is best and never, ever look down toward the camera.

 

And speaking of posing, can we officially retire the hand on the hip pose? I know it’s supposed to make your arm and your waist look thinner and more defined, but honey, if you don’t have thin arms and a small waist to begin with, no hand on the hip is going to do the trick and most likely will do just the opposite cuz all you’re doing is drawing attention to them. The pose is overdone and I’m over it. You need to be too.

 

 

I’m by no means an influencer, professional stylist, or fashionista but I do love fashion and I hope this helps and answers any questions many of you posed (again, excuse the pun!) my way. I’ll leave you with some dresses I found during my wedding search. Just remember these shopping mantras: Fashion is what you buy and style is what you do with it. Fashion is fleeting; style is timeless. Have fun shopping!

 

Tucker Nuck Batik Breeze Jamie Dress

 

Trina Turk Honolulu Dress

 

Stein Mart Handmade Polyester Maxi Caftan

 

 

Donna Morgan Roopa Ruffle Dress

 

Lilly Pulitzer Parigi Lace Maxi

 

Nordstrom Maggy London Print Charmeuse Midi

 

Walmart Scoop Peasant Dress with Puff Sleeves

 

tucker.nyc Sarah Shirtdress

 

Old Navy Embroidered Midi Swing Dress

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its Broad Stripes and Bright Stars Are Still There June 14, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 11:35 pm

Happy Flag Day America! Yep, today is Flag Day and I’m here to talk all about it. If you are a flag hater, now’s the time to delete all, scroll on, and move on.

 

 

For starters and considering this is an Olympic year, did you know the U.S. flag dips to no person, even king or queen, and is the only flag at Olympic ceremonies that doesn’t dip to the head of state of the host country. I did not know this.

 

I do know that Old Glory, as our flag is often called, has taken a beating in recent years and I’m not talking wind and rain. I’m talking hatred, disrespect, and the flying in conjunction with other flags. I am not a fan of this recent trend for two reasons: the American flag stands alone and stands for all Americans while topical and trending flags only represent a small portion of Americans. That’s my flag feeling and I’m flying with it.

 

I love our flag. I fly it proudly and I love all things flag…from shoes to towels to hats to clothing…and I mean no disrespect by them although there are pretty strong rules about how the American flag should be displayed. I’m pretty sure even the oldest of old timers wouldn’t mind seeing our flag everywhere, even if it’s on a cheeseboard. Even Johnny Cash called her “The Ragged Old Flag” as he saluted all the battles she’s been through.

 

Okay, on with Flag Day. Unlike most other countries, America only has two national symbols: the bald eagle and the American flag, the latter of which has a fascinating history and has been the inspiration for poems, songs, books, artwork, fashion, food, and holidays. Today, we celebrate one of those holidays.

 

Flag Day celebrates the adoption of the American flag by the Continental Congress with the First Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777. Many years later, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation in 1916 requesting June 14 become National Flag Day and in 1927, President Calvin Coolidge issued a second proclamation, but Flag Day wasn’t officially recognized until President Harry Truman signed it into law in 1949.

 

In between all of this, it was none other than a school teacher, Bernard J. Cigrand, who held the first unofficial Flag Day in Waubeka, Wisconsin in 1885 and is today considered the “Father of Flag Day. Then, in 1893 the Colonial Dames of Pennsylvania got  a resolution passed requiring the American flag be displayed on all public buildings in Philadelphia. In 1937, Pennsylvania was the first state to make Flag Day a legal holiday. A teacher and a bunch of women basically “created” Flag Day. I love it.

 

Soon after Flag Day became official nationwide, another law was passed requiring public school superintendents ensure patriotic holidays like Memorial Day, Flag Day, and others be observed in schools. Tell this to the current New Jersey school board that just recently voted to remove the names of religious and national holidays on school calendars and replace them as merely a “day off.” How times have changed.

 

 

 

HISTORY OF OUR FLAG

The American Flag has survived a lot, including two World Wars and current attacks from its own citizens. It’s been burned in defiance overseas but only recently has been done so right here on our own soil. Still, it is a symbol of freedom and liberty, hope and pride for most. Shut out today’s news reports and shut your eyes and instead think back to Buzz Aldrin standing proudly next to an American flag on the moon and the brave first responders holding up a tattered stars and stripes in the rubble of September 11 and unfurling a giant banner on the Pentagon. Those are the images our Founding Fathers and Betsy Ross would be proud of, but guess what,  good ole Ms. Ross may not really be who we all think she is.

 

 

The first American flag is often deemed “The Betsy Ross Flag” but her actual role in its development is fuzzy and highly debated. Part of the problem is her story didn’t surface until 34 years after her death and most historians agree she probably didn’t design or sew the first flag.  During the time the flag was made, there were at least 17 flag makers in Philadelphia, any of which could have sewn the first one.

 

Ross’ story came to life and was made public at the end of the Civil War, when it was embraced as a patriotic symbol of the country’s state of emotional and social recovery. The Betsy Ross story was published everywhere even without historical evidence or documentation supporting the tale. It was a good story that sounded good to a country that was searching for anything good, and it stuck.

 

 

The design of the flag is a bit tidier, but still has its mysteries. The vast majority of historians believe Francis Hopkinson is most likely responsible for the stars and stripes design. Hopkinson also contributed the design of the Great Seal of the United States but was never compensated for either. As for those stars and stripes and the three colors, experts can only guess as to why Congress chose them.

 

Some believe stars were chosen as they represent man’s desire to achieve greatness, as in “reach for the stars,” while others think the idea may have come from Freemasonry, of which Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Robert Livingston, and Paul Revere were all members of and to whom stars were important icons. The stripes probably harken back to two pre-existing flags that had previously flown in Boston and Philadelphia.  As for the colors of red, white, and blue, most say they were chosen after being used in the first unofficial flag, the Continental Colors and are thought to symbolize hardiness and valor, purity and innocence, and perseverance and justice, in that order.

 

 

Although unofficial, the Continental Colors Flag is considered the first American flag and was used from 1775-1777. It included a field of 13 alternating red and white stripes with a British Union Jack in the canton. It is generally believed that the stripes represent the 13 colonies while the Union Jack was meant to show colonial loyalty to the crown and traditional British values.

 

By June 14, 1777 the flag was replaced by the first Stars and Stripes, on which the Union Jack was replaced with a blue field of 13 white stars said to represent a “new constellation” and America’s new found independence.

 

 

The original Star-Spangled Banner was sewn by flag maker Mary Pickersgill and others during the War of 1812. The massive flag measured 30 by 42 feet and weighed approximately 50 pounds. It consisted of 15 stripes and a blue union of 15 stars representing all the states in the Union at the time. Years later the number of stripes was reduced to 13 to represent the original 13 colonies.

 

The flag was made for Lt. Col. George Armistead and commissioned to fly over Ft. McHenry, where it was raised in 1814 following  the American defeat of the British at the Battle of Baltimore. Inspired by the sight of the flag in all its glory, American lawyer Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner” poem, which was later set to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a well-known English song. By 1861 the song’s popularity grew widespread…you could say it went “viral,”…and in 1931 it became our National Anthem.

 

Quick note: the “spangled” in Star-Spangled Banner means “decorated with small shiny pieces and adorned with small bright objects.”  This lover of glitter has found a whole new reason to love our Star-Spangled Banner.

 

The original flag is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, gifted by the Armistead family in 1907.

 

 

As for our current 50-star flag, it has an equally interesting history albeit one that’s a bit more down home. It began with the impending statehood of Alaska and Hawaii and started as a high school project. For real.

 

High schooler Bob Heft’s history teacher at Lancaster High School in Ohio gave the class an assignment in 1958 to bring in something they made and the rest as they say is really and truly history.

 

Upon getting the assignment, Heft constructed a 50 star flag by modifying an old 48 star flag using blue cloth and white hand-cut stars to replace the canton. A flag enthusiast, he was inspired to add two more stars knowing there were discussions about adding Alaska and Hawaii to the Union. Upon handing in his flag, he was disappointed with the B- grade he received and challenged the grade, agreeing that if the design was accepted by Congress, the grade would be changed to an A. After spending two years writing letters and making phone calls and both states becoming eventually earning statehood, President Eisenhower informed  Heft that his design had been chosen out of 1,000 designs. On July 4, 1960, he joined Eisenhower in Washington to watch his flag be officially raised. Note to kids everywhere: never give up and never settle.

 

So now you know the history of our flag, but do you know the etiquette that goes along with it? Here is a quick guide:

 

Flying at Half-Staff or Half-Mast

“Half-staff” means the flag is flown halfway up its flagpole as a symbol of mourning while “Half-mast” is when a flag is flown halfway up a ship’s mast to signal mourning or distress. When lowering a flag to either, you must first hoist it to the very top of the flagpole before lowering it. Only the president or a governor can call for this observance.

 

When and How to Fly the American Flag

For flags that are stationary on a building or flagpole, it’s customary to fly them from sunrise to sunset. American flags can be flown at night provided they are properly illuminated with their own dedicated spotlight.

 

Carrying the American Flag

The American flag is never to touch the ground or any object below it and it should never be carried flat unless draped over a casket for a funeral.

 

Folding the American Flag

What most of us think of when we hear this term is the procedure performed by members of the Armed Forces. U.S. flags are traditionally folded into a shape that’s reminiscent of a triangular-shaped tricorn hat typically worn during the Revolutionary War. A standard America flag will require 13 folds and there should be two lengthwise folds and 11 triangular folds.

 

When Flying with Other Flags

American flags are to be placed in a position of prominence over all other flags. It should also be larger or equivalent in size to all other flags on the pole or staff. The American flag should always be hoisted first and lowered last.

 

The U.S. Flag Code also has actual guidelines of how to fly the American flag alongside other flags. (Note to U.S. embassies of late: pay attention here.) The guidelines stipulate that no other flag may be placed in “superior prominence” to the U.S. flag (I’m guessing this means size and placement of as well…again…take note U.S. embassies) and that no flag may fly above the U.S. flag. (Sorry Texans, yours cannot despite the popular and oft-repeated story that it can because you were once a nation…more on this in a bit).

 

In fact, no flag may fly above the U.S. flag but all state flags may fly at the same height. Other stipulations include that when multiple flags share the same pole, the U.S. flag must fly at the peak; if two flags fly side-by-side, the U.S. flag must be on the flag’s right and the viewer’s left; and if the U.S. flag flies with multiple state flags, the U.S. must be in the center and higher than the rest.

 

Here’s where Texas comes in since it has its own flag code that states that if flags are on separate poles, the flags should be displayed on poles or staff of the same height, the flags should be of approximate equal size, and the U.S. flag should be to the left of the state flag from the perspective of an observer. But take heart Texans, as your flag is the only flag that can be found inside every American flag as shown in the above photo!

 

 

There is also proper etiquette and procedures we are to respectfully follow during the playing of our National Anthem, which are:

  • Stand facing the flag with your right hand over your heart
  • Men not in uniform should remove their hats
  • Men and women in uniform should give the military salute during the entire song

 

The same rules hold true during the Pledge of Allegiance, the only difference being that during the Pledge a flag must be present while the “Star-Spangled Banner” can be sung without a flag present.

 

And speaking of the Pledge, I guess we can’t do Flag Day with the Pledge of Allegiance, right?

 

 

The Pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy and first published in “The Youth’s Companion” on September 8, 1892. The words “the flag of the United States of America” were added in 1923 and in 1954 under the urging of President Eisenhower, the phrase “under God” was added. It was once customary and practically a given that school children coast-to-coast start their school days with the Pledge but along with other patriotic traditions, this too is falling through the cracks.

 

When you do pledge allegiance to our United States flag, you’re to face the flag and place your right hand over your heart. Those in military uniform remain silent during its recitation and render the military salute.

 

So there’s the “whats,” now what about the “whys?” I have two big whys: why is our flag called “Old Glory” and why are flag patches on service member uniforms “backwards?”

 

 

The American flag has been called “Old Glory” for nearly two centuries and its story can be traced back to 1831 when a ship captain from Massachusetts named William Driver coined the phrase during one of his voyages. At the time he’d received an American flag from one of his shipmates and he proudly displayed it on his ship. As he sailed off one day, Driver noticed the flag was flowing proudly and gracefully in the wind and he yelled out, “Old Glory!” It was indeed waving and blowing in all its red, white, and blue glory.

 

Driver had a long appreciation for the flag and in 1837 he retired as a ship captain. Soon after, the Civil War raged during which the flag was often referred to as Old Glory. When writing his thoughts about the American flag, Driver wrote: “It has ever been my staunch companion and protection. Savages and heathens, lowly and oppressed, hailed and welcomed it at the far end of the wide world. Then, why should it not be called Old Glory?” Why indeed.

 

 

As to why the American flag appears reversed on uniforms, it makes sense once explained.

 

U.S. Army Regulations specify that the blue field of stars should always be in the highest position of honor. When viewing a flag on a wall vertically or horizontally, that position is the top upper left. When displayed on a “moving object” like a person or vehicle, the highest position of honor is the front, not the rear, so the field of blue should be displayed to the front.

 

According to Army Regulation 670-1: “The American flag patch is to be worn so the star filed faces forward or to the flag’s own right. When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the observer’s right and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward.”

 

I like to think of it this way: the flag must face forward and advancing, never retreating.

 

So there you have it, everything and anything you may or may not have wanted to know about Flag Day and our American flag. It flies on government buildings, schools, and even the moon and after much history and heroics, its broad stripes and bright stars are still there waving proudly o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. Let’s keep it that way.

 

Happy Flag Day everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gifts We Could All Use May 24, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 5:52 pm

Editor’s Note: This post was intended to be posted yesterday, but life happened and I’ve had to delay it by one day. A day late but never too late for its message. Although spiritual in nature, its message is one today’s divided and angry world could use, regardless on one’s beliefs.

 

One of my favorite prayers to teach little ones, including our daughter when she was young, is the very simple “Holy Spirit, help me today in everything I think, do, and say.” It’s not biblical or found in a specific scripture, but I’ve always thought it pretty well sums up what should be our thought process each and every morning.

 

I’ve always had a special affinity for the Holy Spirit. I have a prayer that’s typed out on an old-school typewriter that I’ve had and said for years. I don’t know where I got it but I do know it’s very special to me. This should be somewhat surprising considering that growing up the Holy Spirit was often referred to as the Holy Ghost. Yikes! What young Catholic girl would ever want anything to do with a ghost? As it turns out, me and many others.

 

Granted, the “ghost” reference is somewhat up there with rotary phones and televisions with antennas, but the third person of the Holy Trinity is indeed ageless and timeless. Maybe I’m a fan because the Holy Spirit is often described as the love between Father and Son and is also sometimes referred to as the “female” side of God; the kinder gentler side full of wisdom and joy. Not that God and Jesus aren’t, but who doesn’t need a spiritual mamma in their life?

 

 

Pentecost Sunday

The Holy Spirit is on my mind because the church celebrates Pentecost today. It is one of the most important feast days of the year and it concludes the Easter season. It’s also considered the birthday of the church.

 

Pentecost is the Christian celebration of the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles, Mary, and other first followers of Jesus as they gathered in the Upper Room; literally and figuratively lighting a fire in them for the Word. It commemorates their transformation from frightened and confused to ultimately those who preached and made believers of millions thanks to the gifts given to them to do so. It’s those gifts and their ripened “fruits” that I feel, regardless of your beliefs and opinions, are much needed in today’s world.

 

The name “Pentecost” is derived from the Greek word “pentekostos,” which means 50. Pentecost always occurs 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus and 10 days after His ascension into heaven.

 

As often has it, there is a parallel Jewish holiday, Shavu’ot, which falls 50 days after Passover and commemorates the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai when the Lord revealed the Torah to Moses. I have to believe my Jewish brothers and sisters would agree with today’s message.

 

 

 

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Without going into too much detail, the Gifts are dispositions that make us open to following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. They are there for the asking and give us strength for the journey. Four enlighten our minds: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and counsel; and three strengthen our hearts: fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. They are biblical and can be found in Isaiah 11:2 and are ways of living we should all strive for. They are:

 

Wisdom. The ability to exercise good judgment and distinguish between right and wrong. It is also common sense and often advances in years and gains life experience.

 

Understanding. The ability to think clearly and have insight and discernment.

 

Counsel. The ability to give and receive good advice.

 

Fortitude. Moral strength, courage, determination, and resiliency.

 

Knowledge. The ability to study and learn and put what is learned to constructive and good purpose.

 

Fear of the Lord. Acknowledges that everything comes from God and therefore downplays personal achievement, pride, and self-sufficiency.

 

Piety. Being devoted to goodness, decency, mercy, meekness, and virtues.

 

 

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit

The Gifts are to be made of good use or they won’t ripen and grow. They must be cultivated and applied daily; the result of which are the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, and I’m not talking apples, oranges, and bananas.  As with the Fruits of the Spirit, those types of fruits are never manufactured but grown; seeds need to be planted and a gardener needs to tend to them. As opposed to the “bitter fruits” of immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, drunkenness, and carousing found in Gal 5:19-21, the Fruits of the Spirit are good habits, virtues, and deeds that are by-products of God’s presence in our lives. They can be found in Gal 5:22 and are:

 

Love. Unconditional love that expects nothing in return. Opposite: Self-serving.

 

Joy. Inner contentment that comes with speaking and upholding truth, honesty and integrity in relationships, and decent conduct. Opposite: Discontent.

 

Peace. Living with contentment in a world that is never satisfied. It is also when the dignity of all living beings are respected and when legitimate differences are tolerated. Opposite: Anxiety-filled.

 

Patience. The virtue of suffering delay with composure and without complaint. It is also the willingness to wait even in a world of instant gratification and to slow down and set aside one’s personal plans and concerns. Opposite: High-strung.

 

Kindness. A warm and friendly disposition demonstrated by a kind and compassionate person who is polite, well-mannered, respectful, considerate, pleasant, agreeable, cheerful, helpful, positive, and complimentary. Opposite: Privileged and Elitist.

 

Goodness. A bigheartedness grounded in unselfish generosity and integrity and the courage to do the right thing even when it’s hard. Opposite: Dishonest and Deceitful.

 

Faithfulness. Demonstrated by loyalty, fulfilling commitments fulfilled, keeping promises, and being true to one’s word. Opposite: Unreliable.

 

Gentleness. Sensitivity and humble consideration for others. Mild-mannered, not pushy or abrasive. Quick to listen and slow to speak with a desire for wisdom and understanding before the desire to be heard. Opposite: Arrogant and Melodramatic.

 

Self-control.  Reject evil and choose goody by being in control of one’s self rather than controlled by temptation or other people. The ability to remain calm, cool, and collected especially in times of crisis; be even tempered; and avoid impulsive, knee-jerk reactions and responses. Opposite: Undisciplined.

 

It is often said that these Gifts and Fruits are also revealed in The Beatitudes, which Jesus delivered in His Sermon on the Mount and can be found in Matthew 5-7. On the flip-side, they and the Virtues of humility, chastity, kindness, temperance, vigilance, meekness, and generosity can also ward off the Seven Deadly Sins of pride, lust, envy, gluttony, sloth, anger, and greed, respectively.

 

 

Turn on any newscast or scroll any social media site and the urgent need for all of these good traits and true gifts will quickly be revealed. Time to be the gardeners of our inner spirits so we can plant the seeds of fruits that are healthy for the whole of the land. Time to dig deep.

 

 

 

House Rules May 17, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:49 pm

Summer break is almost here, the country is slowly opening up, and a society tired of being masked up and locked down appears ready to venture out. That might be flying somewhere, taking a road trip, staying in a luxury hotel, or maybe visiting friends or family. If it’s the latter, take note. Being a guest and hosting guests are important roles and they both come with some standard rules of thumb. Let’s start with being a gracious guest.

 

 

BE MY GUEST

It’s fun and frugal to camp out in someone’s guest room but we’ve all heard that guests are like fish: they start to smell after three days. So, rule number 1: don’t overstay your welcome. Granted, three days may seem like a really short visit so always double-check with your host. Get and give specific dates and never, ever just assume an invitation awaits you. Just because someone you know lives in a fabulous place doesn’t mean you’re invited to visit and stay with them and for goodness sakes, never just show up. No one wants to be Cousin Eddie from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

 

It’s also important to be clear as to who exactly will be joining you on the visit. Opening your home to a couple is much different than doing so to a family of five with a dog or special needs visitors.

 

Blogger and author Mary Hunt also reminds guests to respect their host’s space and the house rules of that space. Don’t arrive with multiple suitcases, clothing that requires numerous hangars, a cooler full of your vegetarian or keto foods, and while visiting, make sure everything you bring stays in the room where you’re staying. And keep that room or space tidy. When you’re not in it, it should look just like when you arrived. You’re not staying in a hotel so don’t treat your friend’s home like one. Housekeeping won’t be dropping by when you leave the room.

 

As for house rules, well, they rule. If your hosts remove their shoes when they come in, so should you. If they’re non-drinkers, don’t arrive with bottles of wine and bourbon. Pay attention to where they eat and drink. If they drink their morning coffee at the table or in the kitchen, join them there. Be sure any kids you bring with you adhere to rules as well and have them pitch in and lend a hand when it comes to setting the table, washing dishes, or taking out trash. Go over manners, respect, and tidiness and let them know you expect all three from them, which includes everything from television/tablet/music choices to verbal politeness to picking up their clothes.

 

Arrive knowing that your hosts are just that-your hosts. They are not your tour guides, chauffeurs, or babysitters. Arrange your own transportation prior to arrival and invite them to join you on any activities you have planned. Just don’t expect them to do everything with you unless they choose to. If possible, let them know any plans or reservations you have before arriving so they can schedule joining you beforehand. Be sure to include your kids and any elderly relatives you bring with you on any and all activities and don’t expect your hosts to babysit either unless they offer.

 

 

We’ve all heard that saying when it comes to national parks and such, and it kinda applies to being a gracious guest as well. Before departing, remove sheets and pillow cases from beds, fold them, and pile them neatly on the floor along with any towels. Simply throw the comforter over the mattress and prop the pillows up. Wipe down bathrooms and offer to remove trash from your room.

 

As you take your memories with you, maybe don’t leave footprints but leave behind a kind gesture of your gratefulness. This could be something as simple (and at the very least) a nice thank you note as well as a small candle of their favorite scent, tasteful hand towels, or other small tokens of appreciation.  Lastly, always offer to reciprocate them hosting you.

 

 

HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST

Your main goal as a host is not to make your guests feel pampered but comfortable. Take time to remove anything that might make them squirm and add things that will encourage them to relax. This might be just letting them settle in casually when they arrive to placing fresh flowers in the room where they’re staying. At the same time, don’t exhaust yourself. Be yourself and let them be themselves. Keep it simple but nice. If you’re stressed they will sense it and in turn feel stressed. Guests don’t expect a perfect house or a perfect host.

 

Before they arrive, ask them about any allergies…both food and otherwise…and inform them of your schedule. If you have a doctor or hair appointment, yoga or dance class, let them know so they’re aware you’ll be unavailable during those times.

 

Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of etiquette queen Emily Post, suggests setting a specific start and end date for the visit and to consider your guest’s interests when setting up any activities. Just because you like to hike or visit museums doesn’t mean they do. Lastly, take under consideration any little people who will be visiting and order your home accordingly. Put away any precious breakables or possibly dangerous items before your guests arrive.

 

 

We’ve all been guests at someone’s house and I’m betting we can all remember one or two homes that stand out and felt like the owners thought of everything. Was the bed dreamy?  Were the towels cushy?  Did you have everything you needed or forgot?  These are the keys to a top notch guest room.  I’ve gathered some tried and true guest room tips and ideas here for you and would love your input on anything I’ve forgotten or something that caught your eye and that you appreciated as you guested somewhere.

 

 

  • Although most guest rooms, mine included, have queen beds, design experts agree that twin beds are guest room perfection. Also if there’s room, have a comfy chair nearby for both sitting and plopping things onto.
  • Every guest room (or room you use for guests) needs a reading lamp. Reading glasses, depending on their age, would be a bonus treat, as would a nightlight.
  • Provide at least one smart phone charger in case they forgot theirs.
  • If the guests don’t have to share a bathroom with anyone else in the house, stock it up with shampoo, shaving cream, lotion, toothpaste, etc. If they share the bathroom, have all these items – perhaps travel sizes – in a basket for them in the guest room.
  • A basket filled with bottled water, drinks, and both salty and sweet snacks is also appreciated and can be accompanied by a pretty carafe and glass that they can fill and refill.
  • Either show them where towels are stored or bring some out and put them on the guest bed. Be sure to include bath towels, hand towels, and wash cloths.
  • Have a pen and paper handy for them.
  • As mentioned above, a low-key vase of fresh flowers is a nice touch to any guest room.
  • To alleviate both incoming and outgoing smells, have a small candle and matches available and/or a subtle reed diffuser.
  • If possible, empty out a dresser drawer and make sure there is space for their clothes in the closet along with plenty of (non-wire) hangars for them to use. A luggage rack or bench for suitcases is also a nice touch.
  • For a true luxury hotel experience, provide various robes for guests to use.
  • Reading materials – books, magazines, catalogs, etc. – should be stacked or laid out in a way that tells them “it’s okay to read these!”
  • If you have Wi-Fi in the house, have the code written down somewhere in the guest room.
  • On the Wi-Fi card that I provide our guests is also our address and phone numbers. Should they need to call an Uber or order food delivery for the group, it’s nice for them to have the address close at hand.
  • If your guest room has a television, have handy step-by-step instructions for all TV remotes and include a channel guide.
  • Provide guests with neighborhood info that includes nearby pharmacies, gas stations, grocery stores, florists, etc. Even though all of this is available on smart phones and computers, guests will appreciate not having to look them up.
  • Give your guests a brief tour of your home, pointing out where dishes, snacks, and other items are located.
  • Show guests how to use your coffeemaker. Every kind is different and this will allow guests to help themselves to the java.
  • Create as comfy a bed as possible. 300-400 count sheets are as high as you need to go, goose down is fluffier than duck when it comes to duvets and pillows, and a fluffy mattress topper will ensure your guests sleep like queens and kings.  Think layers too:  layers of pillows and layers of sheet/blanket/duvet/folded throw.  I personally prefer bamboo or microfiber sheets but 100 percent cotton is popular as well.
  • Be sure outlets are available and easily accessible for a multitude of all things electronic. If several are covered by a bed or dresser, provide a multiple outlet converter and extension cord.
  • Provide plenty of mirrors for your guests. Full-length mirrors come in all styles and are wonderful additions to any guest room as are magnifying mirrors.
  • Two cute ideas on saw on-line for guest rooms are to provide a clear, glass vase of river rocks and a Sharpie for them to sign and date and/or a calendar for them to add their birthday and date of visit to.

 

In the end, you want your home to be a sanctuary and to make your guests feel at home and at ease.  Treat your guests like family and your family like guests, right?

 

 

Here’s hoping that the welcome mat is out for wherever you want to go or whoever you want to host.  Open your hearts, open your minds, open your eyes, and open your doors.

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Boxwood May 12, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:23 pm

On a recent visit to a nursery in search of some heat resistant plants, my friend and I got to talking about boxwood, an evergreen we discovered we both love. I’ve forever been fond of the formality and symmetry of perfectly shaped boxwood but like many, am a bit intimidated by it. Seemingly both formal and high maintenance and considering that I’m no true blue green thumb or fanatical gardener, the constant talk of blight and shaping has been enough to make me back off of boxwood. But maybe it’s time to jump in the boxwood pool, even if it’s just to make a small splash with a pretty potted porch version.

 

Boxwood is the ideal garden design building block and an arrangement of it adds instant curb appeal. The gorgeous greenery creates structure and depth to any landscape and it is both earthy and elegant. Christina Dandar of “The Potted Boxwood” perhaps said it best when she wrote, “To me, a potted boxwood by the front door or anywhere in the landscape is a fairly certain declaration that what is inside is something worth seeing…potted boxwood have the subtle ability to let you know it’s worth opening the door.”

 

So, come on in. Let’s enter the world of boxwood.

 

 

Mark D. Sikes

Stately to look at and simple in design, boxwood can for sure be a bit much for the novice gardener. But, it is drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, and endlessly versatile when it comes to garden design. It also beautiful at weddings and wedding receptions!

 

The beautiful boxwood has been around forever and has an illustrious history when it comes to grounds and the design of them. This staple of gardens was found as formal hedges in ancient Egypt as well as palatial gardens of ancient Greece and Rome. Today they can be found on porches and pathways everywhere, from Colonial Williamsburg to concrete-surrounded suburbia enclaves. So fabulous are they, that Houston landscape designer calls them the “little black dress” of plants and says every garden should have at least one.

 

I’m all about little black dresses so sounds like a plan and yes ma’am!

 

So what is it about boxwood that makes it so special and so fabulous? For one, it’s extremely versatile and can be used as everything from low-growing hedges to conical columns to shapely globes. In addition, the classic shrub’s small and dense evergreen leaves boast what many consider the perfect sculptable quality.

 

A word of warning though: if you’re even considering investing in boxwood, know that you’ll probably hear a lot about blight, a disastrous fungal threat gives boxwood a bit of a bum rap. It is also sometimes considered a money pit if not tended to properly. Times have somewhat changed however, and there are more than 90 species and 365 selections of boxwood, many much hardier than and somewhat threat free.

 

 

A bit about the dreaded blight. It’s definitely something to be aware of but not afraid of. Basically a fungus that can wipe out an entire shrub, blight can affect any boxwood species and can first be spotted as brown spots on leaves. The spots get bigger and merge together, eventually turning entire leaves brown. Keep an eye out for black or dark brown streaks on the stems and rapid leaf loss.

 

The fungus thrives in humid and warm conditions and once a plant is exposed, spores of the fungus are easily spread through splashing water, wind, and even contaminated gardening tools. If you see any signs of blight on a boxwood, remove and destroy all affected shrubs by burning (safely and legally), burying at least two feet deep, or double bagging in plastic bags and landfilling. Also dispose of all gardening tools used on the affected plants, roots, and leaves or branches that fell. Blighted portions should never be composted.

 

To avoid blight, always buy boxwood shrubs from local reputable suppliers that have thoroughly inspected the plants for evidence of blight-including those ever popular Christmas and holiday wreaths- and dip pruners in a 10 percent bleach solution after use on each plant. Once purchased, isolate new boxwood shrubs from established boxwoods for several weeks before planting, as boxwood blight symptoms often don’t become apparent until weeks later.  When planting boxwoods, space them far enough apart from each other and other shrubs so that branches on adjacent shrubs do not overlap.  This will increase air flow between them and promote a drier environment that will be less favorable for boxwood blight.  Wherever possible, avoid watering plants with sprinklers or overhead with hoses and instead use a soaker or drip hose.

 

 

I don’t know about you, but the more I learn about boxwood the more demanding it seems. All the more reason to hire a professional, right?!  But, even if you do, it’s important to know what you want out of your boxwood, including the “Fab Four” boxwood uses:

 

  • Hedgers and Edgers. These are generally a series of small boxwood balls that form an edge. They can also be used to define certain spaces in large gardens and break up gardens into smaller sections.

 

  • Container Accents. I love these because I love topiaries! I also love green and white together and a green boxwood in a white square Chippendale style planter is simply stunning. Add some Paper Whites, Star Jasmine, or Phloxstar White phlox to an arrangement and it’s green and white perfection. Just one or one pair on a porch is perfection, or group some globes or cones side-by-side or a more dramatic look.

 

  • Backdrops. Think of it against a house or fence as a way to frame blooming perennials, give a space structure and authority, or even create some privacy.

 

  • Architectural Shapes. A large grouping of cone-shaped boxwoods alongside a sidewalk or home foundation gives evergreen elegance and unequaled uniformity.

 

 

Today there’s practically boxwood for everyone, most of which are hardier than the perennially persnickety English boxwood, including Japanese and Korean types such as Green Beauty and Winter Gem, which are more resistant to the disease.

 

Here are just a few examples of the vast array of boxwood and their individual appeal and suggested use:

 

  • Newgen’s Freedom is one of the most promising of the many new blight-resistant varieties.

 

  • Dee Runk boxwood offers a unique, upright, and conical shape and is ideal as focal points on garden corners or to frame a walkway.

 

  • Baby Gem variety is smaller in size but boasts dense foliage so it’s great for low hedges. Once established it’s also drought tolerant and generally only needs trimming a couple times a year.

 

  • Justin Brouwers selection is easy to maintain, is very hardy, and perfect for low hedges and bed borders.

 

  • Grace Hendrick Phillips boxwood is perfect for short hedges and parterres as has a very slow growth rate. It doesn’t need constant clipping and has smaller and narrower foliage, which add interesting texture to its placement.

 

  • Variegated English boxwood is perfect for making a statement, as it adds a pop of personality to a sphere or topiary.

 

  • Wintergreen and other fast-growing types are great for impatient gardeners, as they produce height quickly. This fast growth also means they need regular trimming and pruning.

 

  • Morris Dwarf is a slow growing variety and is perfect for all you patient green thumbers. It requires less care but its slow growth rate means it takes longer to acquire a desired shape.

 

 

Whatever boxwood you choose, don’t believe all of the many warnings and negatives you might hear, as once established, boxwood is quite hardy and low maintenance. The “plant in fall” gardener golden rule doesn’t necessarily apply to boxwood since it is considered an evergreen. It is advised to avoid planting them in serious heat, but if the weather isn’t scorching hot and you have good irrigation, you can pretty much plant boxwood any time of year.  Also keep in mind that most boxwood prefers some shade so don’t plant it in areas that get a lot of afternoon sun  and loose, quick-draining soil is best.

 

Although long-considered a traditional twist to any garden, today’s boxwood is being used in new and fun ways such as with loose grasses and flowering perennials. I personally love the look of an all green garden or garden section that incorporates boxwood (preferably shaped) with other green plants of various hues.

 

However used and wherever placed, boxwood can be shaped into decorative topiaries, thick hedges to hide and protect, and used as low-in-height borders to keep other plants in order. Most experts do suggest it’s best to start with boxwood that has the natural size and shape that best matches your end-result desire rather than pruning any boxwood into a shape you choose. For example:

 

If you’re seeking a small and squatty look, Compacta, Grace Hendrick Phllips, or Nana varieties will best fit your bill while John Baldwin, Rotundifolia, and Wintergreen are great large hedge choices. For those beautiful upright and triangular-shaped  perfect for framing a stairway or path, choose either Fastigiata or Graham Blandy.

 

Maybe you’re still leery about boxwood but you love the look of them. No worries. A few simple indoor topiaries are much easier to keep and always make a great addition to any grouping. If you really, really like the look of boxwood but haven’t had good luck with it or are worried it might not work for you, BH&G suggests considering similar “Golf Ball” Pittosporum, Japanese Holly, Rosemary, or Yew. They tolerate heat, work in various climates, are great for borders, and can be pruned as a topiary…in that order…but know that Yew can be toxic in large quantities to pests.

 

 

So say you’ve picked your boxwoods and they are looking fabulous but you know they’ll eventually need to be trimmed. How best to do so? First and foremost, avoid over-pruning, which is bad for the plant and is an open invitation to both pests and blight.

 

Landscape architect, boxwood grower, and former director of the American Boxwood Society, Andrea Filippone suggested the following tips to BH&G:

 

  • When pruning for shape, gently and selectively prune a few inches of growth by hand to control size and shape. Do so twice a year: once in the summer but before August and again in December.

 

  • To make window cuts, make selective cuts into the outer six inches to allow more light (i.e.: “windows”) and air to reach the plant’s center. When doing so, angle the pruners into the shrub and make cuts where the plant begins branching. Remove all clipped and dead branches and twigs.

 

  • Don’t shear! Boxwoods push new growth where they’re cut, so shearing – clipping only the outermost layer of leaves – leads to a dense outer layer that blocks light and air from reaching the center. This ultimately encourages pests and disease.

 

 

Grandinroad

Like anything, I come away thinking boxwood may not work for me unless I get a professional to lend a hand, but it’s worth the risk and could be both beautiful and fun. Are you with me?

 

 

 

 

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.