Beyond Words

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

The Right Ingredients December 31, 2014

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recipe book

Tomorrow starts a brand new year that, if you allow it, brings with it a  tasty new beginning.  The slate is clean and the page is blank, so make it your own and make it delicious.  All that’s needed is the right attitude and the right ingredients.


Recipe for the New Year


Take 12 months and clean them thoroughly of all bitterness, resentment, hate, and jealousy.


Cut into weeks and days and into each mix well with faith, patience, courage, gratitude and compassion.


Blend with kindness, hope, honesty, prayer, generosity and prayer.


Sprinkle all with a dash of fun, humor, and joy.


Serve with unselfishness and a cheerful spirit.






We all know the real recipe for New Year’s Day celebrations in the U.S. is a big pot of black-eyed peas, which represent luck.  Many add pork, to signify prosperity,  and make what’s called “Hoppin John.”



Here’s how they do it around the world:


At midnight in Spain and some parts of Latin America, revelers pop 12 grapes, one at each stroke of the clock, to symbolize success for each month of the coming year.


The Japanese eat buckwheat soba noodles, which are associated with a long life.


Pomegranates represent fertility and are popular in Turkey and other Mediterranean countries.


Leafy greens signify money, so Danes eat stewed kale sprinkled with cinnamon.


However you do it, do it safely and have fun!






What I Learned in 2014

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Before I start thinking or writing about New Year’s resolutions, I want to reflect on the year 2014 and what I learned from it.  In many ways it was a tumultuous year but in many other ways it was a reasonably good year.  Through it all, here’s what I learned:


The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Prayers aren’t always answered but keep praying anyway.


A calm life is a good life.


I’m obsessed with all things glitter.


“The Skimm” is hands-down the best current events blog out there.


Italy has the best food anywhere on Earth.


I love cooking classes and I loved the movies “Chef” and “The Hundred Foot Journey” but I don’t love to cook.


“Parenthood” is the best TV show to come along in decades.


No one’s life is perfect, even those who pretend to have one.


Jack Daniels honey whiskey is the bomb.


The book “Bringing Home the Birkin” was surprisingly good and really funny!


I don’t like asparagus.


How someone treats you says more about them than it does about you.


Just because someone else likes something doesn’t mean I need to like it too.


Control is over-rated and rarely accomplishes anything yet I still tend to be a control freak.


Working out with a trainer kept me motivated and accountable to exercise for the first time in my life.


My Oklahoma Sooners football team was not as good as predicted.


I despise rollercoasters:  both real ones and those you “ride” in life.


I’m a serious homebody and actually enjoy it.


I worry way too much.


2014 high school graduates have always gone to school with a Mohammed or Abdul, have always known pro football in Jacksonville but not L.A., have known only two presiding presidents, and think “GM’ means genetically modified not General Motors.


When someone lies to you it’s very hard to trust them again.


I’m not crazy.


Spontaneity isn’t my strength but it makes me happy when someone else forces it on me.


Sinus surgeries don’t eliminate snoring.


High expectations are not a bad thing.  Expecting those who can’t meet them to do so, is.


I am waaaaay stronger than I wish I had to be.


I’m not as brave as I probably should be.


Marcus Luttrell is a true American hero and the movie “Lone Survivor” was amazing.


After trying others and actually liking them, “Coco Mademoiselle” is still my go-to perfume.


I’m tired of regret.


Calling your dog nicely to “come here” really does work way better than angrily demanding them to.


I really enjoy designer Erin Gates’ writing style and blog “Elements of Style.”


I learned how to Tweet, Instagram, Snapchat and went to a shooting range!


Receiving a Pope’s blessing live was incredible but the Coliseum was a bit disappointing.


St. Peter’s Square in Rome is shaped like a key.


As much as I adore shoes, I could legitimately live in flip flops, TOMS, slippers, and Uggs.  Seriously.


Married couples are generally happier and healthier than those not married.


“Gel” or “Shellac” manicures are totally worth the time and money.


I’ve become bad at making decisions.


Keurig coffee makers are perfection.


Olive oil does not have a high-heat index and original Pam spray prevents that yucky build-up on cookware.


Volunteering for the Austin Aces was one of the best things I did all year.


Days are long but years are short.  (Thank you Gretchen Rubin!)




I Am Woman, I’m a Wordsmith blog Friday Funny December 26, 2014

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Love this one…

3 Wise Women


I Am Woman, I’m a Wordsmith blog December 25, 2014

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“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Luke 2:11


The Gift of Christmas




Merry Christmas everyone!  Christ is born, born in a stable in Bethlehem.  A simple manger for the King of all kings.  Mind blown.


God could have chosen anywhere for His son to come into this world but he chose not a palace or a castle, but what was basically a barn; animals and all.  In a word, humbling.


Even those 3 Kings who came from afar brought gifts to what was an infant.  They knew the baby was special so they brought Him gifts, not vice versa.


All of Kristen’s life she’s known that, just like Jesus, she receives only three gifts at Christmas…and they are from mom and dad, not Santa.  Santa merely fills our stockings with small treats or treasures.  Even at 21 years of age, she still abides by this family tradition.  This year she wanted a special piece of jewelry so she asked if it could count as all three of her gifts.


There are many around who did not get gifts today.  We need to remember them in prayer.  Me?  I didn’t really feel the need to ask for any one thing this year.  What I really want:  peace of mind, stability, normalcy, trust, gratitude, less worry and more love, can’t be packaged and wrapped neatly with a bow.  They need to come from within and come from above and can’t be bought with money.  Pretty simple.


We’ve all read about and seen the lists of gifts on someone’s letter to Santa.  It’s sometimes appalling how long these lists can become and how greedy we tend to get during the holidays.  Rather than look at our gifts today and wish for what we didn’t get, let’s instead look at all the real “gifts” around us:  family, friends, health, jobs, food, a roof over our heads, and of course Jesus.  His presence is our true present today and every day.  What can we give Him in return?


Our Gift to the Christ Child

Lord Jesus:

We give you our hands to do your work.

We give your our feet to go your way.

We give you our eyes to see as you see.

We give you our ears to hear as you hear.

We give you our tongue to speak as you speak.

We give you our heart that you may love all others through us.

We give you our spirit that it may be you who prays in us.

We give you our whole self that it may be you who grows, works, loves, and prays in us.





I Am Woman, I’m a Wordsmith blog December 24, 2014

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Soup table


Super Christmas Soup


Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico our traditional Christmas Eve meal was tamales and a chile and hominy soup called posole.  The other tradition was to go to Midnight Mass, come home, open presents, and enjoy the hearty meal.  It is one of my most favorite childhood memories and one that I will relive again this year.


I recently ran across an article describing what it called “Christmas Soup.”  I’d never heard of it so I read on.  The dish is a somewhat simple bean and sausage soup, but the ingredients tell the story of Christ’s birth and I found it interesting.  Here is the recipe:



Soup jar

Christmas Soup

1 cup each pinto, black, navy, Lima, and kidney beans

1 cup each black-eyed and split green peas

1 cup lentils

2 cans tomatoes with green chile peppers

1 chopped onion

1 chopped bell pepper

1 lb. smoked sausage, chopped

Salt, pepper, garlic powder, and seasonings to taste


Place beans in large Dutch oven or pot.  Cover with water just two inches above beans.  Bring to boil, cover, remove from heat and let stand for one hour.  Add water to cover beans again and continue doing so as needed.  In skillet, brown sausage, onion, and bell pepper.  Add mixture to beans and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer for all for one hour.


Soup bowl


Now here’s the story behind the ingredients:

The light brown pinto beans are the same color as the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem.

The black-eyed peas look like the eyes of the animals Mary and Joseph found living in the manger.

The greenish-yellow lentils remind us of the hay that Mary used to make a bed for baby Jesus.

The black beans make the nighttime sky the night Jesus was born.

The white navy beans resemble the stars in that sky.

The white lima beans signify the wings of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus

The split green peas and red kidney beans denote the gifts brought to Jesus by the 3 Kings.



Cool, right?  And, maybe it can become a tradition you start in your family this year. Or, you could also give the soup ingredients as a gift in a festive mason jar and attach the recipe.   Either way, soup’s on!


I Am Woman, I’m a Wordsmith blog: Tuesday Tip December 23, 2014

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The X-ing out of Christmas




I’ve always been a bit offended when I see Christmas referred to as “Xmas.”  In my thinking, doing so literally leaves out the real meaning of Christmas:  Christ.  But, I read something recently that somewhat changed my mind.  Somewhat.


Apparently the X is “Xmas” does not refer to the English letter X but rather to the Greek letter “chi,” which looks just like the English letter X.  Chi is the first letter in the Greek word that we translate as Christ and ancient Christians would abbreviate the word by using only the first letter of it.  They meant no offense and coincidentally, the letter also resembles a cross.  In addition, the word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “messiah” and both mean “anointed.”


Learning this makes sense and explains it all, but I still prefer writing out the word Christmas and unless you are an ancient Greek, maybe you should too!


Merry Xmas and Merry Christmas everyone!


I’ll Drink to That December 22, 2014

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Wassail and Eggnog punch.  Spiced wine and buttered rum.  The beverages we drink during the holidays range from spiked to spicy and what fun we can have with them!  Even beer.


Beer?  Yep.  Did you know that Belgium’s famous Stella Artois was actually named after the holiday star and was first brewed as a holiday beer as a gift to the people of Leuven, Belgium?  “Stella,” meaning star and “Artois” acknowledges Sebastian Artois, the brewery owner.  Who knew, right?  The beer is a golden lager, in contrast to the popular dark ales of the time.  Its brilliant color was said to illuminate holiday celebrations and bring a sort of light to the world.


To help put a little “punch” in your eggnog, I thought I’d share some popular recipes for Christmas time drinks.  Cheers!




2 large apples, cored and sliced

1 gallon apple cider

6 whole cloves

6 whole allspice berries

2 t ground nutmeg

2 cinnamon sticks

6 oz. can frozen lemonade

6 oz. can frozen orange juice

½ cup honey

24 lemon and/or orange slices halved and quartered


Combine all ingredients except lemon and orange slices in large pot.  Cover and simmer for one hour until very hot; stir occasionally.  Remove apple slices and spices from liquid.  Keep liquid hot.  When ready to serve, place lemon and orange slices in wassail.



eggnog punch

Peppermint Eggnog Punch

1 qt. peppermint ice cream

1 qt. eggnog

4 12-oz. cans chilled ginger ale

1 cup rum (optional)

Candy canes


Reserve 2-3 scoops of ice cream.  In large chilled bowl stir in remaining ice cream till softened.  Gradually stir in eggnog and rum.  Transfer to punch bowl and add ginger ale.  Float reserved ice cream scoops on top.  Serve immediately with candy cane garnishes.




Spiced Wine

1 750-ml. bottle medium bodied red wine

½ cup sugar

10 whole cloves

6 cinnamon sticks

4 bay leaves

1 orange cut into wedges


Bring first 6 ingredients to boil in medium saucepan over high heat.  Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes.  Pour through fine wire-mesh strainer and serve warm garnished with cinnamon stick.



hot choc

Christmas Eve Creamy Crockpot Hot Chocolate

1 ½ cups heavy cream

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)

2 cups milk chocolate chips

6 cups of milk

1 t vanilla extract


Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and heat on low.


santa martini

Santa’s Sleigh Cocktail (courtesy Sandra Lee)

Coarse, white sugar crystals

2 cups eggnog

½ cup brandy

½ cup amaretto liqueur

1 t ground nutmeg

2 scoops vanilla ice cream

4 cinnamon sticks


Combine eggnog, brandy, amaretto, nutmeg and ice cream in blender and process until smooth.  Pour mixture into martini glasses rimmed with sugar crystals and garnish with cinnamon stick.



Candy Cane Cocktail

2 oz. strawberry vodka

4 dashes white crème de menthe

2 ½ oz. cranberry juice

Ice cubes

Candy canes


Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker and shake until well combined.  Strain into martini glass rimmed with crushed candy cane pieces and garnish with miniature candy cane.




Gingerbread Martini

2 T ginger liqueur

2 T vanilla citrus liqueur

1 ½ T coffee-flavored rum

1 T honey

2 t whipping cream


Combine all in cocktail shaker and shake vigorously.  Serve in martini glass rimmed with crushed gingersnaps and garnish with vanilla beans.




Caramel Apple Whiskey (courtesy Zoe Report)

7 ½ oz. brown butter Whiskey (heat stick of butter in pan, bring to boil, add to whiskey)

2 ½ oz. Amaro Montenegro liqueur

2 ½ cups cinnamon syrup  (bring water and several cinnamon sticks to boil.  Simmer 15 minutes)

4 oz. lemon juice

Cinnamon sticks


Combine all ingredients in shaker with ice and shake until smooth.  Pour into carafe and serve in glasses garnished with cinnamon stick.


Have fun with these and most importantly, drink responsibly.


Keep Seeking December 21, 2014

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From Christmas to Chanukah December 17, 2014

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Happy Hanukkah!  What?  I’m not Jewish!  Nope, but as a Christian I know we owe a tremendous debt to our Jewish friends so I thought I’d take a break from my Christmas-themed posts and share a little Hanukkah history with you.


Today marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the eight-night Jewish “Festival of Lights,” which observers celebrate by lighting the candles on a menorah. As I write this and as you read it, Jews across the world are gathering to light candles and share blessings. We’ve all seen the tiered candelabras, now let’s learn about them.


It’s in honor of Judah Maccabee and his four brothers who lead a revolt against the Assyrian Greeks who had taken over Jerusalem.  The Maccabees won the war and regained control of their cherished temple, which the Assyrians had all but destroyed.  After cleaning it up, the Maccabees went to light a menorah lamp but could only find enough oil to last one night.  That’s when Jews believe a true miracle happened as it lasted eight nights, allowing them to make more oil.  This is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights.


During modern day Hanukkah traditions, each night one candle on a special menorah called a Hanukkiah is lit.  There are a total of nine candles and there are blessings said with each lighting.  It all kinda reminds me of our Christian Advent wreaths, their candles, and the accompanying prayers said with the lighting of them.


It’s not surprising, as Christianity is rooted in Judaism, the least of which is God’s own son, Jesus Christ, who was Jewish!  Other teachings Christianity received from Judaism is our basic understanding of God, God’s covenant with His people, and the practice of assembling together for worship.  Christians do so on Sundays; Jews on their Sabbath, roughly observed from Friday evening until Saturday night.  The two faiths agree on many things.  For example, Christians accept the Old Testament and all its teaching as inspired, and both faiths believe in the perfect creation of the world by an infinite God, that Satan introduced sin into the world, that God judges sin, and that sins must be atoned for.  What most prominently separates the two is that Judaism does not accept the central Christian teaching that Jesus is the Messiah.  For most Jews, the coming of the Messiah or the messianic age is still in the future.


Judaism is the oldest of the world’s three great monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all of which serve only one God.  Judaism is also the parent of both Christianity and Islam.  Jews believe Yahweh, the only one God, created and rules the universe and revealed his law, the Torah, to the then Hebrews.  The Torah contains more than 600 commands, which are summed up in the Ten Commandments.  Sacred scriptures of Judaism are the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  The scriptures also form the biblical Old Testament but do not adhere to the Christian New Testament.


So how is Hanukkah celebrated?  First and foremost, it’s all about the oil; that sacred oil used in the Temple by the Maccabees.  Today Jews traditionally eat two foods, sufganiyot, which are like jelly donuts; and the more famous latkes, which are basically potato pancakes.  Both are fried in oil and are eaten throughout Hanukkah.




As with Christians and Christmas traditions, Jewish families vary in their Hanukkah traditions.  Two things that are pretty standard are the giving of gifts and playing the dreidel.  Gift giving is reserved for children, who receive a small present each night for the eight nights of Hanukkah.  Unbeknownst to me, however, is that the dreidel is actually a game.  Each side of one has a Hebrew letter that stands for the phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” which means “A great miracle happened here.”  Players start with the same number of tokens, which can be anything from pennies to candies to the traditional chocolate coins called gelt.  Players take turns rolling the dreidel, hoping they land on the side that allows them to take the “pot” in the middle.  The game continues until one player collects all the tokens.  Sounds fun to me!


Although we’ve all heard of Hanukkah, its fame is partially due to the fact that it falls so near Christmas.  It is not considered a major holiday by Jews and is nowhere near the ranks of Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah or Passover, which are much more important and honored holidays.


Finally, is it Hanukkah or Chanukah?  A Hebrew word, it has many English spelling variations, the most popular of which are Hanukkah and Chanukah. Traditionalists say the proper spelling of the word, which means “dedication” or “induction,” is “Chanukah” as it comes closest to representing the pronunciation of the Hebrew word and using Hebrew letters. “Hanukkah,” however, more accurately recreates the Hebrew spelling. However you spell it or however you say it, say it with respect.


So here’s to my Jewish friends. May your Hanukkah be blessed and may your year be full of joy. Mazel Tov!



Comforting Joy December 14, 2014

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The Inspired Room

(Photo courtesy “The Inspired Room”)


“Rejoice always.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16


Happy Third Sunday of Advent, on which the third candle of an Advent wreath is lit, this time the sole pink one and the one that symbolizes joy.  This third Sunday is called “Gaudete” Sunday, which is the Latin word for “rejoice.”  On this day and every day we are called to “scatter joy” and to rejoice in all things good.


What does it mean to “rejoice?”  It doesn’t necessarily mean to feel happy or giddy but rather to find a source of joy and to be grateful.  Most of all, it calls us to express that feeling of thanks and resolve to be a herald of good tidings.


But, who am I kidding, as sometimes it’s tough to find joy and certainly to rejoice.  We all have our struggles and our sorrows but something I read today gave me hope.


Paul speaks of rejoicing in God’s love together.  Yep, God never wants us to be or feel alone so he actually instructs us to pray and love together.  God envisions us helping one another carry life’s burdens, offering a listening ear or shoulder to cry on, taking care of those ill or alone, and accompanying loved ones through their struggles.   We will find, says Paul, that rejoicing is something we do by reaching out to each other.  We are joyful when others find joy, but we also weep when others are hurting.


Christmas is filled with songs and sayings of joy.   “Joy to the World.”  “Comfort and Joy.”  “Echoing their joyous strains.”  Notice it’s not “Happiness to the World” or “Comfort and Happiness.”  There’s a big difference.  “Happy” is often attached to circumstances or possessions, but if you possess real joy, you remain joyful even when things aren’t going the way you hoped they would.  A joyful person knows that any temporary struggle is God’s way of strengthening us and preparing us for the ultimate joy.  You feel confident that God is in control and you allow life to unfold in His time, not yours.  Not an easy state to accomplish, but one to strive for nonetheless.


Be the good


Goodness is greater than sin and love conquers all, and in this we can rejoice today and every day as good happens daily, even amongst the bad.  We should spread this Advent joy to each other and those we meet throughout our busy days.  Let us remember that true joy does not come from the things we buy and receive at Christmas, but from the love, kindness, and compassion we receive from and give to others.


“May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing that you may abound I hope.”

Romans 15:13