Beyond Words

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

Take a Peak July 24, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 7:34 pm


Just last week I was looking at glorious mountains in Alaska. There is really no way to explain their grandeur and beauty and they continue to invade my thoughts. Mountains anywhere are stunning. They are enveloping, challenging, and impressive. They are also all over the Bible and are often places where both historic prophets and modern day people encounter God.


Abraham sacrificed his son Isaac on a mountain. Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Jerusalem was built on Mt. Zion, which came to symbolize the Promise Land for the Jews. Mt. Zion is also believed to be the burial site of King David and where Jesus and His apostles conducted the Last Supper. And that’s just the Old Testament.


In the New Testament, mountains are just as prevalent. In His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus gave us the “Our Father,” the New Law, and The Beatitudes. His Transfiguration takes place on top of a mountain and he is put to death on Mt. Calvary.


A mountain top is perhaps the perfect place to encounter God. The sky is grand, the air is clean, and heaven just feels a little bit closer. Maybe it’s all just symbolic, but let’s hike up and look at The Sermon on the Mount and The Transfiguration this Sunday and see how our lives can be affected by them.



Jesus followers

The Sermon on the Mount

It’s been 2,000 some years since Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, but it is as pertinent today as it was then…perhaps even more so. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus “went up into a mountain and when he sat down, his disciples came to Him.” As He spoke to them He gave them The Beatitudes, reiterated the Ten Commandments, and taught them the “Our Father.” Wow. It was definitely a busy day on that mount!


What I love about this story is that unlike Israel and Moses, who received The Ten Commandments with great fanfare and pageantry, the Sermon on the Mount was much more serene and tranquil. Many believe Jesus picked the quiet mountaintop setting to deliver his message so His listeners would truly hear what He had to say. Mountains have a way of amplifying the senses and boosting mindfulness.


What’s also interesting about the story is that Jesus didn’t start His visit with the Commandments. He began first by describing who will be blessed by God and giving them the Beatitudes, which are basically acts of virtues by grace-filled souls. He says the kingdom of heaven is for those who “are poor in spirt, mourn, meek, thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, and are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” The first four deal with our relationship with God and our personal needs, while the second four focus on our relationships with others and our responsibilities.  In a way, these teachings steer us away from what the world today is steering us toward. We are called to be meek, humble, and pure; not exactly the virtues seen on TV, in music, and on social media.


So Jesus first taught how to be, then he taught how to pray with the “Our Father” and warned the disciples not to be hypocrites and publicly pray in loud ways but rather to “go into your room, shut your door, and pray to your Father.” He also brought up the issue of wealth, suggesting we look inward and ask ourselves “where is our treasure?” and “which master do we serve?” and instructed us to be both “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” Our good works should shine before all and glorify God.


Then, He laid down His New Law. These “laws” can be found in both Hebrew and Christian Bibles, and we’ve all heard them and know them. Thou shall not kill, thou shall not commit adultery, turn the other cheek, and even love your enemies. They include instructions to worship God only, honor our parents, and keep the Sabbath holy; as well as prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, theft, dishonesty and even coveting. No pressure, right?


It is said The Beatitudes are how to become disciples and The Commandments are how to be Christians. It really all comes down to choices. We are instructed to make proper choices based on God’s instructions in the Bible rather than following the crowd and taking the easy and self-gratifying way.



The Transfiguration

Then there’s the Transfiguration where Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain and is transfigured before them. Trans what? Transfigured, meaning Jesus shone bright with rays of light, Moses and Elijah appeared next to Him, and a voice from the sky called Him “Son.” The event is considered one of the miracles of Jesus, is the only miracle that happens to Jesus himself, and was called “the greatest miracle” by St. Thomas Aquinas.


You could say God physically invaded Jesus’ body and in the same way don’t we all want God to invade our lives?


“Our faith can move mountains.” Matthew 17:20



Northern lights

Maybe the idea behind all the biblical mountain references is that the higher up you go, the closer you are to God. We all have mountains in our lives, many of which we create from molehills. Climbing a mountain is physically difficult and finding a spiritual “mountain” in which to pray can be just as hard. It is a struggle even Jesus encountered as He was tempted when “the devil took Him up to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence.” I wish I could return to Alaska and go pray in those mountains, but “mountain” can be figurative too. Our “mountains of prayer” can be the shower, a church, a quiet room in the house, the beach, even our car. A real mountain can be a cathedral in so many ways. Whatever peak you choose, wait and listen for God to reveal Himself to you. Like Jesus, we just need to take the time to walk away from our busy lives and make the effort. Through dedication we can climb those mountains and we will not hike them alone. God is willing to meet us halfway. Are we up for the climb?






Size Does Matter July 23, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 5:36 pm

Everything is bigger in Texas, right? That’s what they say, but don’t tell that to an Alaskan, who will promptly tell you where to put that saying. I learned this on my recent trip to Alaska, and as someone who has called Texas home for more than 30 years and has a Texas native daughter, I found it all very interesting. Texas may have 10 gallon hats, but Alaska has 10 story glaciers.


Talk is cheap, but the line of my trip definitely goes to a port attendant in Juneau who, upon seeing our Texas licenses, coyly said, “I thought about moving to Texas, if only it wasn’t so small.” Ouch. Insult meet injury as the below is a common T-shirt found in Alaska:




As proud as Texans are, it’s hard to argue the size point to an Alaskan. With 663,268 square miles, Alaska is nearly two-and-a-half times bigger than Texas. In fact, it is bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined and is actually larger than all but 18 sovereign countries.


No need to be shamed though Texas, with your 261,231 square miles of land you would be the 39th largest country in the world, ranking just ahead of Afghanistan. Considering there are roughly 200 countries across the globe, this means that the majority of them are smaller than Texas.


It’s worth saying though, that both states are larger in size than France and Germany and Rhode Island could fit in Alaska 425 times and in Texas 221 times! And if that’s not enough to make you saw “wow,” consider these maps depicting how much of Europe would fit in both.


Europe in Texas1    Euro in AK


You could say Texas is a solid #2 though, as it’s also the second most populous state topped only by California, whose 38 million residents somewhat dwarf Texas’ 27 million. But, Texas does boast the nation’s fourth, fifth, and seventh largest metropolitan areas in the country with Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio respectively. Houston, with nearly 2.2 million residents, is the state’s largest city and who can forget that the first word spoken from the moon was “Houston.” From the moon! Take that Alaska and California!


I remember when I worked and wrote for the Texas Department of Commerce our Tourism Division was big on always including fun facts about Texas in brochures, travel guides, and just about anything we printed and that little gem about the Lunar landing was one of our favorites.


For this blog, I thought it’d be fun to compare Alaska and Texas in a totally unbiased way. I love Texas and I loved Alaska so it’s all in fun. Fasten your seat belts and check your bags, here we go!


From north to south, Alaska measures 1,420 miles, roughly the same distance from Denver to Mexico City.

From east to west, Alaska measures 2,500 miles, which equals the distance from Savannah, Georgia to Santa Barbara, California.


Dallas to Houston is about the same distance as London to Paris.

Downtown Dallas to downtown Ft. Worth is longer than both the Gaza Strip and the English Channel.

Beaumont, Texas is closer to Tampa, Florida than it is to El Paso.

Brownsville, Texas is closer to Mexico City than it is to Dallas.

Texarkana, Texas is closer to Atlanta than it is to El Paso.

Corpus Christi, Texas is closer to Cuba than it is to Denver.

Austin is closer to New Orleans than it is to El Paso.



Alaska is home to the country’s most northern point, Point Barrow, and the most western point, Cape Wrangell, which is further west than even Hawaii. It also has the most easterly longitude in the U.S. because the Aleutian Islands extend into the eastern hemisphere.


Alaska’s population is around 740,000 and approximately half of them live in Anchorage.

The population of Texas is just over 22 million, meaning 83 times more people per square mile than Alaska.


Bluebonnet roadTexas has the second largest state highway system in the country, topped only by North Carolina’s. Just Interstate 10’s length alone is nearly 900 miles and The Old San Antonio Road, also known as El Camino Real, is the oldest highway in the U.S. Historic Route 66 also makes its way through Texas.


Only 20 percent of Alaska’s roads are paved and the state’s road system is equal to that of Rhode Island’s, the smallest state. (The road I took for my dog sled race climbed waaay up into the mountains and was not paved!) Alaskans are big on boats and big on airplanes. There is one plane and one pilot for every 70 Alaskans and 6.3 times more active pilots per capita than Texas.


Flight time from Dallas or Houston to Anchorage is just over six hours.

Flight time from Tokyo to Anchorage is just over seven hours.


Alaska has more than 50 percent of the entire U.S. coastline with its 6,640 miles and a longer coastline than all other states combined.

Texas has 367 miles of coastline.


Alaska has 3 million (yes, 3 million!) lakes that are more than 20 acres big.

Texas has many lakes but only one, Caddo Lake in East Texas, is a natural lake. Most lakes in Texas are man-made. But, it does have 5,607 square miles of inland water, ranking it first in the 48 contiguous states, followed by Florida, Minnesota, and Louisiana.


(The word “lake” comes from the Greek word “lakkos” meaning hole or pond. A “lake” is a naturally formed body of water surrounded by land. Most true lakes in the U.S. are in the northern part of the country and were formed by glaciers (i.e. Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan). Lakes can also be formed by the combination of sinkholes and springs (such as in parts of Florida), in craters of extinct volcanoes, or when the deposition of silt in a river closes the natural outlet to a sea. A body of water not formed by natural means is technically a “reservoir” and are often created by manmade dams.)


Texas shares a border with Mexico.

Alaska shares a border with Canada and a maritime border with Russia. The Russian Diomede Island and Alaskan Little Diomede Island in the Bering Strait are only three miles apart.


Texas became the 28th state in 1845.

Alaska became the 49th state in 1958.


The U.S. acquired Texas from Mexico in 1848.

The U.S. purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867.



Alaska’s state capital, Juneau, has no connecting roadways to the mainland and can only be reached by boat or plane.


Texas’ state capitol building in Austin is taller than U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. At 302.64 feet, Austin’s pink granite structure is almost 15 feet taller than the 288-foot-high D.C. building. (I gotta say, Texas wins this battle by a landslide as the capitol building in Juneau is a nondescript edifice that looks more like an old office building than a state capitol.)


Alaska’s highest point, Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley), is 20,320 feet and is North America’s highest mountain. Alaska also has 15 other peaks higher than any in the continental U.S.


DFW airport is bigger in land space than Manhattan.



The flag of Alaska consists of eight gold stars forming the Big Dipper, as well as the North Star, all on a dark blue field. The Big Dipper is part of the Ursa Major constellation, which symbolizes the bear, an animal indigenous to Alaska. The stars can also be used as a guide to locate Polaris and determine true north.



Flag_of_Texas_svgLike the U.S. flag, the Texas flag is red, white, and blue, which stand for bravery, purity, and loyalty…in that order. The “lone” white star represents all Texans and stands for unity. Residents of the Lone Star State love their flag so much there is an actual pledge to it and is taught to school children. The term “Lone Star State” signifies Texas’ former status as an independent republic. It is the “lone” state to lay claim to this and Texans are very proud of it.


Texas is also known for its “Six Flags Over Texas,” and I’m not talking theme parks here. The slogan describes the six countries that have ruled over the territory and consist of Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States.


Alaska is known as “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” On December 21 each year, the sun doesn’t rise for 24 hours, and on June 21, the sun doesn’t set for 24 hours. While I was there, the sun set around 10:30 p.m. and rose around 4:30 a.m. Due to the long summer days, vegetables grow huge in Alaska. The largest known cabbage weighed 127 pounds.


The name Texas comes from the Caddo word “Tejas,” which means “friends.”

The name Alaska is derived from the Aleut word “Alyeska,” which means “great land.”


Oil is big in both Texas and Alaska but Texas wins this battle as the most oil-rich state. It has the highest number of total crude oil production at more than 1.2 billion barrels, the most refineries at 26, and has the most proven oil reserves in the country with more than 10 billion barrels.


Surprisingly, Alaska comes in third, followed by #2 North Dakota. Who knew?! Alaska is home to some of the largest oil fields in the country but proven oil reserves are declining.


So there you have it. The “Battle Between the Biggies.” I’d call it a draw because residents of both, when asked where they’re from, rarely say a city and instead instinctively reply “Texas” or “Alaska.” But, as much as I think they border on tacky, it’s not uncommon to see a Texas woman wearing Texas-shaped earrings, yet I didn’t see any wearing Alaska-shaped ones. Tiebreak Alaska or “ayes” of Texas? You decide!




“I’m Bored Mom.” Good! July 7, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:11 pm


The Fourth of July has come and gone are we are now in the middle of the doldrums of summer. This time can be especially trying on parents of younger kids, or any kids still living at home for that matter, as camps are winding down, vacations have been taken, and the natives are getting restless. And bored. But guess what parents, boredom is good and you need to encourage it! In fact, you need to schedule it! What? Yep, stop planning every second of your child’s summer and let them experience boredom.  End of story but not end of blog.




The Importance of Doing Nothing

Boredom is very important in a child’s life but parents tend to think cooking classes, art camps, tennis lessons, and other scheduled activities are summer “must dos.” Wrong. Yes, it’s beneficial for a child to learn some new things but it’s also good for them to learn how to be bored.


According to Dr. Teresa Bolton and hundreds of other child development experts, boredom is crucial for developing a child’s internal stimulus, which ultimately results in creativity and motivational skills that will help them later in life. Child Psychologist Lyn Fry adds, “There’s no problem with being bored. Children need to learn how to be bored in order to motivate themselves. Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant.”


That’s all well and good, but enter parents. Parents who try waaaaaay too hard to make their kids’ lives perfect and who decide for them what they will be doing in their spare time. Mom and dad choose soccer camp, play movies in the car, schedule relentless play dates, and stock up on video games. These do very little to motivate kids and make them resourceful. Stop it, and stop it now.


Little Engine parents1Our role as parents is to raise honorable children and prepare them for their future places in society. But, providing endless sources of entertainment actually does more harm than good. Yes family time is important but so is alone time. Kids who are signed up for everything don’t experience autonomy, may not seek challenges, or have difficulty self-motivating. If a parent spends all his or her time filling up a child’s time, that child will never learn to do so for themselves, but a child whose life is not filled with programmed activities will have no choice but to increase their creativity and develop motivational skills. It is those type of skills that will satisfy our roles of preparing them for life…life that is not all about them and life that if full of challenges whether we like to admit it or not.


I’ll admit it. I was THAT mom for a short time. I had Kristen enrolled in this camp and that class. She’s an only child and I never wanted her to feel alone or left out, but I quickly discovered that my girl enjoys her down time. She still does to this day. As much as she is a “people person” and easily makes friends, she also needs and likes her alone time. It’s one of her biggest strengths.




Cure for boredom

“I am passionately curious.” Albert Einstein


So if boredom begets curiosity and curiosity was good enough for Einstein then boredom should be good enough for the rest of us, right? To be sure, I’m not saying don’t enroll your child in anything, but at the same time, don’t over-schedule them and, hear this, let them decide what they might want to take a class or lesson in. Maybe Johnny doesn’t really like soccer or wants a break from it during the summer. Maybe Sally would like to learn how to sew not dance. In the same vein, just because brother likes swim team doesn’t mean sister does. All siblings should not be required to do the same activities. Every child is different and should be allowed to have their own interests.


Sit down with your children and ask them what really interests them. Then, plan for them to participate in that activity, not an activity you think they should do. (The only lesson I firmly believe every child should be “forced” to do is swimming. I’m not saying swim team; I’m saying every child should take swim lessons and learn how to survive in water.)  It’s in our nature to control things, but as Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips warns, “It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take time to find what interests him,” Phillips also adds that boredom is integral to the process of taking one’s time.


Slow downHella hurry. What do so many criticize Gen X and Millennials for? Wanting something and wanting it all right now. Hmmmm….I wonder why? Perhaps they never were allowed to be bored as youngsters.


The good thing is, boredom is a temporary state. It never lasts forever and in most cases someone who is bored will be inspired to find something to do. When your child tells you, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do,” that’s your sign that he or she needs some inner reflection and self-motivation. Remember that list you made with them about their interests? Have them look at it and figure out what they can come up with to tackle that interest. Put it on them. A motivated child is a child who will seek opportunities and experiences and will be able to protect themself from boredom.


ClocksRest assured however, that allowing your child to experience boredom does not remove responsibility from their life and does not mean permitting so much down time that they find trouble. I think that’s what many parents think they are avoiding, which is a good thing, but like anything it’s all about timing and balance.


You can always go old school on them and warn them that if they can’t find something productive to do, you’ll find something for them. Worked for me and will work for you little darlings. Guarantee it. In addition, older kids should be required to hold a job and youngsters should be encouraged to fill their boredom with chores. From a very young age, all kids need to be accountable for their actions and be provided with an environment that encourages them to work on their own, go beyond their comfort zones, and solve their own problems. This requires no structured programming and unplugging the TV, video games, cell phones, and computers…unless they use them to create something. Just say no parents!


So many kids today are never told “no” even when a parent is tired and needs some down time of their own. We rush around giving in to our children’s every whim, we coddle them and their feelings, and we allow too many choices. This is not what the bestselling “Parenting with Love and Logic” meant to suggest but like anything, today’s “I want them to like me and I want their life free of adversity” parents have taken the book’s very wise lessons too far.


So schedule boredom mom and say no to video games dad. Actually stay home for a change and let your kids chill. You may just be surprised at what they discover.




Squad Goals July 4, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 3:57 am

Brittany Fuson squad

Brittany Fuson’s “Squad”


I’ve been thinking a lot about friends lately. Old friends, new friends, funny friends, serious friends. I think it’s partly because of my upcoming move. But, I know I’m going to have to make new friends. I’ll meet them playing golf and tennis, going to book club and yoga, and socializing as couples. Still, it’s so weird to think that the women I meet and befriend will not have a clue about my husband, my daughter, my history, or my interests.


On top of that, in the last year or so I’ve met a wonderful group of girls in my neighborhood who have become dear friends…friends that complement the ones I already have but who I didn’t know before. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting together with them on a regular basis and getting to know them. I like them, I respect them, and I’m going to miss them. I also have a coworker in my hood who I’ve gotten closer to in recent months. Of course my thought process about all of this is “Why now?” But then I ran across some journals during a recent pack and purge day and I was reassured that these women will remain in my life regardless of where I move or where they move.


FriendsI was cleaning out my closet when, just as I thought I was done, I saw a bag at the very back. I thought, “What in the world is in that?” Come to find out it was old journals and a “This Is My Story” fill-in-the-blank book I’d filled out for Kristen years ago. Like when she was in elementary school. As I glanced through it and several entries in the journals, I was so pleased to read several of those entries mentioned my friends Kathy, Rosie, Mary, and MB. Pleased of course because they were happy and funny memories, but even more pleased because those four ladies are still so very important to me. Two of them don’t even live in Austin anymore, but I still rely on them and cherish our bonds.


It all made me realize that regardless of where one lives, one’s friends are everywhere.


friends1 (2)


Today I went to a musical play with a friend I worked with 30 years ago. She moved from Austin many years back but just this year returned. Thirty years later and we’ve picked up right where we left off. I couldn’t be happier.


As I evaluate my friendships, I discover that so many of my friends are long-time ones. We lay claim to histories that are both happy and heartbreaking. We’ve worked together, travelled together, golfed together, cried together, laughed together, and grown together. They teach me, support me, comfort me, accept me, inspire me, laugh with me, and challenge me. We all have our “squad goals” and realizing mine is pretty dang special is very comforting and gratifying.



XBarb'sEver since I was a little girl, I longed for good and trusted friends. I remember like it was yesterday the day my friend Tina decided to be “best friends” with Michelle instead of me. It crushed me. I had a similar experience as an adult when a dear friend and I had a major disagreement and our friendship ended. It too crushed me. Years have gone by, we’ve both matured, and when I just last week ran into her in the grocery store we hugged and shared updates on our lives, our families, and our empty nest plans. We will probably never be the bosom buddies we once were, but the hurt is gone.





They say people come into your life for different reasons and for different lengths of time. I’m pretty sure my college girlfriends, who I take a trip with once a year and whose friendships I have now shared for more than 30 years, are time-tested and eternally secure. What a blessing to watch as our own kids, nieces, and nephews are now forging friendships all their own. I guess you could say that circle of college coeds has come full circle.




OU grads

In some ways holding on to friendships is easier today, what with so many apps and sites that help everyone keep in touch. But, we are also a much more nomad-like society and people move in and move away constantly. It’s challenging but not impossible to hold onto friendships. Plus, you can always go visit them!






All of this was further reinforced by a blog I read today. In yesterday’s “Our Daily Bread” entry, readers are invited to “sit a spell” and really take the time to catch-up with someone. This, as it detailed, can often be hard in today’s jam-packed and action-oriented world. We all get busy, time is precious, and it’s a lot easier to send a text or Facebook message. But, that’s not what Jesus did when he went to Zacchaeus’ house. He spent time with the tax collector and ultimately changed his life.


I loved “sitting a spell” with my friend Kathy and her sister Carolyn today as we lunched and headed to the play. I hope to continue doing so and if history serves as any indicator, I will continue to do so with my newly formed squad. Even when I move out of their neighborhood.


Do You Really Count? July 1, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 7:27 pm



Happy Fourth of July weekend America! And, what better way to celebrate then to get fired up about the presidential election? You know, because…’Merica!


You really can’t turn on the TV, open a browser or newspaper, or tune in a radio station and not hear or read something having to do with this fall’s presidential election. Even recently as I floated in a Hill Country swimming hole with friends, election talk could not be avoided. Who was voting for whom was a mixed bag, and at one point the supporter of the candidate I’m not supporting said “then just don’t vote” and I told her the same. In that scenario, we would cancel out each other’s votes so in essence our votes wouldn’t count. But do they anyway?


Primary season has come and gone and we voters are left with two candidates from which to choose our next leader: Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. This, of course, barring any third party run (I’m looking at you Gary Johnson) or Republican National Convention chaos, or even Mrs. Clinton being indicted from the federal investigation of her now infamous email browser. I’m not going there at all, but I am going to college: the Electoral College. What is it exactly and how does it work?


It’s important to start by reminding (or educating) everyone that the United States doesn’t elect presidents based on the popular vote. In other words, the candidate with the most votes doesn’t necessarily win. (see Bush vs. Gore 2000). It all starts with primaries and caucuses.


Up to this point, every state has held either a state primary or caucus, during which voters selected a winner. Next up are both party’s National Conventions when delegates officially nominate their presidential ticket. It’s those names that will appear on the November general election presidential ballot, which is held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November in years divisible by four.


Cue the confusion.


Voting booth


A Primary Election or Caucus is held in every state prior to a November general election. Their purpose is to allow every registered voter in every state to vote. We vote for candidates but what we’re really choosing are delegates to represent our state at the party’s national convention. The goal is to get an accurate representation of delegates to vote at those conventions. So who are the delegates and how are they selected?


There are two types of delegates that go to national conventions: a pledged delegate (or “delegate” as they are usually referred to) and “superdelegates,” who in a way really do have super powers.


A delegate is basically someone nominated to attend the national party convention. Their naming comes as a result of their state’s primary election or caucus and they vow to vote for that candidate at the convention. In other words, whatever candidate won their state’s primary is who they pledge to vote for at the convention. Example: if someone supported Marco Rubio during the primary season but is selected as a Republican National Convention delegate, he or she pledges to nominate Donald Trump as the party’s official candidate at the convention.


A superdelegate, on the otherhand, can vote for whoever they want. Only the Democratic Party uses superdelegates and as you can imagine, they are like gold. Any U.S. citizen registered with a party can be a delegate but it’s all very competitive and the role is commonly reserved for those who campaign for it and have a history of serving the party well statewide.


Caucuses are the original form of selecting delegates but are now used only by a handful of states. At them, potential delegates are named and then selected after much debate and discussion.




The purpose of Democratic and Republican national conventions is for delegates to choose the candidates that will represent each party in the general election. All of this is somewhat of a formality because nominees are usually known by virtue of primary and caucus wins. The conventions are also where party officials establish their platforms, which are basically their espoused values, planned actions, and policies they hope to enforce. Most of us think of them as where we see delegates wearing goofy hats and candidates walk out to the perfect song with families in tow. Regardless of the festive atmospheres, they are serious business. They’re like the Olympics and Super Bowl rolled into one of presidential campaigns



We the people


Although there is no official address or building for the Electoral College, it’s uber important as it essentially chooses the leader of the free world. It’s also all you’ll hear about on Election Night as news reports tally and count “electoral vote” totals state-by-state. We use this system of appointed electors for this election and this one only. It will take 270 electoral votes to win the 2016 presidential election. First one to 270 wins!


Basically, each state is allotted electors equal to its number of members of the U.S. House and Senate combined. History class refresher: every state has two U.S. Senators but the number of Representatives is based on population. States with bigger populations have more reps in D.C. and therefore more electoral votes. Campaigning in California could be more important to a candidate then campaigning in Montana.


The Electoral College is a “winner take all” system and any U.S. citizen can become an elector. Appointed by individual state party leaders, electors are bound to a particular presidential ticket. And, even though we will individually vote for a candidate on November 8, we are actually voting for presidential electors. Whichever candidate wins each state’s popular vote wins its coveted electoral votes as well. If it all sounds a bit like convention delegates, it’s because it is, just for a different purpose.


Primaries, caucuses, and conventions are all about choosing a candidate, while the Electoral College is about choosing a president.


The words “Electoral College” don’t appear in the Constitution but the process of it is outlined in Article One. The practice reflects the Founding Father’s desire to maintain our country’s celebrated “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” systems and was first used to elect none other than George Washington after being adopted at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Not a lot has changed since then, except that originally electors voted for two people. Whoever got the most votes became president with the first runner up becoming vice president. That all changed in 1804 when the Twelfth Amendment created the process we use today.


The method was also seen as a way to ensure the U.S. operated as a federation of individual states and with limited federal government involvement. It’s how our country was meant to be. Founding Fathers believed state’s electors would know better which candidate would serve their state best so keeping political powers within state governments was encouraged. Much has changed since then, but much has stayed the same.





Yes, and maybe no. Your vote for a candidate in your state’s general election this November influences which candidate gets the most votes in that state. And remember, all of that state’s electoral votes are allotted to the state’s popular vote winner. So, in a way, when you vote, you may be voting for your candidate, but you’re also voting for the party slate of Electors representing your choice for president and vice president.


I know, I know. It’s all very confusing. Maybe a few “pros” and “cons” regarding the Electoral College will help.


Electoral College Pros

  • It protects minority interests in that all states, even those with lower populations and in rural areas, have equal voices and no one region has enough electoral votes to elect a president.
  • It’s a fairly accurate method with a 90 percent success rate of choosing the candidate who won the popular vote more than nine out of 10 times.
  • It strengthens the two-party system (some might consider this a con) by encouraging generalized platforms rather than specific issues-driven agendas.
  • Because all but two states employ a “winner takes all” process, the winner does enjoy a clear majority.
  • It gives states the power to elect our presidents and keeps them an integral part of the entire selection process.


Electoral College Cons

  • A candidate can win the popular vote but still not be elected president as was the case in 2000 (remember all those hanging chads in Florida?!) when Al Gore won more popular votes but George W. Bush won the majority of electoral votes.
  • As mentioned in the above “pros,” no one U.S. region has the electoral power to pick a president but, so-called “swing states” have a great deal of power and get a lot of attention. In fact, some people think a presidential election comes down to voters in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. So much so, that candidates often focus their appearances and campaign funding in those states.
  • It’s complicated, confusing, and deters people from voting.
  • Small states and swing states get more power (some might consider this a pro) since one person does not equal one vote per se. For example, California’s 55 electoral votes represent approximately 700,000 people per vote while Wyoming’s three electoral votes represent just under 200,000 people.
  • Its longstanding two party system suppresses third party candidates and participation.



Maybe all of this matters to you, maybe you could care less. What I do hope you care about though, is voting. It is a privilege we often take for granted and a right that literally hundreds of thousands around the world only dream of having. Don’t be that American. Get out and vote.