Beyond Words

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

Islands in the Sun? February 24, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 6:59 pm


Punxsutawney Phil wasn’t kidding when he said we were going to have six more weeks of winter. The east coast continues to get snow, the south is under water, and even the sunny southwest is cloudy and gray. Enough already! Don’t get me wrong, I love a little bit of winter and winter clothes, but this year’s temperatures are enough to make all of us long for some warm beaches and hot weather.


In fact, many of you may be planning Spring Break and summer vacays, but if you’re looking at Caribbean islands, you may want to do your research. Hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria caused major damage to numerous locales and some are still in the midst of recovery, which means they might not be the best places to plop your tourism dollars in just yet. It’s really a sad situation, as the winter months are the busiest time for tourism in the Caribbean but this year many resorts remain closed. so, whether you “Cuh-RIB-ee-un” or “Care-uh-BEE-un,” you will want to do your research.


In a nutshell, the hardest hit islands and those still in recovery mode are: Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten/St. Martin, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John).


Those that were outside the paths of the storms or suffered little or no damage include: Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Martinique, Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.


Here’s a rundown of where some of the popular islands that suffered damage stand today tourism wise and a map for reference:



All beaches are back to normal but some big resorts are still in the process of opening. Phone and internet service have been restored to most parts of the island, as has water service. The main issue Anguilla is still facing is lack of power.



Antigua was largely undamaged during the hurricanes, but its sister island Barbuda was devasted, where 95 percent of properties suffered significant damage. In Antigua, the airport and all resorts are open and were minimally affected by Irma.



Southern islands of this island nation suffered severe damage, but all major tourism centers were minimally impacted and are operating as usual.


British Virgin Islands

Like Anguilla, power remains a problem in the British VI but airports are open even though the islands have less than half the number of hotel rooms they had before the hurricanes.  The main tourist islands of Tortola and Virgin Gordo were severely damaged and last I checked a curfew remains in effect from 8 p.m. – 6 a.m.



Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica is still in the recovery phase of rebuilding after being overwhelmed by the storms. Water, electricity, and mobile phone service are still being restored to many parts of the island although most roadways have been cleared of debris. Many locals are still living in shelters, more than 35 percent of the island’s treasured dive sites were damaged, and the island’s vegetation and infrastructure were both heavily damaged.


Puerto Rico

Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused nearly $100 billion worth of damage to Puerto Rico but today the airport and cruise ports are open and some hotels are taking reservations, although most of them are still operating on generator power only.  Power is still an issue for around 75 percent of the population, and even those with electricity suffer frequent power failures. In addition, nearly 26 percent are without running water.


St. Barts

Electricity has pretty much been restored island-wide, as has internet service. The airport is open for commercial flights but the popular Eden Rock is not scheduled to reopen until sometime this summer.


St. Maarten/St. Martin

The Dutch side of this twin-nation island lost more than 70 percent of its hotel inventory but nearly 50 percent of it is back and the airport is open. What suffered major damage on St. Maarten were the island’s nature and environment, as well as the beaches. Water quality is also still being addressed. On the French side of St. Martin, recovery is still in full gear after what local leaders called the worst natural disaster in their history. Hotels are expected to reopen this spring, as are many restaurants.


Turks and Caicos

Some resorts reported damage after Irma and conducted cancellations, but all are now open and power, electricity, and water are on and back to normal.


U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John)

These islands were particularly hard hit by the storms, with St. Thomas and St. John feeling the hardest brunt. Hurricane Irma pummeled the islands as a Category 5 storm, with wind gusts as high as 225 miles per hour. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria, another Category 5 storm, slammed into them and was followed by weeks of rain.


Throughout the Virgin Islands, many small and mid-size hotels have reopened, as have villas and time shares. But, nearly three-quarters of hotel rooms remain out of commission and some are still housing relief workers. The islands’ famous and popular large resorts took the worst damage and many remain closed. Frenchman’s Reef is the largest resort on St. Thomas and the islands’ second largest employer but owners have an uncertain timetable for reopening. It’s estimated 80 percent of St. Thomas’ grape trees were uprooted and its coconut palms suffered a 70 percent loss. On St. John, the Westin has cancelled all reservations through 2018.


That being said, power is mostly back, cruise ship ports are in good shape, restaurants and shops are open, and direct flights to and from the mainland U.S. are slowly coming back.



The best advice? Check with a travel expert or contact local tourism officials in any destination you are considering. Also ask around both personally and online. There are many travel sites where travelers can post updates and advice and nothing is as solid as first-hand knowledge from friends and family.


Until then, hunker down, stay warm and dry, and dream of your toes in the sand and an umbrella drink in your hand.








Year of the Dog February 17, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:49 pm


Happy “Year of the Dog!” In my world, every year is a year of the dog but now it’s official. Yesterday was the Chinese New Year, which rang in the Year of the Dog. This dog lover couldn’t be happier.


Truth be told, it’s not really a year to celebrate pets or man’s best friend, it’s actually the beginning of the Chinese New Year. Each Chinese New Year brings with it an animal for that year and celebrations are held for two weeks or more. According to Asian astrology, your birth year and the animal it represents determines your personality traits. On last year’s Chinese New Year I had a dinner party and collected my friends’ traits according to their year of birth. It was so much fun!


As for years of dogs, there are actually five types for different Chinese New Years, with 2018 being the Earth Dog. Anyone born in an Earth Dog year is predicted to be communicative, serious, determined, and responsible. A few famous people who were born in a Year of the Dog are Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Elvis Presley, and President Trump.





This year is the first Earth Day year since 1958 but someone born in any dog year is said to be sincere, honest, and loyal. They rarely abandon family, friends, or workplaces; are good at helping others; but may be a bit worried and anxious inside. Hmmmm…sounds a lot like actual dogs, right?


Still not convinced? Here’s a test: put your dog and your wife/husband in the trunk of your car, return, and see which one is happy to see you. Pretty sure it will be the one with a tail.



Dogs are amazing animals. Here are just a few fun facts about my favorite four-legged animals:


  • Dogs are healers. Simply caring for a dog can reduce anxiety, brighten a mood and reduce stress.


  • One study showed that within 10 minutes of looking into a dog’s eyes or petting a dog, the brain gets neurochemical bursts of oxytocin, prolactin, dopamine and endorphins, all chemicals that make us happy and relax us.


  • Other studies suggest that living with a dog reduces the symptoms and severity of depression and also boosts one’s immune system, reduces blood pressure, and lowers heart rates.


  • A British hospital actually “prescribes” a dog for patients who have suffered heart attacks and has found the chances of a second heart attack in them dropped 400 percent!


  • A study published by “Pediatrics” journal found that children who live with dogs during their first year of life got sick less often than kids from dog-less homes. The research revealed that the dirt and microbes brought in the house by Fido actually bolster helpful bacteria in a child’s immune system.


  • Babies who live with dogs are 31 percent more likely to be in good health than those who don’t, 44 percent less likely to develop ear infections, and 29 percent less likely to need antibiotics during their first year of life.


  • Owning a dog is known to help you better maintain an active lifestyle and retain a healthy weight.  Dog owners are said to be both emotionally and physically healthier and have lower cholesterol and blood pressure.


  • Dogs are said to be able to see things we cannot, as my friend can attest to following the deaths of her mom and dad. Her dog, she says, would look up in their bedroom and stare for minutes as if something or someone was up there. There are many similar reports of dogs doing this.


  • It is said that when a dog sees its owner its brain secretes the same substances ours do when we are in love. In short, your dog is truly in love with you!



We are all still reeling from the horrific school shooting in Florida last Wednesday and the arguments over gun control and mental health care are in full force, but perhaps an Ohio high school and a Houston non-profit have a partial solution. The two are participating in programs aimed at improving school safety by “employing” dogs that can detect guns and drugs in classrooms, hallways, and parking lots. Granted, this may not have stopped the Valentine’s Day shooting, but many experts say just knowing there are enforcements and measures in place to stop crime is sometimes enough to deter it.


Two other very interesting programs are an innovative one that pairs dogs with anxious witnesses called to testify in court hearings and trials and another one that provides service dogs in a school for students on the autism spectrum or have mood or neurological disorders or ADHD. These dogs can tell right away if someone is nervous and are trained to calm those nerves. It’s truly miraculous and I’ve seen it firsthand.


“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” Ben Williams


As a supporter of and volunteer at The Dog Alliance, I’ve seen autistic kids relax during learning activities simply by having a dog nearby to pet and I’ve witnessed veterans suffering from PTSD do the same through the fabulous “Hounds for Heroes” program.


These types of therapy and service dogs are nothing new. Seeing eye dogs have been around forever, firefighters once used Dalmatians to protect their trucks and “sound” an alarm, and police officers still use dogs in a variety of ways.  A dog’s ability to either engage a person or relax one also makes them perfect for disaster relief and servicemen and women are uniquely attached to their “war dogs.” Even Florence Nightingale recommended small pets for the chronically ill.


What is new is the plethora of service, therapy, and emotional support dogs…and make no mistake they are all different.



Service animals are not considered pets,  are legally defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act, and are trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handlers who have disabilities. Federal laws protect the rights of these individuals in public places. Think seeing-eye dogs, guide dogs, and any dog that is trained to do work or perform tasks for their owner.


Therapy animals are not legally defined by federal law but some states have laws describing them. Usually they are the personal pets of their handlers and work with volunteers to provide therapeutic benefits in a variety of settings. They are usually not service animals but sometimes have dual roles as both. Think dogs in libraries, hospitals, and nursing homes.


Emotional support animals have come under recent scrutiny thanks to an airline passenger who recently showed up for a flight with a peacock for emotional support. Boarding was denied and resulted in several airlines tightening the rules regarding flying with emotional support animals. One airline reported that the number of comfort animals has jumped 75 percent in just the last year and they have seen a big increase in animal-related incidents.


In general, emotional support animals have no legal definition, are considered pets, and are not protected under the ADA.


All of these dogs love their owners and more than likely possess the attributes associated with someone born during this current Year of the Dog. When it all comes down to it, it’s really all about love, loyalty, and helping others. In this dog eat dog world, here’s hoping the Year of the Dog brings more of all of those to each of us.







Super Heroes February 16, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:48 pm

XKim Throckmorton-Kimmel batman

What is a superhero?


When asked that question, many would say perhaps Superman or Wonder Woman. Maybe even Batman or Spiderman. They are part of Marvel and DC Comics “Super Heroes” of screen and lore, but are they really super or heroes?


Tampa Bay Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy posed a similar question in his post for “the Players’ Tribune” when he asked, “Is Batman a superhero?” The crowd roars, “Of course he is” and although McCoy agreed and noted Batman is his superhero of choice, it might not be for the reasons you’d think.


We all know that Superman can fly and has super-human strength and that Spiderman can scale walls and buildings, but McCoy appreciates the fact that Batman doesn’t really have any superpowers. What? Holy Batmobile Robin, this must be the work of the Joker.


But it’s not. And it’s why Batman is his favorite.


Unlike most superheroes, Batman doesn’t possess any superpowers and relies instead on his mind. As McCoy wrote, “His greatest attribute is that he’s highly intelligent. He’s just a regular dude who always finds a way to get the job done.” Those abilities are what McCoy respects and strives to emulate in play on the field and life off it.


It got me thinking.


If Batman can qualify as a superhero without any true superpowers, what about the rest of us? What else can qualify as super human abilities? Who else can we consider superheroes?


What about the bus driver who gets your kids to school safely every day?


What about the pipe layers whose work ensures you get clean water by merely turning on a tap?


And how about the engineers who finagle stop lights? Their handiwork sees to it that vehicles stop and go at the right times.


And yet, society tends to make superheroes out of  famous but often undeserving athletes, movie stars, musicians, and TV personalities. “Oprah is my hero,” you heard again and again recently. “I want to be like Tom Brady young boys think coast-to-coast. That’s all well and good, Oprah has done some amazing things and Brady is the greatest ever, but do they qualify as superheroes? Probably not.


Kids love superheroes though…real and fictional. And that’s okay. They need heroes and they need imagination. I tell my little preschoolers to catch their sneezes and coughs in their elbows by bringing around their superhero capes. It works every time. Who doesn’t want to be a superhero and have a cape?




I’m currently obsessed with the song “Something Just Like This” by the Chainsmokers and at first hearing was immediately attracted to the lines “I’m not looking for somebody with some superhuman gifts, some super hero” that are included in the lyrics:


I’ve been reading books of old

The legends and the myths

Achilles and his gold

Hercules and his gifts

Spiderman’s control

And Batman with his fists

And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list

But she said, where’d you wanna go?

How much you wanna risk?

I’m not looking for somebody

With some superhuman gifts

Some superhero

Some fairytale bliss

Just something I can turn to

Somebody I can kiss


That’s probably what we all look for in our super heroes: someone we can turn to, not some fairytale bliss.




Someone I regularly turn to is God, and I would venture to say Jesus is indeed a superhero; perhaps the superest of super heroes.


I also rely on my family and friends for support and inspiration and I consider all of them superheroes. None of them have superpowers; they are merely super people in my eyes.


My mom is a superhero. Raised by her grandparents, she widowed at age 52 and yet somehow managed to pay my out-of-state tuition. She’s not perfect, but she’s heroic.


Super hero window washers


Doctors…good doctors…may not have “super powers” per se, but they have healing powers and in many cases are super heroes. Same with teachers and fire fighters.


Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes and vary from person to person. Someone I consider worth admiring someone else may detest and vice versa. But maybe it shouldn’t be so much who we consider heroic, but what we consider heroic attributes.


Take for example Captain Marvel. I had no idea that his “Shazam” was actually an acronym and a call for the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. How cool would that be, to merely shout something and you gain a truckload of formidable traits?


Depending on who you are or where you are in your life, you might give a shout out for intellect, health, wealth, will, strength, endurance, patience, acceptance, wisdom, or serenity. Society needs superpower science and technology, but don’t we also need love and peace and superheroes who promote them?


Calmness is a superpower


My mind is constantly reeling…it only sleeps when I sleep…so I greatly admire those who are centered and calm. I also hold in high esteem anyone who is in good physical shape (because I’m not) and someone who appreciates a good laugh (because I do too.)


Intuition is superpower


Couldn’t agree more, and even if I don’t agree with your reasoning, I appreciate your conviction and the fact that you stand for something. I also respect someone who is a deep thinker and can engage in interesting conversations. I’m a voracious reader and researcher but I also tend to overthink things, so “going with your gut” is a trait I relish and work on.




In the end, what is anything super without faith and hope? We hope for the best and hope all goes well. We’re constantly hoping for a cure and holding out hope against hope.


It’s my hope that maybe we all take a cue from Batman and start using our brains in heroic ways to keep hope alive. I’m no Wonder Woman, but it might just make a powerful difference.