Beyond Words

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

All Dressed Up October 29, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 2:26 pm

A few weekends ago my family and I were out to dinner with another family who had young kids. One of the young boys was sitting next to me and getting a little restless with sitting still for so long. (Props to their mom and dad however, for not allowing any of the five kids to have a notebook or cell phone in hand!) The boy was finishing up his French fries and hamburger when I noticed he had some Ranch dressing nearby. I suggested he dip the fries in the dressing, to which I received a look of confusion and dismay. I kept encouraging him though and lo and behold, he did it and he loved it! Of course I went on and on from there explaining to him that Ranch dressing is good with almost anything.


Can I get an Amen?


What is it about that creamy herb bottle of yumminess? Similar to cream cheese, anything with Ranch dressing is better. Parties, tailgates, game days, and just about any event is not the same without it. You can say how gauche and icky it is, but you know it’s true.



Invented in 1950, the creamy dressing is today America’s most popular salad dressing and sold in more than 30 countries, some of which call it “American Dressing.” But as we all know, it’s certainly not reserved for salads. Servings of veggies, French fries, chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, and pizza just aren’t the same without it. Even chicken wings, those “in a class by themselves” appetizers from Buffalo, New York, are today served with Ranch Dressing on the side. But, as any true blue wing man will tell you, it’s Bleu Cheese that’s the way to go.




It’s those chicken wings that are credited (or blamed?) for making Ranch dressing the perfect side for pizza too. When Domino’s Pizza added wings and a side of Ranch to their menu back in 1994 they discovered that pizza eaters coast-to-coast were dipping their pizza slices in the Ranch along with their wings. There are pizza snobs who squeal at the thought of dipping a piece in Ranch, but it’s such a popular condiment and ingredient that Domino’s and other pizza makers now make Ranch flavored pizzas and we all have a Nebraska cowboy to thank.




Cornhusker state plumber Steve Henson had dreams of making it big so he headed west. He and his high school sweetheart wife Gayle landed in California and bought a real life ranch in 1954. Yes, “ranch” dressing has its origins at a true blue ranch!


Steve and Gayle opened the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch where guests enjoyed outdoor activities and homecooked meals. They loved all the activities, but it was the delicious homemade buttermilk salad dressing that had them at hello. So popular was the dressing that guests would ask for jars of it to take home. The demand was so great that the Hensons started a mail order business, which eventually led to the dressing taking over homes and grocery store aisles across the country.


By the 1970s the dressing was a bonafide hit, and by the time the grocery store bottle was introduced in 1983, it was gaining a cult-like following. Amazingly, it took something as far removed from a salad as you can get to make it a true household name and kitchen staple. In 1986 Doritos introduced its “Cool Ranch” flavor and rock star status was forever cemented.


Steve passed away in 2007 and Gayle in 1993, but not before selling the Hidden Valley Ranch to the Clorox company in 1972 for $8 million. Today his little ranch sells nearly $500 million of products annually.




So what is it about Ranch dressing that is so delectable and how did we live without it for so long? What I would have done to have had it around when I was a young girl. Italian, French, Green Goddess, Bleu Cheese, or Russian are all fine and good, but they just can’t compete.


First of all, it’s creamy without being heavy and a little bit goes a long way. Consisting of buttermilk, mayo, thyme, dill, parsley, black pepper, onion and garlic, it’s actually quite simple and easy to make. I for one will only buy Hidden Valley Ranch, but any and all are satisfying.


The New York Times reports that as good as it is, its ingredients are not unique in the culinary world. It cites aioli, Caesar dressing, French Onion dip, toum, and even Alfredo pasta sauce as all having similar ingredients and who doesn’t love all of those?!


And if you’re looking for organic and/or gluten-free, Hidden Valley Ranch is there for you. According to their website, most Hidden Valley products are gluten free and the company has a program where all products undergo scheduled and rigorous testing. In addition, all products are manufactured in facilities with stringent allergen control programs to prevent cross-contamination. Finally, Hidden Valley Organic Ranch is made with USDA-certified organic and National Organic Program compliant ingredients.




But what about those little packets of Ranch Dressing mix? I’ve always been a bit confused what the difference is between the “salad dressing mix” and the “dip mix.” Are they interchangeable? The answer is yes depending on the texture you’re after. If you prefer a thicker dressing, use the dip mix. If you’re looking for a more pourable dressing, use the dressing mix for a smoother texture. Either way, mix either of those into sour cream, on chicken, or just about anything and you have yourself an easy appetizer and flavorful meal. Put it in spinach dip, mashed potatoes, and meatloaf or just dip a few Ruffles potato chips in it…my favorite!


As with anything, Ranch Dressing has also taken over the internet. Google “Ranch Dressing” and a slew of recipes will pop up…both for homemade versions and recipes incorporating the dressing or dressing mix. Countless videos and You Tube tutorials are also available, as are any number of Pinterest boards.




There is also a slew of Hidden Valley products, ranging from seasonings to single serve cups to a host of flavors. I can’t help but wonder what cowboy Steve would think of his growing empire if he could see it now. And to think it all started with an American dream and a simple recipe.  How it should be, right?




Just Say JOMO October 27, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 10:26 pm

My husband and I make constant fun of our three dogs in that we say each of them has major FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. If one dog is in the back room with him, the other two follow suit. Where one goes, the others follow. Crazy dog owners that we are, we assume they assume there is some really fun stuff going out back there or lots of treats are being handed out and by golly they are not going to miss out.


We’ve all been there and done that. Attended that party, played that game, or watched that Netflix series all because we had FOMO. But we’re humans and humans, like dogs, crave validation and long for inclusion so be damned you tired body or broke bank account, we’re going to attend that concert even though we might rather be snuggling under the covers and reading a good book.



Enter JOMO, the Joy Of Missing Out. This somewhat new emotionally intelligent response to FOMO is music to the ears of introverts like me. Yes, I’m an introvert. Give me a small group of friends and I’m all over it, but present me with a room full of strangers and small talk and I’m out.  I’m also a nester and it takes a lot to get me out of the house. I love being home and am never bored at home. Call me a homegirl and I’ll give you a high five.


I did venture out last night and ironically it was to a book signing by a fellow nester: Myquillyn Smith of “The Nester” fame.  Smith readily admitted she is an introvert and loves being in her home…even though she’s moved several times. Her current “Cozy Home Tour” is all about getting the most amount of style with the least amount of stuff. I loved hearing her talk about making her home comfortable and that big is not always better. But I digress…back to JOMO.


JOMO is all about just being. Being with yourself. Being quiet. Being still. Being okay with not being where everyone else is or where everyone else is going. It’s hiding your To Do list and cancelling your schedule. This for many is very hard and challenging but we could all stand to retrain our brains to calm down and settle in. For a bit, just listen. Breathe. Rest. Be happy…or full of joy…that you have this time to do absolutely nothing. It’s helpful and it’s healing.



In some ways, I’ve rarely had an issue not incorporating JOMO into my life. In fact, my life is often the opposite as I debate again and again whether I want to do something or go somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting together with close friends and going to fun events. I’ll also jump at the chance to take a great trip, but not frequently. Travel is exhausting and stressful, so I save up my travel sanity for a few select trips a year. Trip after trip is not appealing to me and neither is a life of night after night or weekend after weekend of plans. I was OOT last weekend, so I’m reveling in being home this weekend. My simple but sweet night out with my girlfriend last night for the book signing was perfection.


Proof of my JOMO mojo is that I chose not to go to Book Club this week. Book Club! I love books but it felt like attending would complicate my busy day rather than enhance it even though I thought I should go. Instead, I chose my yoga class and an evening at home and with absolutely no regrets.



Sometimes you need to remind yourself that you can say no and eliminate the word “should” from your social life and free time. Skip that happy hour, say no that movie, and turn off your phone. It should come as no surprise that the latter of those is the biggest culprit in the current state of society’s FOMO.


Have you checked your Instagram lately? Facebook? Twitter? Email? We tell ourselves that all of them are enjoyable endeavors of life, but in reality they are stressers that take us away from life. I’m guilty as charged, especially with Instagram, but as Behavior Scientist Ashely Williams told the NY Times, “A lot of the time we fail to recognize the moments in our lives actually become our lives.” If you spend countless moments checking your feeds and “likes,” those feeds have become your life. Is that really what you want your life to be? Sadly, many a study has shown that the constant distraction of constant logging in and scrolling through is actually resulting in people feeling unhappy and sad. Not good my friends, not good.



So what can we do? First of all unplug. You should also set boundaries with those you’ve “friended” and communicate with online. Reduce their expectations that you will respond right away to texts or emails and eliminate any immediate response anticipations.  If you know you have unhealthy tech habits (raising my hand), set personal boundaries too and become more mindful of what your mind is focusing on.


But it’s not just the tech world that’s contributing to our increased FOMO and lack of JOMO. Binge watching and plan making are also culprits. Tehrene Firman of says we all need to find a balance between being a social butterfly and carving out self-care time and I couldn’t agree more. The old saying “go big or go home” may tell some to go out and hit the town, but to me it screams “go home and relax!” And yes, I’m well aware of the belief that we should live life to the fullest and that life is short, we also need to ask ourselves if life is all about going, going, going, and doing, doing, doing rather than just being. Remember, balance. Think JOMO.


Try saying “no” every now and then. Stop trying please others and do what you want to do and what you like to do. Stop trying to impress, keep up, and match up. I for one am not impressed with your constant parade of posted pics of this week’s trip or this Saturday’s delectable dinner and cocktail. I would, however, love to hear about a great book you read or a DIY project you accomplished. If you have found a way to regularly socially disconnect and emotionally recharge, I want to hear all about it too.


So, yes, you might see some posts of mine in the next few hours but rest assured I’m posting them from the comfort of my comfy home and I’m totally okay with that. You “gotta be there and have to do that” pals knock yourselves out, I’ll be thinking of you as I opt out and enjoy a whole lot of JOMO.


Mad for Plaid October 14, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 5:10 pm

Madmen men mad for plaid


For most of us, colder weather is either on the way or already here. Fall is my favorite season and one of the reasons is because I love all the cozy clothes you get to wear. This season feel free to be pretty in plaid as fall’s favorite pattern is everywhere and I couldn’t be more thrilled as I love a good plaid or check. And who doesn’t love the University of Tennessee’s checked end zones every football season?


The secret to making any pattern work is to keep it all chic and know when to say when. A plaid skirt is best with a solid top and maybe some tights or high boots. If you just have to have that pair of patterned tall boots on the other hand, pair them with a solid dress. Patterns go into the home nicely in the fall too, just make sure you don’t mix things up too much.


Surprisingly, plaid isn’t really a pattern; it’s actually a piece of clothing. Yep, my friends, today we’re clearing up all things plaid, tartan, check, gingham, and beyond!



Plaid vs. Tartan

We are all guilty of using the term “plaid” when talking about any fabric that has checks going this way and that. But, a plaid is actually a long piece of wool worn over the shoulder as part of traditional Highland dress.  Think Scotland and not your favorite flannel jammies.



Above: JCrew vest, Ralph Lauren skirt, Fendi bag


Okay, then what should we call the pattern we have long called plaid? Tartan thank you! Those flannel jammies? They’re tartan. For true traditionalists and those in Scotland, tartan will forever be a pattern while plaid is a piece of cloth that consists of tartan prints. So, tartan is a checked pattern that has stripes meeting at a 90 degree angle and the vertical stripes are exact duplicates of the horizontal ones.  A true tartan is a weave of colored threads registered with the Scottish Tartan Authority.


And yet, we will probably forever call patterned apparel “plaid,” and I’m okay with that. It just comes naturally. Sometimes these “plaids” aren’t colorful though and are often black-and-white. I’m okay with that too.


Above: Ralph Lauren, Target




One of the most famous plaids..err tartans…is the iconic Burberry khaki, black, and red check. Established in London in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, the brand’s distinctive plaid is recognized and imitated the world over. The Burberry plaid is a tartan recognized by the Scottish Tartan Authority and a forever fave of mine.


What about other checked patterns? Here’s a primer on some of my favorites:



Gingham is similar to plaid in that it is a fabric more so than a pattern and I was thrilled this morning to see Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen sporting a fabulous gingham shirt as he entered the stadium today.


Gingham originated in Malaysia and its name comes from the Malayan word for stripes, “genggang.” True gingham is a dyed in the yarn fabric, meaning the yarn is dyed before it is woven. Its distinctive print is a checkerboard pattern of simple thick colored lines on a white background.

 Above starting with dress: Mira, LL Bean, Lacoste


When you think gingham, you probably think summer not fall. The fabric is lightweight and a standard issue spring and summer wardrobe staple. As opposed to outdoorsy or grunge-style plaid, gingham evokes a somewhat preppy, conservative image and is possibly best known for being a classic red and white tablecloth.


Buffalo Plaid

I’ve always loved buffalo plaid and I love my husband who hails from Buffalo, but sadly the pattern and the city are not connected at all. In fact, it’s not even American in its origin, but rather Scottish. Of course! The story behind the distinctive red and black check is credited to Scotland and the Rob Roy tartan of Clan MacGregor. One of that famous family’s descendants settled in Montana in the 1800s and traded buffalo pelts with Native Americans in exchange for heavy Scottish blankets made in the style of the family’s tartan. Hence the name “buffalo” plaid.


 Above: Woolrich, Pendleton, Old Navy


Large blocks form the intersection of two different colored yarns on a traditional buffalo plaid. The colors are traditionally red and black and today the classic checked pattern symbolizes cold weather and signature warm brands like Woolrich and Pendleton.



Yet another type of cloth, madras came to be during the British colonial era in Madras, India. It is probably the most famous non-Scottish plaid and consists of colors commonly found in Indian textiles like yellow, pink, and orange. Like gingham, lightweight cotton madras is more suitable for summer and with its signature bright colors, it makes the perfect spring and summer wardrobe choice.


Above: Ralph Lauren and Gant



Another favorite of mine, windowpane check is classic and clean. The name comes from the windowpane-like square pattern formed by two perpendicular pinstripes, which make up the look. The grid formed by the crossing lines creates rectangles rather than squares as in many other checked patterns and these rectangles are almost always longer vertically than horizontally and are tall rather than wide.


 Above: Alfani, JJill, Eileen Fisher, Chico’s, 



This classic pattern needs no introduction to Alabama football fans, as it’s the pattern of the hat their beloved coach Bear Bryant wore. Today you’ll see Bama fans sporting anything and everything houndstooth to tailgates and football games, but the traditional look need not be reserved for those screaming Roll Tide.


Above: SweatshirtXY, Balenciaga, Oscar de la Renta, Ferragamo


Houndstooth is characterized by its two-tone design that consists of small broken or jagged checks. The name “houndstooth” came about because its series of notched corners bring to mind dog teeth. Also of Scottish descent, a true houndtooth design is made up of a specific repeating geometric block rather than squares all in a row and is an example of tessellation. A truly traditional houndstooth check consists of alternating bands of four dark and four light threads.



Usually found in a twill, which is not a pattern but a fabric, herringbone has a “dressed up” and formal image of suits and menswear. Named for its resemblance to the skeleton of a herring fish, this distinctive V-shaped weaving pattern is a popular coat style, like this one from Jones NY:


For the Home

Herringbone is a popular tile and wood floor pattern as well. Similar to a chevron pattern, it differs in that it has a zig-zag joint with ends touching and forming a miter joint while with herringbone the ends are butted.


A longtime fan of Mackenzie-Childs’ Courtly Check line, I’ve been conservatively collecting the distinctive black-and-white checked ware for the kitchen for years. A product of small Aurora, NY, MC can now be found in small boutiques and big retailers like Neiman Marcus.


Here are a few additional images of home ideas:


Above: Pottery Barn and Good Housekeeping


Above: Reusable melamine plates and Sur La Table blue plates



 Above: Pier 1 and Amazon 


So there you have it, everything you’ve always wanted to know about all things checked and “plaid.” Which one is your favorite?


Side note: If you’re more of a stripes girl, I recently read something that explains the whole “stripes make you look bigger” belief. Stylist and fitness guru Audrey Slater says the most flattering and versatile clothing item one can own is a nautical striped tee with three-quarter inch sleeves and a bateau neckline. I’m more of a crew or collared neckline girl, but I do love stripes and three-quarter inch sleeves. Slater calls this top “magical” in that it can make every woman look effortlessly chic, eternally young, and casually fit. She also recommends horizontal stripes only on tops and that vertical stripes on pants are the stripe to go with on bottoms. A pant with a vertical stripe down the leg will make you look taller and thinner. Whatever you believe or whatever you choose stripes wise, it’s probably always a good rule of thumb to not have horizontal stripes on the areas you least want to “enhance” and probably want to minimize. Time to go shopping!



Star Light, Star Bright October 7, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:12 pm


Last night my husband and I were sitting outside and were amazed at how many stars were lighting up the sky. We could very clearly see Mars and the Little Dipper. It was so peaceful and so beautiful. It reminded me of one of my favorite trips: a visit to the McDonald Observatory in the middle of nowhere Texas. During one of their uber-popular Star Nights, friends and I sat under the pitch black west Texas sky and watched as astronomers pointed out everything above. It was truly one of the coolest things I’ve done.


Do you ever sit outside and marvel at stars in the night sky?


As fate would have it, I go to check my emails this morning and a daily inspirational blog was about stars and the childhood favorite “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” It all got me thinking about the origins of that song, stars in the sky, stars in scripture, and who we consider stars in our lives.


First a little dilly dilly about twinkle twinkle. Many a legend has it that “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” was composed by none other than Mozart, but as wonderful as that tale would be, it’s a tall one and not true. The popular lullaby was actually first published in a collection of poems called “Rhymes for the Nursery” in 1806 and was written by English author Jane Taylor. The Mozart mix up came because the couplet is sung to the tune of variations of works published in 1785 called “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman,” of which some Mozart piano compositions may or may not have been included.


Call me silly, but I never realized the music from “Twinkle Twinkle” is the same music used on the ABCs song and “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.”  It’s usually just the first four lines of the poem that we all know: “Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are, up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky,” but there are actually four additional stanzas, some of which talk about lighting up the dark blue sky and guiding travelers in the dark.



Throughout history humanity has used stars as navigational tools, rockets scientists long to get close to the stars, astronomers study the stars, and throughout the bible stars in the heavens are abundantly mentioned. God created the stars in the Book of Genesis, they were used to describe how many descendants Abraham would have, the Star of Bethlehem led the Three Kings to the Christ Child at Christmas, and stars represent angels in the Book of Revelation. In Philippians 2:15-16,  we are instructed to “shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.”


In addition, a star, specifically the Star of David, is a symbol associated with Judaism for centuries. For the Jewish faithful, the six sided star symbolizes that God rules over the universe and protects us from all six directions: north, south, east, west, up, and down with the middle.



It’s all pretty powerful when you think about it. God created all those stars and can count every single one, and yet still longs for us to shine His light here on Earth. How can we shine like little stars and share the light so we can make a difference in the world; a world that is starving for true light right now? It’s simple; we can live like Jesus did.



Amazingly Jesus’ ministry on earth was really only about three years long and yet He accomplished more than anyone else ever has. You could say He was the first “one name” celebrity…waaaaay before the likes of Kobe, Cleopatra, Cher, Elvis, and even Shakespeare. He’s also the most famous person in history according to a recent survey that ranked the names of famous individuals using a specially developed algorithm that scoured the Internet. Jesus topped the list. Amen!




Perhaps what’s most impressive is that Jesus could care less about becoming famous, an almost foreign concept in today’s fame obsessed society. We seem to all either want to be famous or are fascinated by those who are. Jesus, on the other hand, never sought fame and fame was not His goal. Much like today’s paparazzi and mobs of fans, crowds gathered wherever Jesus went and whenever He spoke and yet when they tried to make Him a King, he retreated and walked away. Can you imagine anyone doing that today? No way, no how.



So maybe that should be our goal. Focus more on spreading the light rather than being the light. Shine but keep looking up. Twinkle but stay grounded. And never ever stop believing that your light is bright enough to make a difference and that you too can shine like a diamond in the sky.







Nailed It October 2, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 1:44 am

The Palms Spa-Aveda


My daughter was in town for a visit last weekend and other than doing a little shopping and a whole lot of watching college football, we really didn’t have any plans so what’s a mom and daughter to do? Get a mani-pedi of course!


I have my favorite nail salon that I go to regularly but it’s nowhere near where we were going to be so we did what so many other mani-pedi customers do: we walked in to a random salon. It was very nice and we were happy with the results, but while sitting in the pedicure chair I couldn’t help but wonder something I’m assuming so many other mani-pedi customers do: why are so many salons owned and staffed by predominantly Asian workers? I got on it and I have the answer and it may surprise you as much as it surprised me. In fact, I had no idea!


Actress Tippi Hedren with manicurist trainees


It’s a story that could come straight out of Hollywood and in fact, it did. Forty some years ago actress Tippi Hedren visited a Vietnamese refugee camp in California and had an “aha moment.” Those of you from the “Greatest Generation” will remember Hedren from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” movie. You who are closer to my age will be familiar with Hendren’s daughter, Melanie Griffith, and all you Millennials out there are probably fans of her “Fifty Shades of Gray” granddaughter, Dakota Johnson. So yes, the Hollywood tie-in runs deep. But I digress…


Back to the refugee camp. Hedren and company visited the tent city where women who had recently fled the communist takeover of South Vietnam were living in hopes of helping them find work in the U.S. While there, Hedren took note that they all loved her perfectly polished and manicure fingernails and before they could say “pick color,” Hedren had them trained in manicure services. Years later, a nail empire was created.


I guess you could say Hedren most definitely “nailed it” and today we can all thank her for it.



Another interesting tidbit I’ve learned is that a French manicure is anything but French. I love that First Lady Melania Trump sported a lovely French manicure when she and President Trump greeted their French counterparts, but really the only thing French about the look is the name. And like the Tippi Hedren story, this one too hails back to Hollywood.


Classic French manicure


In the mid-1970s Orly nail polish founder Jeff Pink was asked by a film director to create a nail look that would coordinate with any costumes, last long, and alleviate the need for actresses to constantly spend valuable time touching them up. Pink was inspired by the system of using a white pencil to highlight the top of a nail and came up with the idea of actually painting the top side white. He called it “The Natural Nail Kit” and it was an instant hit with movie stars.


The only thing French about a French manicure is the name.


Some years down the road, Pink took the trend to the Paris catwalks and it was a hit there too. He knew he needed a catchy name however, and chose to keep it simple with “French.” Although a tad misleading, the name was brilliant in that anything with a French name or label automatically conjures up chicness and sophistication. It’s a name that has lasted and a style that remains popular to this day.


Baby Boomer Nails


As with any trend however, French manicures are considered by anyone but traditionalists a bit old fashioned and a tad cheesy (I still like them) so of course there’s a new take on the old classic and it’s quite a hit. The latest manicure trend is nothing flashy (although nail art, stiletto shaped nails, and matte polishes are also popular) and even has a trending name: Baby Boomer Nails. Did someone say boomer?


Also known as French Ombre or French Fade, the look basically takes a traditional French manicure but blends the white/pink/clear coats together to create a gradient or ombre effect. Some says it’s a throwback back to manicure styles popular after World War II, hence the name “Baby Boomer Nails.” The style is especially popular with brides and is all the rage worldwide, with some salons saying it’s their most requested style although on the whole, color is still the preferred choice by nail clients.


Baby Boomer Nails can be created with both acrylics and gel polishes, which are two of the most popular nail salon choices along with “dip” nails. What’s the difference you ask? Not a whole lot yet a whole lot.



In a nutshell, if you like to change colors often you should opt for plain ole’ nail polish, which you can remove easily at home if need be. If you prefer a long-wearing choice and don’t mind having to visit a salon ever 2-3 weeks for acetate soaking and scraping removal, gel is the way to go. If you have short or weak nails and long for long ones, acrylics are your only option. And new flash ladies, whichever method you choose – gel manicures, nail extensions, or dip powders – know that all contain acrylic in some way. Yep, whether they are glued on, cured under a lamp, or applied with powder and liquid, they are all acrylic based.


Whichever method you choose – gel manicures, nail extensions, or dip powders –  all are acrylic-based.


I prefer gel polish, which you’ll also hear sometimes incorrectly called “Shellac.” Turns out the name “shellac” is an actual brand of gel nail polishes. Think “Band-Aid” or “Advil.” I learned this from my friend and Scottsdale manicurist extraordinaire Kelly who also taught me that true gel nail polishes require drying under either an LED or UV lamp. Heads up ladies. This means any “gel” polish you buy at a store that doesn’t require a drying lamp isn’t a true gel polish. The upside to gel manicures is that they last nearly three weeks but their downsides are the pesky removal of them and concerns about UV light exposure. My advice is to take an SPF of 30 or higher with you to your appointment and apply it after you wash your hands and also maybe look for salons that use LED lights instead of UV lamps.



Acrylic nails are tried and true ways of getting those lengthy nails you’ve always wanted but weren’t born with. Basically they are fake nails that are applied to the tips of your nails and then your nail beds are filled with liquid monomer and powder polymer, which harden and then are filed into your bed. These are the nails you see being applied by a nail technician often wearing a surgical mask and using what look like dental tools. Acrylics will grow out as your natural nails grow out so you will need to get the nail beds “filled” with more powder as nail growth becomes more and more obvious.


Powder dips or “SNS” manicures are yet another option. SNS is actually short for Signature Nail Systems, which has been around for years. This style of manicure is the one you see when the client’s finger tips are dipped in small little jars of colored powder. They may look a lot different from acrylics, but what you are getting is basically acrylic in powder form that is bonded using a glue containing the main ingredient in Krazy Glue. But, you don’t have to worry about potential UV lamp damage.




What all of this adds up to is big business according to The nail industry is an $8 billion mega-enterprise and an estimated nearly half of all nail salons in the U.S. are Vietnamese owned or run. These manicurists, who earn an average of around $650 a week, have jumped on a niche that allows them to earn a stable living using their entrepreneurial spirit and well-known attention to detail. What’s amazing is that showing your feet to someone in Southeast Asia may be considered offensive and feet are not particularly appreciated in Vietnam. There are nail salons in Vietnam but even there you’ll rarely see the salon owner doing pedicures, much like the case here in the states.


The busiest day in the average nail salon is Thursday.


Virtually all nail technicians are female (97%) and a quarter of them have worked in their current salon for more than 10 years. Nearly half of them have some level of college education and just over half are married. If you’re looking for a quiet day at the salon, don’t go on a Thursday, which is the busiest day of the week followed by Fridays and Saturdays.


In addition to generally being a little less pricey then American-owned salons, Vietnamese salons are also mostly walk-in businesses. They will take appointments, but most clients are like me in that unlike a hair appointment, when I feel I need a mani-pedi, I simply drive to the salon and more often than not have little or no wait for services.



I’m an admitted mani-pedi fan and get them regularly. I do have my go-to salon and choose them because they literally massage your legs for 20 minutes or so. Granted, I need to allow nearly two hours for an appointment, but I don’t get lash extensions or sprayed-on tans so mani-pedis are my only regular personal grooming maintenance other than hair. I always get a gel manicure because I’m blessed with strong nails so I never need acrylics and I love that gel polishes last so long. What colors I choose vary according to my mood and the time of year. I’m always up for some sparkle and glitter, tend to lean more toward neutrals, but will occasionally go a little wild with a color. I prefer having my fingernails tended to while I sit in a pedicure chair, as I find the manicure table chairs either uncomfortable or awkward. Is it just me?


I used to polish my own nails and have very fond memories of my sisters and me doing so at our kitchen table when I was growing up and anytime we were back home. Now however, gel is the only way I go…but only on my fingers. On my toes I’m strictly standard polish and I’m not a fan of the French look on toes. Sometimes I opt for no polish, cut my nails down, and let them breathe polish-free for a few weeks and in the winter I tend to get fewer pedicures.



Along with various polish choices and methods, nail shapes can vary too. I prefer oval but “squared oval” and “stiletto” seem to be the most popular shapes today. I can’t pull of the stiletto shape and somehow square of any kind bothers me when I type, write, cook, etc.


So there you have it, everything you’ve always wanted to know about nail salons but didn’t know who to ask. I can’t help you understand what salon staff members might be saying in their native language but I can tell you to pick color, relax, sit back, and enjoy the luxury that is getting your nails done.