Beyond Words

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

Irish Eyes Are Smiling March 17, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:17 pm

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! We are all a wee bit Irish today and I’m guessing you are wearing green as you read this as we all honor the land of leprechauns, step dancing, U2, fabulous golf, Guinness, shamrocks, and St. Patrick. But who was the saint named Patrick and why do we celebrate him in such a big way?


What A Saint

Forever tied to Ireland, Patrick wasn’t even born on the Emerald Isle but in Britain. When he was 16, young Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders who took him to Ireland and sold him as a salve. He spent many years there, herding sheep and turning to God in prayer. He escaped when he was 22 and made his way back to England where he spent 12 years in a monastery. Legend has it that he had a dream in which the people of Ireland were calling him back. The dream is said to have been the voice of God encouraging him to spread Christianity across Ireland and convert the pagans. Patrick returned to Ireland and began preaching the gospel, building churches, and converting many. Born of wealth, Patrick lived in poverty and suffered greatly until he died on March 17, 461. He is said to be buried in Down Cathedral in the County of Down in Ireland and ironically, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on the day he died, not on his birthday.



Luck of the Irish

My favorite part of the St. Patrick story is that he used the shamrock as a way to teach the Holy Trinity. The simple green plant grows abundantly in Ireland so he cleverly used it to explain the trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. His idea was so convincing that even pagan rulers converted to Christianity. I love this story so much I use it every year with my little buddies in class.


The shamrock has three leaves and is considered a clover plant but what is the difference between it and the four-leaf clover? The latter is the result of a mutation in the clover plant that causes it to sprout four leaves instead of the normal three. These four-leaf wonders are very rare and are considered a universal symbol of good luck.



Patrick loved incorporating other traditional rituals in his lessons for both simplicity and proof. Because fire was sacred to the Irish, Patrick superimposed a sun onto a Christian cross. Today this cross, called a Celtic cross, is one of Christianity’s most popular.



Another cross, St. Patrick’s Cross of Ireland, also makes up part of the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom. When you look at the flag, you can see it is actually made up of three different crosses:  St. George’s red Cross of England, St. Andrew’s white Cross of Scotland, and St. Patrick’s red one. And to be clear, the UK is considered all of Great Britain – England, Scotland, and Wales – with the addition of Northern Ireland. Ireland is considered its own republic.



River Dancing in the Streets

Funny thing is, as much as a celebration and party St. Patrick’s Day is today, from 1903-1970 it was considered a religious holiday according to Irish law, which required pubs remain closed for the day. Squeal! The law was reclassified as a national holiday in 1970, paving the way for the opening of drinking establishment doors and green beer. In the Diocese of Ireland however, it is still considered a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning Catholics are obligated to attend mass and receive the Blessed Sacrament. The fact that this year’s holiday is on a Sunday makes it even special and all the more sacred.


Stateside, it all started as a political holiday when American Irish immigrants organized themselves and commemorated St. Patrick with annual parades and festivities to demonstrate their political and social might. Ironically, there are more Irish in the U.S. than in Ireland! There are an estimated 34 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry but the population of Ireland is only 4.2 million.



St. Patrick today, along with St. Nicholas and St. Valentine, is one of Christianity’s most widely known figures and his prayers can be found among all walks of life. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. The Fifth Avenue Neo-Gothic icon ranks right up there with the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. St. Patrick isn’t only revered by Catholics though. He is honored with a feast day in the Episcopal Church and is also venerated by the Orthodox Church.



Parades and festivals will happen in many places today, but perhaps the ones in New York, Boston, and Chicago rank highest. Every year the Chicago River is colored green and green beer and whiskey flow abundantly throughout the city. And it’s WHISKEY, not WHISKY. Irish spell the scotch with an added “e,” while their Scottish neighbors omit the extra vowel. American-made whiskeys also add the “e.”



Lastly, the color green. It will be everywhere you look today and be ready to get pinched if you’re not wearing it. It’s definitely tied to St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish, but it’s also tied to jealousy. “Green with envy” is a common saying but my lads, it’s nothing to celebrate. On this Sunday and every day, let’s try taking a cue from St. Patrick and be giving not envious. It’s a trait that will make all eyes smile, not just those Irish ones.


I leave you with one of my favorite prayers from St. Patrick:




What A Doll March 16, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:48 pm

Somebody had a very special birthday this month and it’s someone who has had multiple impressive jobs, many a fabulous home, and a man who has eyes only for her. Who could it be? None other than Barbie! Yep, the Malibu princess turned 60 on March 9 and doesn’t she look fab for her age?!




During those 60 years Barbie has been everything from best friend to president. She’s been a doctor, an astronaut, a news anchor, a fashion editor, flight attendant, and everything in between. And despite numerous controversies surrounding her hair color, waist size, and skin color, Barbie remains Mattel’s best-selling toy.  A total of more than a billion Barbie dolls have been sold over the years and every year nearly 60 million are bought around the world. A whopping 100 Barbies are said to be sold every minute!  Not bad for a girl whose inspiration came from a risqué German doll named Bild Lilli.



Truth be told, I love Barbie and all things Barbie. I’ve always wanted a wall in my house filled with big vintage and pop art sketches of the doll but for some reason my husband is not on board. Go figure. And who didn’t love Danish-Norwegian dance-pop group Aqua’s fun and flirty 1997 hit “I’m A Barbie Girl.” You’re probably right now singing “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world, life in plastic, it’s fantastic” after reading the title.



If I were a gazillionaire living in a dream house with a ton of rooms, I’d dedicate one just to Barbie. I’d have all my old Barbies displayed, along with her Dreamhouse, clothes, and everything vintage. Those hangars! Those little bitty shoes! That white pink stole! And those carrying cases! I still have one exactly like the red one above and if I close my eyes I can picture how it feels and how it smells. These are childhood memories that have indeed lasted a lifetime.



Growing up a Hispanic brunette, I never cared that Barbie was blonde-haired and blue-eyed. My sisters and I played with her and her Dreamhouse that we still have at my mom’s house and we never, ever felt slighted by her whiteness or thinness. She was just a doll to us and one who gave us countless hours of playful pretend joy. We had Barbie and later added Midge, Ken, and Skipper and I remember how exciting it was when new Barbies had bendable knees and twist-and-turn waists. All these years later, today girls of all colors and shapes can find a Barbie in their own image, which is what Barbie was intended to be all along.



Created by then Mattel owner Ruth Handler and her husband Elliott, Barbie was inspired by the paper dolls their daughter Barbara played with and designed after Bild Lilli. (I also remember LOVING paper dolls, especially Betsy McCall ones that came each month in my mom’s McCall’s magazine.) The Handlers also invented Hot Wheels and named Barbie and Ken after their children. It’s safe to say that little did they know they had an icon on their hands when Barbie debuted at the New York Toy Fair on March 9, 1959. They probably thought they just had a cute doll with a ponytail, holding sunglasses, and wearing a swimsuit. Instead, what the Handlers handed the world was its most popular and famous doll of all time. Let’s give them a hand for doing so.



Since that debut, Barbie has undergone many a makeover, had many a career, and many a celebrity has been made into their very own Barbie doll. Some makeovers have been received with fanfare but others have been met with criticism, including and probably by some of those very stars who thought nothing of being a Barbie themselves. But that’ a whole other blog. So, let’s start with her figure. That ubiquitous and unrealistic figure that many say conveys an unrealistic body image to young girls.



A standard Barbie dolls is 11.5 inches tall, which equates to around 5’9” in real life and weighs around 110 pounds, which most experts and doctors consider underweight for her height. The doll’s “real life” measurements are estimated to be a 36-inch chest, an 18-inch waist, and 33-inch-wide hips. According to the BBC, if you made the original body into a true human size figure, she would have a 21-inch waist and 30-inch hips. Sadly, the average waist of an American woman in 2018 was 39 inches.



In response, Mattel has altered Barbie’s figure and a new line of body types including tall, petite, and curvy, was introduced. Curvy Barbie gained a great deal of attention and accolades but sadly many young girls still consider her “fat,” even though she would be an equivalent of a size 4 in women’s clothing. That, my friends, is not Barbie’s fault.


But that’s just the start of the controversies that have surrounded our Barbie girl.


Diversity was also lacking in early day Barbies, but in their defense, Mattel has attempted to create Barbies that appeal to a range of races and cultures and dolls representing all walks of life.


“Colored Francie” debuted in 1967 and is sometimes considered the first African-American Barbie, but she was made using the same head molds as those of white Francie so she lacked what many consider traditional women of color characteristics. A year later Christie was introduced and was considered more racially authentic and accurate.


In 1980 Mattel began producing Hispanic dolls, including Teresa who is currently one of Barbie’s best friends. In addition, mixed race Asian-American Raquelle was one of the “I Can Be President” dolls while Summer Gordon appeals to all the gingers in the world with her strawberry blonde hair and green eyes.


All in all, Barbie now sports at least seven skin tones, 22 eyes colors, and 24 hair styles and colors and the “Barbie Fashionistas” line includes a doll with a prosthetic leg and another in a wheel chair. Last year the “Inspiring Women” line was released featuring the likes of Amelia Earhart and snowboarder Chloe Kim, among others. And just this year, more than 20 “Sheroes” dolls bear the likes of female heroes like activists and gymnasts.


Barbie’s rep also took a hit in 1992 when the talking “Teen Talk Barbie” said things like “I love shopping” and “Will we ever have enough clothes?” As if those weren’t cringe-worthy enough, what ultimately broke the Barbie’s back was the now infamous “Math class is tough” phrase. Each doll was programmed to say four of 270 possible phrases and only less than 2 percent of all dolls sold said the dreaded math one. Still loud and vocal criticism led Mattel to eliminate it all together.




Given the full name Barbara Millicent Roberts, Barbie hails from the fictional town of Willows, Wisconsin and she attended Willows High School. Somehow she made her way to Malibu, California though. Her on-off boyfriend Ken Carson first appeared in 1961 and she had a famous younger sister named Skipper. Her family and friend circles continue to grow and morph and she even got a little friendly with Australian surfer Blaine when she and Ken were on a break. Oh my!


Through the years, Barbie’s cars are almost as famous as her wardrobe. She’s owned everything from a requisite pink convertible to more sporty Jeeps. She also holds a pilot’s license and can fly a commercial airplane. Barbie works hard and plays hard, and whether beach babe or boss lady, she lives her life to the fullest. Maybe that’s what we all love about her.


Barbie’s ever-evolving and progressive make-overs have also affected where she lives. Enter, the Barbie Dreamhouse. And what a dream it is.



The first Barbie Dreamhouse was introduced in 1962 and was made out of cardboard. It could be folded up into a portable luggage-like piece and is the one I had as a child. With a true minimalist vibe, the house is reminiscent of TV’s “Mad Men” and all things Rat Pack. Since then, Barbie’s digs have run the gamut and perfectly mimic the decades in which they were created, right down to their plastic.



The ‘70s saw Barbie move into a brightly decorated, fun, and girlie three-story home complete with an elevator, followed by a more realistic one a few years later that had working doors and windows. From there Barbie became urban-chic as she transitioned to city life as well as a full-blown “magical mansion” that featured a ringing telephone (remember those?!), a working doorbell, and a light-up fireplace. More recently Barbie’s home away from home boasts architectural details only a designer could dream up, including stained glass and bay windows, arches, and balconies. It’s important to also note that Barbie must be working hard as her most recent home has not one but two elevators.




Whatever her pros and cons, Barbie is an undeniable hit that has withstood generations of play and fame. In 2016 she was the subject of an exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratif in Paris and she is bonafide social media darling. Her Instagram account, @barbiestyle, has 2 million followers and nearly 6 million follow her YouTube animated vlogs. She is the subject of a Netflix series, has starred in close to 40 animated films, and a live-action movie featuring Oscar-nominated Margot Robbie is currently in production. I can’t wait for that one! Mattel is rightly proud of their girl and is commemorating her anniversary with a pop-up art installation in New York City. Think of the pink! Think of the lines! Think of the history.



Maybe deep down we are all Barbie girls, shouldn’t take her so seriously, and instead just have fun with the whole idea of a girl who can do anything and who dreams big. As they say, if you don’t have a dream, there’s no way to make one come true.


Happy Birthday Barbie!





Travel with Friends…For the Health of It March 12, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:56 pm


Looking for a way to improve your health and well-being? Phone a friend! Take a trip! Better yet, do both at once.


Just last week I returned from my annual girls’ trip with four of my college buddies. Every February we meet somewhere…all five of us live in different cities and some states…to relax, catch up, and enjoy being with each other and in a beautiful place. We take turns choosing the destination; no one votes, no one does a thing but show up unless you are the gal picking that year’s locale. For 16 straight years we have done this. We laugh, we cry, we swear, we sightsee, we shop, we spa, we eat, we drink. And for the first time this year, we had a bit of drama but as true friends do, we get through it and move on. Most of all we value each other and our time together, and apparently we are on to something.


In today’s society of strangers and random “likes,” it was comforting to recently read that taking a trip with your girlfriends is not just good for your soul but good for your health too. Yay! Yippee!


But, you say, we already knew that, right? Yes perhaps, but now it’s scientifically proven and research based. It’s also a win-win: both travel and friendships are good for you. I’m in!



Friends with Benefits

Here’s the deal: researchers have found that hanging out with gal pals can actually increase the production of oxytocin, the “feel good cuddle” hormone that our bodies naturally make when we’re happy. Since it raises our levels of joy, it can also make us more generous, more trusting, a bit friendlier, and a host of other traits we look for in…friends! And if this “feel good” evidence isn’t enough to convince you science nerds, hold your lab coats and read on.



News flash: friendship can extend your life expectancy, lower the chances of heart disease, and help you tolerate pain. And, none other than brainiacs at Harvard have discovered that people who don’t have strong friendships may be more depressed, suffer earlier cognitive decline, and may even die at younger ages then those surrounded by loyal friends. So important are friendships that a lack of strong social ties increases the risk of premature death by 50 percent and how lonely one feels increases the risk of dementia. Call those friends and call them now!


Better yet, take a trip with them, as the benefits of friendships are very, very similar to the benefits of travel. Combine the two and voila, you’ve got pure awesomeness.



The Friendly Skies

So we’ve learned having trusted and loyal friends reduces stress, has positive physiological changes in the brain, reduces the threat of heart disease, and decreases the risk of depression but guess what? Travel does all those things too. Well, as long as you can handle the growing stress of flying these days.


Now we’re learning that traveling with friends just ups the ante and may be just what the doctor ordered.


Getting away from the daily stressors in your life, especially if you can surround yourself with trusted friends while on your escape, has a way of repairing, rebooting, and rejuvenating both your mind and your body. You leave behind your schedule, your laundry, and everything else that keeps you busy and rushed.



We already discussed the benefits having heartfelt friends has on your heart, and when you travel you tend to walk more than you might at home, which is also heart healthy. Both friendship and travel relieve stress and can reduce the risk of depression. In fact, the Wisconsin Medical Journal reported that women who travel may be less likely to develop depression.


People who travel for pleasure also tend to have a “life is good and I am blessed” attitude and don’t you feel that very same way after spending either a week or an afternoon with good friends? It’s a level of satisfaction that no website or post can give you.



And don’t give me the “I feel guilty traveling without my family” reason. Unless you are a single mom or nursing a baby, and even they can still maybe get away for even one night,  that reason sounds more like an excuse. Your family will be just fine while you’re away and you’ll return to them a happier and recharged member. Our daughter still to this day reminds me of the time I left her with strep throat to leave on that year’s annual girls’ trip. She’s 25-years-old now but loves to remind me about it. Truth be told, I had taken her to the doctor, gotten her antibiotics, knew strep traditionally goes away quickly, and she was in good hands with her dad.


Phone a Friend

But don’t fret if a “friendcation” simply isn’t in the cards any time soon. A recent study showed that simply going out with the girls is equally beneficial. Happy hour? Check. Painting class? Yep. Round of golf? Tee it up!


The study, conducted by researchers at Oxford University, found that women’s overall health and happiness levels increase and improve the more they get together with friends. These quick snippets of love and laughter have a proven way of helping a woman heal faster from injury or illness and decrease stress and anxiety. The positive impact on both a woman’s mental and physical health proves that laughter is the best medicine.



But as women, we know that carving out time for a simple cup of coffee much less a five day vacay is difficult. We make time for family, work, exercise, and other commitments, but when it comes to girl time we tend to lollygag. In today’s mobile and moving world, it’s also common for friends to move away. I’ve lived in the same metro area for 33 years and have friends in different places from different phases of my life. They know everything about me, the good and the bad, and we’ve all been through so much. I love them but do I see them as often as I’d like? No, but each group does make a point of getting together and those are moments I treasure.



Maintaining close friendships may prove harder and harder as we age. Our kids grow up, jobs change, and energy levels diminish, but it’s important to point out that a Michigan State University psychologist found that in older adults, friendships are a stronger predictor of health and happiness than family member relationships. All I can say is that my girls’ trip consists of five women who don’t live near each other, have busy lives, and rarely see each other save for our annual trip, but we make it a point to do so every February. Yes, we know we are beyond lucky but we are also beyond dedicated.



So, whether booking a trip or making a reservation, what’s the key to building and maintaining a healthy group of gal pals? Most experts agree the smaller the group, the better.  A large group will never be intimate and a small, close-knit one has a much higher level of commitment, the odds of scheduling conflicts decrease, everyone will always feel they are being heard and are validated and nurtured, trust will soar, bonds will grow, and reservations are much easier to make!



So maybe it’s time we stopped focusing on filling our lives with more things and more busyness, and instead call up that friend or group of friends you love and miss. Grab a coffee, see a movie, have a glass of wine. Maybe even take a trip. Whatever you decide or can do, it’s time to invest in friendships and not things. Your heart, body, and mind will thank you for it.