Beyond Words

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

A New Decade and Year of the Rat December 31, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 2:25 pm

Happy New Year’s Eve and happy Year of the Rat as that pesky little critter is the official animal of the 2020 Chinese New Year. Out with a decade and in with a rodent! Eeeewww!


As heinous as that sounds, it’s really not all bad. And even though I wouldn’t say I’m China’s biggest fan, I am fascinated by its history and traditions and since the Year of the Rat is my year according to the year I was born, I thought I’d have a quick look see at what it all means.


Different birth years have different animals, with 2020’s recent years being 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, and 2020. I’m officially one of those so it was a no brainer that I research and write about it. There’s a lot though so I’m splitting things up.


Today: everything and anything you’ve wanted to know about Chinese New Years.

Tomorrow: everything and anything you want to know about The Year of the Rat.


I do know a little bit about it all, as a few years back I hosted a dinner party around this same time of year and researched each attendee’s birth year Chinese New Year animal and shared them as a table topic. It was great fun and I learned a lot.


The Chinese New Year has 4,000 year history and is celebrated by more than 20 percent of the world. It is also known as Spring Festival, or chunjie, and is the most important holiday in China and to Chinese people everywhere and that’s a lot of people, as one out of every five people in the world is Chinese. In addition to the locales you’d expect to celebrate the event, London, San Francisco, and Sydney claim the biggest ones outside of Asia.


In this century, the national holiday starts on the first of the Lunar Calendar and lasts until the 15th of the first month. (And if you’re wondering, a Lunar Calendar calculates months using the moon, while the more widely used Gregorian Calendar is based on the sun’s movement.) This year it starts January 25 and ends February 8. As the first day arrives, its weather, stars, and the moon are analyzed and fortunes for the year are predicted.


Make no mistake, each Chinese New Year is a huge national holiday and a majority of stores are closed. Tradition and custom call for you to spend time with your family the first four days and only go out after the fifth day. On New Year’s Eve, all family members near and far are to reunite and since the Chinese population is spread so vastly between rural and urban areas, the migration back home on that day is utter chaos. Train tickets can only be bought 60 days in advance, creating a frenzy of 1,000 tickets said to be sold each second. And let’s for one minute picture the trains and train stations. I love my family, but no.


Celebrations are HUGE events with fireworks displays that rival any Fourth of July celebration. It is said that on Chinese New Year’s Eve, the most fireworks in the world are set off with more being blasted on New Year’s Day morning to welcome the new year and to bring good luck. But they’re not just fun and games, as pyrotechnics are thought to scare off monsters and bad luck as is the color red, which you’ll see on homes, in clothing, and in those beautiful lanterns.


We’ve all heard of or seen photos of lantern festivals and they are truly a sight to be seen. The festivals indicate the end of Chinese New Year celebrations and are a night of partying and freedom. Back in the day, girls weren’t allowed to go outside by themselves but on Lantern Fest night they could, sometimes resulting in new love being found. Today it is also appropriately considered a sort of Valentine’s Day in China.


As with anything Chinese or tradition-laden, there are many Spring Fest do’s and don’ts. Showering on New Year’s Day and sweeping or throwing out trash before the fifth day are banned as to avoid washing off or throwing away good luck. Sweeping is to be done the day before Spring Fest starts, as is all cleaning, to get rid of bad luck and make room for good luck. Most hair salons are closed during the entire Chinese New Year celebration because cutting hair and using scissors, knives, or any sharp items is taboo.


Similar to our Thanksgiving meal, food and drink play a big role in Chinese New Year festivities and some have special meanings and traditions, much like our turkeys and stuffing on Thanksgiving and Yule logs or tamales on Christmas. Dumplings are consumed every day for almost every meal, although they are more of a northern thing as in the South, spring rolls and rice balls are preferred. As for drinks, there are wines specifically harvested for Spring Fest and it’s customary to have a different wine for each ceremony, meal, or event. All meals also follow strict etiquette and toasting rules.



But what about those year animals?  Kinda like the Western horoscope system that includes 12 zodiacs, one for each month, there are also 12 Chinese zodiacs but the animals associated with each are for the entire year and are very culturally significant. They can determine or help you decide your career, relationships, and even health.


Traditionally your zodiac year is one of bad luck and often laden with mishaps, but it is believed 2020 will be reasonably good for the Rat. Just in case, I will adhere to the belief that the color red is my weapon of defense so I will decorate with it and wear it. Maybe a little crimson with my cream?


Tomorrow I’ll dive into The Year of the Rat including traits and lives of “rats” and see if I match them, and also what all you rats out there might expect in this, your Chinese New Year.


Until then, xin nian kuai le, gong hei fat choy, and gong xi fa cai!







Comfort and Joy December 23, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 3:45 pm


Joy to the World.


Merry Christmas.


Happy Holidays.


Comfort and joy.


Joy. Merry. Happy.


We hear and see those words and greetings everywhere this time of year, but what do they really mean and do we really know how to express them, possess them, and produce them?



Merriam-Webster defines “merry” as full of gaiety or high spirits and marked by festivity. It is also defined as full of cheerfulness, festively joyous, happy, mirthful, and joyous in disposition or spirit.


So, if you’re merry are you automatically full of joy and happy? Not always. Not even during these happy holidays.


Come to find out that there’s a big difference between happy and joyful. “Happy” is external while “joyful” is internal. We often base happiness on situations, events, people, places, and things but joy is a cultivated spiritual quality based solely on being at peace with who you are, where you are, and why you are.



Joy is an emotion of well-being while happiness is a state of contentment. Joy carries with it no burdens or expectations while happiness is usually attached to goals and desires. Happiness is a destination but joy is an attitude. In the end, happiness is future oriented and joy is present in the present. Truth be told, we will never be happy unless we are joyful.


But how do we get there? How do we live a joyful life and be joyful?



First of all, stop overlooking the simple pleasures and joys in life. The little things are really big things so be grateful for all the so-called insignificant things in your life because the more you practice gratitude, the more you will experience joy.



That big house on the hill or designer bag might make you temporarily happy but it’s the little things that bring true joy. Things like how my dogs look at me, the Christmas cards and notes I got from parents of my students, and binge watching The Crown with my daughter and husband this Christmas. Maybe it’s things like having a car to get you places, having clean running water, or health of body and mind. Even things like umbrellas, hearing a favorite song, and cozy robes can spur on joy.



I recently experienced four quick days of joy when I joined my sisters-in-law, niece, and daughter in New York City to see the tree, lights, windows, and everything NYC Christmas. I’d never been to New York during Christmas and felt joy the whole “bucket List” trip. I’m still pinching myself and will be forever grateful.


Speaking of New York, one of my favorite authors and bloggers, Gretchen Rubin, is currently blogging “Five Things Making Me Happy This Week” and I’m loving it. Again, it’s the simple things. Things like seeing Christmas trees for sale on the streets of NYC. Yep Gretchen, I agree.



Funny thing is, is that Joy is one of the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit, which demonstrate the presence of God at work in us. Through the Fruit of Joy, we have an abiding sense of well-being, we accept things in a more positive manner, and we are not focused on changing ourselves or things around us.


There lies the challenge, as society is all about change and changing. We choose elective surgery to change our looks. We take drugs to change our minds. We go on crazy and sometimes unhealthy diets to change our bodies. It’s all labeled as the pursuit of happiness but where does obsession begin and happiness end?


Any pursuit of material or superficial things won’t bring a lifetime of happiness but instead a fleeting moment of satisfaction. Happiness as a whole is fleeting. It is based on momentary pleasures. Joy on the other hand endures and comes from loving our one beautiful life.



Another way we can cultivate joy is to be a person who is a source of joy to others. What greater joy is there is than giving someone that perfect Christmas gift or helping someone who is struggling or down?


Here’s another idea: write down one thing you think won’t make you happy but is the right thing to do then go do it. Afterwards, write down how you got joy out of it in spite of your pre-conceived unhappiness and unwillingness. Scatter joy people!



But why do we say “merry” Christmas when most other holidays we say “happy?” Happy Birthday. Happy Easter. Happy Hanukkah.


Back in the 1300s the word “merry” was interchangeable with agreeable, peaceful, and pleasant and “make merry” was a common expression. The “Merry Month of May” became popular in the 1500s and a letter from an English admiral in 1699 is said to have used the term “Merry Christmas” for the first time. Queen Elizabeth II didn’t like the word “merry” however, and refused to use it. Today, the royal family still says “Happy Christmas” in all their official holiday greetings. Don’t tell Charles Dickens though, as he used “Merry Christmas” in “A Christmas Carol” back in 1843 and the first ever Christmas card, pictured above, used the now popular phrase.



This is all very interesting and well and good, but what if  we’re not so happy and not very merry.  What if our life has sadness or pain? How do we possibly find joy much less scatter it? As hard and seemingly impossible and it might seem and feel, we can still find joy somewhere, somehow. Even at Christmas.


A co-worker recently lost her niece and shared something said at her funeral that I found both moving and eye-opening. “This Christmas,” she told us, “may not be a true “merry” Christmas, but it’s still Christmas.” Yes, it is. It’s still a celebration of our Lord being born and becoming one of us. He feels our pain and took our pain. Let’s take just a moment to thank Him and gratefully praise His birth. Even in the midst of our pain.



Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, I hope you are surrounded by glad tidings and cheer, comfort and joy, and that you have not only a very merry Christmas and happy holidays, but truly joy-filled ones as well.


Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad!



Peace Out December 10, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 12:43 am

“Peace on earth, good will toward man.”


“Give peace a chance.”


“Peace and prosperity.”


‘Tis the season of and for peace, right? We see it on Christmas signs and cards and we hear about it on the news. We all claim to want it and we preach peace, but do we live it? It’s not always easy. Turn on the news and you’ll see anything but peace and instead an alarming lack of peace as wars rage around the world. But, peace goes way beyond being free of war.


I remember many years ago seeing a sign in my friend Anne’s bathroom that read, “Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of God.” I instantly loved it and bought a similar one that I still have somewhere. It rang true then and it rings true today.


So what is peace?


On a grand scale it is certainly the absence of war, but most of us can’t control that. What we can control is the peace in our lives and in our hearts. When you think about it, that’s where it all starts.


A heart not at peace will never radiate peace. As a recent blog I read from Oblates USA described, true inner peace is the presence of an internal balance and serenity that enables us to overlook negative people and situations. It’s all about keeping things in perspective and staying calm amidst the storms. That kind of peace helps us think clearly and not overreact. It demonstrates goodwill and offers hope. It’s a true and undeniable gift and one that we should all be giving this gift-giving season.


And yet we continue to be at war. Maybe not personally on the battlefronts of the Middle East or other war torn regions, but there are wars being fought in our homes, families, schools, and offices. Sometimes we fight a very harmful war within ourselves as we battle with not feeling good enough.  Time to drop our weapons of personal destruction though, as without inner peace, we will never create outer peace.


So true, but who isn’t a tangled mess this time of year? It’s easy to be in a rush and be aggravated, right? It’s quite telling that as we all proclaim “Peace on Earth” we are not people at peace. We are hurried. We are stressed. We are tense. We are grumpy.


It’s as though we are fighting wars and don’t even realize it. We’re on the front lines in the battle to buy the best gifts. The battle to decorate our homes to the ‘nth’ degree. The battle to stay within our budgets. The battle to host the perfect party or wear the perfect party outfit. None of this is good or healthy and it’s a battle we will never win.


It can all get so overwhelming.


Ernest Hemingway once said that grace under pressure is the mark of an exceptional person. I agree (although it’s something my Latin temper struggles with) and I agree with Father David when he builds on that and says peace is the presence of grace, perspective, and serenity. Those are things I want to give and receive!


It’s time to let go of perfectionism and to look at life as it is, not how you wish it was or how you want it to be. Not everything or everyone is important. Goals are good but not when they disrupt your inner peace and cause constant chaos in an already chaotic world. Sometimes it’s as easy as decluttering and simplifying things around you. Create harmony and order and you create calmness and quite possibly, peace.


Instead, we have a society currently at war, shelling anyone who opposes one another with not bullets, but bashing. How ‘bout if we all just for a moment agree to disagree without being disagreeable? Maybe, just maybe, the one you disagree with actually has a point you can be at peace with. Mother Teresa eloquently and humbly said, “Peace begins with a smile.” Next time someone attacks you for what you feel or believe, simply smile at them and walk away. Be at peace and move on.

We all know what the above symbol means. It’s the international peace sign. Well, as with anything that becomes famous, it has an interesting origin. Created by graphic designer and Christian pacifist Gerald Holton to be used on banners and signs of the thousands calling for nuclear disarmament and marching in London in 1958, the unassuming symbol consisting of a circle and three lines is today one of the most famous designs recognized worldwide and has been used by generations.


The design is modeled after naval semaphore flags that sailors use to communicate. In designing it, Holton combined the codes for “N” for “nuclear” and “D” for “disarmament.  He also is said to have drawn himself inside the circle, represented as an individual in despair over what was going on at the time. Look closely and maybe you can see two outstretched hands that face down inside a circle thought to symbolize everything from the world to the circle of life.


Another famous symbol for peace is what’s known as a “crow foot” or “victory” sign. (And yes all you USC fans, it’s your “fight on” hand sign too.) Its current form was popularized by none other than Pablo Picasso in the 1950s although its true beginnings are debated.  Most famously it was adopted in the 1970s by stateside Vietnam War protesters. Be careful when you use it though, as the reverse symbol is considered offensive in many cultures including Great Britain, where it’s the equivalent of throwing somebody the finger.



Regardless of any symbol or design, real peace begins inside of you, of me, of everyone. Being at peace means accepting your current lot in life and making the best of the situation you currently find yourself in. A constant yearning for more and obsession with changing our looks does not create peace; it creates dissatisfaction and sometimes depression. Yes, if you’re overweight by all means strive to get healthy, but if you don’t have that mansion on the hill remember there are others praying for what you already have. Think about it, gratitude is peace in it’s very own way. Worry is also a peace sucker. It never eliminates tomorrow’s problems; it only takes away today’s peace.



So on that note, don’t take it from me, take it from a Christmas tree. Be the light, sparkle, and bring joy. Odds are you’ll also find peace along the way.


While researching and writing today’s blog, I ran across some tips for finding peace on “The Positivity Blog.” Here are some of the ones I liked in addition to what I’ve already talked about above.


  1. Set limits. If your life is overflowing with commitments and busyness, set limits. Stop doing things that aren’t important or necessary. Set boundaries too. The only people who won’t like this idea are those who benefit from you not having any.
  2. Find a relaxation technique that works for you. Sometimes it’s just a matter of stillness. Just sit still. Hard, right? I find stillness in yoga and short prayer and meditation. Walks are good too. Find what works for you and make it a habit.
  3. Don’t make mountains out of molehills. Now that’s a tough one for me, someone who over-analyzes and often overreacts. This causes nothing but worry and stress. Instead, remind yourself that many out there have it worse than you; ask if it will matter in five hours, five days, or five months; and sometimes it works to just say “so what!”
  4. Slow down! We all know this but we rush to where we’re going, we inhale our meals, and we quickly send off an email or text. Slow down people. Just. Slow. Down.
  5. Accept and let go. When you accept a hurt or a negative, it starts to lose power on your emotions. And while there are some things or people you can never let go of, rid your heart and your mind of any that never served a positive purpose. Focus on the present and the positives of the past.
  6. Escape. Even if just for a little while. Take time to read, watch a TV show or movie, meditate or pray, take a bath, even take a nap! It’s amazing how much peace and relaxation will result in just letting go and releasing pressure for just a while.
  7. Breathe. Yes, breathe. Take deep, cleansing breaths when you feel a rush of anxiety or stress. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. This technique, even done for as little as 5-10 minutes, is known to relieve tension and drain the brain.

Here’s hoping you find the peace of the season, true inner peace, and a peace that lasts long after the “Peace on Earth, good will toward man” cards are put away.  Peace out.