Beyond Words

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

Leap of Faith? February 29, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 1:57 pm

Happy Intercalary Day! Say what? That’s actually just a fancy way of saying Happy Leap Day, which is today, February 29. But you already knew that, right?

 

But, did you know a non-leap year is called a common year and has 365 days while a leap year has 366? Okay, you knew that too. Did you know, though, that a leap year occurs every four years? Okay fine, you’re on top of that too. But, do you know why? Gotcha? Maybe?

 

Well, a leap year happens in order to help synchronize the calendar year with the solar year, which is the length of time it takes the earth to complete its orbit around the sun. The calendar we use is called the Gregorian calendar and was put into place by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. On this calendar, every year divisible by four has an extra day and is called a “Leap Year.” Century years are the exception to the four year rule though, as they must be divisible by 400 to be Leap Years.  This is why the year 2000 was a Leap Year but 1900 wasn’t and why 2400 will be one but not 2100.

 

But what’s in the name “leap?”

 

The name is thought to come from the fact that, while a fixed date in the Gregorian calendar normally advances one day of the week from one year to the next, the day of the week in the 12 months following a Leap Year will advance two days, thus “leaping” over one of the days.

 

But why always in February?

 

Some historians credit Julius Caesar way back when he took power and reconfigured the then Roman calendar. He aligned the length of a year with the sun, giving each year 365 days and for reasons unknown he left February at 28 days. Others say the month was selected kinda randomly and it just stuck.

 

Okay, so what happens if you’re born on a Leap Day?

 

Codes vary state-by-state as to when a leap baby or “leapling” celebrates his or her birthday, but most consider March 1 as the day. Interestingly, there is a 1 in 1,500 chance of being born on a leap day and babies born on one are thought to have special talents according to astrologers.

 

Other myths and legends about a Leap Year and Leap Day in particular include the Irish “Bachelor’s Day” legend that St. Brigid opened up the gates for women to propose marriage to men on a Leap Day after she struck a deal with St. Patrick as a way to balance the traditional roles of men and women in society, much like a leap day adds balance to the calendar. Boy was she a woman ahead of her time! This tradition is still occasionally observed in England but in neighboring Scotland February 29 is often considered as unlucky as Friday the 13th.

 

Coincidentally, Leap Years almost always coincide with U.S. election years, as is the case this year, and often times with Olympic years as well. The next three leap years will be 2024, 2028, and 2032.

 

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate today’s Leap Day, what better way than with the official Leap Day Cocktail? Invented by bartender Harry Craddock of London’s tony Savoy Hotel in 1928, it is considered a martini-like drink and is said to have been responsible for more proposals than any cocktail ever mixed according to the “Savoy Cocktail Book.”  Here is the original recipe:

 

Craddock’s Leap Day Cocktail

1 dash lemon juice
2/3 gin
1/6 Grand Marnier
1/6 sweet vermouth

Shake, serve, garnish with a lemon peel.

 

Enjoy and Happy Leap Day!

 

 

Just Give It Up February 24, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:53 pm

As many of you know, Lent starts this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. That means tomorrow’s “Fat Tuesday” is unofficially the last day to party, parade, and partake in all things pointless. Then on Wednesday, all beads and bets are off and we start our 40 days of fasting, praying, and giving…both the giving of and the giving up.

 

 

A few days ago a friend posted an interesting twist on the concept of giving something up courtesy the brilliant and inspiring Father Mike Schmitz. Father Mike suggests giving up something “necessary” rather than something arbitrary. In other words, rather than fast from the arbitrary soda or candy, give up something you necessarily should or something that’s hard to say no to. This could be anything from the constant streaming of social media, smoking, or anything that has a hold on you or that you’re attached to but really shouldn’t be. Yeah it’s easy to give up oranges for Lent, but is that really demonstrating self-denial? Instead, how about snacks between meals or shopping online? On the flip-side, much like New Year’s Resolutions, don’t vow to give up something that is the hardest thing ever per se like “I’m going to clean, exercise, and eat healthy every day during Lent.” Lastly, sometimes it’s better to do something rather than not do something. Do more walking. Give more time or money.

 

But, I digress from the main reason for writing today.

 

 

A week or so ago I was reading my daily meditations and was stunned that they both dealt with being yourself and that dirty little thing called comparison. Ironically I read them soon after I returned from my annual college girls trip; a trip we’ve done once-a-year for 17 years running and that I share with four fabulous and fabulously funny and incredible women. Each time I see them I feel blessed to be counted among such an amazing group of girls. Sometimes I ask myself “why me?” or more importantly, “how me?” Then I remind myself that each of us brings something equally important and vital to the trip table, including me. Still, who doesn’t compare themselves and their lives to those we admire and adore?

 

So with that in mind, what better thing (among many) to work on giving up for Lent then comparing ourselves to others?

 

 

 

As the passage I read started with, we live in a copycat society in which we often set our sights on being like so-and-so or the next so-and-so as the classic above photo from days gone by of Sophia Lauren and Jayne Mansfield so perfectly depicts. Even someone as beautiful, talented, and lauded as Ms. Lauren fell victim to comparing and contrasting. Someone needed to tell her….and tell all of us…that we all need to just walk our walk, talk our talk, and build our success on authenticity not duplicity. God created each one of us as an original so maybe it’s time we stop trying to be imitations.

 

There’s nothing wrong with having role models, goals, and ambitions, but when those turn into envy or “I’m not good enough” thoughts, it’s time to re-evaluate. There will always be someone smarter, prettier, richer, and whatever more than you. News flash all you perfect beings: you aren’t perfect. No one is.

 

We also live in a competitive society however, so if you must compare, why not compare yourself to others who are generous, kind, honest, hard-working, and faith-filled? Rather than thriving on being perfect or complimented, strive to be respected and valued.

 

 

Likening ourselves to others is actually so prevalent (thank you social media) that Harvard professor Thomas J. DeLong notes a disturbing trend he calls “comparison obsession.” His analysis shows that everyone from doctors and lawyers to school kids and senior citizens are obsessed with comparing their own achievements against those of others. And not in a good way.

 

He goes on to say that when you define success based on external rather than internal criteria, you diminish your satisfaction and contentment. Makes sense, right? As long as your life is ruled by keeping up you will probably never keep the inner peace.

 

 

Scripture itself warns us of this when it cautions to not become so proud that you look down on others or to become jealous and covet what others have. Envy, after all, is one of the seven deadly sins as it makes us blind to the goodness of God in our lives because we are consumed with what we don’t have. It can also result in sorrow and sadness and even sometimes hate and depression. When we live in a constant state of comparison and envy, we fail to see what God has given us and we might even start to believe He is unfair.  But, who can forget that King Saul tried to dress David up as something he wasn’t before he took on Goliath. David stayed true to himself and the rest is biblical history.

 

 

So for the upcoming 40 days of Lent, let’s give up comparing ourselves and our lives to those of others and instead count our blessings and remind ourselves to stay authentic, that we are all uniquely made, and are indeed good enough to just bloom.

 

 

Friends and Enemies February 23, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:12 pm

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” Sage advice, right?

 

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  We’ve all heard that saying too, right? Well in today’s gospel reading its front and center and worth looking at a little closer through the eyes of love.

 

In the reading from Matthew 5:38, Jesus does indeed utter those words but immediately after says to “offer no resistance to one who is evil” and “when one strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.”

 

Yeah right Jesus, we’re going to turn the other cheek and allow someone to not only slap us silly once, but slap us twice. Isn’t there also the ole adage “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me?”

 

And yet, that is the command is what it is and is summed up simply as “love your enemies.”

 

 

I recently came across something that gave me a whole new and different way of looking at this seemingly difficult task. It suggested that when confronted with an enemy or just merely someone who has not been nice to you, to think about how you would go about things if you and that person were seated next to each other at a dinner table and couldn’t leave. How would the conversation go? Would you confront that person? Ignore them? Forgive them? Food for thought, right?

 

 

All we need do is turn on the television to witness swaths of enemies going at it. The right and the left. The rich and the poor. The white and the black. The east and the west.  Simple agreement on anything, whether that something may benefit all, is disturbingly near non-existent so an actual love between the factions? Highly unlikely it appears.

 

But, we are asked to do just that: actually love our enemies. Not just tolerate or accept them, but love them. Yikes! (Funny how this pops up right after Valentine’s Day.) Think about it though and perhaps reverse the scenario. Say someone considers you their enemy but instead of treating you as such and confirming the two of your “enemy-ness,” they treat you with love and kindness. Yes, at first you’d probably think it was all for show or flat out fake, but it would also confuse you and maybe, just maybe remove the negative energy the hatred has been breeding.

 

 

In marital arts, this concept is called “aikido,” which is basically absorbing the aggressive and negative energy of your opponent until it is rendered useless. You can implement this strategy in your everyday life by turning your enemy’s negativity back on him and respond to his insults with gratitude or better yet, a compliment.

 

American biblical scholar and theologian Walter Wink agrees with this idea. He points out that it has nothing to do with passivity in the face of evil but rather, the embodiment of a provocative and nonviolent way of conquering evil through love.

 

This is exactly what Jesus did when, upon being hung on the cross said, “Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” If He can love His enemies with His dying breaths and at the hands of those who sentenced him to an unjustly death, can’t we do the same? That enemy is waiting for you at the dinner table.

 

 

 

Valentine Would Have Loved It February 16, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:01 pm

Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but shouldn’t its message of love stick around all year? Long after the roses have died, the cards have been tossed or saved, and candies have been eaten, the love behind them should not similarly disappear. That’s how St. Valentine would have wanted it and that’s how he lived. Yes, there was a real man really named Valentine and maybe it’s time to learn about him and why we even have a Valentine’s Day. Consider this blog my way of keeping his message of love alive long past February 14.

 

 

Valentine was a third century priest in third century Rome. (Call me crazy but it’s my personal opinion that it’s quite fitting that the Saint of Love comes from Italy!) During that time, Claudius II was emperor and at some point decided that single men made better soldiers than those who were married. He outlawed marriage for young men in hopes of building a stronger military but Valentine strongly believed people should get married and thought the decree was unfair so he continued to secretly marry young couples. When Claudius found out about this, he sentenced Valentine to prison.

 

While imprisoned, Valentine was relentlessly asked to renounce his actions and his faith but he refused. Sent to another prison, Valentine is said to have written little messages to family and friends to let them know he was well and that he loved them. He was also befriended by a guard whose daughter was blind. Valentine would preach to and pray with the guard, who had asked Valentine to heal his daughter’s sight. It is said that just days before his execution, Valentine prayed over the girl, touched her eyes, and she regained her eyesight. Word traveled fast, and upon hearing about the miracle, many turned to Christianity. Claudius was not amused or impressed and quickly condemned Valentine to death. The night before his execution, Valentine wrote to the young girl and signed it, “From your Valentine.” The phrase became popular among lovers even back then, and today is still used on cards everywhere. Stoned and beheaded on February 14, 269, Valentine was buried near Rome and a Basilica was erected in his honor.

 

Not only is Valentine’s Day a holiday in the U.S., it’s celebrated worldwide. In Japan, chocolate is considered even more sacred and “valentine-ish” than even stateside while in Denmark flowers are also given to loved ones on the holiday. In both Italy and Germany it’s strictly an adult and “lovers only” holiday while Mexico officially calls it the “Day of Love and Friendship.” St. Valentine is considered the Patron Saint of Spring in Slovenia but perhaps the holiday is celebrated in the most grandest of ways in France. In Paris, known as the “City of Love,” couples used to attach locks on the Pont des Arts Bridge and throw keys into the River Seine on Valentine’s Day, but the practice was halted due to the weight of the locks and their potential damage to the historic bridge.  The French village of St. Valentin is decked in flowers on Valentine’s Day and is a popular destination for weddings, vow renewals, and engagements. How lovely would that be?!

 

St. Valentine is the Patron Saint of love, young people, and happy marriages, which makes me happy being that I was married a day later on February 15. Considering the fact that Valentine saw to it that couples were united in marriage, it makes perfect sense that the holiday of love is named after him. He would have loved it!

 

Valentine’s favorite words were “Love one another as I have loved you” and I’m thinking they’re pretty good words for all of us to live by. On Valentine’s Day and every day.

 

Winging It February 1, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 10:00 am

 

Super Bowl Sunday is upon us tomorrow and I, along with millions of others, will be eating my share of wings. Chicken wings that is. Buffalo chicken wings.  As a matter of fact, it’s estimated that Americans will eat a record 1.4 billion of tasty wings this weekend. But what are they exactly? And I mean exactly?  Yes, you will find teriyaki, BBQ, and a host of other flavored chicken wing options, but there’s really only one real wing: The Buffalo Chicken Wing. When made right, they are uh-mazing and they have an interesting history as I learned many years ago from my Buffalo born and raised husband.

 

 

No, Buffalo wings aren’t buffalo meat (buffalos don’t have wings), and no, Chili’s didn’t invent the wing nor did Pluckers or Buffalo Wild Wings. That honor belongs to Frank and Teressa Bellissimo. Here’s the story: Frank and Teressa established The Anchor Bar and Grill in downtown Buffalo, NY back in 1935 and had quite the popular neighborhood watering hole. But, it wasn’t until 1964 that the hole-in-the-wall became historic.

 

It was on a Friday night in 1964 that their son Dominic and a group of friends told mamma Bellissimo they wanted a late night snack. Teressa looked around and saw some left over chicken wings, which were usually tossed or reserved for stocks or soups. Knowing she needed something fast and easy, she deep fried the wings and then tossed them in a cayenne hot sauce. She served them with celery stalks and bleu cheese dressing because she also had extras of them lying around and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

 

Teressa’s wings were a hit that night and it didn’t take long for word to spread that the Anchor Bar had a great new dish. Today, the original restaurant at the corner of Main and North Streets is considered the birthplace of wings and still serves up its famous fingerlings, as do restaurants around the world.

 

I will say however, that nowhere in the world are the wings as good as what you get in Western New York. And I say “wings,” not “chicken wings” or “Buffalo wings,” just “wings,” as that’s what they’re called by locals. Finding them elsewhere is a bit like looking for cheesesteaks in Oregon, Tex-Mex in Maryland, or gumbo in Iowa. They just aren’t comparable or even close to the real deals.

 

Wings in Buffalo are so delicious that I truly can eat a dozen of them all by myself. They are most often accompanied by drums and are big, crispy, never greasy or runny, and just the right amount of spicy. If you want them hot, you can but be careful, as your mouth will be on fire. My husband says he remembers eating wings so hot that he’d run outside and put his lips in the snow. I don’t know if that’s totally true but it makes for a great story!

 

 

Deep-fried chicken wings are nothing culinary new and have been a southern staple for years, but most of those wings are breaded. Buffalo chicken wings are never breaded. You simply fry them up and then then coat them with a level of hot sauce to your choosing. Simple, classic, and delicious. And please, no ranch dressing on the side. Bleu cheese only is the way to go.

 

 

No trip to Buffalo is complete without a stop at the Anchor Bar but if you can’t make it to the original location, not to worry, there’s one right inside the Buffalo airport. So, as you make your way out of the airport on your way to perhaps Niagara Falls, be sure to stop and get you some wings before heading out.

 

 

Wings are so sacred in the Buffalo area, that friends and family actually argue over which neighborhood spot has the best ones. The most popular one in my husband’s hometown village of East Aurora (where Mr. Fisher and Mr. Price started Fisher-Price toys in their garage, where America’s Arts and Crafts movement began more than a century ago with the original Roycrofters and thinker Elbert Hubbard, and home of The Millard Fillmore House that was once the residence of the 13th president of the United States), called the Bar-Bill Tavern takes no reservations, accepts only cash, and only recently began offering take-out wings. It also always makes local and national “Best Buffalo Wings” lists.

 

In 1977 the city of Buffalo issued an official proclamation celebrating the Anchor Bar and its owners and declared July 29, 1977 “Chicken Wing Day.” Frank Bellissimo died in 1980 at the age of 84 and Teressa died a year later in her apartment above the bar. They both passed at the age of 84. Dominic, the son whose late night cravings resulted in his mom’s famous wings, later owned the restaurant. He died in 1991 and in 1999 the franchising of Anchor Bar restaurants was established. An Anchor Bar bottled sauce line launched in 1999 and today can be found in more than 3,000 retailers. The world-famous brand was even included in a “Simpsons” episode.

 

I’m not quite sure how wings became so entwined with football watch parties but maybe it’s because they are a popular bar food, they are a filling finger food, and they are so dang good.

 

So there you have it, the story behind those wings you’ll be munching on during the Super Bowl and above you have Teressa Bellisimo’s original recipe. Now you know they’re not only yummy but truly a beautiful thing. They are bellissimo!