Beyond Words

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

Have a Heart February 27, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 11:49 pm

Tomorrow is the last day of February…”heart” month…which means I’m getting this in in the nick of time. It’s time to talk about all things heart, and I’m not talking valentines.


Let’s cut to the chase.


  • Heart disease is America’s number 1 killer. It’s the leading cause of death with more than 655,000 Americans dying of it each year.


  • If you’re counting, that’s one in every four deaths.


  • If you’re counting on the clock, one person dies every 36 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease.


  • If you’re counting “heart attacks” and not just deaths from heart disease, that number is 805,000…the number of Americans that have a heart attack every year…which also calculates to someone in the U.S. having a heart attack every 40 seconds.


  • When it comes to cardiovascular disease, nearly 122 million American adults suffer from it. Some experts put the number at 48 percent of U.S. adults.


And since this country is on such a diversity hamster wheel, it’s important to note that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups. No “privilege” or “systemic” issue here. It hits all of us, costing around $219 billion annually for health care services, medication, and lost productivity.



Artistic Nature

What’s equally disturbing is that heart disease is almost totally preventable; some experts go so far as to say 80 percent of all heart disease is avoidable. And although not all heart attacks are fatal, even a minor one can cause damage and set you up for a lifetime of medication and long-term risks. We’ve all heard it said that living a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of heart disease, but when it comes to our hearts, what exactly does that mean?


The American Heart Association recommends focusing on what they call “Life’s Simple 7,” which are seven goals of eating a healthy diet; exercising regularly; avoiding excess weight; not smoking; and keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar within healthy ranges. Others dumb it down even more by saying the three rules of prevention are do more, eat less, and know your numbers. Sounds simple, right?



Number one, eat healthy. Everything you eat or drink matters to your heart so you need to take your diet to heart. This means lots of plant-based foods and a healthy caloric intake. In fact, a plant-based diet has been scientifically proven to reverse heart disease and studies show that within three weeks of converting to one, people experience significant heart health improvements. Sadly, I’m of those who likes a little animal protein on my plate, so I need to take extra precautions and increase healthy food intake high in fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, healthy grains, fish, and low in dairy and red meat. Avoiding fried foods, baked goods, sugary drinks should be no-no’s for everyone. It’s also recommended you toss the salt, and not just over your shoulder for good luck but out of the food you eat. Also, reduce saturated fats from your diet increase flavonoids, which have a long history associated with heart health. Fruits, veggies, and tea are all great sources of these natural dietary compounds, as in wine. Yay wine! Lean protein is also key to heart-healthy eating, especially legumes like beans, peas, and lentils.



Second, exercise regularly, especially if you’re over 30 as the British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that a lack of physical activity is the greatest heart-disease risk factor for them.  Your heart is small, about the size of your fist, but it is a muscle, and what do you want to do with and for muscles? Exercise them! In short, do something active every day and get up and get moving as regular physical activity is key to keeping your heart healthy and pumping. How much is “regularly?” Most experts suggest working your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-to-high intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent of both each week. If you’re feeling like your head and heart are telling you to lose weight, you might need to increase those numbers just a tad while adjusting your diet. In addition to aerobic activity, it’s also recommended you do regular muscle strengthening and toning activity like weights and yoga. A good rule of thumb that’s easy to remember, at least for me, is that just 20 minutes of brisk walking each day can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30-40 percent.



Those two things will hopefully result in number 3: maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is a heart disease risk factor that is totally preventable. My sister-in-law, who is in the best shape of anyone I know, has always lived by the mantra “what you put in your body, you need to work off.” Chowed down on something not so healthy? Then get your butt out there and work it off. Recent numbers show nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults and nearly 19 percent of youth are actually obese, which is associated with shorter lifespans and a greater proportion of life lived with cardiovascular disease.


No one likes to talk weight or weight issues, but two areas that need addressing when it comes to heart disease are Body Mass Index and Waist Circumference. I know, so here goes.


BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters. A high BMI increases your heart disease risks. The CDC website has a handy-dandy BMI test that’s worth checking out.


Another method to estimate heart disease risks is waist circumference, which measures abdominal fat, known to place you at a greater risk for everything from heart disease to Type 2 Diabetes. As mentioned above, being overweight is a heart disease risk factor, but it’s especially worrisome if those extra pounds are around your middle. Research shows apple-shaped women are three times as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as their pear-shaped counterparts with fat mostly in their hips and legs. To measure your waist circumference, plate a tape measure horizontally around your middle, just above your hipbones. Keep the tape snug but not too tight and measure your waist as you breathe out. A non-pregnant woman with a waist circumference of more than 35 inches and a man with one more than 40 inches could be at a higher risk of heart disease and other ailments. Time to do those crunches and twists!


Number four is self-explanatory: don’t smoke.


It bears mentioning here what many are calling “the new smoking:” sitting. If you’re prone to spending large amounts of time each day sitting, take a stand. Researchers have learned that a sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of death from all causes by 46 percent. Yowzah!  So, in addition to adding regular exercise to your day, you also need to simply move more throughout the day even if that means up and down your hallway.


Up next, prevent or treat other health conditions like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, which can collectively and individually lead to heart disease. These are the “numbers you should know.”





Your systolic blood pressure number…the upper one…should be less than 120 and the diastolic number…the lower one…should be less than 80.


High blood pressure, sometimes called the “silent killer” because it often lacks obvious symptoms, is something we all need to keep in check as it a major but modifiable risk factor for heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure.. The AHA and American College of Cardiology define high blood pressure as a reading of 130/80. Also known as hypertension, it can lead to heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.  If you have high blood pressure, it’s highly recommended you treat it with lifestyle changes and if needed, medication.





Then there’s cholesterol; a fatty substance that naturally occurs in human blood and is formed in the liver or comes from the foods you eat. It aids in tissue and hormone formation, protects your nerves, and helps with digestion. But too much “bad” LDL cholesterol and not enough “good” HDL cholesterol may lead to heart disease and stroke. Too much of it in fact, can cause buildup called plaque, which can cause arteries to harden and narrow…also known as hardening of the arteries…and result in blood clots that can block arteries and lead to heart attack or stroke.



Your cholesterol numbers are a combination of HDL, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. A healthy HDL may protect against heart attack and stroke while the higher the LDL level is, the higher your risk of heart attack.  When you get your cholesterol checked, you get a number for “total cholesterol,” and one each for HDL and LDL levels. You never want a high LDL level less than 100, which is considered optimal. And ideal total cholesterol number is considered below 200mg/dL. Anything between 201-239 is borderline high while 240 and higher is considered high.




Appropriate blood sugar…or blood glucose…levels vary throughout the day and from one person to another. They are often lowest before breakfast and before meals and highest after a meal. For most people without diabetes, ideal numbers are considered less than 100 mg/dL before meals and less than 140 mg/dL after a meal.



What’s weird, is that anyone, including children, can develop heart disease. But what exactly is it?




It occurs when a blocked coronary artery cuts off blood flow to the heart, causing a section of the heart muscle to die. While a blood clot is usually to blame for the blockage, the problem starts long before that with the buildup of fatty deposits, known as coronary artery disease. Plaque builds up in your arteries, which causes them to narrow over time and ultimately reducing blood flow to the heart. When I think about this I immediately have visions of my heart pumping when I exercise and those arteries getting clogged when I eat certain foods. It’s a visual I hope to recreate every time I hesitate to work out or when I want to open that bag of chips.


Something a little harder to prevent and that can lead to heart disease is a family history of heart disease. My dad had a heart attack when he was young so this hits home to me. Because heart disease is so common, it’s not unusual to know of a family member who has suffered from it, but it’s still important to note that if you have a parent or sibling with a history of it you are increased risk of developing it yourself. The best advice here is to collect information on any blood relatives with heart disease, including how old they were when first diagnosed, and talk to your doctor. Still, remember that you might not be able to change your family history, but you can change other risk factors by being healthy and aware.



So how do you know if you or someone around you is having a heart attack? Here are some agreed upon signs to be aware of:


  • Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or go away and come back. The discomfort can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.


  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. A person may also break out in a cold sweat.


  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, one or both arms, and/or shoulders.


  • Shortness of breath, which often comes with the chest discomfort but not always.


  • Nausea or vomiting.


As luck would have it for us ladies, women are more likely to have additional symptoms of nausea or vomiting and unusual or unexplained tiredness.  In addition, a heart attack can come on without chest pain, especially in women. Yay woman!


If you notice symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or someone else, call 911 immediately. The sooner you get to an emergency room, the sooner you can get treatment to reduce damage to the heart muscle. The chances of surviving a heart attack are greater the sooner emergency treatment begins.



By adjusting your lifestyle, you can not only improve your overall well-being and health, you can make a huge difference in improving your heart health too. Having a healthy ticker can also mean you have a healthy thinker, as people who stay in good cardiovascular healthy show less mental decline over time according to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.


I’ll end with a positive note and one that makes my heart happy. Would you believe me if I told you just relaxing can bolster your immune system and slash your risk of heart disease? Well, it’s true!


A recent study out of Finland showed that lazing in a sauna for a few minutes 4-7 days a week can increase longevity and lower the odds of cardiac arrest. That, my friends, is music to this spa lover’s ears and heart.


And it seems you can take those Finns at their word, as saunas are a way of life for them. In fact, in a nation of 5.5 million, there are 3.3 saunas, which are as common as TVs. Sign me up! This enclosed use of intense heat…wet or dry…to stimulate perspiration and cleansing, is also popular in Turkish hammams and Native American sweat lodges.


Much of this does indeed make my heart happy and aren’t happy hearts what we all strive for? Think about all this…the eating right, exercising, and being healthy…as a glass that’s a person. Whatever is inside the glass will splash when you shake it. If it is filled with water, then water will spill out. If it is filled with coffee, coffee will spill out. If that glass/person is filled with anger, anger will spill out. If that person if filled with fear, fear will spill out. But, if that person is filled with joy, joy will spill out and a joyful heart will emerge.


Keep that heart of yours joyful, happy, and healthy.



What a Crock February 24, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:51 pm

Truer words have never been said and as many of us are experiencing or recently experienced a snow and ice-covered world, just hearing the words “crock pot” warm me up. To me, crock pots are the things where warm and yummy meals are made: chili, soup, stews, and the like. They’re also celebrating their 50th anniversary this year and boy do they have an interesting backstory.



First things first though. If you use “Crock Pot” and “slow cooker” interchangeably, don’t.  Come to find out that all Crock Pots are indeed slow cookers but not all slow cookers are Crock Pots. In fact, “Crock Pot” is right up there with Kleenex, Band-Aid, Q-Tips, and Scotch tape. Crock Pot my friends, is a brand name, which was news to me.



Also news to me is that the original slow cooker’s story is rooted in the Jewish Sabbath. The device was inspired by a story inventor Irving Naxon’s Lithuanian mother told him about a bean stew. Legend has it that she and other moms would cook a bean-based stew in their village bakeries back in Lithuania. The stew was called Cholent  and is a traditional Jewish dish that customarily cooks all day. However, it’s rooted in the Jewish Sabbath, which is a day of rest and no work for observant Jews. This means ovens were turned off so the stew would be put on heat before sundown Friday night and cook until the end of Saturday services the next day.


All of this got Naxon thinking so he created a portable device that consisted of an insert that was held up by a case with a heating device. He applied for a patent for it in 1936 but it wasn’t until 1940 that he got one for what he called The Naxon Beanery and voila, cooking history was officially stewed.



Naxon sold his Beanery to Rival Manufacturing in the early 1970s who rebranded it as the Crock Pot and ran with what they sensed was a genius and timely product. They quickly marketed it to a new and growing market: working mothers. Boasting the Crock Pot “cooks all day while the cook’s away,” advertising appealed to the new female work force who loved that they could put food in it before leaving for work and come home to a home-cooked meal. Truth be told, when my husband and I were first married I quickly learned he hated Crock Pot meals because his working mom served almost nothing but. He’s somewhat warmed up to slow cooker meals but they aren’t his favorites by any means.


Sales of slow cookers slowed down a bit in the 1980s, which some partially blame on a little invention called the microwave. Today however, slow cookers are as popular as ever with nearly 83 percent of American families owning one. Amazingly, their design has changed very little over all these years save for a removable insert. This is truly the sign of a great invention!


And on this subject, I’d be remiss to not briefly talk about slow cookers’ kitchen cousins, Insta Pots and Air Fryers. I have neither as I’m not a big appliance girl so what I share is what I’ve read.



The Battle of the Pots: Crock vs. Insta

Both Crock Pots and Insta Pots are popular kitchen appliances aimed at making cooking easier and more hands off. They have a lot in common and unique uses and they are both brand names. Here’s a quick comparison.


As mentioned above, Crock Pots are the original slow cookers, which is still their main use and draw. In recent years however, the brand has started making “multi-cookers” that can pressure cook, which is Insta Pot’s claim to fame. Traditional Crock Pots are slow cookers, while all Insta Pots are multi-cookers.


Crock Pots are best used for stews, searing, pulled pork and brisket recipes, short ribs, pot roasts, and chilis and soups. One huge advantage of them is that they are travel-proof in that they have latches and handles, making them a go to for pot lucks and parties.


When I hear “Insta Pot” I have visions of my mom’s old school pressure cooker used to cook beans, posole, and a host of other traditional New Mexican dishes. The pot was big and metal, had a weird little removable contraption on the top that wiggled and whistled, and the whole thing just seemed very dangerous to me.  Enter Insta Pot.

Known for its time and space-saving attributes, the brand is still fairly new, launched only in 2010. Nonetheless, it has an extremely loyal following as was the first product to make pressure cooking easy and helping busy families get food on the table, fast. As they say, Insta Pot, insta food.


Insta Pots are often considered merely electric pressure cookers, but they can also steam, warm, sauté, work as a rice cooker, and even slow cook ala a Crock Pot. Still, their main function and attraction is pressure cooking. This method of cooking cooks food by raising the boiling point of water and trapping steam, which results in reduced cooking time. And just like Crock Pot has introduced steam cooking, Insta Pots can be used as Crock Pot-like slow cookers; the results will just be a bit drier.


So, if you can only choose one, which one do you pick? In short, if your desire is solely slow cooking process, go with a standard slow cooker. If you want pressure cooking and the option of slow cooking, Insta Pot may be your best bet. Much, however, depends on what you’re cooking and how you want to cook it.


Luckily, both appliances save time. As “Good Housekeeping” reports, Crock-Pots are great for busy people, early birds, and anyone who likes to plan ahead. “Just throw ingredients together in the morning and come home to a finished meal.” Insta Pots on the other hand, are best for last-minute people and those who get home late as they can take advantage of the pressure cook function and get a hot meal on the table in a matter of minutes.



A few more things to consider include ease of use and price. Traditional slow cookers are more affordable then Insta Pots, which may have more functions but can also be a bit large for smaller areas. This is a plus for some, but for others using an Insta Pot can at first be a bit confusing and intimidating. I guess if you can afford both and have room for both, choose both!



Air Fryers

So there’s that…the diff between slow cookers and new-fangled pressure cookers. But what about the equally popular air fryer? Where does it stand in the kitchen appliance VIP league and how does it compare to a slow cooker?


Both countertop appliances are capable of cooking delicious meals and both cater to those who want their meals fast, particularly after a hectic day. They differ vastly however in how they cook and what they cook best.


You could say air fryers are basically mini convection ovens. They are ideal for anyone who wants their food quick but prefer true oven-baked meals. But don’t let the name fool you. Food cooked in an air fryer is not “fried” per se but instead, air is used to mimic the process and taste of fried food while almost completely eliminating the need for cooking oil. They are also increase the browning of food by concentrating more heat on the outside of the food.


So what is convection cooking? You’ve probably heard of it as many ovens offer a convection setting. Convection is one of two main methods of heat transfer, the other being conduction, which is the most basic way of doing so. It basically works in that something hot touches something cool and heats it up. It’s our basic ovens and is what is in play on a stove top as well.


Convection, on the other hand, is considered more efficient as it add the element of motion to the cooking process and heats food faster, sometimes reducing cooking times by 25 percent or more.


Convection baking, introduces a fan to the process, allowing hot air to be blown around and onto the food. This produces crispiness, which is what makes air fryers so popular. The air essentially bounces off food surfaces, cooks food thoroughly in minutes, and adds a lovely browning in the process. Since air fryers are smaller than traditional convection ovens and bakers, the fan is closer to the food meaning the food will cook faster. Keep in mind however, that because air fryers are small they have relatively small cooking areas meaning they can accommodate only about two servings at a time. They may not be the best bet for large families or anyone cooking for even a medium-sized group unless you don’t mind cooking in batches. Some also consider them loud, with decibels sometimes ranging about as loud as a vacuum cleaner.


But, the food results they boast make them worth it for those who love them. They produce crispy, evenly browned foods without having to actually deep fry them and are popular for lovers of French fries, tater tots, chicken wings, potato chips, chicken tenders, and a host of other foods. They can also be used to grill, bake, roast, toast, fry, dehydrate, and reheat certain foods. All of these options are perhaps what make them a bit intimidating to master and use for some.


A slow cooker uses moist heat to cook and simmer food over a long period of time. Its heating element in the base of the appliance emits heat up and transfers it from the bottom up across the sides of the pot. The food is heated from within and is surrounded by steam underneath the lid.


If you ask any air fryer aficionado, they will recite a list of benefits including the simple fact that they massively reduce cooking times and that you can have a healthy meal in less than an hour. They are ideal for dorms, apartments, campers, or any space with a small kitchen and they are portable and energy efficient.


Besides the raves of slow cookers mentioned above, they are also popular because they don’t heat up a kitchen, making them ideal for hot summer months and hot climates.


Head-to-head, if you like options in cooking methods, an air fryer will provide more versatility but if you want something simple and reliable, a slow cooker is the real deal.


Photo credit: E. Childress

In the end…whether it be an air fryer, a steam cooker, or a traditional slow cooker…choose what best suits your needs and wants, what you can best afford, what you have room for, and what makes you happy. Whatever you choose…and I know many who have all three…know that it all started by a young man just trying to make life easier for the women in his life. And that’s no crock.











The Perfect Storm? February 19, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 5:36 pm


Photo courtesy Becky M.

Well, we made it Texas. Barely and not completely just yet, but today there is light at the end of the tunnel. And that light, at least in my neck of the woods, is sunlight. I actually got a little teary seeing it this morning. It’s been that kind of week.



I35 Downtown Austin

After days of below freezing temperatures and five storms in seven days, Texas today is bathed in sunlight and bathed in hope. We are just learning that the state’s power grid was “this” close to a total black-out that could have lasted months, so having or hearing about any power right now makes all of us giddy and grateful.



Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the ENTIRE state of Texas just went through a major and one for the books winter weather event. You might, in fact, know more about it all then we do as we’ve suffered through multiple power outages that left us snowed in and shut off. Meteorologists seriously have no comparisons to go to on this one. (And to everyone in my beloved Oklahoma who experienced similar weather: be safe and know I’m thinking of you too.)


It all started last Thursday with freezing and crippling rain and continued for an entire week with rounds of heavy snow, sleet, more ice, and pretty much anything cold you could throw at us in the way of wintery precipitation. We were warned it was coming but we had no idea.



At the beginning, it was shocking to learn every single Texas county was under a winter storm warning; all 254 of them.



Skier in downtown Austin

Records were broken left and right. Austin alone broke the previous record for consecutive hours at or below freezing with 144 hours. That’s six days. Six long days at or below freezing. Often without heat. Without power. Without communication. And without water.


It also recorded the city’s coldest temperature in 72 years and accumulated the most snow since 1937.



The forecast day after day was chilling. Literally. The entire area was in single digits.



At one point the storm measured 221 miles wide. That’s a storm as big as New York to Boston and longer than the entire state of New Jersey.



And…the area was given its first ever wind chill warnings.


Earlier this month Puxatony Peat predicted six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day and in true Texas fashion, the Lone Star State decided to get it over with all in one week.



This was the second snow event of the year for Austin, which in and of itself is highly unusual. But unlike the serene snow we received a few weeks back, which brought the kids out and flooded social media with beautiful winter scenes, this one was not fun and it wasn’t beautiful. It was ravaging. It was upsetting.



And for all you mountain mammas and northeasterners commenting “please, we get these all the time,” save your breath and move along. Austin was actually colder than many other places and waking up to 6 degree weather is no fun regardless of where you are. I’ve been in Buffalo and experienced 8 feet of snow fall in one fell swoop but didn’t experience massive power loss or frozen and busting pipes. It just doesn’t stay that cold for that long in these parts and our homes and energy grid are not equipped to handle it. More on that in a bit.


What we do deal with every year are torridly hot summers…April thru October…temps rarely go below 90 and 100s are common. We invite all you making fun of us to visit in July but without air conditioning and let’s throw in without water. Not so funny now, right? A dear friend of mine did joke, writing “Dear Mother Nature: have you forgotten we native Texans endure the insufferable summer season as a trade-off for moderate winter weather?” Mother Nature clearly didn’t care this past week.



It was a miserable week; and we personally didn’t have it as bad as others. Our power went on and off every day but it did come on. We had to boil water and internet service was sketchy but we have water. One minute power would be on, fireplace lit, and heat blowing and literally with no warning, everything would shut down. We’d put our puffers and beanies back on and sit in a darkened house with an inside temp that would quickly dip into the 50s. Often times we’d have no communication ability for hours on end. It was so weird and a bit creepy.


And then boom, power back on! (We are just now learning that these rolling outages literally saved the entire grid from shutting down so in hindsight, thank you outages!) We knew it was temporary so it was days on end of anxiety and walking around in layers, Uggs, and long johns under my yoga pants. Even our landline didn’t work. We’ve kept a landline because I remember during numerous tornadoes (we’re used to those!) the landline was the only phone that worked. Might be time to rethink this.



Still, we had it better than many. Multiple friends didn’t have power for days and still don’t.  Many still don’t have water. It’s been horrifying to hear their worries and know there was nothing they could do and nothing we could do to help. Some went to hotels or friends and families, but streets were impassable so why risk it? Others chose to stay put and in case pipes burst. Yep, many a frozen pipe burst as Texans historically do not insulate pipes, flooding entire rooms. Texas homes are also historically poorly insulated.


So what did I learn from it all? A LOT.



I learned to fill bathtubs early on in case we lost water. Among other uses, this water could be used to flush toilets.


I learned to also fill pitchers, thermoses, pots, and any other vessels with water. Not only did this provide peace of mind, they were filled with pre-boil water stages water so they were safe to drink.



Photo courtesy Lana G.

I learned that when all else fails, you can use snow to flush those toilets. If more desperate, you can put a plastic bag in the toilet and toss after use. My husband swore he’d go outside before doing that!



I learned that my impulse purchases during last summer’s riots of Boundery lightbulbs and solar charges were lifesavers. Check them out!



I learned that as much as I love candles and how romantic and peaceful candles they can be, those lightbulbs were downright winners as I drank wine in an appropriate winter-themed glass that I didn’t even realize fit the them until a friend pointed it out.



Photo courtesy Sharon M.

I learned from my ingenious friend that you can make margaritas using snow like her version here and that if you live near a hospital you are less likely to lose power and water as the areas around them are considered critical power sectors. The same often holds true for fire stations.


I learned that my group texts and social media were lifesavers, lifelines, and entertainment.


I learned that, if you have power and/or can open your garage, you can use cars and golf carts to charge phones and other devices.


I learned that in times without power or water, use paper plates and other disposable utensils.


I learned that gas stoves are the only way to go as you can light their fuses even in the event of a power loss. We also have a gas heated water heater and fireplace.


I learned that one appliance you might want to reconsider is a touch faucet, as you can’t “drip” them and once battery power goes out, so does it.


I learned that even the smallest amount of ice is dangerous. On day one, my husband slipped and fell on our icy driveway and ultimately had to get X-rays. He’s fine but trust me; we haven’t left the house since. My Sunday paper sits on the still frozen driveway and has been for going on six days.


I learned that scammers…from insurance to plumbers to a host of others…start early.



I learned that when those beautiful icicles hanging from roofs fall, they are like spears and hit the ground. Behold but beware!



Photo courtesy Stephanie A.

The very first morning of the storm I learned how much I love and missed my morning coffee. No power? No coffee. However, I quickly learned to make several cups of coffee once power came on, put them all in a pot, and heat them when needed on the stove. Or use a French Press like my ingenious friend did.


I learned that if you’re a camper and have an all-season tent, pop it open if you lose heat and camp right inside your house.


I learned that you can cook on your outdoor gas grill if need be. Just dress warmly!



I learned you can make a quick heater out of a pot, candles, and some bricks. Granted, I didn’t try this and have no idea if it really does work but I saw it mentioned many times. Just be careful!



I learned what it’s like to live with “rolling” blackouts and my heart aches for those who do so regularly and repetitively.



I learned that dogs eventually end up liking the snow but that walking on ice and ice-covered snow makes them appear like they’ve been over-served at the nearby tavern. Can’t deny I didn’t laugh just a bit.


I learned I really missed my ever present glass of or bottled water.





And speaking of water, I learned that one minute we’re asked to drip our faucets to keep pipes from freezing but then suddenly asked to not drip them to conserve water.


Which brings me to: boil water advisories. Yep, if you had water pressure at all, you were instructed to boil water prior to drinking it. I learned that water quality issues are related to lack of electricity, frozen and broken water lines, and people dripping those faucets.


I learned energy constraints often have impact on the water system because the water system requires energy for treatment and pumping.


And, as a bonus, should you lose all water pressure, I learned you should turn off water heaters as they pose potential fire hazards at that point.


I learned that when building or buying a house you should demand water heaters…and pipes…be put in the slab, not in the attic. My husband suffered through busted pipes in Houston and we’ve experienced a water heater overflow that fell through the roof. Both his pipes and the water heater were in the attics.


I learned that nearly 12 million…probably more…Texans reported water service disruptions. That’s a lot of people people.




I learned there were many similarities between a year’s worth of COVID restrictions and our “SNOVID” constraints, including:


COVID taught us how to stay home but now we were being asked to stay home and learn survival skills.


Wipes and sanitizer work great when you don’t have water.


We were forced to stay home. Again.



Grocery stores were in demand but supplies and hours of operation were limited.


We rely heavily on our phones and other devices. Without them, we feel lost and out-of-touch.


Anxiety and uncertainty ruled the day.


We worried about similar things like the elderly and getting food on our tables.



On the bright side, hotels that have suffered for the past year were suddenly fully booked.


Schools that were just starting to reopen were again more shut down. Our kids continue to pay the price and will suffer down the road.


Masks were great at keeping your face warm while sitting inside a cold house.



Houston “traffic”


I learned that everyone is suddenly an energy expert. Except for all those “experts” we gave power to…actual and political.


I learned Texas is the only state with its own electric grid, which manages 26 million Texans’ access to electricity. There are three grids in the Lower 48: one covers eastern states, another western states, and the third covers Texas. Only Texas. This essentially means Texas is beyond reach of pesky federal regulations but it also means it can’t import energy from other states.


I learned a new acronym: ERCOT. The Texas electric grid is managed by ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which proved neither electric nor reliable.


I learned that this grid has some serious vulnerabilities and clearly needs improvements and inspection.


I learned that figuring out why things got as bad as they did energy-wise quickly and sadly turned political. Shocker, right?


Texas Governor Greg Abbott will rightly take the brunt of the criticism, particularly from the left, which is desperate to permanently turn Texas blue. Political blue; not cold weather blue. Look for them to run with it for months on end. Abbott is taking it like a big boy however, saying the failures are ultimately on him. But fault and guilt go deeper. Any minute now I’m waiting to hear it’s all Trump’s fault and Biden has the answers. But I digress.


One side is screaming “we need more fossil fuel energy, not less” while the other side touts and practically celebrates the fact that red Texas failed to protect its own; somewhat more concerned about the state of their beloved renewable energy policies than the state of Texas and its frozen residents. As with everything, there are not two sides to every story, there are three: one side, the other side, and the truth.



In reality, the answer most likely falls somewhere in between both camps. Yes, feel good green energy has it bonuses, but we need to ensure that they not only feel good, but do good. At the same time, boy am I glad the millions of Texas drivers weren’t all charging their electric cars at one time and I’m equally glad windmill blades are often made from fossil fuels (as is all that Plexiglas we see everywhere), which may support at least a few of the precious job losses the industry is currently suffering. And then there’s….drum roll…nuclear power. And before you get all “Three Mile Island” on me, keep in mind that when done right, it is safe and effective. Ask France, where nuclear power is the largest source of electricity. Call me crazy, but don’t count it out.


The truth is yes, Texas did not handle the storm well and we as a state were simply not prepared for this fluke of a weather pattern. I’ll give it somewhat of a pass in that it was a once in a generation storm and not something any Texas taxpayer would have approved expensive precautions for in regards to insulating windmills and/or solar panels, which froze and are useless when the sun isn’t shining. If anything, this storm proved that we cannot rely on those two energy sources as our base load and no amount of research or funding could have prevented downed power lines laden heavy with ice. It’s just what happens. All capacity to produce energy was reduced. Everything froze. The entire state was trying to heat homes and trying to get power at the same time. It all hit the proverbial fan.



I also learned Texas is the nation’s number one producer of wind energy and that 25 percent of the state’s energy is wind. Sadly, wind is a “use it or lose it” commodity and you can’t store it. All of us learned that not only did windmills freeze up or shut down, so did many natural gas wells, lines, and plants as well as oil pumps and drills and many refineries were forced to temporarily shut down due to the weather.  The irony that green energy failed during a snow storm in the midst of global warming in Texas is not lost on those who question total reliance on it.


I learned that it’s not uncommon for energy generating companies and plants in Texas to shut down and cut back during the normally low demand winter season to do maintenance on facilities and get ready for the peak load summer season. You can’t blame them for this.


Amazingly, I learned that five of the 16 member ERCOT board members don’t live in Texas and that one lives in Canada. Explain this to the millions of Texans who have sat for days in homes without heat and with temperatures below freezing.


I learned the tried and true “supply and demand” rule ruled as ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said in an interview. He explained that a main problem was an increased demand that the supply couldn’t meet and that when demand exceeds supply, demand needs to be cut. In short, cut off users who are demanding heat and power. This resulted in rolling power outages that varied from one hour to multiple hours; sometimes days.


IMHO, maybe it’s time we all start thinking with our heads and not just our wallets. Texas has for years opted out of paying for measures that may or may not protect us from similar storms due to expense, and somewhat rightly so. We need to increase our energy independence and utilization of our state’s vast natural resources and stop listening to outside sources that have nothing at stake but their pockets and agendas. I think we’ve come out of this learning that the less we use fossil fuels the more we ultimately need them. Green energy policies are promising but vastly under-researched and tested. Ultimately, maybe it’s high time we stop allowing politicians to make energy policies rather than those in the actual industries who know the realities.


In short, we need to insist our energy is a low risk mix of renewable and fossil fuel energy and use both efficiently. Texas perhaps should seriously consider winterizing plants and energy sources. It might be costly, but the cost of another event like this one is equally costly. In Texas that might mean solar during the hot summer months and fuel in the colder winter months. If nothing else, this storm proved Texas needs energy diversity and traditional sources if it wants to go out alone. Then again, I’m no energy expert.




As luck…or God would have it…in the midst of all this was Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Tradition calls for fasting and sacrifice during the 40 days leading up to Easter and its timing could not have been more perfect. How often do we take things like water and power for granted? All during the past week I’d think to myself, “this must be what it’s like to live in many a socialist, impoverished, or third world country” and it’s a state I pray our state or country never chooses to go by way of ill-advised policies. I’m so very grateful for my home, the water that flows from its faucets, the heat that blows, and the hardworking people who plowed the streets and got electrical lines up and running.


Stillness and quiet are all well and good, and I tried my hardest to appreciate them during those moments of complete isolation but it was hard. Hard because of the uncertainty of what the next hour would bring, whether a pipe was going to burst, heat was going to stop, and a host of other worries and anxieties. And this coming from a certified nester and introvert so you’d think all this should be right up my alley. It wasn’t though. I’m also a certified planner and worrier so the elements wreaked as much havoc with my soul and my emotions as they did with the streets and power plants. Yes I learned a lot from and during it, but I’m glad it’s over.



At the beginning of this piece I included a photo of our first snow storm this year vs. this storm. Weather is a crazy thing and weather in Texas is especially crazy. You have to stay on top of it and as my friend from California says, “everyone in Texas is a meteorologist.” She jests, but it’s kinda true. You have to be. But just be patient; the weather might be brutal, but as they say in Texas, just give it a minute.


I’ll close with something a friend saw and shared. It pretty much sums up the week and sums up Texas.






Bejeweled February 12, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:36 pm

It’s no secret we’ve all been hidden behind masks for going on a year now. We have been rendered expressionless and boy am I glad I didn’t fork out the big bucks early last year for some teeth straightening as our smiles have also been masked. Our eyes have not only been our windows to the world and the windows of our souls, but pretty much the highlight of our otherwise covered up faces. They say if you have pretty eyes, this is your time to shine! Eye agree!


As with any suppressed time, there has got to be a silver lining, right? The medieval years of plague were followed by the Italian Renaissance that spread throughout Europe and the 1918 pandemic was followed by the Roaring ‘20s, so maybe there’s hope. One place that seems to be the case this time around is in jewelry. As “Town and Country” reported, both costume and high-end jewels are proving their pandemic power and I’m on board.


Think about it. Masked and homebound for months on end, a sentimental necklace or some frivolous earrings could literally make one’s day. On our many Zoom calls and face times, just the right jewels could set either an “I’m all business” or “I’m here for the party” tone. As T&C reminds us, jewels can also serve as connections to and reminders of all those loved ones we can’t visit or hug as well as bedazzled hopes that yes, please say yes, we will someday be dressing up again and adorning our maskless faces with precious and beloved gems. In the meantime they can upgrade our daily athleisure wear outfits and are, in a sense, one of very few feel good mementos we can cherish.


And, don’t think for a minute that the jewelry industry hasn’t taken notice. Not only did it survive 2020, it thrived. Whether it was at Tiffany or Target, people bought and didn’t think twice about it. Necklaces. Earrings. Bracelets. The works. And it worked. E-commerce also flourished and high-end jewelers quickly discovered in-home selection shopping. It was the perfect storm and as I look out my window and see trees and yards covered in ice thanks to a rare local ice storm, what better day to talk about “ice,” as in the kind that adorns your fingers, necks, and earlobes?


A Market for Gems

So big is jewelry right now that there are actual fine gem investment firms that will help you purchase stones or pieces as investments. Yes, you could wear that one-of-a-kind necklace if you’d like, but these financial houses are focused solely on buying stones for profit.


Not unlike the art market, stones and jewelry investments are not only a hedge against inflation; there is a limited supply of them so their value isn’t swayed by elections, governments, or other outside influences. They can also be sold quickly and in a pinch and can be packed away and taken with you, unlike a building or a yacht.


If you’re lucky and wealthy enough to dabble in this market, think quality over quantity, as a small high-quality stone will retain more value than a large stone of mediocre quality. Think Harry Winston, Chopard, Bulgari, and a host of other prestigious and luxury brands.



A Girl’s Best Friend

They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend and whether you agree or not, diamonds definitely are timeless and beloved. Born in the center of the earth billions of years ago, they are used to mark life’s most important occasions and milestones and are probably the oldest things most of us will ever touch or own. So in demand and profitable are they that the discovery of diamonds in 1967 in a Botswana mine turned the impoverished nation into a thriving one and is home to the world’s richest diamond mine.



Naturally some diamonds are bigger and better than others but the Four Cs…cut, clarity, carat, and color…reign in any and all sizes. Any diamond is worth treasuring but there are some out there that we’ve all heard about and that have legends all their own.



Let’s start with the Tiffany Diamond, most recently worn by singer Lady Gaga at the 2019 Oscars, making it the most expensive jewel ever worn to the annual Hollywood soiree. Worth an estimated $30 million, the stunning 128-carat yellow rock was purchased by Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1878 and had previously been worn publicly by only two women. Mrs. E. Sheldon Whitehouse was the first to don it in public at the Tiffany Feather Ball in 1957 but it was none other than the always classy and chic Audrey Hepburn who made it forever famous when she wore it for the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”  You might not be able to borrow it for an event, but you can see it as the rock is on permanent display at Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue flagship where it attracts more than 300 visitors each day.



And speaking of actresses, we can’t talk diamonds without talking Liz; Elizabeth Taylor that is. Her 33-carat and reportedly perfect Krupp Diamond that Richard Burton flew to his yacht on the Thames so he could give it to her is noteworthy on so many levels. Then there’s the 69-carat pear-shaped Taylor Burton Diamond, which was the first diamond to fetch more than $1 million when Burton outbid Aristotle Onassis for it.




And, how about the Hope Diamond? Beautiful and distinct in its blue tone, the 45-carat stone was stolen from Louis XVI in 1792 and was missing for 20 years before resurfacing in London. Today it is housed in the National Gem and Mineral collection at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.



And last but certainly not least, we can’t possibly talk diamonds without talking the royals. Undoubtedly the caretaker of the world’s most expensive, expansive, and exquisite jewels, Queen Elizabeth and company have an entire tower protecting their jewels and when you look at a photo of any one of them wearing a crown or opulent necklace, it’s almost hard to believe that each of those gems you’re looking at are real. A crown full of real diamonds and a giant necklace of real rubies! Wow.



For me though, my favorite is the Greville Emerald Kokoshnik Tiara that the Queen lent to granddaughter Princess Eugenie for her 2018 wedding. Maybe it’s because emerald is my birthstone and I love it. Maybe it’s because I loved Eugenie’s wedding look from head to toe. Maybe it’s just because it is stunning. Created in 1919, it consists of rose-cut pave diamonds set in platinum and features additional emeralds, including the center one that’s 94 carats. Fit for a queen indeed.



My other favorite royal crown is that of Princess Victoria, which she wore for her 2010 wedding. I love that it is pretty much gem free but is stunning in its own unique way. Officially called the Cameo Tiara, it is thought to be one of the oldest tiaras still in use. The stunner is set in gold with pearls surrounding seven large Neo-Classical cameos. Since I was a young girl, cameos have always been a favorite of mine so them, coupled with my beloved pearls, stole my heart right along with Victoria’s simple and elegant gown.


But I digress just a bit as I could go on and on about royals. Next blog?



I just returned from my annual college girls trip and this year’s destination was one where residents and visitors alike are very proud of their jewels. The bigger the better (in their minds) and the more logos and trademark gems they can sport the better they maybe feel about themselves. Even belts are now somewhat considered “jewels” as they come adorned with buckles blazing the logo of many a brand. Don’t get me wrong, I love jewelry and treasure a few of my special pieces, but when is too much too much and enough enough? Apparently not soon enough.


I’ve always loved a strand of pearls and love them with everything from a wedding gown to jeans and a t-shirt. I also like diamond stud earrings and a good watch. On the flipside, I love my grandma’s squash blossom necklace as well as all my costume jewelry right up there with these, my all-time faves:




One can only think of the iconic Coco Chanel in her long strands of pearls as well as former First Lady Barbara Bush and her trademark pearl chokers. Simple pearls were also a signature of Wallis Simpson who was rarely seen without a polished set around her neck. I wore my mom’s for my wedding and today wear them with everything.



Princess Diana Engagement Ring

Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, had nothing on the Princess of Wales. Diana, who had access to the world’s greatest jewels, was known to combine low-cost costume jewelry with the likes of the Cambridge Knot Tiara, but it’s her stunning engagement ring that will go down in history.


Consisting of an impressive center 12-carat sapphire stone and substantial accent diamonds surrounding it in white gold, the style broke with royal tradition in true Diana style and I always loved the idea that it matched her stunning blue eyes. (I also quite loved the similar yet smaller ruby engagement ring Prince Andrew gave to the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. I thought the choice of ruby was brilliant considering Fergie has that fiery red hair.) Fittingly, Diana’s ring now sits on the finger of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, who as wife of Diana’s eldest son William is the future queen. Ironically, the ring was inherited by Di’s younger son Harry who gifted it to Will. Perfection.



Diamond Studs

A pair of little sparklers on each ear can go with any outfit (or mask) and they will never go out of style. They are an investment you will never regret and forever treasure.


Cartier Watches

Rolex has long been the go to for many an up-and-comer as a way of cementing their “I have arrived,” and there are a host of other brands that cost as much as a car, but when it comes to watches, my heart is with Cartier. The exemplar Tank watch has been a favorite since 1917 and the Santos watch, with its signature “bolts,” is equally distinctive.


Created in 1904, the Santos is one of the Cartier brand’s most popular pieces. Louis Cartier created it for his friend, Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, and it boasts Cartier’s trademark “bolts” on an array of gold and stainless bands.



Cartier’s equally famous Tank watch was introduced in 1917 and is today still a go to for many a stylish man or woman. Louis Cartier gifted the first Tank watch to American General John Joseph Pershing and some of his officers in 1917 following the success of American and British armies’ protection of Europe. The watch was inspired by British Mark IV tanks used in battle and was something of a trendsetter as at the time, pocket watches were the standard. Today’s version sports the same Roman Numerals as the original, as well as the now famous Cartier hallmark blue sapphire crown.


Cartier LOVE Bracelet

Which brings me to the beloved Cartier LOVE bracelet, introduced in 1969 and is today still a best seller and mainstay of any wrist stack. Loved not only for its simple and enduring style, it is also one of the most Googled jewelry pieces the world over and boasts an enviable resale value. What makes the bracelet extra special is that it is literally locked onto the wearer’s wrist, symbolizing eternal love.


It was created in 1972 by Juste un Chou who was inspired by American hardware stores for its design. Minimalist yet memorable, the bracelet locks around the wrist, comes with a tiny screwdriver, and comes with a serial number to counter its many counterfeits.  It is oval in shape in order to fit as closely as possible to the wrist and was designed for both men and women. When the bracelet first launched, there was a policy that a customer could not buy a LOVE bracelet for themselves and Cartier gave pairs of them to many a famous couple, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It is rumored that some hospitals keep Love bracelet screwdrivers on hand in case one needs to be removed in an emergency. Now that’s a statement piece! Cipullo went on to later design Cartier’s popular “nail” bracelets.



Yet another Cartier classic is their Trinity “Rolling” ring, a unique “movable” ring made of three interlaced bands of yellow gold, white gold, and pink gold. Created by Louis Cartier in 1924, the ring quickly earned iconic status for both men and women and is today a popular wedding band.  I like to think that its name has something to do with yes, the three bands, but also the Holy Trinity.





If it’s good enough for Audrey, it’s good enough for everyone else, right? Whether you covet an iconic Tiffany setting in a wedding ring, a Paloma or Paretti heart, the somewhat new and trendy Tiffany T bracelets, or the Jean Schlumberger enamel bangles that Jackie Kennedy Onassis was rarely seen without, the legendary Tiffany blue box is waiting for you.


But, even if you can’t fork out some green dough for some Tiffany blue, did you know you already own a piece of Tiffany on the dough you do have? Every U.S. dollar bill has the Great Seal of the United States on it, and that seal was designed by Tiffany way back in 1885.



A year later, that famous ring setting was introduced by Charles Lewis Tiffany. The six-prong setting is virtually hidden and allows the brilliant diamond to seemingly float above the band. Nothing flashy or trendy about the setting; just a simple solitaire (granted that solitaire could be big!) setting. What’s not to love?


If you’re more a trophy guy or gal, you’ll be interested to know that the championship trophies handed out to NFL and NBA champions were designed by Tiffany. In 1967, Tiffany produced the first Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy and in 1978 the brand was commissioned to create the NBA’s championship trophy. I guess this gives a whole new meaning to “trophy wife.”


One of my first treasured Tiffany pieces is my “Return to Tiffany” charm and bracelet. The still popular bobbles debuted in 1969 and each one comes with an actual serial number and if lost can be returned to Tiffany and reunited with its owner. Love it!


Another piece of Tiffany I treasure is my Paloma Picasso heart necklace. It’s so simple and fluid and can be worn every day…nothing fancy or flashy…just pure delight. The Picasso collection was launched in 1980 and was inspired by the graffiti on New York City buildings and the chic, graphic jewelry designs are still wildly popular today.


On my list right now is the Tiffany T Smile Pendant. I’m thinking of it for our upcoming 35th anniversary. I saw it while on my girls’ trip and loved it. It’s simple, a bit whimsical, and the two Ts make a smile. Who doesn’t love a smile?



Kendra Scott

Okay, before you naysayers say “no way,” hear me out. I know, Kendra and her signature pieces are everywhere. But, I remember when our daughter was in high school and KS had just come out. The girls loved her but to buy her stuff, we had to venture to her flagship store. Soon, we could go to various small boutiques. By the girls’ freshmen years in college, Kendra Scott was just starting to make waves but within a year her bright colored “Danielle” earrings flooded the market thanks to many a celebrity who sported them. Today, as young as elementary aged girls are wearing her stuff. Still, what I like about Kendra and why I support her is because she is a true self-made millionaire woman who started her empire in her garage and that her jewelry isn’t very inexpensive but not very expensive either. Where else can you go to a “Color Bar” and design your own piece but not break the bank? I also like and respect her because she gives and donates to many a request and charity. Say what you want, but this girl is a Kendra girl.



Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra

I don’t own an Alhambra but I wish I did. Grace Kelly wore several of the clover-shaped motif necklaces and wore them as every day jewelry despite their high cost and today you will find every Bravo TV housewife sporting multiple versions of the necklace and earrings originally created in 1968 by co-founder Estelle Arpels’ nephew Jacques Arpels.


Legend has it that young Jacques loved finding and collecting four-leaf clovers and giving them to friends and family. He went on to use the shape when he created the first Alhambra collection in 1968 with the Alhambra long necklace, composed of 20 clover-shaped motifs. This symbolic design achieved immediate success and is today recognized throughout the world as a token of luck.


Its talismanic design is also reminiscent of traditional Moorish quatrefoil and the collection is said to be named after the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, which boasts a number of sweeping archways. Its connection to Spain makes it all the more sentimental and special to me.



Whatever you choose or whatever you can afford, a piece of legacy jewelry should be your goal. Two of my best friends always wear necklaces of charms that have deep meaning to them. I distinctly remember my grandma’s plastic snap-bead necklaces and would love to have them today and as we virtually celebrate Mardi Gras this year, who doesn’t love some purple, gold, and green beads whether they’re hanging from your neck or hanging on a fence? Often free but fun-filled, they are the epitome of joyful jewels.


If versatility is your goal, look for that perfect and will never go out of style statement piece that can effortlessly change the look of a t-shirt, dress, or blouse. A simple gold band goes a long way too. Maybe your choice is by an unknown jeweler who crafts a piece with no distinct logos or trademarks. I particularly love an Austin jeweler, Sanctuary Project, who creates wonderful pieces that benefit survivors of trafficking, violence, and addiction. If your purchase helps others, it’s even more precious.



Anything that’s sentimental that you can pull out and put on to make you smile and make you shine inside or out, is worth it. I’m thinking a smile necklace.  After all, a smile is the most beautiful curve on any woman’s body.