Beyond Words

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Making a List: Christmas Carols & Movies December 22, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:00 am

One of my many favorite things about this time of year is that I know every time I get in the car, Christmas carols can be found on radio stations galore. Sirius/XM has playlists playing everything from classics to country and one of our local stations always dedicates December to non-stop Christmas music. The classics bring back childhood memories, Mariah and Brenda get me singing along and bopping, and any song sung by a children’s choir melts my heart.


I also love Christmas movies and have watched so many Hallmark movies. Yes, I know, make fun of me but I’m guessing many of you have watched one or two or two dozen yourselves. All those “Christmas in the Rockies” and “A Crown for Christmas” flicks have somewhat the same plot line but I love them. They are uplifting, stress-free, and chalk-full of love and morals. I also love that other stations including UPtv, GAC, Lifetime, and others are serving up their versions of Hallmark hall of famers. Even Netflix has a few!


So, which of the above are my favorites? I thought I’d make my list and check it twice and see how the two lists compare to yours. Let me know and let’s go!


Carla’s Favorite Christmas Songs

1. “Away In the Manger.” Hands-down my favorite Christmas song. I especially love the line “But Little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.”



2. “Feliz Navidad.” The Jose Feliciano version. Only.



3. “Do They Know It’s Christmas/Feed the World” by Band Aid. I remember when this event happened. How nice that we banded as one and weren’t so divided. And ask yourself, do they know it’s Christmas?

4. “The First Noel.” Always gets me in mass.

5. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee. A classic.

6. “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” by Bruce Springsteen. The Boss does Santa.

7. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby.

8. “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey. MC creates a classic. Who doesn’t love it?

9. “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”

10. “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” by Darlene Love.

11. “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole.

12. “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

13. “Rudolph, the Red No-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry.

14. “Christmas Time Is Here” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

15. “Oh Holy Night” any traditional version.


As you can gather from the above, I’m not a big fan of classic carol remakes. I don’t mind an occasional Martina McBride or Josh Groban version, but give me Bing and Brenda anytime. However, there are two remakes I am currently obsessed with by the amazing band For King & Country. Their versions of “Little Drummer Boy” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain” are as they say, viral, and worth a listen. They are powerful yet purposeful and give me chills.


I also like Blake Shelton and Gwen Stafani’s “You Make It Feel Like Christmas.” I love him and it’s a fun and bouncy little jingle.


And now….movies. I recently saw “Christmas With The Chosen” and liked it, but it’s too early to put it on my favorite list just yet. Here are those that do make my list:



1. “National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation.” Clark, I gotta say, your family follies are a Smith family Christmas tradition. We know it by heart and we laugh every time.



2. “Elf.” Buddy stole my heart and this movie is an annual must-see. Smiling is my favorite too Buddy.



3. “It’s A Wonder Life.” Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings. George Bailey not only inspired many, I named a dog after him years ago. Great message. Great movie.

4. “The Snowman.” This animated beauty should be watched by every child out there and its book is a great gift to go with it. Trust me on this. You’ll love it.


5. “White Christmas.” Bing. Danny. Rosemary. Vera. The Costumes. The singing. The magic.


6. “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” If you didn’t watch the history behind this classic on “CBS Sunday Morning” this past Sunday, do yourself a favor and find it online. It will make you love Charlie and the gang even more.

7. “The Holiday” starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz is delightful.

8. “Miracle on 34th” Kris Kringle’s big debut so to speak and a reminder to believe and have faith.

9. “Love Actually.” A modern take on love and the holidays. Hugh Grant. Liam Neeson. Colin Firth. Laura Linney. Emma Thompson. Keira Knightley. British accents. Need I say more?

10. “The Family Man.” Definitely not an upbeat Christmas flick, it stars Nicholas Cage is a kinda new take on finding the meaning of life. No one can compare to Donna Reed, but Tea Leoni plays a great role.


Runners Up: “Last Holiday” starring Queen Latifah, “The Polar Express,” and “The Bishop’s Wife.” So many movies. So little time.


I can’t wait to read your lists and your take on mine. Enjoy and keep them coming!


Growing Christmas, One Plant at a Time December 20, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:00 am

If there’s one thing that screams “Christmas,” it’s the bright red of a poinsettia plant. We see them everywhere, from grocery stores to floral shops, but why? Why are they the Christmas plant of choice? And what about that holiday-named Christmas cactus? What’s its story? Let’s find out!


Poinsettias make beautiful additions to any Christmas décor but did you know this unofficial flower of Christmas isn’t really a flower per se? Native to Central America, the colorful parts of a poinsettia are actually the leaves of the plant, with the flowers being the small yellow dots in their centers. And although red leaves are the traditional Christmas choice, white and pink are actually quite popular too. But how and why did they become associated with Christmas?


It all goes back to a Mexican legend that tells the story of a young girl Pepita and her cousin Pedro who were on their way to church to visit the Christ child on Christmas Eve. The two children couldn’t afford to bring a gift to leave behind so Pepita picked a bouquet of weeds on the way and left them lovingly and humbly in the nativity scene where they soon transformed into beautiful red flowers. From that day on they became known as “Flores de Noche Buena” or “Flowers of the Holy Night.” How they ended up in the U.S. and one of the most treasured Christmas traditions is yet another story with a classic American twist.


Poinsettias get their name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He brought the plants back home in the early 1800s but they really didn’t become a holiday tradition until a century or so later. That’s when entrepreneur Paul Ecke, Jr. sent free poinsettia plants to TV studios across the country, which later ended up on none other than “The Tonight Show” and Bob Hope holiday specials. The trend caught on and today there’s even a National Poinsettia Day celebrated on December 12, the anniversary of Poinsett’s death.


The beautiful thing about poinsettia plants is they can last forever, even for those whose thumbs are anything but green. In fact, many will keep their foliage well into spring, especially those with lighter leaves.


When you first bring one home and if it has foil, remove the foil so the plant can drain. It’s best to place one on a plate or a saucer and never let standing water accumulate in the saucer. Keep your poinsettia’s soil moist but don’t over water. As for sun, poinsettias do best in somewhat cool but well-lit rooms. If you want to preserve your poinsettia for months to come, cut the plant back to two buds after the last frost and set it in your flower beds or containers on your porch or patio.


Wherever you put them, make sure they stay well-drained and get plenty of sun. Around October, you will want to put the plants in a closet, basement, or anywhere that is light-free for 14 hours a day. Come morning, move them into the light and continue this process for 10 weeks, which should take you right up to the Christmas holidays!


In Central America, a poinsettia shrub can grow up to 12 feet tall and did you know they also make beautiful cut flowers? To do this, after cutting the ends of a stem sear them with a candle to keep the sap from escaping, which prevents the stems from drooping. Place them in a vase with water and check the water level regularly, as they can tend to drink up lots of water! Place them on a table or mantel and take in their long-stem beauty.



Finally, are they poisonous? Long thought to be dangerous for both dogs and children, poinsettias are really only mildly toxic and the “poisoning” quotient they afflict is somewhat exaggerated. Here’s what we know: if the leaves are ingested, vomiting often occurs but since it would take a large amount of ingested leaves to be considered truly toxic, they generally don’t lead to poisoning as most animals and kids won’t eat loads of them because of their nasty taste and the unpleasant texture of their sap.


So there’s a “who, what, where, when, and why” on poinsettias, but what about that other holiday favorite: the Christmas cactus?



When you think of a cactus you probably think of a desert, but the Christmas cactus is said to have originated in the tropical rain forests of Southern Brazil. These plants often grow on top of other plants and among tree branches and because of their native origins, they thrive in humid conditions. And, these plants with long green arms and a rainbow of flowers can actually last for years. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, when cared for properly, they can live 20 or 30 years!



Known as a Christmas cactus, the plant actually has two cousins – the Thanksgiving cactus and the Easter cactus, which are very similar and get their names mainly from when they bloom. Don’t stress too much about which one you have, just focus on how to care for them.


All Christmas cactus thrive in cooler temperatures so it’s advised you keep them away from heat sources and put them in a cool place away from heaters and fireplaces. They also prefer sunny locations indoors, which can prolong blooms, but at night keep them away from light sources including lamps and overhead lighting. Proper drainage is also key.


Outdoors, make sure the temperature is warm and place them in partially shaded locales. Over-watering, considered watering before the soil is dry, is the main culprit to unhealthy plants. When watering, be conservative and if possible, choose to mist them, which they love. Think rain forest here and you’ll soon see a showy plant with stems arching over the pot’s sides and flowers in colors like peach and orange, as well as the traditional pink and red.


An added bonus to Christmas cactus is that they are easy to propagate. To do so, trim a few segments off a healthy plant and put them in a small pot, preferably with some of the original soil. Care for these new sprouts just like you would the parent plant. The best time to propagate is in the spring.


In many a home it’s just not Christmas without one or more poinsettias and a beautiful blooming Christmas cactus. Now you know why this is and how to ensure your plants live up to their traditions. Have fun and happy growing!





Do You Know What I Know? December 17, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 6:42 pm

It’s no secret I’m very traditional and love a good tradition. In a recent blog I dove into Advent, why we give gifts, and St. Nicholas. Today I’m continue the traditions and “why” theme and am including some fun facts and a little trivia on Santa’s reindeer. Enjoy!



Tis the season for seeing “Merry Christmas” and all things Christmas everywhere.  Sadly, you also often see the word “Christmas” shortened and referred to as “Xmas,” which has always irked me. In my thinking, doing so literally removes the real meaning of Christmas: Christ. But, I’m happy to report that there’s a somewhat acceptable explanation for it.


Apparently the X in Xmas doesn’t replace “Christ” from the word with the English letter X, but rather with the Greek letter “chi,” which looks like the English letter X. Chi is the first letter in the Greek word that we translate as “Christmas” and ancient Christians would abbreviate it by using only the first letter of it. They meant no offense and coincidentally, the letter also resembles a cross. In addition, the word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “messiah” and both mean “anointed.”


I still much prefer “Christmas” over “Xmas,” but am happy to learn the origins of the latter meant no disrespect to why we celebrate Christmas. Amen!



You don’t need to look very far this time of year to see those beloved red-and-white-striped treasures, candy canes. You see real ones hanging on trees, created and grouped onto wreaths, decorating packages, and all sorts of red-and-white themed Christmas decorations. They’re fun and they’re festive and they have an interesting story behind them.


On that very first Christmas morn, who were the first people to visit and meet Baby Jesus? That would be the shepherds and as they paid homage to the newborn Savior, they carried with them their crooks, which they used in the fields to round up sheep. It’s no coincidence that candy canes resemble those curved rods and that if you turn one upside down, you get the letter J for Jesus. The traditional colors of a candy, red and white, are also significant as they represent our Lord’s sacrifice and purity. Lastly, candy canes are just that: candy. They are sweet and meant for sharing so do so!


Candy canes can also be somewhat healing too, depending on how much actual peppermint they have in them. Peppermint, as many know, is great for taming tummy troubles like nausea to menstrual cramps and recent evidence shows it may also be a powerful response to irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint is also known to curb cravings, with one study reporting that by just smelling peppermint oil every two hours, participants were less hungry and less liable to overeat.


In addition to merriment and giving, the holidays are also known for bringing on headaches caused by tension, anxiety, and alcohol, but did you know that rubbing peppermint oil on your forehead and temples can be just as effective as acetaminophen at relieving the pain? Plus it smells so good!


Speaking of smell, tis the season for many a stuffy nose and congestion and yes, peppermint can help here too as it is chalk-full of menthol, the compound found in over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.


Peppermint oil is one of my favorites, and I use it in many ways, including:


  • Inflammation/arthritis/tendonitis: massage on inflamed area or joints
  • Headaches – rub on temples, forehead, sinuses, and neck
  • Respiratory – rub on sinuses
  • Appetite – inhale to curb
  • Diffuse for mental clarity
  • Itching – rub on area


I also use it in combination with other essential oils to relieve joints and muscle aches, sciatica, arthritis, inflammation, and tendinitis.


There are many versions of peppermint oil out there, so just make sure you get a pure and natural variety. I personally swear by Young Living and highly recommend its Peppermint Oil, along with all of its other essential oils and products.


Finally, the scent of peppermint can also improve concentration and has been linked to improved alertness, motivation, and even performance.


There are so many benefits and so many uses of sweet peppermint and who doesn’t love a festive candy cane?



We’ve all heard the song, have sang it many times, and probably know all the words by heart but what in the world are we talking about with “calling birds,” “maids a milking,” and “lords a leaping?” They’re all part of the famous “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol but they don’t signify the 12 days before Christmas as many believe and they have a Christian origin.


The celebration behind the tune started back in the Middle Ages as a way to mark the days between Christmas Day and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. From 1558 to 1829, Catholics in England were forbidden from openly practicing their faith so a song of 12 days was written as a catechetical tune that included hidden meanings of the faith. Secretly and on the down low, the verses reminded believers of some of the tenets of their faith without being overtly religious. This way, they could be sung without fear of punishment.


On that “note,” here are what the “Twelve Days of Christmas” symbols symbolize:


First Day: A partridge in a pear true. Jesus. Mother partridges are known to pretend they are injured as a way of keeping predators from their helpless nestlings, much like our Lord protects us.


Second Day: 2 turtledoves. Mary and Joseph and the Old and New Testaments.


Third Day: 3 French hens. The 3 Wise Men; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and the 3 Theological Virtues; faith, hope, and love.


Fourth Day: 4 calling birds. The four evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and their four gospels.


Fifth Day: 5 golden rings. The first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Also called the Pentateuch, from the Greek words for “five” and “books,” they are meant to answer the basic questions of life and its origins.


Sixth Day: 6 geese-a-laying. The six days of Creation as written in the Book of Genesis.


Seventh Day: 7 swans-a-swimming. The seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord as well as the seven Sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony.


Eight Day: 8 maids-a-milking. The eight Beatitudes given to us through Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Guidelines for true happiness, they have the power to turn the values of a secular world upside down.


Ninth Day: 9 ladies dancing. The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.


Tenth Day: 10 lords-a-leaping. The 10 Commandments.


Eleventh Day: 11 pipers piping. The 11 faithful apostles: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon, and Jude.


Twelfth Day: 12 drummers drumming. The 12 points of the apostles’ beliefs and their creed.



And finally, just for grins, how about some fun reindeer trivia and facts?


All of Santa’s reindeer were female because only female reindeer keep their antlers in December.


Reindeer are one of the only mammals that can see UV light, allowing them to see predatory polar bears against the snow and lichen, that fungi, moss-like plant they eat.


Caribou is simply the North American name for reindeer.


As the name suggests, reindeer are a species of deer and the only deer species in which both males and females can grow antlers. Yes dear…um deer!


The Sámi people, those famous reindeer herders of northern Norway, really do use reindeer to pull sleighs through the snow.


And now that you know all the 12 Days of Christmas meaning, do you know the names of all nine Santa’s reindeer?


And just to be safe, here’s a fun “Reindeer Food” idea to do with your kids: combine oats, “snow” glitter, and silver glitter in a bowl and have your children sprinkle it on the lawn or your porch on Christmas Eve. Tell them it will attract Santa’s sleigh with food and sparkle!


So there you have it and now you know. I love this kind of stuff and I hope you do too!


Merry Christmas everyone!


It’s the Most Wonderful and Stressful Time of the Year December 9, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:53 pm


Tis the season.


Tis the season for stressing out and burning out. But does it need to be? Isn’t it instead supposed to be wonderful?



Maybe it’s time we all just say no. No to over committing, over spending, over trying, over decorating, and over everything. It’s actually very sad that the most wonderful time of the year is often the most stressful. Funny how we currently see the word “peace” everywhere but don’t often feel it or foster it. Let’s start right now and give peace a chance.



It’s hard; I know. I’m the list maker of all list makers and tis the super bowl of list making seasons. Gift lists. Party lists. Decorations lists. Food lists. Lists of lists. But think about it, how much of all that is really essential?  Really essential?




Let’s start with gifts. Maybe it’s time to do a re-evaluation of who you exchange gifts with. My hunch is that if you asked many of them, they’d be all for ending whatever gift exchange tradition you may have. As for kids, stop buying them everything they want and ask for. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that since our daughter was born 28 years ago, she has only received three Christmas gifts (and maybe a little surprise in her stocking.) If three gifts were good enough for Jesus, they are certainly good enough for the rest of us. I also like my friend’s three gift idea of something you want, something you need, and something to read. How about instead of stressing your mind and your bank account out by buying everything on their list, you consider this:



Decorations are another doozy. I’m one for not putting up Christmas décor until after Thanksgiving, which makes Thanksgiving just that and not pre-Christmas, but I do feel the stress of having to take down all my pumpkins and turkeys immediately after and putting up our loads of Christmas decorations.



This year, I’m taking it a bit slower. Our decorations are out, out tree is up and the lights are strung on it but I’ve yet to hang to ornaments. I love our ornaments and I don’t want to feel rushed or pressured when unpacking them and hanging them up. I want to enjoy doing so and if that means not doing something else or waiting to do it, so be it. Taking the joy out of this joyful time creates unjoyful stress, drags us down, and depletes us.  Let’s instead do less and be more.



It’s all about measuring less on what’s on your calendar and more on what’s in your heart. Let things go. The line at the grocery store? Let it go. Your neighbor’s light display is bigger and bolder than yours? Let it go. Squeezing in that nail appointment? Let it go. Trying to accomplish too much? Let it go.


Speaking of that, if you tend to prove who you are by what you do or what you accomplish, news flash: it’s time to ask why. If a full calendar makes you feel important, take a good look at your appointments and commitments and decide what’s important, desired, and matters. Maybe, just maybe, consider giving and doing 90 percent rather than needlessly extending yourself at 110 percent. Good work never comes from someone who is overworked.



There’s a popular saying in Italian that says, “Dolce Far Neinte,” the sweetness of doing nothing.” I know it’s hard but also try doing nothing. Yep, nothing. Don’t stress about over-decorating and RSVPing “yes” to every invite. Doing nothing, as my girl Courtney Carver of “Be More With Less” reminds us, allows you to listen to your heart rather than all the chatter out there. Doing nothing will actually give you the energy to do something. Something you want to do. Something purposeful. Something mindful.



In today’s age of experts everywhere and on everything, it’s a bit comforting to realize Jesus came into the world as a baby, not an expert. He wasn’t born in a castle or to a king and queen and later ate with sinners and outcasts. He was actually a very simple guy. Simple, my friends, is good.


That simple guy proved this once again in the story of Martha and Mary. Invited into Martha’s home, she gets upset with Mary who sits listening at Jesus’ feet and leaves all the planning and prepping to Martha. Hostess with the mostest Martha complains to Jesus about Mary’s lack of help, only to be told by Him that Mary was to be commended for being still. Ouch. Truth be told, I’m a Martha. Big time Martha. Time to be more like Mary.



Celebrating Jesus’ birth should be peaceful, not stressful. He longs for us to rest in Him not be busy because of Him. It’s hard though, as that uninvited guest named Anxiety shows up on our doorsteps every Christmas. This is especially the case for women, who often bear the brunt of shopping, cooking, decorating, and all the details that go with. All the Marthas out there can often be overwhelmed and complain.


This Christmas however, this Martha is trying my hardest to not have a Martha Christmas, but a Mary one. Here’s hoping all of you also find joy and peace this Christmas season and many silent nights.



Advent, St. Nick and Why Do We Give Gifts? December 5, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:52 pm



In many Western Christian churches, including most Catholic and Lutheran parishes, today marks the second Sunday of Advent. On this day, a second candle on an Advent wreath is lit. The purple candle is called the “Bethlehem Candle,” demonstrates Faith, and reminds us of Mary and Joseph’s treacherous journey to Bethlehem.


The word “advent” comes from the Latin word that means “coming.” During Advent, Christians patiently await the coming of their Savior, Jesus Christ. An Advent wreath is made up of various evergreens, representing continuous life, as well as four candles that symbolize the four weeks of Advent. Legend has it that the four candles and the four weeks each represent 1,000 years and together total the 4,000 years between Adam and Eve and Jesus’ birth. Three candles on the wreath are purple and one is pink. They signify Christ being the light of the world and the contrast between darkness and light.


On the first Sunday of Advent, which begins the season of Advent four weeks out from Christmas, a purple “Prophet’s Candle” is lit as we focus on Hope and Jesus’ coming. Today’s purple candle will be followed by next Sunday’s pink “Shepherd’s Candle” reminding us of Joy and the birth of Jesus. On the last Sunday of Advent, the “Angel’s Candle” of Peace is lit. Some Advent wreaths also add a fifth white “Christ Candle” is the middle, which is lit on Christmas. Advent officially ends on Christmas Eve.


Growing up my family didn’t really celebrate Advent and my childhood home never had an Advent wreath or the other popular item, an Advent calendar. We basically had Jesus and Santa.




Tomorrow Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas (and my dog Nikki’s birthday…named after the saint!) Considered the “first Santa,” good ole St. Nick wore a red coat like Santa, had a beard, and loved to share and give. He’s also mentioned in the classic “The Night Before Christmas.” Who knew?!


A very rich and generous man, St. Nicholas heard about a family that didn’t have enough money to buy food so he snuck onto their roof and threw some gold coins down their chimney. The coins landed in their stockings, which were hanging over the fire to dry. This, my friends, is why we hang stockings on fireplaces and put treats in them!




And why do we give presents? Well, think of the 3 Kings. They brought gifts to the infant King and by giving to others, we model their generous act. Our daughter Kristen only gets three presents at Christmas, which has been our family tradition all her life. If three gifts were good enough for Jesus, they are certainly good enough for the rest of us!



All of these things explain some age-old traditions and also demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas. It breaks my heart to see the real reason for the season become increasingly “offensive” and secular, and my hope is that by sitting back and understanding exactly why we have days off in December and why stores love this time of the year, we will realize that there is so much more to it all than just time off, shopping, and Santa. I have hope.