Beyond Words

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

Irish Eyes Are Smiling March 17, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:00 am

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


What A Saint

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



Luck of the Irish

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


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



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




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


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


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



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



Parades and festivals will happen in many places today, but perhaps the ones in New York, Boston, and Chicago rank highest. Surprisingly, St. Patrick’s Day is also a big event in Dallas. As with everything in Texas, it is done in a very big way! In Chicago, the Chicago River is colored green and green beer and whiskey flow abundantly throughout the city. And it’s WHISKEY, not WHISKY. Irish spell the scotch with an added “e,” while their Scottish neighbors omit the extra vowel. American-made whiskeys also add the “e.”




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




Happy St. Patrick’s Day and the luck of the Irish to you!




A Vortex Explained and A Word About Saguaros March 13, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:22 pm

Have you ever traveled somewhere and wish you’d have researched the place a little bit more upon returning from it? I recently did just that with Sedona. I’d been there briefly many years ago, had seen the gorgeous red rocks and darling town center, and knew that at one point during the drive from Phoenix to Sedona the majestic native Saguaro cactus just suddenly stop growing (more on them in a bit), and I knew the town had a certain spirituality about it. But, I didn’t know about the vortexes. “The what?” you might ask. The vortexes. They’re there and not to sound too new agey, I think I felt them.



Each year four of my college buddies and I meet somewhere different in February. We take turns picking the destination, no one gets a vote, and this year was our 19th in a row. GF Ann picked Sedona. A perfect GT location. We Jeep toured, shopped, spa-ed, ate, drank, played games, hot tubbed, pooled, explored, and laughed. It was yet another winner in a 19 year long list of them.


As we explored, we kept hearing about vortexes. We tried to make it to the popular one near the airport but it was always too crowded. But, come to find out our hotel Enchantment actually sits smack dab in the middle of one of the most famous ones: Boynton Canyon. Learning this after I returned home made me want to learn about vortexes.



No better place to turn than to vortex expert Dennis Andres who explains in his book “What Is a Vortex?” that a vortex is simply an energy-filled and healthy place on Earth. Huh? Why such mystery then? And what about all the “weird” things we hear about them? For the most part, not true. Here’s a good way to look at it. A healthy person has more energy than an unhealthy person, right? Well, since the Earth is a living organism, it has places that are healthier and have more energy. One of them is Sedona. In short, Sedona is a very healthy place on Earth. Cool! (And BTW: Sedona weather was very cool. Pack layers!)


Another way to look at it is by considering that we often say healthy and happy people “glow.” Sedona glows. Its light and colors grab your attention and its amazing natural beauty is everywhere you look. And it all changes throughout the day. A person in optimal health is also generally regarded as more attractive and a vortex has a natural appearance we find beautiful. It also has more energy. A vortex is a place that has increased energy and this energy acts like an amplifier. What you see and hear in Sedona is magnified. This is the part of being in a vortex that I think I felt.



I didn’t feel a tingling going up my calves like our Jeep tour driver said many experience and I didn’t see any lights. What I did feel was a heightened state of my intuition, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I noticed things more and noticed things and people in different ways. It’s like my eyes were opened up. Nothing was troublesome or disturbing; I just found new insight into some people and issues in my life. Call it a different light. I realized realities I hadn’t before and had unexpected insight into what was going on around me. I came away feeling educated, enlightened, and empowered.  And, most of this happened in our casita at our hotel not on the top of some red rock or trail head. It seemingly came just sitting around chatting. Call me crazy, but I’m sold.


Sedona itself is magical and powerful, but there are four vortex sites that seem the most popular: Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Airport Mesa, and Boynton Canyon. The last one, Boynton Canyon, is where our hotel sat and FYI there’s a great little restaurant at the small regional airport! Many also say energy is powerful at the stunning Chapel of the Holy Cross, which we visited and will forever be one of my favorite churches anywhere. Sidebar here: not only does the magnificent Catholic church boast natural beauty as it sits and blends in with the rocks around it, there’s a beautiful crucifix above the altar that, when you put your feet in the bronze footprints in front of it, Jesus looks right at you. I didn’t feel anything “spiritual” per se in Sedona but did so in this church. IMHO it’s a Sedona must-see.



Fun fact: Sedona is the only place in the world where the McDonald’s normally golden arches are teal, as the bright yellow was deemed to not blend in with the city’s strict sign code. This made me happy hearing about and seeing, and if you talk to anyone who lives there, they almost all say they are just happier in Sedona. They may not be making big money or live in a big house but their  joy is big. Part of this may actually come from all those cathedral-like red rocks enveloping the town. It’s been hypothosized the mineral composition of the red rocks creates a magnetism that has an impact on people. This hasn’t been proven 100 percent but IYKYK: the rocks are special.


When it comes to the rocks and elements, we can learn a lot from Native Americans who believe that just as the wind is like our breath, the sunlight like our body warmth, the water like our blood, and the land like our flesh, we can enter these special sites and give them proper respect.



The term “vortex” is said to have been first used by Page Bryant and is almost solely associated with Sedona. Places such as Stonehenge, Machu Pichu, and Mt. Everest are said to have similar energies as Sedona but rarely use the term vortex, which Andres defines as “A place where the Earth is at its healthiest and most alive. The aliveness shows up in an increased energy that is present and the energy acts as an amplifier, magnifying what we bring to it on the physical mental, emotional, and spiritual levels.”


Everyone asks, “how will I feel a vortex?” There’s really not one single or universal way; it all depends on each individual and length of stay, with longer stays often resulting in increased experiences.  Some sense a tingle in their hands, slight pressure at the crown of the head, a rush of new ideas and dreams, changes of light, tones and sounds, relaxation and calmness, insights on action to take once back home, and some have even said chronic pain disappeared while in Sedona.  Like I said, I didn’t arrive in Sedona seeking any improved insight or intuition but I did leave there with both. It was helpful and it was powerful.


As interesting as the city itself is how it got its name. Adventurer T. Carl Schnebly arrived in Sedona in 1902 from Missouri and wrote to the U.S. Postal Service that the outpost needed a post office. It was approved and he suggested the name “Schnebly Station” but it was rejected for being too long. His brother then suggested Schnebly name the town for his wife; his wife Sedona. How romantic is that?!


One more thing I learned is that despite the plethora of crystal stores and crystal readers in Sedona, crystals are not native to Sedona. They, and other precious stones found for sale in town, are mined in other parts of Arizona or come from as far away and random as Arkansas, Madagascar, and Brazil.


I’m no vortex expert and but am satisfied with this humble knowledge of them. The only thing I can recommend is go to Sedona with an open mind and relax. Just close your eyes and do your best not to worry or wonder. There are no guarantees, there’s no right or wrong way to do things, and nothing weird is going to happen. Just go knowing that positive energy is truly widespread throughout the city and that the vortex is a real thing. Just believe and take it all in. You might even leave there with some new insight and joy.


Note: I highly recommend getting Andres’ book “What Is A Vortex” before heading to Sedona. It’s a short and great little guide on everything and anything you need to know about Sedona and vortexes.



And now, a word about that tall cactus…

While driving from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon years ago, I found it interesting that saguaros suddenly disappeared along the way. Come to find out they don’t grow above 3,000-4,000 feet above sea level and are only found in the Sonoran Desert, which is in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Although often depicted in all things wild, wild west, the majestic saguaro cactus is not found in Sedona and really only found in a somewhat small area. The Sonoran Desert is the only place in the world where you’ll find them and although they have come to symbolize the southwest, there aren’t any in Texas or other places!


Saguaros, pronounced “suh-gwahr-oh,” are very slow growing cacti and only grow 1-1.5 inches during their first eight years of life. They are the largest in the U.S. and are covered in protective spines, which prevent hungry animals from feasting on them although they do serve as “hotels” for birds that carve nest holes in them. They develop branches or “arms” as they age but it might take 50-75 years for them to grow their first arms. Think about this. When you see a tall one with many arms they are probably hundreds of years old!  These arms are not only the namesakes for yoga “cactus arms,” they are important as they store water. During a single rainfall, saguaros can capture 200 gallons of water. A typical saguaro can live between 100-200 years, can grow up to 60 feet tall, and can weigh more than a ton.


In the summer, they bloom flowers and strawberry-like fruit. Seeing these flowers means the cactus is around 35 years old. After a saguaro dies, its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and furniture. Many of the older saguaros you see are older than Arizona itself as their 100-200 year lifespans means they’ve been around longer than the state, which didn’t receive statehood until 1912.


And now you are “armed” with knowledge about Sedona, vortexes, and those lovely armed cacti.




Springing Forward March 12, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 3:38 pm

As you lay yourself down to sleep tonight, don’t forget it’s time to set your clocks forward one hour. It’s time to “spring forward,” which is more unpopular than our annual “fall back.” We lose an hour tonight, but why?



Quick history. The idea of turning clocks forward one hour during the summer was first conceived by New Zealander George Hudson back in 1895 but it wasn’t really until April of 1916 when the German Empire and Austria-Hungary first used DST as a way to conserve coal during WWI. Britain followed suit as did the U.S. in 1918 and the idea of “saving” as much daylight as possible became especially popular during the 1970’s energy crisis. In most of the United States, Daylight Savings Time begins in March and ends in November.


People either love the idea or hate it, but one group that seems to favor more morning light is farmers. These hard workers are typically early risers and prefer morning sun to evening sun as they believe crops are best harvested after dew evaporates.



As with everything in our current “for” and “against” environment,  you are probably either for or against the idea of changing times mid-year but whatever side you’re on, let’s all agree that there are a few things we can and should do each time we “fall back” and “spring forward,” including:


  • Replace batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. While you’re at it, check in with any elderly family members or neighbors and help them do this.


  • Reverse the direction of your ceiling fans. In the fall you want your blades rotating clockwise, which helps bring warm air down.


  • Schedule a furnace and chimney inspection and replace filters in your heater and air conditioner units. Things get trapped and may deteriorate over the course of a year so make sure all your heating elements are safe and running as efficiently as possible.


  • Flip and rotate your mattresses. This can be accomplished by either literally flipping the mattress over or just rotating head and feet areas.


  • Clean out your pantry and refrigerator shelves. You’d be surprised how many items you may have in stock that are expired. Dates are there for a reason so adhere to them.


  • Clean out your medicine cabinet. Same thing with medicines and first aid kits. Safely dispose of all expired or discolored meds and do an emergency kit overhaul if necessary.


  • Revisit your emergency bag. This can be any bag or items you keep in stock for emergencies such as tornados, hurricanes, lock downs, or any other time you might need to “shelter in place.” Make sure batteries are new, foods aren’t expired, and emergency contact sheets are current.


If you have kids in the house, make doing all of the above a family event. Assign tasks and explain why what you are doing is important. Many of these could be the difference between life and death. In the meantime, sleep tight tonight!


Do you have any other “fall back” reminder suggestions? Please share!


Deciphering the Super in Our Heroes March 5, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 5:14 pm

Courtesy Julie Weltens

Driving around today I heard one of my favorite songs, “Something Just Like This” by the Chainsmokers, and it got me thinking about a blog I wrote a few years ago on super heroes. If there’s ever been a time for super heroes, it’s been the past two years and the present and going forward. We need something super and something powerful, right? But who are superheroes? True superheroes? I thought we could revisit the topic today. Enjoy!



What is a superhero? Underdog certainly was when I was growing up. I loved him! “Have no fear; Underdog is here!” The word is generally defined as someone who possesses “super” powers considered abilities beyond those of ordinary people and who typically uses them to help the world become a better place and/or dedicates themselves to protecting the public and fighting crime.


Many consider Zorro, who first appeared in 1919, as the first super hero but if asked that question, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or Wonder Woman would probably be named. Superman made his debut in 1938 and a year later Batman entered the scene. We all know their names and they are considered “Super Heroes” of screen and lore, but are they really super or heroes?


So back to the song “Something Just Like This” that got me started on this back then and back again today. Although an EDM-pop song, a genre known more for its DJ mixes then its lyrics, it’s got some pretty powerful and thought-proving words that caught my ears. Here’s just a sampling:


I’ve been reading books of old

The legends and the myths

Achilles and his gold

Hercules and his gifts

Spiderman’s control

And Batman with his fists

And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list

But she said, where’d you wanna go?

How much you wanna risk?

I’m not looking for somebody

With some superhuman gifts

Some superhero

Some fairytale bliss

Just something I can turn to

Somebody I can kiss

That’s probably what we all look for in our super heroes: someone we can turn to, not some fairy tale bliss, right?


Courtesy Kim Throckmorton-Kimmel

Las Vegas Raiders tackle (and former All-American at Oklahoma) Gerald McCoy addressed heroes in a post he wrote for “The Players’ Tribune” when he asked, “Is Batman a superhero?” The crowd roars, “Of course he is” and although McCoy agreed and noted Batman is his superhero of choice, it might not be for the reasons you’d think.



We all know that Superman can fly and has super-human strength and that Spiderman can scale walls and buildings, but McCoy appreciates the fact that Batman doesn’t really have any superpowers. What? Holy Batmobile Robin, this must be the work of the Joker.


But it’s not. And it’s why Batman is his favorite.


Unlike most superheroes, Batman doesn’t possess any “superpowers” but instead relies on his mind. As McCoy wrote, “His greatest attribute is that he’s highly intelligent. He’s just a regular dude who always finds a way to get the job done.” Those abilities are what McCoy respects and strives to emulate in play on the field and life off it and the type of superpower we should be instilling in our kids.


It got me thinking.


If Batman can qualify as a superhero without any true superpowers, what about the rest of us? What else can qualify as super human abilities? Who else can we consider superheroes?


Indeed they do. Amen and thank you.


Some heroes of mine are those who participate in and run the local “Hounds for Heroes” program with the Dog Alliance. Heroes come to us in need of service dogs and seeing first-hand how these four-legged friends change and improve their lives is truly amazing.


How about truckers and farmers? Boy have we recently seen how very much we need them and that their voices need to be heard.


Single moms. Nuff said.


In this time of crisis after crisis, police and first responders have also certainly worn their hero capes.


As have everyone in medicine, whether it be a doctor, nurse, surgeon, pharmacist, EMT, and everyone in between. They’ve had a year or two to say the least.


But what about flight attendants? Have they seen their share of heroic days of late? You bet.


It’s funny, but do we very think of our hair stylists as heroes? Could you cut your hair the way they do and color it just perfectly without turning it orange or green?


What about the bus driver who gets your kids to school safely every day?


And how about the engineers who finagle stop lights? Their handiwork sees to it that vehicles stop and go at the right times.



So well said by Spiderman back in 1962 as he echoed the words of Voltaire and that date back to the French Revolution. Yes it does Spiderman; yes it does. And yet, society tends to make superheroes out of famous but often undeserving athletes, movie stars, musicians, TV personalities, and even a host of those online “influencers.” And don’t even get me started about politicians, elected “leaders,” and even their families. Regardless of how much you might like someone famous or powerful, do they really qualify as superheroes? Probably not.




Kids love superheroes…real and fictional. And that’s okay. They need heroes to look up to and aspire to be like and they need imagination. But again, we as adults need to ensure who they look up to are those worth looking up to. For example, Wonder Woman, who’s been around since 1943, is a great inspiration for young girls. Yes, she is strong and powerful, but she’s also never afraid to speak of love.



I used to tell my little preschoolers to catch their sneezes and coughs in their elbows by bringing around their superhero capes. It works every time. Who doesn’t want to be a superhero and have a cape?




Someone I regularly turn to is God, and I would venture to say Jesus is indeed a superhero; perhaps the superest of super heroes. I also rely on my family and friends for support and inspiration and I consider all of them superheroes. None of them have superpowers; they are merely super people in my eyes.



Courtesy Catherine Harkness

Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes and vary from person to person. Someone I consider worth admiring someone else may detest and vice versa. But maybe it shouldn’t be so much who we consider heroic, but what we consider heroic.



Take for example Captain Marvel. I had no idea that his “Shazam” was actually an acronym and a call for the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. How cool would that be, to merely shout something and you gain a truckload of formidable traits?


Depending on who you are or where you are in your life, you might give a shout out for intellect, health, wealth, will, strength, endurance, patience, acceptance, wisdom, or serenity. Society needs superpower science and technology, but don’t we also need love and peace and superheroes who promote them?



Yes peace. It’s a word being said and prayed for right now. I always long for peace of mind as mine is constantly reeling…it only sleeps when I sleep…so I greatly admire those who are centered and calm. Are you always racing and chasing? No one likes to be told “calm down” but maybe we should all strive to be heroically calm. At the same time, I also admire someone who appreciates a good laugh and has a great sense of humor. Laughter is heroic.



Intuition is superpower

Go with your gut and think it out, right? It’s called intuition: quick and ready insight, reason, and true conviction. I definitely have conviction and reason things out, but I tend to overthink everything. Going with your gut is a trait I admire and consider slightly heroic.


“On my soul I swear until my dream of a world where dignity, honor, and justice become the reality we all share, I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”



Dignity. Honor. A commitment to truth and justice. Thank you Superman. And in the end, what is anything super without faith and hope? We hope for the best and hope all goes well. We’re constantly hoping for a cure and holding out hope against hope.


It’s my hope that maybe we all take a cue from Batman and start using our brains in heroic ways to keep hope alive. I’m no Wonder Woman and am not looking for some fairy tale bliss, just something I can turn to and that might just make a powerful difference.







The Big Easy, not The Big Sleazy March 3, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:11 pm

Two days ago we learned all about Mardi Gras and King Cakes so I thought it’d be natural to today talk about the city where both reign: New Orleans. Now before you scroll on and say “I don’t care for New Orleans; it’s so dirty and sleazy,” hang tight. I agree with part of that as I’ve seen the seedy side of NOLA, but come along as we discover its many charms far from Bourbon Street.



Don’t get me wrong, the Big Easy can most definitely morph into the Big Sleazy if you are a rookie NOLA visitor, but it’s also home to a bevy of natural attractions and unique culture. Distinctive lace-work balconies. Legendary lanterns. Colorful shutters. Epicurean wonders. And can we talk a minute about that accent?! It’s got to be one of the most unique and impossible to imitate in all the world. Melt my heart Nawlins!


Okay, in order to appreciate more than a hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s though, you need to venture off the Bourbon Street beaten path to discover history and eats comparable to those in many a world renowned city. Let’s geaux!


I’ve been to the home of the Saints (and sinners!) several times and like many New Orleans visitors, I started with the French Quarter, which is a good idea if you’ve never been. Be sure to peek into historic Preservation Hall and the Hermes Bar at Antoine’s is a nice quiet retreat from the normally noisy street that can be both festive and fun but can also border on the “Big Cheesy.”  Jackson Square, roughly bordered on one end by St. Louis Cathedral and on the other by the Mississippi River, is where you’ll find horse carriage rides; street performers; great people watching; one of my favorite restaurants, Muriel’s; and if you look closely you’ll also find an amazing cooking school and a great little book store.



A few years ago I traveled to New Orleans with my husband on one of his business trips. It wasn’t my first time there so I knew that while he was out doing deals, I needed to keep busy but I’d seen it all: Bourbon, Café du Monde, the Riverfront, and Jackson Square. Considering this, I also knew I had to dig deep to discover what really makes NOLA special. In doing so, I discovered what I still consider one of the coolest things I’ve ever done on a trip; anywhere. I took a class at the New Orleans School of Cooking and not only ate well but learned so much.


The Crescent City (called that because the Mississippi River takes a crescent shape at New Orleans)is synonymous with imaginative fun, but it’s also home to imaginative food. Truth be told, I’ve never been a big fan of Cajun or Creole food except for maybe red beans and rice but I walked out of that cooking class with a whole new respect for both. And trust me, they are two very different and distinct cooking methods. So what’s the difference and what’s the big deal you ask? Read on.


Disclaimer: I’m no native so what I’m writing here is what I learned and what I’ve read. Any of you natives out there who can add to this or even correct me, please do!


New Orleans and Louisiana cuisine have a rich heritage, but unless you’re from there it can all be kind of confusing. Here’s a quick glance at the most integral parts. For starters, I learned that onions, celery, and green pepper are called the “Holy Trinity” and garlic is called “The Pope.” From there, it was what’s Creole and what’s Cajun.



Creole food originated in New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana amid strong French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences. The term “Creole” is from the Spanish “criollo,” which translates to “native to a specific place or locality.” In short:


  • Creole cuisine is considered a little higher brow or aristocratic than Cajun.
  • Creole cuisine uses tomatoes and Cajun food does not.  It’s richer than and not as spicy as Cajun food.
  • Creole cuisine is considered “city food” while Cajun cuisine is often referred to as “country food.”
  • Creole gumbo is thicker than Cajun and generally contains shellfish; tomatoes; a lighter colored roux; and file, and fine green powder of young dried ground sassafras leaves.
  • Remoulade sauce is Creole.
  • Beignets and pralines are both considered Creole food.


Cajun food originated in the country, specifically the Acadiana region of southwest Louisiana. The word “Cajun” originates from the term “les Acadiens,” used to describe French colonists who settled in the Acadia region of Canada. The Acadians were forcibly removed from their home and many settled in the swampy region of Louisiana that is today known as Acadiana. The Acadians were extremely resourceful and used the flatlands, bayous, and wild game of South Louisiana and Gulf of Mexico to create a truly unique local cuisine. Like Creole, it also incorporates French influences alongside bayou flair and has a focus on hearty, meat-based, one-pot dishes filled with boudin, Andouille, or crawfish. In short:


  • Cajun gumbo is generally based on a dark roux and is made with shellfish or fowl. No tomatoes.
  • Cajun Jambalaya is generally considered better than the more tomato-based Creole Jambalaya.
  • Cajun food is famous for being very well seasoned, which is sometimes misunderstood as spicy.
  • Crawfish boils are considered Cajun.
  • Cajun motto: “If we can catch it, we can cook it.”



What the heck is roux?

Roux, pronounced “roo,” sounds fancy but it’s simple and is similar to gravy but with lots of varieties and cooking rules. It is the foundation for many Cajun and Creole recipes and is basically a cooked mixture of flour and fat (oil, butter, or lard) and is used as a thickening agent. The basic rule of preparing roux is “never walk away from the roux.” Constant watching and stirring are essential to making any level of roux, all categorized by their color, which is dictated by the amount of time they take to cook. The longer a roux cooks, the darker and more flavorful it becomes. Creole roux is usually made with butter and flour while Cajun roux combines oil and flour.




When you think of New Orleans food, whether Creole or Cajun, three dishes often come to mind: Jambalaya, Gumbo, and Etouffee. Similar is some ways but different in so many others.




Think of Jambalaya as a distant relative of paella, the famous dish of Spain, only without saffron and shells are taken off the shrimp. The Creole version of it includes tomatoes while the Cajun version doesn’t. It also usually does not have roux.




Gumbo is a mix of veggies and meat or shellfish with a dark roux. It’s normally served with rice and potato salad…something I just recently tried and found it sooooo good!




Etouffee, which means “smoother,” is generally made of one type of shellfish, usually crawfish or shrimp, that have been smothered in a thick sauce and sometimes served ladled over rice.


Our cooking class also consisted of Bananas Foster and pralines, so I thought I’d throw in some history on what makes the first one so delicious and famous.




Bananas Foster

In 1951, when the Brennan restaurant operation consisted only of Brennan’s Vieux Carre on Bourbon Street, Owen Brennan asked his sister Ella to come up with a fancy dessert for a dinner that night honoring Richard Foster for being named chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission. An already-overworked Ella gathered her chef, Paul Blange, and headwaiter in the kitchen to help her dream up a dessert. Scanning the kitchen and spying bananas, she thought of a simple dish her mother had made by splitting the yellow fruit and sautéing the halves with butter and brown sugar. To jazz it up, they poured rum and banana liqueur on top, setting the mixture on fire at tableside, tossing in cinnamon to make it sparkle, and serving the concoction over vanilla ice cream. They called it “Bananas Foster” and a classic was born. The Brennan family not only created the famous flaming dessert, but was also instrumental in bringing bananas into New Orleans and helping its port become one of the largest to import bananas to the U.S. Today “Bananas Foster” is still the signature dessert at Brennan’s famous pink restaurant. We had it last year and it’s as decadent and delicious as ever.




That’s just what I learned in my cooking class. I feel obligated to also mention three of my favorite food stops when in NOLA: Drago’s for their uh-mazing and one-of-a-kind charbroiled oysters, Mother’s for lunch, and I do love me some beignets and coffee at Café du Monde. Note to fellow breakfast goers: if there’s a line, don’t line up near the street. Loop around the back and line up on the side.



As for Drago’s, visit the original location in Metairie as you head from the airport to the city rather than the one downtown. It’s suburban and nothing fancy but trust me, even if you think you don’t like oysters, give them a try. They are unbelievable. And, don’t let anywhere else claim to serve them. Drago’s has the only authentic and divine ones.




Of the “Big 5” commonly referred to when talking about Commander’s Palace, Arnaud’s, Galatoire’s, Brennan’s, and Antoine’s, I’ve eaten at all and enjoyed the meals but wasn’t totally overwhelmed. I was actually underwhelmed with Antoine’s “famous” Oysters Rockefeller but will say brunch at Brennan’s signature pink building is worth not only the service and food but the legendary green latticed-wall interior and black-and-white tile floor. One more thing: Galatoire’s, Antoine’s, and Arnaud’s are considered classic Creole restaurants and Commander’s Palace is a bit off the downtown beaten path with its Garden District location. IMHO on all of this, Mr. B’s on Royal Street is just as good and I’ve had many a foodie tell me about other restaurants that I still haven’t tried. So many restaurants, so little time.



Beyond the Food

Another thing New Orleans has plenty of is hotels. My favorite? Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street.  A city staple since 1886, the venerable and classically-old school hotel sits majestically at the foot of Royal Street, home to many of the city’s best antique shops. Close enough to all of New Orlean’s traditional tourist traps yet quietly tucked on Royal, Hotel Monteleone is the perfect place to stay. It’s also the home of the famous Carousel Bar & Lounge, a long-time favorite New Orleans hot spot and the city’s only revolving bar. Yes, the Merry-Go-Round bar actually spins as you sit at it and this is important  to know before you order a Pimms Cup or Sazerac and wonder if it’s just you who is spinning! I’d like to add here that I’ve also stayed at the Cambria Hotel in the Warehouse District and loved, loved, loved it. It’s a bit further away from all the action but it’s a wonderful little property.



Okay, so now you know where to stay and where to eat in NOLA, but what to do? Yes, if you’ve never before, do Bourbon and all the trappings around it but then venture off. The Garden District , with its mansions, Tulane and Loyola Universities, and Audubon Park, is worth the fun trolley ride. For live jazz, a night on Frenchmen’s Street is as close to classic New Orleans nightlife as you’ll get as a tourist. Check out the Spotted Cat and just walk along the street and enjoy the many street musicians known as Second Line Parades.




If you’re looking for a day away from the city, consider taking a swamp tour. Yep, I said that right: a swamp tour. They are actually very fun and educational and you’re sure to see a gator…or 10…as you ride amidst hanging moss and Cypress Trees.  Spoiler alert: they feed them marshmallows to get them to jump out of the water! Very fun. Very different.



I can’t close without recommending a quick stop at Faulkner House Books just off the French Quarter near St. Louis Cathedral. This tiny gem is located in the building where author William Faulkner, a fan of and one-time resident of New Orleans, once lived and wrote his first book. The shop may be small but it packs a big historic and quaint punch and has many rare books as well as bestsellers and those by and about Faulkner. I stumbled onto it and was so glad I did. Next door to what many collectors and writers call America’s most charming bookstore is a nice little pub where you can sit outside and read whatever you may have bought in the store. Give it a stop. You’ll be glad you did.



So have I convinced you? Have I gotten everything right? Are you ready to give New Orleans a second chance and second glance? Ready to make some roux? I seaux hope so and hope you take it easy on and in the Big Easy!




Ashes to Ashes March 2, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 2:31 pm


I saw that meme yesterday and laughed out loud. Funny but true about today: Ash Wednesday. The day you notice men, women, and children with black crosses made from ashes on their foreheads. It’s today, but what is it and why?  Whether you received your ashes or wonder why someone has ashes on their forehead at the office, the gym, the grocery store, or anywhere else, you’re in the right place on the right day.


Just yesterday at Bible Study my friend told me that last year during Ash Wednesday mass the priest mentioned that today is the most attended day of mass for Catholics. I would have guessed all those “CEO” masses, “Christmas and Easter Only,” would have been the winners and I’m not sure what this tells us, but it’s good to know so many…millions actually…are adhering to a tradition that goes way back. But how far back, and why?


It helps to understand that Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, which is 40 days of quiet and reflection leading up to Easter Sunday. We remember what lies ahead on Good Friday and what it means for us and to us. We try to slow down and listen to God. Jesus suffered more than any of us can ever imagine on that fateful day so we take this time to “suffer” in the way of sacrifice and loss.



Yes, we “give up things” like sodas, coffee, alcohol, social media, TV…whatever we choose…but we also focus on Jesus’ own words regarding the three main disciplines of Lent:  praying, fasting, and giving alms, also known as charity. It is said that prayer demonstrates our relationship with God, fasting demonstrates our relationship with our inner self, and giving alms demonstrates our relationship with others. Jesus also instructs us to do all of these without seeking recognition and we are reminded that we don’t wear the ashes to proclaim our holiness to others but to acknowledge that we are a community of believers and sinners in need of repentance and renewal.  We can for sure give up things, but we should also give and do things…good things.


By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” 

Genesis 3:19


The first clear evidence of Ash Wednesday was around the year 960 and there is also much biblical scripture supporting today’s practice. In fact, when receiving ashes a person is told “turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.”  The gospel is scripture and scripture is God.



But why the ashes? Ashes are ancient symbols of repentance; they remind us of our mortality and the “ashes to ashes” bible verse. Lastly, being marked with a cross on our forehead reminds us that we belong to Christ and we ask Him to develop in us a spirit of humility and sacrifice, much like He did for us.


When we receive ashes on our foreheads, we remember who we are. We remember that we are creatures of the earth (“remember that you are dust”), and we remember that we are mortal beings (“and to dust you will return”).


I have a Lenten book of daily meditations that I have had for years and refer to it every Lent. Instead of suggesting the usual things to give up like alcohol, gossip, envy, sugar, etc., it instead offers the following inspiration:

Fast from judging others; feast on loving them

Fast from differences; feast on unity

Fast from perfection; feast on acceptance

Fast from hurting; feast on kind words

Fast from sadness; feast on joy

Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God

Fast from words that pollute; feast on words that purify

Fast from envy; feast on gratitude

Fast from anger; feast on patience

Fast form pessimism; feast on hope

Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation

Fast from worry; feast on trust


Don’t we all suffer from many of the above things we could stand to fast from? Any number of us are people pleasers, workaholics, perfectionists, multi-taskers, or whatever you want to call it. But, as we heard in Bible Study yesterday, don’t think confuse being busy enough with being good enough. Maybe we all just need to slow down and look inward, not so much outward, and remember the only person you should try to impress is God.


Finally, I’ve seen the following list of things to give up floating around the internet during the past week and I really like it.  I hope you do too.


Things to Give Up for Lent

  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • The need to please everyone
  • Envy
  • Impatience
  • Resentment
  • Blame
  • Gossip
  • Entitlement
  • Apathy
  • Hatred
  • Negativity
  • Comparison
  • Overcommitment
  • Fear of failure
  • Feelings of unworthiness
  • Doubt
  • Self-pity
  • Bitterness
  • Your comfort zone
  • Worry
  • Pride


Such great ideas for things to fast from during Lent, and every day.


The King of all Cakes and Tuesdays March 1, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:00 am

Happy Fat Tuesday everyone! Are you wearing purple, gold, and green; donning beads and boas; marching in or watching a parade; and eating King Cake?  If you’re in or from Louisiana probably so, as today is a very festive day, especially in New Orleans. But all partying aside, both Mardi Gras and New Orleans are religious in origin and historically blessed, respectively. Today it’s all Mardi Gras and King Cake but tomorrow we’ll visit NOLA, a city that has so much more to offer than its “Big Sleazy” reputation. Let’s go!



Fat Out Special

Mardi Gras is really just today and despite its party reputation, it has a religious origin. Also known as Fat Tuesday, it is always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Many people (me included) confuse Mardi Gras with Carnival, which is the celebratory season that stretches from Epiphany to Fat Tuesday. Rewind here a bit. The Christian Feast of the Epiphany is also the 12th day of Christmas and marks the day when the Three Wise Men/Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. For those in places like New Orleans, it also marks the official end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Carnival season.


The French come into heavy play here as “mardi” means Tuesday in French and “gras” means fat. Many believe the first documented Mardi Gras celebration in America was in March of 1699 when French explorers traveled to America and docked near what is now New Orleans. They named their docking location “Point du Mardi Gras” and as other French immigrants arrived, Mardi Gras celebrations became increasingly popular. Until, that is, the Spanish took control of the Crescent City in 1762 and outlawed Mardi Gras celebrations. But, when Louisiana became a state in 1812, Mardi Gras celebrations returned and really never left. In fact, since what many consider the first NOLA Mardi Gras parade in 1827, there’s been a parade in the city every year since. Pending perhaps a pesky pandemic. Parades are back in full force this year though!


Mardi Gras and accompanying Carnival are celebrated all over the world, including well-known festivities in Brazil and Venice but rest assured New Orleans ranks right up there. Fat Tuesday may be all about indulging in everything festive, fun, and frivolous but there’s a reason for that too. It’s the day before Ash Wednesday, which is when Lent starts. Traditionally Lent is a period of 40 days of fasting and giving up bad and questionable habits as well as focusing on doing good. Today’s the day to get it all out of your system for the next 40 days!


Take the Cake

A big part of Mardi Gras is the famous King Cake, which, behind maybe birthday and wedding cakes, is considered the king of all cakes. So what is it with those colorful confections and is there really a baby inside each one? The answer is traditionally yes, and they too have a religious significance. Remember, all this Carnival and Mardi Gras celebration relates back to Epiphany, when the Three Kings traveled to see the newly born baby Jesus. This, my friends, is why the dessert is called a “King Cake” and why there’s a tiny baby hidden inside each one.


Francophiles will also be glad to hear that the beloved King Cake is said to have been brought to America from France in the 1870s and are traditionally oval-shaped, which some say represents the unity of faiths while others say represents a king’s crown. Cakes in New Orleans are decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold…the same colors you’ll find those famous beads in. The colors represent, in order, justice, faith, and power.


Funny thing is, many a King Cake is not actually a cake. Some are more bread-like while others resemble a pastry. Whatever they’re made of, they are always colorful and festive. The standard Louisiana version is a brioche-like dough swirled with cinnamon and cream cheese then braided and baked in a circle or oval shape and finished with icing and sprinkles. In France, a “galette des rois” or “cake of kings,” is more of a puffed pastry with a sweet almond filling and garnished with “jewels” like sprinkles and icing. Those in Spain and Latin America enjoy orange-flavored bread wreaths topped with dried fruit, which they call “roscas de reyes” or “cakes of kings.”


Okay, but what about that baby. As I said, it traditionally symbolizes Jesus although some cakes will have money or a trinket inside. Whoever finds one in their slice is crowned “king for the day” and vows to provide the next king cake and host the next party…whoever hosts a Mardi Gras party buys or makes the King Cake for it. It’s also considered good luck to find it and this “you’re next” tradition ensures celebrations continue in true New Orleans style.


Speaking of New Orleans style, it’s customary to also spend today cooking and indulging in traditional Cajun and Creole dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and etoufee. Do you know the differences? Do you know the history? You will tomorrow!


So there you have it and now you know all about Mardi Gras and King Cake. Tomorrow as we start Lent, we’ll visit New Orleans. At least on this blog. Rendez-vous alors!