Beyond Words

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

The King of all Cakes and Tuesdays February 21, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 1:51 pm

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!



Forever The Boss February 17, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:03 pm

After six decades and 46 years between his first concert and his most recent show, my husband Smitty says he has officially retired from Bruce Springsteen concerts. Last night’s show in Austin was amazing, despite the fact that our insultingly expensive tickets were seats in the second highest row, so he says he’s going out satisfied and that it’s been a good run. Personally, I think he’s sounding a bit Tom Bradyish, but a good run it’s been indeed.


Why The Boss? It’s hard to put into words but I’ll do my best here.



For Smitty, it all started 46 years ago when he saw Bruce for the first time at Buffalo’s Kleinhan’s Music Hall in 1977. During last week’s Dallas show we attended on February 2, he reminded our daughter and me of it being the exact date of his first show. This, from the guy who runs to HEB to get roses and a card the morning of our anniversary, but I digress. Since that first show, he was sold and has seen him 40+ times. Multiple cities. Multiple tours. If he hasn’t seen it. It’s been by choice.


For me it came a little later in life. I remember first hearing about Bruce when my high school friend’s older sister had “The River” and I loved “Hungry Heart.” At the time I also loved Fleetwood Mac, Supertramp, Boston, and a host of other ‘70s singers and Bruce was just another artist I liked. It wasn’t until many years later and marrying Smitty that my eyes were opened to the beauty of Bruce.




A couple of fun facts:

Smitty proposed by asking me to put on his Walkman headphones and cued up Bruce’s “I Wanna Marry You” song.


We walked out of our wedding to Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love” at the groom’s request because Bruce sang it on tour that year.


Yeah, he’s pretty devoted. And I love it.


Funny thing is, we love Bruce for different reasons. Smitty loves his hard rocking ways and I love the words he says. His lyrics had me from “Together Wendy…” I’m actually randomly including some of my faves in this blog including these:


Blow away the dreams that tear you apart

Blow away the dreams that break your heart

Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted

“The Promise Land”



Neither of us are fans of Bruce’s politics nor of the fact that he sold his entire music catalog for $500 million back in 2021. And, don’t even get me started about his shows being sold through Ticketmaster and Live Nation. The “man of the people” is doing his people no favors by offering tickets starting at maybe $200. Again though, I digress and could go on and on about the latter alone.



I met Bruce during his “Tunnel of Love” tour when I was working publicity and promotions at our local arena. I shook his hand (literally shaking inside) and got the cover of Smitty’s “Born to Run” personally autographed to him.


I actually kinda “called it” between him and now wife Patty Scialfa after seeing them exit a van backstage pretty chumming and while singing “Out in the Streets.” Sure enough, weeks later they were photographed on a balcony in Rome and the truth came out. I’m not a fan of her voice but like them together and feel like they’re true soul mates, like that their kids are good kids and have stayed out of the limelight, and like that first wife Julianna graciously chose to live a quiet life. Give the album “Tunnel of Love” another listen and you’ll get a feel for what was going on. It’s a great album and one of my favorites, but not a particularly happy one. Surprisingly, Bruce considers “Tougher Than the Rest” his best love song.




Speaking of kids, our daughter Kristen loves Bruce too. She went with us to his Dallas show and this couldn’t make us happier. Maybe it all started when I was pregnant and we saw Bruce in Dallas. In utero she was bopping to “Badlands!” Another show we all saw together was in New York City and we were lucky enough to meet Little Stevie backstage. It was the highlight of her first trip to NYC. Not the Empire State Building or Twin Towers. Not Central Park of 5th Avenue shopping. Nope. Bruce live in concert. Go figure. #raisedright.




That’s my story but I can’t speak for the millions of other fans. Thankfully Springsteen fans don’t have some cheesy name; they just love The Boss, follow The Boss, and don’t hesitate to tell anyone and everyone that his moniker rings true in that his shows are hands-down the best live concerts out there. They are raucous and retrospective, you’re up and you’re down, and chills and goosebumps are guaranteed. Think about it: three-to-four hours of rock with no opener and no break. You leave his shows exhausted. At 73-years-old he runs circles around all the young guns out there. He is the master showman. He is, the boss.


Remember all the movies, Terry we’d go see

Trying to learn to walk like the heroes

We thought we had to be

Well after all this time

To find we’re just like all the rest

Stranded in the park

And forced to confess to

Hiding on the backstreets



The big and expected hits are of course a blast live but IMHO, “Out in the Streets” is a surprising live show stand out as is “She’s the One.” The sax on “Jungleland” is rock’s best sax solo and every sax player should learn it and know it and “Backstreets?” He officially says it 28 times if you’re counting. BTW: in case you don’t know, Bruce’s normal sax player of the past few years is Clarence Clemmons’ nephew, Jake. It’s all in the family.




I’ll end here by saying Smitty and I love listing and going over our “Top 10” Bruce songs. Many are agreed upon but others are not. He loves “Kitty’s Back,” but it doesn’t make my Top 10. My number 1 Bruce song? “Growin’ Up.” I’ve seen him sing it live once and chill up every time it comes on. Off his first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park” that was released 50 years ago, it really all goes back to his lyrics for me and the passion in his imperfect voice. The song is about being a bit lost, standing up when told to sit down, and then finding a “nice little place in the stars.” That’s kinda been my life. I’m older and wiser but after growin up I’m still born to run and am learning from my glory days.




A Saint of a Day February 14, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:00 am

Gray Malin Photography

Happy Valentine’s Day! Tis the day when couples celebrate love, family members celebrate each other, and restaurants celebrate the fact that reservations are full and special menus are offered. Celebrated annually on February 14, Valentine’s Day is all about love but shouldn’t its message of love stick around all year? Long after the roses have died, the cards have been tossed or saved, and candies have been eaten, the love behind them should not similarly disappear. That’s how St. Valentine would have wanted it and that’s how he lived. Yes, there was a real man really named Valentine and maybe it’s time to learn about him and why we even have a Valentine’s Day. 



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



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


Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentines didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known Valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture.  Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a Valentine note to Catherine of Valois. The original love note is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.


The tradition spread, and by the middle of the 18th century it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the early 1900s, printed cards began to replace written letters thanks to improvements in printing technology. 


Americans, however, are thought to have began exchanging hand-made Valentines in the early 1700s and in the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Not only was she the “Mother of Valentines,” but perhaps the first ever scrapbooker!


According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind only to Christmas and just ahead of Mother’s Day. I personally love the fact that a Catholic tradition and Catholic saint quietly but symbolically are behind a holiday celebrated by all walks of lives and beliefs and even better, one having to do with love. I love it. 



Valentine’s Days of some sort are celebrated worldwide. In Japan, chocolate is considered even more sacred and “valentine-ish” than in the U.S. while in Denmark flowers are given to loved ones on the holiday. In both Italy and Germany it’s strictly an adult and “lovers only” holiday while Mexico officially calls it the “Day of Love and Friendship.” St. Valentine is considered the Patron Saint of Spring in Slovenia but perhaps the holiday is celebrated in the most grandest of ways in France. In Paris, known as the “City of Love,” couples used to attach locks on the Pont des Arts Bridge and throw keys into the River Seine on Valentine’s Day but the practice was halted due to the weight of the locks and their potential damage to the historic bridge.  The French village of St. Valentin is decked in flowers on Valentine’s Day and is a popular destination for weddings, vow renewals, and engagements. How lovely would that be?!



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


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