Beyond Words

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

When Harry Met Meghan: The Crown in Crisis January 12, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:50 pm

 

If you know me at all, you knew this was coming. My take on “Megzit,” which unless you’ve been living under a rock the past week, you know all about the story that dominated headlines alongside Iran and fires in Australia. A bit silly to say the least, but to this lover of all things royal and to millions around the globe, it was big news. No, make that HUGE news.

 

 

But, just in case you missed it, here’s the breaking news out of London: Prince Harry and his American wife Meghan Markle, also known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, made a surprise announcement that they are essentially giving up their royal ties and are seeking independence from the throne. That throne mind you, is none other than the British monarchy as Harry’s grandma is Queen Elizabeth II.

 

The fact that they made their very unorthodox announcement without the Queen’s knowledge (and on Kate’s birthday for crying sake) is in and of itself big. What they announced however, was even bigger.

 

 

Quick family background: Harry’s dad is Prince Charles and his mom was the late great Princess Diana. Charles is first in line to the throne and Harry’s brother Will, who is married to Kate Middleton, is second in line to the throne. The Queen, Charles, and Will are pictured above with Will’s son Prince George, who is next in line after Will.

 

In part, the social media placed announcement read: “We have chosen to make a transition this year to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America. This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.”

 

Boom.

Ouch.

Yikes.

Oh bloody hell.

 

To say the least, her Majesty was not pleased. Maybe she should have seen it coming but she’s probably seriously conflicted about the how’s and why’s of when Harry met Meghan, who from day one made it known she’s her own woman. After she and Harry spent a six-week Christmas break away from the royals, flags should have been raised. Red flags.

 

After the announcement, the former actress flew solo to Canada while Harry stayed home. His momma has convened an emergency meeting tomorrow at her Sandringham estate where she, Charles, Will, and Harry will work to agree on what comes next. Any viewer of Netflix’s popular and brilliant “The Crown” series is well aware that if the royals are guided by anything, it’s precedent. Harry and Meghan’s hasty and “in your face” move was anything but standard practice or proper protocol. Don’t look now but two millennials are making their move and validating stereotypes. We want our way and we want it now.

 

Flashbacks of King Edward VII who, only months into his reign, abdicated the throne in 1936 rather than not marrying twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. The two married, he was demoted to Duke of Windsor, and Harry’s great-grandpa King George VI was crowned, paving the way for his grandma, the current Queen, to be crowned upon her father’s death in 1952. The parallels are uncanny, right? Divorced American. Fun loving and popular prince, albeit not one who will likely succeed the throne. Harry remains sixth in line to the British throne and is a former British army officer however, so to just walk away and head to the Hollywood hills is insulting and perhaps even ill-advised. It was a scandal 84 years ago and it’s a scandal today.

 

So, what are my thoughts? In all honesty, they are mixed and multi-layered. I loved the whole idea of Harry and Meghan and think she is bright and beautiful. The day of their 2018 wedding, girlfriends and I had a royal wedding sleepover complete with Elderberry cake and crowns and we stayed up to watch it all live. I loved her simple and elegant dress and I loved the way Harry seemed so ga-ga over her. It seemed like two soul mates were joined in a fairy tale setting.

 

We’ve since come to find out who wears the princely pants in their family and her name is Meghan. Don’t get me wrong, I love a strong woman who believes in herself but I also love tradition, rules, and standards. Still, any girl in her right mind is admittedly jealous of Meghan’s obvious power and the fact that she got a real life prince to abandon his palaces and castles! At the same time, I’m also blaming her for validating the entitled American stereotype and along the way reigning (excuse the pun) in comparisons to another famous wife: Yoko Ono. In my heart of hearts I think Meghan is behind this whole thing and sweet Harry is going along with it because he loves her and remembers what happened to his mom.

 

But please you two, suck it up and accept your roles with class and dignity and count your blessings.

 

Photo credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

 

Yes I get it, being royal can be a big fat pain in the butt. You are mercilessly hounded by the press and you really have no independence, opinion, or privacy. But, you have an unlimited bank account, fabulous homes and clothes, and in Meghan’s case, a husband who adores you. So it comes down to this for me: Meghan is reportedly a smart girl so she knew full well what she was marrying in to. It’s not like she married a boy from Buffalo and then decided she doesn’t like snow. This is the ROYAL FAMILY and you don’t go into “The Firm” thinking you’re going to change the script like some Hollywood movie.

 

Back to their announcement and another thing that caught my eye, Meghan is American, right? But, pay close attention to the fact that they say “North America,” not the U.S. where she was born. And, she is reportedly currently hiding out in Toronto, the city in which she taped her TV show “Suits”, which I’ve never seen BTW. Seems Canada is going to be their “American” base, not America. Hmmmmm. Also, the proclamation states that they still plan to, “raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born,” but there is no mention about his American roots; roots many believe Meghan is not too proud of at the present moment. Double hmmmmm. Lastly, “carve out a new progressive role?” It’s no secret Meghan is left-leaning and progressive but to so publicly and brashly state their agenda? Maybe I’m misreading their wording, but still, hmmmmm.

 

Okay, so they want to be financially independent, right? Isn’t this a good and admirable thing? Yes! But, are they doing it for the right reasons? Are they doing it because they feel it’s silly for them to be making millions simply because of who they are or are they doing it because they know their goals don’t fall in line with the very institution that makes them “who they are” and it’s easier to walk away then play the game? And also why pretell, have they filed to trademark “Sussex Royal?” Shouldn’t they be doing their thing now as “Harry and Meghan” as they make their way on the down low? Maybe they need a Hollywood name in the likes of Brangelina and Kimye. Trademark that moniker and stop using your titles.

 

It’s being said Harry and Meghan will no longer receive funding from the Sovereign Grant but where are they going to live like starting tomorrow? And how are they going to get there? Uber? Southwest Airlines and hope they remember to Early Bird? And who’s going to protect them? And what about Archie? What might he think one day when he grows up and learns he’s living in West Toronto instead of Windsor Castle? Up until now the family has been living in Frogmore Cottage, part of a 17th Century estate owned by the Crown, which ironically underwent some $3 million is renovations at their request. Will the British taxpayers get a refund on all those updated window and wall coverings?

 

I can’t help but wonder what Diana would think of all of this. She’d probably secretly be proud of Meghan for standing her ground but ultimately I think it would break her heart because despite all her so-called rebelliousness, she was at heart a traditional English girl and would want Harry to yes, honor his wife, but also his ancestry.

 

 

There’s also the case of Will and Harry, who have always been extremely close. How does Will feel about Harry stepping away and leaving him the Lone Ranger? It seemed like the two couples had “BFFs” written all over them, but it quickly became very apparent that Kate and Meghan had little if anything in common. Maybe family isn’t a personal priority for Meghan. She’s famously at odds with her dad and step-siblings but she is extremely close to her mom. In the end, when she said “I do” she also said “I don’t” to an extended family of dukes and princesses to replace the family she never had. “Happily ever after” for Harry and Meghan very clearly meant happily on our own.

 

Harry does seem to be madly in love with Meghan but is she with him? Yes of course she loves him but maybe, just maybe, she also saw in him a way to advance her platform and have her voice heard. Sadly, all the negatives and doubts that were thrown her way before the wedding are now somewhat coming to fruition. But, does she care? Not likely. And there lies another “problem” with Meghan: her “I’m above all this” and somewhat arrogant attitude. It’s hard enough being a public royal; being one that is a bit unlikable does not help your cause.

 

But please, is wanting to become financially independent and live your own life really a bad thing? No, but this is undeniably different. Many didn’t love Meghan to begin with, wanting instead another Kate Middleton, but at the same time many are applauding her courage.  Still, when Charles’ wife Camilla is suddenly considered more popular than you, it can’t feel good.

 

The Queen is said to have offered the couple many concessions to avoid this situation, but they wanted more. Of course all of this is rumor and speculation, except for the Sussex’s announcement, and there is undoubtedly so much we do not know and will never know. “Official word” out of the Palace has always been hard to come by and this latest spectacle will be no different.

 

 

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, London

 

Be that as it may, I don’t agree with some of the harshness being handed to the couple, particularly the move by London’s Madame Tussaud’s wax museum that removed Harry and Meghan’s wax figures that were among those of fellow royal family members. I also don’t think that any criticism of Meghan is racially based but I do believe it does give those who think Americans are conniving and self-centered fuel for their fire.

 

In the end, Harry and Meghan will probably be just fine as they get paid for speaking engagements, write a book or 10, and lend their names to causes of their choice. At the same time, one can’t help but feel for Queen Elizabeth. She just wrapped up the scandal surrounding son Prince Andrew who was stripped of his official duties after his dealings with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein were revealed, and now this. But this Queen, who is 93-years-old and the world’s longest reigning monarch, has withstood and outlasted wars, scandals, and countless world leaders.  I’m pretty sure she and the monarchy will survive two millennials hanging up their crowns and moving on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preschools and Nursing Homes: A Match Made in Heaven? January 11, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:41 pm

You could say I have the best of both worlds: my job of choice is teaching three-year-olds at our church and I’m blessed to still have my mom around, albeit she’s going to be 90 this fall and is showing signs of aging. My students keep me young but my mom keeps me worried. I am not alone in the latter, as it’s something people of my generation are facing left and right. Considering the fact that more and more people have or are moving away from home, nursing homes seem to be the only alternative for many a senior and with two income families more and more the norm, preschools and day cares are as big of a booming business as extended living facilities.

 

So, what if the two were combined? Sound crazy? Read on…

 

A monthly activity our school does that touches upon this concept is a couple of classes visit with and sing for our parish’s respite group, which is devoted to people with dementia. It’s amazing how much our little buddies love this early dose of “community service” and it’s inspiring how much their audience gets out of it too.

 

The concept of integrating preschoolers with the elderly is one that is growing and is partially thanks to Shimada Masaharu of Japan who in 1976 combined a nursery school with a nursing home. Today this type of genius integrated care can be found all across Japan as well as in Canada and the U.S. and should really come as no surprise as the Japanese are widely recognized for respectfully taking good care of elderly family members.

 

It’s also a win-win on so many levels.

 

Research shows that intergenerational programs and interaction boost energy and memory retention in seniors and build empathy, future civic engagement, and increased academic skills in kids. Amazingly, it also lowers feelings of isolation and depression in both age groups.

 

By combining child care with senior care, children provide the energy and social interaction so often lacking in nursing homes, while seniors offer the love and attention so often lacking in today’s busy homes.

 

Let’s first look at how kids benefit.

 

Just Kidding Around

First and foremost is the fact that little ones learn that old people are, well, just people. It’s common for preschoolers to feel a bit uncomfortable around anyone elderly except maybe their grandmas and grandpas, so by spending fun and quality time with seniors, they are less likely to view them as incompetent, they learn to be sympathetic to their needs and challenges, and they stop thinking about old people as strange or intimidating.

 

It doesn’t end there.

 

Toddlers who regularly see seniors in wheelchairs or walkers become more accepting and compassionate of peers using the same equipment. Disabilities are a common site but assisting those with them becomes comfortable. Little ones love to be “helpers” and planting early seeds of helping hands and hearts results in grown up gardens of good manners and intentions.

 

This important learning activity also helps fight the growing trend of ageism, a type of discrimination based on age. We live in a culture that worships youth and all things “fight your age,” so taking steps to end this way of thinking at an early age is good for all of society as whole. By having preschoolers interact with senior citizens who aren’t necessarily family members, you encourage considering them as people with a wealth of knowledge and experiences to learn from. This is said to result in grown up preschoolers who view their elders with more respect and empathy and the improvement of their social and personal development at the same time. What’s not to love?

 

Aging Gracefully and Gratefully

For the elderly, the benefits are just as impressive. Regardless of how high-end and caring a skilled nursing facility bills itself, residents are often lonely and isolated. Senior loneliness is a serious and growing matter but fighting off said loneliness is a difficult battle. Enter little ones.

 

That dreaded loneliness is diminished even in small doses as toddlers bring their own brand of energy and laughter to a nursing home and its residents. Intergenerational engagement has a way of returning life to a senior’s world and brings them back to the world of living. Boredom is also reduced, as the shared proficiency and ability level between the two age groups of arts-and-crafts, music, and literacy is somewhat equal so activities that are attractive and doable to both are easy to come by. The benefits of this are two-fold.

 

As we age we become stiff and incapable of doing many physical tasks. We also suffer from many aches and pains and disabilities. These result in seniors being less and less active, which exacerbates all of these woes. But, being surrounded by a group of toddlers brings fun, joy, and movement into their lives, which have mental and physical benefits.  In toddler talk, they’re happy and feel a part of something that’s fun!

 

Have you ever spent much time with a three-year-old? If so, you know they have boundless energy and curiosity and move and play with an energy not found in any other age group. They are also very convincing and persuasive and before you know it, you’re doing something you had no intention of doing. Head, shoulders, knees, and toes? Get those bodies moving! Itsy, bitsy, spider? Great hand-eye coordination. The Wheels on the Bus? Boost that memory and repetition!

 

Kids are also entirely non-judgmental and open minded. We as adults often get frustrated and sad when dealing with someone with dementia and their unpredictability, endless questions, and mood swings. These things don’t bother a toddler one bit. In fact, they ask endless questions and are so unpredictable! They love repeating things and to them someone who asks the same things again and again just seems normal.

 

Sometimes just having someone to talk to is all the elderly crave and they seem to really open up with children in ways they don’t with fellow adults. In care facilities, seniors are surrounded mainly by other seniors, which leaves them feeling secluded and out of touch with younger generations. This is not good.

 

Study after study reveal a distinct link between social interaction and decreased loneliness as well as lower blood pressure, delayed mental decline, and a reduced risk of disease and death in the elderly. One Japanese study found that socializing across generations increased smiling and conversation among older adults. Call it child-like wonder. Call it Japanese tradition. Call it brilliant.

 

So why don’t we see more of this novel idea of combining elderly and child care? As Penn State University professor of Intergeneration Programs and Aging told “The Atlantic,” it’s a case of red tape and regulation.

 

“The institutionalization and bureaucracy of care homes tend to limit their ability to create opportunities and policies tend to be rigid,” he says. “How you spend your time and where you spend it is all regulated.”

 

Well, maybe we should rethink some policies and programs and focus on what truly benefits multiple and diverse generations. Embracing the idea of care communities of shared space between elderly and preschoolers has thus far proved to be a good one although issues like communicable diseases, allergies, liability, and facing death are still being studied.

 

Staff Benefits

There is yet one more advantage of the shared facility idea, that of retaining dependable workers. It’s no secret that work at a skilled nursing facility can be stressful and demanding but by providing quality child care on site for staff members, management is seeing a workplace renaissance regarding quality and loyalty. Ironically, many senior home staffers are of the age where they are caring for elderly parents while raising kids of their own.

 

Maybe it’s all just meant to be but maybe “if it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” Maybe it’s somewhere in between and worth a closer and compassionate look. All that’s at stake are generations.

 

 

 

Embrace the Rat in You January 1, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 2:42 pm

Happy New Year, Happy 2020, and Happy Year of the Rat.

 

If you read my post yesterday, you learned that 2020 is the official Year of the Rat in the Chinese New Year. According to Chinese legend, every year brings with it an animal and this year’s is the rat. If you were born in 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, or 2020, it’s your year! I’m one of those so I’m officially a rat (insert jokes here.) I’m not thrilled about this and would have preferred the dog, but it is what it is as you have no choice so I’m rolling with the punch lines and sharing all.

 

So what exactly does all this mean?

 

As I wrote yesterday, traditionally your zodiac year is one of bad luck but as luck would have it, it is believed 2020 will be reasonably good for all us rats. On that note, let’s dive…um dig…right in.

 

The Rat is the first of all zodiac animals and in Chinese culture they are seen as a sign of wealth and surplus. And, because of their high reproduction rate, married couples often pray to them for children. Go figure, right?

 

So who are the Rats among us and what traits do we share?

 

First off, rats are considered clever, quick thinkers, resourceful, and are said to have good judgement. They are often optimistic and energetic and are sensitive to other’s emotions and feelings. Rats tend to be happiest when living a quiet and peaceful life but thanks to their strong intuition they easily adapt to new environments. Rats also have rich imaginations, sharp observation, and a strong curiosity. So far, so good in my case.

 

On the downside, rats can tend to be hot-tempered (my husband calls it my “Latin temper”), envious of others, lack of courage, and can be overly cautious. They are also very picky, have narrow minds, and are stubborn with their opinions. Ouch. People of the Rat zodiac sign are usually night owls and like to sleep late, which make sense since rodents in general, are nocturnal. Check. Check. Check.

 

Photo courtesy Maggie Barton

Men and women rats differ. Women born in a Rat year are traditionally traditional. They love keeping things organized and place a high value on family and loyalty. They are women with a strong sense of responsibility and are someone you can rely on. Yep, that’s all me.

 

Men who are rats (again, insert joke here) are creative and have great ideas but sometimes lack courage to get things done and put those ideas in play. Sounds like they need a rat woman, right? Actually, no.

 

Chinese zodiac animals that rats are most compatible with are the ox, dragon, rabbit, and monkey. My husband in a pig (again, joke), so what does that mean? Well good thing we didn’t go by this train of thought and I’ll wager my 34 years of marriage in argument to this concept.

 

Because of their independence and imagination rats are best suitable for creative jobs. They bring to the table good insight and sharp perspective and tend to be serious about their work. In a job, rats are great team members, are meticulous, and pay close attention to detail. Hello rats, my name is Carla and that’s me.

 

So, the best careers for rats are authors, editors, artists, administrators/managers/directors, entrepreneurs, broadcasters, writers, musicians, politicians, lawyers, researchers, engineers, architects, and get this…race car drivers or stand-up comedians! Let’s see, author/editor/broadcaster/writer I’ve all done, I love to “manage” and research, politics fascinate me, and I can argue till the cows or lawyers come home. But, I don’t have the courage to be an entrepreneur, can’t play one instrument, don’t have the math skills to be an engineer or architect, and both race car driving or standing up in front of a crowd scare me to death. I do think I’m funny though!

 

Financially, we rats are savers and love hoarding things, as my husband will attest to. It’s what rats do, right??? When it comes to money this year, rats should save and invest as it’s predicted their finances will boom all year. Still, if you are a rat, avoid spending money on luxury items and needless trips and instead focus on small, more meaningful items and experiences.

 

Health-wise, rats tend to have frail health and tire quickly. Thankfully, they rarely get serious illnesses but ailments like the common cold are common. For a healthy life, rats should always eat a good breakfast, lots of proteins, and veggies; add vitamins to their diets; do moderate exercise on a regular basis; and try to remain cheerful and positive. Sounds like good advice to everyone if you ask me.

 

In 2020, a rat’s health and relationships may struggle so it’s advised you see a doctor at the first sign of illness and work toward creating loving and healthy relationships. Married couples should not let petty arguments and disagreements fester and instead deal with them head on. If you’re a single rat, romance may be hard to come by in 2020 so you should enjoy your single-dom and embrace your independence.

 

Apparently much of this not only pertains to me and all you fellow rats, but also to Princes Charles and Harry, JFK, Shakespeare, Mozart, George Washington, Mandy Moore of “This Is Us” fame, and Truman Capote…all of which I proudly claim as fellow rats. Sadly, Eminem, Katy Perry, Ben Affleck, and Katy Perry are also rats…which I literally and figuratively agree with!

 

But I digress.

 

With each zodiac animal comes specific elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water), and energies (yin or yang). My element is metal and my energy is yang. Metal rats tend to be reliable and prefer a stable life but it’s the Yin and the Yang theory that fascinates me most.

 

Photo courtesy Alan Thornton

It’s common to hear someone say “he’s the yin to my yang,” but it’s also likely to have no idea what that means. The Yin-Yang principle is the best known of all Chinese philosophies. It basically says that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites. Yin seeks balance between to alternatives and is generally positive, while Yang can tend to be negative and dark if not checked and balanced. One is not better than the other though, as there is both good and bad in both and each has their flaws and virtues.

 

If you are a rat, your lucky colors are blue, gold, and green while your lucky numbers are 2 and 3. I love that our lucky flowers are lilies and African violets, as Easter lilies are my favorite flowers. You might want to steer clear of yellow and brown and the numbers 5 and 9, as they are considered unlucky for rats.

 

So what have I learned from all this? First off, I’m amazed that many of the traits of rats fit me to a T and that many of the suggested careers include my chosen ones.

 

What about you? Do any of them match you and are yin to your yang?

 

In any case, this exercise is really all in fun for me and as we face a new year and a new decade, I like what Courtney Carver of “Be More with Less” suggested when she wrote:

 

“Your gift today is reflection. Carve out time to retreat and reflect. It seems so natural this time of year to get lost in planning all the things you want to do so for today, put the planning on pause and gently review the passing year. The point of this is not to cause regret or guilt or even a pat on the back. Instead, it’s an opportunity to be a witness and to acknowledge a year in your very special life.”

 

Your one beautiful life. Savor it. Celebrate it.

 

 

A New Decade and Year of the Rat December 31, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 2:25 pm

Happy New Year’s Eve and happy Year of the Rat as that pesky little critter is the official animal of the 2020 Chinese New Year. Out with a decade and in with a rodent! Eeeewww!

 

As heinous as that sounds, it’s really not all bad. And even though I wouldn’t say I’m China’s biggest fan, I am fascinated by its history and traditions and since the Year of the Rat is my year according to the year I was born, I thought I’d have a quick look see at what it all means.

 

Different birth years have different animals, with 2020’s recent years being 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, and 2020. I’m officially one of those so it was a no brainer that I research and write about it. There’s a lot though so I’m splitting things up.

 

Today: everything and anything you’ve wanted to know about Chinese New Years.

Tomorrow: everything and anything you want to know about The Year of the Rat.

 

I do know a little bit about it all, as a few years back I hosted a dinner party around this same time of year and researched each attendee’s birth year Chinese New Year animal and shared them as a table topic. It was great fun and I learned a lot.

 

The Chinese New Year has 4,000 year history and is celebrated by more than 20 percent of the world. It is also known as Spring Festival, or chunjie, and is the most important holiday in China and to Chinese people everywhere and that’s a lot of people, as one out of every five people in the world is Chinese. In addition to the locales you’d expect to celebrate the event, London, San Francisco, and Sydney claim the biggest ones outside of Asia.

 

In this century, the national holiday starts on the first of the Lunar Calendar and lasts until the 15th of the first month. (And if you’re wondering, a Lunar Calendar calculates months using the moon, while the more widely used Gregorian Calendar is based on the sun’s movement.) This year it starts January 25 and ends February 8. As the first day arrives, its weather, stars, and the moon are analyzed and fortunes for the year are predicted.

 

Make no mistake, each Chinese New Year is a huge national holiday and a majority of stores are closed. Tradition and custom call for you to spend time with your family the first four days and only go out after the fifth day. On New Year’s Eve, all family members near and far are to reunite and since the Chinese population is spread so vastly between rural and urban areas, the migration back home on that day is utter chaos. Train tickets can only be bought 60 days in advance, creating a frenzy of 1,000 tickets said to be sold each second. And let’s for one minute picture the trains and train stations. I love my family, but no.

 

Celebrations are HUGE events with fireworks displays that rival any Fourth of July celebration. It is said that on Chinese New Year’s Eve, the most fireworks in the world are set off with more being blasted on New Year’s Day morning to welcome the new year and to bring good luck. But they’re not just fun and games, as pyrotechnics are thought to scare off monsters and bad luck as is the color red, which you’ll see on homes, in clothing, and in those beautiful lanterns.

 

We’ve all heard of or seen photos of lantern festivals and they are truly a sight to be seen. The festivals indicate the end of Chinese New Year celebrations and are a night of partying and freedom. Back in the day, girls weren’t allowed to go outside by themselves but on Lantern Fest night they could, sometimes resulting in new love being found. Today it is also appropriately considered a sort of Valentine’s Day in China.

 

As with anything Chinese or tradition-laden, there are many Spring Fest do’s and don’ts. Showering on New Year’s Day and sweeping or throwing out trash before the fifth day are banned as to avoid washing off or throwing away good luck. Sweeping is to be done the day before Spring Fest starts, as is all cleaning, to get rid of bad luck and make room for good luck. Most hair salons are closed during the entire Chinese New Year celebration because cutting hair and using scissors, knives, or any sharp items is taboo.

 

Similar to our Thanksgiving meal, food and drink play a big role in Chinese New Year festivities and some have special meanings and traditions, much like our turkeys and stuffing on Thanksgiving and Yule logs or tamales on Christmas. Dumplings are consumed every day for almost every meal, although they are more of a northern thing as in the South, spring rolls and rice balls are preferred. As for drinks, there are wines specifically harvested for Spring Fest and it’s customary to have a different wine for each ceremony, meal, or event. All meals also follow strict etiquette and toasting rules.

 

 

But what about those year animals?  Kinda like the Western horoscope system that includes 12 zodiacs, one for each month, there are also 12 Chinese zodiacs but the animals associated with each are for the entire year and are very culturally significant. They can determine or help you decide your career, relationships, and even health.

 

Traditionally your zodiac year is one of bad luck and often laden with mishaps, but it is believed 2020 will be reasonably good for the Rat. Just in case, I will adhere to the belief that the color red is my weapon of defense so I will decorate with it and wear it. Maybe a little crimson with my cream?

 

Tomorrow I’ll dive into The Year of the Rat including traits and lives of “rats” and see if I match them, and also what all you rats out there might expect in this, your Chinese New Year.

 

Until then, xin nian kuai le, gong hei fat choy, and gong xi fa cai!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comfort and Joy December 23, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 3:45 pm

 

Joy to the World.

 

Merry Christmas.

 

Happy Holidays.

 

Comfort and joy.

 

Joy. Merry. Happy.

 

We hear and see those words and greetings everywhere this time of year, but what do they really mean and do we really know how to express them, possess them, and produce them?

 

 

Merriam-Webster defines “merry” as full of gaiety or high spirits and marked by festivity. It is also defined as full of cheerfulness, festively joyous, happy, mirthful, and joyous in disposition or spirit.

 

So, if you’re merry are you automatically full of joy and happy? Not always. Not even during these happy holidays.

 

Come to find out that there’s a big difference between happy and joyful. “Happy” is external while “joyful” is internal. We often base happiness on situations, events, people, places, and things but joy is a cultivated spiritual quality based solely on being at peace with who you are, where you are, and why you are.

 

 

Joy is an emotion of well-being while happiness is a state of contentment. Joy carries with it no burdens or expectations while happiness is usually attached to goals and desires. Happiness is a destination but joy is an attitude. In the end, happiness is future oriented and joy is present in the present. Truth be told, we will never be happy unless we are joyful.

 

But how do we get there? How do we live a joyful life and be joyful?

 

 

First of all, stop overlooking the simple pleasures and joys in life. The little things are really big things so be grateful for all the so-called insignificant things in your life because the more you practice gratitude, the more you will experience joy.

 

 

That big house on the hill or designer bag might make you temporarily happy but it’s the little things that bring true joy. Things like how my dogs look at me, the Christmas cards and notes I got from parents of my students, and binge watching The Crown with my daughter and husband this Christmas. Maybe it’s things like having a car to get you places, having clean running water, or health of body and mind. Even things like umbrellas, hearing a favorite song, and cozy robes can spur on joy.

 

 

I recently experienced four quick days of joy when I joined my sisters-in-law, niece, and daughter in New York City to see the tree, lights, windows, and everything NYC Christmas. I’d never been to New York during Christmas and felt joy the whole “bucket List” trip. I’m still pinching myself and will be forever grateful.

 

Speaking of New York, one of my favorite authors and bloggers, Gretchen Rubin, is currently blogging “Five Things Making Me Happy This Week” and I’m loving it. Again, it’s the simple things. Things like seeing Christmas trees for sale on the streets of NYC. Yep Gretchen, I agree.

 

 

Funny thing is, is that Joy is one of the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit, which demonstrate the presence of God at work in us. Through the Fruit of Joy, we have an abiding sense of well-being, we accept things in a more positive manner, and we are not focused on changing ourselves or things around us.

 

There lies the challenge, as society is all about change and changing. We choose elective surgery to change our looks. We take drugs to change our minds. We go on crazy and sometimes unhealthy diets to change our bodies. It’s all labeled as the pursuit of happiness but where does obsession begin and happiness end?

 

Any pursuit of material or superficial things won’t bring a lifetime of happiness but instead a fleeting moment of satisfaction. Happiness as a whole is fleeting. It is based on momentary pleasures. Joy on the other hand endures and comes from loving our one beautiful life.

 

 

Another way we can cultivate joy is to be a person who is a source of joy to others. What greater joy is there is than giving someone that perfect Christmas gift or helping someone who is struggling or down?

 

Here’s another idea: write down one thing you think won’t make you happy but is the right thing to do then go do it. Afterwards, write down how you got joy out of it in spite of your pre-conceived unhappiness and unwillingness. Scatter joy people!

 

 

But why do we say “merry” Christmas when most other holidays we say “happy?” Happy Birthday. Happy Easter. Happy Hanukkah.

 

Back in the 1300s the word “merry” was interchangeable with agreeable, peaceful, and pleasant and “make merry” was a common expression. The “Merry Month of May” became popular in the 1500s and a letter from an English admiral in 1699 is said to have used the term “Merry Christmas” for the first time. Queen Elizabeth II didn’t like the word “merry” however, and refused to use it. Today, the royal family still says “Happy Christmas” in all their official holiday greetings. Don’t tell Charles Dickens though, as he used “Merry Christmas” in “A Christmas Carol” back in 1843 and the first ever Christmas card, pictured above, used the now popular phrase.

 

 

This is all very interesting and well and good, but what if  we’re not so happy and not very merry.  What if our life has sadness or pain? How do we possibly find joy much less scatter it? As hard and seemingly impossible and it might seem and feel, we can still find joy somewhere, somehow. Even at Christmas.

 

A co-worker recently lost her niece and shared something said at her funeral that I found both moving and eye-opening. “This Christmas,” she told us, “may not be a true “merry” Christmas, but it’s still Christmas.” Yes, it is. It’s still a celebration of our Lord being born and becoming one of us. He feels our pain and took our pain. Let’s take just a moment to thank Him and gratefully praise His birth. Even in the midst of our pain.

 

 

Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, I hope you are surrounded by glad tidings and cheer, comfort and joy, and that you have not only a very merry Christmas and happy holidays, but truly joy-filled ones as well.

 

Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad!

 

 

Peace Out December 10, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 12:43 am

“Peace on earth, good will toward man.”

 

“Give peace a chance.”

 

“Peace and prosperity.”

 

‘Tis the season of and for peace, right? We see it on Christmas signs and cards and we hear about it on the news. We all claim to want it and we preach peace, but do we live it? It’s not always easy. Turn on the news and you’ll see anything but peace and instead an alarming lack of peace as wars rage around the world. But, peace goes way beyond being free of war.

 

I remember many years ago seeing a sign in my friend Anne’s bathroom that read, “Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of God.” I instantly loved it and bought a similar one that I still have somewhere. It rang true then and it rings true today.

 

So what is peace?

 

On a grand scale it is certainly the absence of war, but most of us can’t control that. What we can control is the peace in our lives and in our hearts. When you think about it, that’s where it all starts.

 

A heart not at peace will never radiate peace. As a recent blog I read from Oblates USA described, true inner peace is the presence of an internal balance and serenity that enables us to overlook negative people and situations. It’s all about keeping things in perspective and staying calm amidst the storms. That kind of peace helps us think clearly and not overreact. It demonstrates goodwill and offers hope. It’s a true and undeniable gift and one that we should all be giving this gift-giving season.

 

And yet we continue to be at war. Maybe not personally on the battlefronts of the Middle East or other war torn regions, but there are wars being fought in our homes, families, schools, and offices. Sometimes we fight a very harmful war within ourselves as we battle with not feeling good enough.  Time to drop our weapons of personal destruction though, as without inner peace, we will never create outer peace.

 

So true, but who isn’t a tangled mess this time of year? It’s easy to be in a rush and be aggravated, right? It’s quite telling that as we all proclaim “Peace on Earth” we are not people at peace. We are hurried. We are stressed. We are tense. We are grumpy.

 

It’s as though we are fighting wars and don’t even realize it. We’re on the front lines in the battle to buy the best gifts. The battle to decorate our homes to the ‘nth’ degree. The battle to stay within our budgets. The battle to host the perfect party or wear the perfect party outfit. None of this is good or healthy and it’s a battle we will never win.

 

It can all get so overwhelming.

 

Ernest Hemingway once said that grace under pressure is the mark of an exceptional person. I agree (although it’s something my Latin temper struggles with) and I agree with Father David when he builds on that and says peace is the presence of grace, perspective, and serenity. Those are things I want to give and receive!

 

It’s time to let go of perfectionism and to look at life as it is, not how you wish it was or how you want it to be. Not everything or everyone is important. Goals are good but not when they disrupt your inner peace and cause constant chaos in an already chaotic world. Sometimes it’s as easy as decluttering and simplifying things around you. Create harmony and order and you create calmness and quite possibly, peace.

 

Instead, we have a society currently at war, shelling anyone who opposes one another with not bullets, but bashing. How ‘bout if we all just for a moment agree to disagree without being disagreeable? Maybe, just maybe, the one you disagree with actually has a point you can be at peace with. Mother Teresa eloquently and humbly said, “Peace begins with a smile.” Next time someone attacks you for what you feel or believe, simply smile at them and walk away. Be at peace and move on.

We all know what the above symbol means. It’s the international peace sign. Well, as with anything that becomes famous, it has an interesting origin. Created by graphic designer and Christian pacifist Gerald Holton to be used on banners and signs of the thousands calling for nuclear disarmament and marching in London in 1958, the unassuming symbol consisting of a circle and three lines is today one of the most famous designs recognized worldwide and has been used by generations.

 

The design is modeled after naval semaphore flags that sailors use to communicate. In designing it, Holton combined the codes for “N” for “nuclear” and “D” for “disarmament.  He also is said to have drawn himself inside the circle, represented as an individual in despair over what was going on at the time. Look closely and maybe you can see two outstretched hands that face down inside a circle thought to symbolize everything from the world to the circle of life.

 

Another famous symbol for peace is what’s known as a “crow foot” or “victory” sign. (And yes all you USC fans, it’s your “fight on” hand sign too.) Its current form was popularized by none other than Pablo Picasso in the 1950s although its true beginnings are debated.  Most famously it was adopted in the 1970s by stateside Vietnam War protesters. Be careful when you use it though, as the reverse symbol is considered offensive in many cultures including Great Britain, where it’s the equivalent of throwing somebody the finger.

 

 

Regardless of any symbol or design, real peace begins inside of you, of me, of everyone. Being at peace means accepting your current lot in life and making the best of the situation you currently find yourself in. A constant yearning for more and obsession with changing our looks does not create peace; it creates dissatisfaction and sometimes depression. Yes, if you’re overweight by all means strive to get healthy, but if you don’t have that mansion on the hill remember there are others praying for what you already have. Think about it, gratitude is peace in it’s very own way. Worry is also a peace sucker. It never eliminates tomorrow’s problems; it only takes away today’s peace.

 

 

So on that note, don’t take it from me, take it from a Christmas tree. Be the light, sparkle, and bring joy. Odds are you’ll also find peace along the way.

 

While researching and writing today’s blog, I ran across some tips for finding peace on “The Positivity Blog.” Here are some of the ones I liked in addition to what I’ve already talked about above.

 

  1. Set limits. If your life is overflowing with commitments and busyness, set limits. Stop doing things that aren’t important or necessary. Set boundaries too. The only people who won’t like this idea are those who benefit from you not having any.
  2. Find a relaxation technique that works for you. Sometimes it’s just a matter of stillness. Just sit still. Hard, right? I find stillness in yoga and short prayer and meditation. Walks are good too. Find what works for you and make it a habit.
  3. Don’t make mountains out of molehills. Now that’s a tough one for me, someone who over-analyzes and often overreacts. This causes nothing but worry and stress. Instead, remind yourself that many out there have it worse than you; ask if it will matter in five hours, five days, or five months; and sometimes it works to just say “so what!”
  4. Slow down! We all know this but we rush to where we’re going, we inhale our meals, and we quickly send off an email or text. Slow down people. Just. Slow. Down.
  5. Accept and let go. When you accept a hurt or a negative, it starts to lose power on your emotions. And while there are some things or people you can never let go of, rid your heart and your mind of any that never served a positive purpose. Focus on the present and the positives of the past.
  6. Escape. Even if just for a little while. Take time to read, watch a TV show or movie, meditate or pray, take a bath, even take a nap! It’s amazing how much peace and relaxation will result in just letting go and releasing pressure for just a while.
  7. Breathe. Yes, breathe. Take deep, cleansing breaths when you feel a rush of anxiety or stress. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. This technique, even done for as little as 5-10 minutes, is known to relieve tension and drain the brain.

Here’s hoping you find the peace of the season, true inner peace, and a peace that lasts long after the “Peace on Earth, good will toward man” cards are put away.  Peace out.

 

 

 

 

 

My Happy Place November 9, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 10:21 pm

 

As part of my daily meditation and prayer, I end with a “30 Days of Gratitude” sheet that poses a thought or question for the day. Today’s struck me as timely and poignant as it asked, “What place are you most grateful for?” Easy peasy, it’s Costa Rica.  Exactly one week ago today I was on a plane headed to the Central American locale and it’s been on my mind and in my heart all day.

 

But why Costa Rica people ask? And how?

 

It all started five years ago when my husband and I were watching football on TV and saw an ad that Southwest Airlines was starting service to new destinations, including Costa Rica. The airline is my husband’s airline of choice and he flies it often for business so we thought, let’s use those miles and go somewhere different. We considered Belize, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, Aruba, and other new SWA destinations but somehow settled on Costa Rica. And boy am I glad we did. We’ve now gone five years in a row every November.

 

San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and has a population of 300,000 but we have never been to it. We fly into Liberia International Airport, which is a smaller yet surprisingly new and glistening facility. From there, it’s an hour drive to our hotel.  Each year we’ve done an ATV tour and our first year we zip lined through a jungle canopy. Although I’m glad we did so, neither of us was a big fan of the activity and never have to do one again.

 

Truth be told, we go to Costa Rica not for adventure but for relaxation. The ATVs and walking the beach are pretty much the extent of our activity. The couple that joined us this year did rent bikes at the hotel and enjoyed them. We enjoyed hearing about them. Two of the five times my husband and I have gone alone, one year our daughter went with us, and the other two years we were joined by two different couples. We’ve loved each version equally.

 

There are so many things to love about Costa Rica. For starters, it’s an easy three hour flight from our Texas home and I speak the language. It also helps that it shares our Central Time Zone and uses the same electrical voltage as the U.S. so there’s no need for those pesky adapters. U.S. dollars are accepted almost everywhere but you might want to grab a “colon” or two, as the official currency is considered one of the world’s prettiest. But when it comes down to it, it’s all about the people and the place where we stay.

 

Our first year we chose the JW Marriott Guanacaste (Guanacaste is a province in CR) because we knew JWs are reputable and we felt safe staying at one in a country that at the time was very foreign to us. Our initial reaction was “pure paradise” and we’ve returned annually and stayed in the same ocean front room every year since.  We love the views from “our” room and the sunsets are spectacular every night. It also doesn’t hurt that this lover of spas is blessed with a treatment that includes a scrub, massage, and private outdoor bath. It is truly the best I’ve had anywhere. The fact that we go in November means the property is not crowded and has a very quiet and chill vibe, something we were looking for and long for. Its negative edge pool overlooking the Pacific is heaven on earth and the fact that it sits all alone in the area just adds to the feel-good ambiance.

 

It’s also the people.

 

 

This year we were warmly greeted by staff member Rodney who’s been working there since we’ve been going and his congeniality is matched by each and every staff member whether it be a waiter, pool boy, housekeeping, drivers, tour guides, room service, and really any and every one. It’s the Costa Rican way.

“Ticos,” as Costa Ricans are often called, live by the national saying of “Pura Vida,” which means “the pure life.” But it goes much further than just a slogan on t-shirts and in brochures. Locals use it to say “hello,” “goodbye,” “everything’s great,” and “everything’s cool.” It also reflects the way of life in Costa Rica: no worries, no fuss, and no stress, being thankful for all you have, and not dwelling on the negative. The Tico way of thinking is that as long as you are surrounded by family, friends, animals, and nature, all will be well. Maybe that’s why Costa Rica is consistently rated as one of the happiest places on Earth and has one of the world’s highest life expectancy rates of almost 77 years. The motto is most definitely contagious, as the entire time I’m there all is good, all is well, and I’m so dang happy.

 

Another interesting thing about Costa Rica is that is has no military. Since 1948, this “Switzerland of Central America” instead uses its budget for free healthcare and education (students in uniforms are seen everywhere), which has proven to prevent a flood of rural poor into major cities and causing issues troubling other Central American countries. For this reason, Costa Rica is significantly safer than many of its neighbors and is regarded as a model Latin American country.

 

Costa Rica, which means “rich coast,” is today a peaceful democratic country that came to be in the mid-1500s when the Spanish came upon it and the gold in the area. Democracy came easy to Costa Rica, which gained its independence in the early 1820s and signed a 1949 Constitution very similar to that of the U.S. in that it guarantees all citizens and foreigners equality before the law, the right to own property, the right of petition and assembly, freedom of speech, and the right to habeas corpus. Its government is also divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. Although it did suffer a politically polarizing civil war in the 1940s and a brief tangle with socialism, today it boasts hardworking and well-educated citizens and in 2010 elected its first female president.

 

Bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the south by Panama (another nice Central American country to visit), Costa Rica is small in size with just 75 miles separating its two coasts and a population of just under 5 million. Small perhaps, but it boasts some of the most diverse and beautiful scenery in the world and is home to a diverse natural landscape that ranges from rainforests to beaches to active volcanoes.  Much of this is prized and protected by an enviable ecotourism program. Nearly 25 percent of the country’s land has been set aside in protected areas and there is an astounding 850 species of just birds. While zip-lining, white-water rafting, hiking, or just relaxing at a pool or on the beach, you’re likely to see native Howler Monkeys, iguana-like basilisk lizards, and a raccoon-like coati as well. The idea that travel should incorporate education about the environment and the preservation of natural resources is not lost on the millions of visitors who visit the country, a number that has more than quintupled in the last decade, making tourism the leading sector of the nation’s economy.

 

This great land spans from a high elevation of 13,000 feet to sea level with more than 735 miles of coastline along both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Somewhat surprising is the fact that the Caribbean side is remarkably undeveloped and it’s the Pacific side that boasts all of the popular towns, beaches, and resorts.

 

Costa Rica also boasts one of the world’s most biologically diverse ecocultures and let’s not forget the volcanoes.  Flying into Liberia four or so volcanoes are always pointed out. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire Circle, Costa Rica has more than 200 volcanic formations dating back 65 million years but today only five or so are classified as active volcanoes.  Arenal is perhaps the most famous and picturesque volcano as it has a perfect volcanic cone and sits inside the lush Arenal National Park. Irazu Volcano is said to have the most stunning views however, where on a clear day you can see both coasts of the country. The most accessible active volcano is Poas, which has the second widest crater in the world at nearly one mile in diameter. Not only are the volcanoes top tourist attractions, their eruptions over the years have created a soil rich in minerals and extremely fertile, resulting in dense forestation and a myriad of bird and wildlife species.

 

We have not ventured to or visited any volcanoes as they are far from where we stay but we have heard about tours leaving the area and I’m of the thinking they would be glorious to see. If only it didn’t require me leaving the pool or beach.

 

Tourism is hands down the country’s main industry, but medical manufacturing and call centers employ many a Tico as does banana, sugar cane (we saw miles and miles of cane stalks along the highway), and that famous Costa Rican coffee production.  Also known as “grano de oro” or “grain of gold,” the local coffee, especially brewed tableside in a Costa Rican “chorreador” pour over coffee dripper, is indeed a little cup of gold.

 

Power is important in Costa Rica, but not the kind you’re probably thinking of. I’m talking the kind generated by Cachi Damn, which is Central America’s largest. Through it, the country sells 60 percent of power to other countries.

 

The overwhelming majority of Costa Ricans are practicing Catholics although gambling and prostitution are legal. Hunting wildlife and marijuana are not. But, just last year the country decriminalized possession of weed and the personal cultivation of marijuana is legal in small quantities. Selling it and large-scale possession of it or cultivated it for profit are punishable by imprisonment. Currently legalized medicinal marijuana is pending in the Costa Rican legislature.

 

I’ve always said Italy has the best food on planet Earth and while the traditional Costa Rican menu  isn’t necessarily memorable, I’ve had one of my favorite meals ever at one of the hotel’s restaurants. Shown above, it’s Costa Rican cocoa beef tenderloin with au gratin potatoes and confit tomatoes. I die. The national dish is Gallo Pinto, which is black beans and rice and something my husband loves. You will also be treated to a lot of delicious chimichurri, beef, chicken and fish, specifically shrimp and sea bass. Something else my husband loves is the local guanabana, also known as soursop. Native to the Caribbean and Central America, the fruit has an aroma similar to pineapple, the creamy texture of a banana, and the flavor or a combination of strawberries and apples. It is used to make fruit nectar, smoothies, juice drinks, and ice cream. My husband has a guanabana smoothie all day every day we are there.

 

Although I’ve gotten better in my old age, I love a good souvenir and gift store. When in Costa Rica, the things to buy are Guaitil pottery, traditional and painted oxcarts (have one!), handmade jewelry, and wood carvings and exquisite wooden bowls. My friend and I saw so many of these gorgeous bowls this year that we literally couldn’t decide which ones to buy. Most are made of native teakwood trees – so many of which we saw along the highway – and are beautiful keepsakes of a beautiful place.

 

I hope this helps explain my love for Costa Rica and I hope it gives you a quick snapshot and insight into the “Pura Vida” style. I also highly recommend the book “Happier than a Billionaire” by Nadine Hays Pisani. In the witty book, Pisani writes about her and her husband quitting their New York City jobs and life and moving to Costa Rica. It wasn’t always easy and far from glitzy or glamorous, but today they own a beautiful B&B called “The Happier House” and are truly happier than billionaires. You can follow their adventures  at happierthanabillionaire.com to get a more feel for Costa Rica . It is truly my happy place.