Beyond Words

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

I’ll Be Back March 5, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:14 pm

We all know, or should know, proper etiquette regarding napkins at a table. In brief, they are either folder under the knife and spoon to the left of a plate or creatively folded on top of the plate. Once seated, you are to immediately take the napkin and place it on your lap and it should stay on your lap for the entire meal. When done eating or if you need to get up during the meal, you’re to neatly fold it and place it either on the empty plate or next to it. So that’s etiquette, but have you heard the biblical folded napkin story?



According to Hebrew tradition during the time of Christ’s life and death, a folded napkin had everything to do with a master and a servant. Every Jewish servant boy knew that when he set a table for the master, he made sure it was exactly the way the master wanted it. Nothing new here, right? Yes, the table was properly set and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, for the master to finish the meal. The servant would not dare touch the table until the master was done. Here’s where the napkin comes into play.


If the master was done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers and mouth, and then wad up the napkin and throw it on the table. This was the servant’s sign to clear the table as a wadded up napkin signified “I’m done.” If, however, the master got up from the table and laid a folded up napkin beside his plate, it mean “I’m coming back” and the servant was not to touch the setting.


I’m coming back.


Hmmmm…any guess how this is biblically related now?



Think about it. The Gospel tells us that the clothes Jesus was wearing at death were thrown aside but a cloth was neatly placed over His head. When Simon Peter entered the tomb, he noticed the wrapping lying about but that the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and laying neatly on the side.


I’m coming back.


Powerful, right? The power and meaning of a meal in Jesus’ life is equally significant.




Okay, so it probably wasn’t a meal that included a yummy cinnamon roll, but it did entail feeding a hungry soul. All along.



What immediately comes to mind is likely the Last Supper, but it started way prior. The Passover meal was historically important as Israelites shared a meal to remember both the bitterness of their slavery and the sweetness of their liberation. From the very beginning, it could be said that Jesus’ own life and ministry was food and/or meal-centered. At birth He proved food for a hungry world and is the Bread of Life. His ministry often involved meals or food, including His first miracle in which He turned water in wine at Cana and many of His preaching and teaching involved bread and fish. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims as part of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who hunger for justice for they will be filled.” What’s glorious about Jesus’ meals is that everyone was invited.



Perhaps it should come as no surprise that traits that enable us to live a moral life are listed as “Fruits of the Holy Spirit” (Gal 5:19-22). I’m not talking apples and oranges, I’m talking Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  These seeds are planted in us to help us maintain good habits and virtues and are the opposite of what are called the “Bitter Fruits.” Yeah, they make us bitter and even worse, as they consist of traits such as immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, and carousing.


As we sit down for meals this Lent and as we anticipate Easter, let’s imagine for a minute a table full of those we’ve wronged, not forgiven, judged, or even deceived. Not very appetizing, is it? Yet, that’s the type of table Jesus, the Master of all masters set so even if we don’t actually do it, set that table in your mind and envision it. Then, let’s all be grateful for the food on our plates and for even the napkins on our lap. No masters or servants needed to know and believe “I’m coming back.”




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.


A Bird’s Eye View January 17, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:47 pm

Original art courtesy Mollie Holton

Sometimes the weirdest things happen and coincidence comes into play in the darndest ways. I was in the middle of researching this blog on birds when my husband texted me a video of a bird retrieving a little piece of food that was elaborately locked in, what seemed like, an impenetrable container. But the bird easily opens each lever and bolt and eats the food. Moral of the story? Birds are smart! So much for “bird brains!”



They are also very symbolic. You’ve probably heard the belief that “Cardinals appear where angels are near” and what better symbol of anything anywhere than the proud American Bald Eagle? I learned from that from mythology to art to poetry to literature to religion, birds have always been a part of our world, every single continent has birds, and every civilization encounters them. What other group of animals has such a widespread devotion that watching them is a popular hobby? Think about it, countless songs are about birds and countless stories are dedicated to them.



My mamma loves birds. Growing up we had several yellow canaries that were so beautiful and sang divinely. She also always has a hummingbird feeder and several bird houses. My husband recently became a novice bird watcher. He’s bought a bird feeder, has a bird identification book, and sits outside watching and naming them. He’s become quite the “eagle eye!”




This kinda all started for me when last week, one of my favorite bloggers, authors, and happiness expert, Gretchen Rubin, informed her readers that the bluebird is a symbol for happiness, and when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.


What comes to mind when you think of the color blue? The endless sky and calming oceans, right? Blue is often connected to serenity, calmness, and gentleness. All of those things make us happy so how fitting that the bluebird is connected to joy and optimism. Bluebirds are also considered the quintessential songbird and their cheerful singing just adds even more joy and happiness to their brilliant blue plumage and pedigree. What’s equally interesting is that the bluebird as we know it is found only in North America.



Then there is that famous cardinal. Considered to represent a loved one who has passed, when you see one it said to mean that loved one is visiting you. Kinda magical; kinda creepy. It’s what I call the “daddy cardinal” that this pertains to, as the males are the pretty red ones. Not fair, right? This is also the case with peacocks. Those beautiful fanned out tails? They belong only to male peacocks. Interestingly, peacocks don’t really sing; they let out a wail that sounds like a cat’s meow.



On that note…have you ever had a bird that incessantly bangs up against a window? If it’s a cardinal (and maybe other types), it’s probably a male as they fiercely defend their breeding territory and when they see their reflection on a glass surface, they will spend hours fighting the imaginary intruder. This is taking “take someone under your wing” to a whole new level! We’ve experienced this in a previous house and it’s maddening. I’ve never learned how you can avoid this either.



If I had to choose, I’d say my favorite bird is a sandpiper. Found on beaches and usually in groups, I love how the little birds walk so quickly along the sand and can watch them all day long. They are very busy birds and collect food as they move along the water and sand, where they prefer to be. They don’t fly very high and not only are they adorable, I discovered they are a symbol for problem-solving and achieving goals. I’m all in!



Gray Malin

I also have an affinity for flamingos and I’m not entirely sure why other than I love their bright pink color, stately stature, and the fact that if I’m seeing them, I’m most likely at a tropical destination; especially considering that I’m not a zoo person. In true “ugly duckling” fashion though, their pink color, which they don’t sport at birth, takes years to appear. For this reason, flamingos symbolize potential as well as balance, fun, and flamboyancy. All make perfect sense, right? They have forever inspired the hearts and minds of artists, photographers, and writers and are found in tropical and subtropical regions on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. They have intense courtship and parenting rituals and are often found in large flocks. So uncomfortable with solitude and small groupings are they that zoos often hang mirrors in their areas to give the impression of a large flock.



So, what is it about birds that we love so much? Not only are so many of them God’s glorious colorful creations, as the above photo shows, but maybe it’s also the fact that they can fly, symbolizing freedom, imagination, and possibility. Or maybe we just love their occasional fragility and enchanting singing? As I wrote earlier, birds have been significantly relevant throughout the ages. Ravens were very significant in Norse mythology and the crane is seen as a symbol of happiness and eternal youth in Japanese culture. We’ve all seen those elegant paper cranes, but did you know paper and non-paper ones are often given as gifts to newlywed or elderly couples as it’s believed they will bring good luck to recipients. Two other areas where birds are extremely significant are with Native Americans and in scripture.



Tim Hightower

When you buy something made by a Native American, there’s a good chance a bird will be somewhere on or in it. They are highly revered by tribes and pueblos and many are connected with weather. Others represent power and confidence. The giant mystical Thunderbird has a legend all its own and according to myth, the Painted Bunting was given its beautiful colors by the Great Spirit.



Speaking of spirit, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.


“And the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven saying ‘You are My beloved Son and in You I am well-pleased.” Luke 3:22


Birds appear throughout the Bible and in various forms and function, starting with Genesis where “every winged bird according to its kind” were created. To this day, a dove is almost a universal symbol of peace and hope and it all started in that same first book of the Bible. A dove also signaled to Noah that it was safe to leave the arch and eagles way back then symbolized hope and strength.


 “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31


In fact, “God feeds all the birds every day and not one millionaire could do so for even one day.”



You’ve heard the saying “Birds of a feather flock together” and it’s true! Birds symbolize community, family, parenthood, and even romance as they tend to form strong bonds with their mates. We’ve all seen a famous V-shaped group of birds all flying in perfect unity and formation. Think of a bird nest too. So fragile yet so important. It’s no surprise we call being comfortable in our homes “nesting.” No one loves nesting more than me and I love to feather my nest!



There is literally no shortage of stories and legends regarding birds. Dreaming about a bird is seen as a message from your subconscious or as a sign of what you desire most. Then there’s the beloved yet mythical Phoenix that emboldens us to overcome a seemingly insurmountable setback. This born again bird may date back as far back as ancient Egypt. And idioms? I’ve incorporated several in this blog, but what about “as the crow flies,” “early bird,” “night owl,” and even the old “chicken crossed the road” joke?




So, the next time someone calls you a “bird brain,” thank them and remind them that by “killing two birds with one stone” you were able to do two things instead of just one and that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” reminds you that what you already have is more valuable than forever longing for something more. By doing all of this, you will have a “bird’s eye view” of life and may just sour like an eagle.



Fun Fact About Birds

Birds are animals with feathers.

All birds have feathers.

Birds are the only animals that have feathers.

All birds hatch eggs.

Birds don’t have teeth.

All birds have two wings and two legs.

Birds have hallow bones, which helps them fly.

Not all birds can fly, including ostriches and penguins.

There are more than 9,000 kinds of birds.

The largest bird is the ostrich.

The smallest bird is the hummingbird, which can fly backwards.

Scientists a long time ago built airplanes by studying how birds fly.



Bird Symbolism and Association

Cranes: peace, blessings, good luck

Eagles: courage, rebirth, power

Owls: insight, wisdom, death

Swans: romance, purity

Sparrows: productivity, diligence, creativity

Peacocks: serenity, luxury, vanity

Nightingale: anticipation, love, secrets

Hummingbirds: joy, love, healing

Falcons: longevity, victory, nobility

Crows: intelligence, curiosity, adaption

Cardinals: faith, balance, romance

Bluebird: joy, honesty, harmony


Post-Holiday Decor January 11, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:32 pm

Traditional Home

As we watched the college football National Championship a few nights back (yikes TCU!), my hubby and I both commented on how clean, calm, and uncluttered our rooms felt after packing up all the Christmas décor. Yes, we love it all but it does seem a bit tranquil once they’re gone. Right? Maybe, maybe not as apparently not everyone thinks so.


This surprised me as I read “The Cozyminimalist’s” recent blog where in it, author Myquillyn Smith included a section asking readers “Miss Your Christmas Tree?” Surprisingly many people say their house feels a bit blah and empty after taking down trees, decorations, and all things Santa and nativities. I found this so interesting and loved her interesting advice.


If your house feels a bit blah after taking your Christmas tree down, you’re not alone writes Smith. In fact, it might feel sad, empty, and lifeless. But there are things you can do to replace it in some way. Let’s start with sad as your home in general is suddenly void of sparkle and light. Think about it, all those twinkly lights and sparkly ornaments added a sense of joy, light, coziness, warmth, and even a bit of charm and fairy-tale. You can’t replace them all but you can see the light.



Most of us don’t realize how important lighting is in a room. I for one do not like overhead lighting and instead prefer lamps. The affect good lighting has on us and in a room when done right is both cozy and classy but when you remove it like you do with a Christmas tree, that warmth suddenly disappears. Easy fix here. Add more lamps in your room and turn off those overhead lights. Include reading lights, sconces, and maybe even some remote-control candles. Fireplaces also add light and warmth.


That space where your tree was probably feels a bit empty now too as the scale of it filled the room and added a sense of balance. No worries. All you have to do is add a large-scale item or two!



Jim Dine artist/Bunny Williams Interior Design

In general, scale is a great way to add interest to any room and large items, risky as they may be if incorrectly used and incorporated, add presence to a room and their own substantial style. In most rooms that once hosted a Christmas tree, the largest item in them is a sofa or maybe some sort of entertainment center or shelving. Keep them but add something else. Probably nothing as substantially-sized as a Christmas tree, but think large rug, piece of art, chair, or mirror. Less is more however, in that using less décor but large décor makes a room striking rather than cluttered.



Present Season

Your ultimate goal with all this is to bring life back into the room you’re feeling is suddenly void of it. Christmas trees are essentially life and big green plants (even fake ones), so why not consider adding a live tree or large plant with a substantial and unique planter to the room? Most designers and home experts agree that almost every room in a house needs some type of greens, whether it’s plants or vased flowers, as they literally bring life into a room.


Something else I like to do once the Christmas decorations are packed away is rearrange things. Move that sofa and rug, rearrange seating areas, and even reconsider coffee table groupings and mantel décor. Doing so makes a room and a house feel new and what better time to do so than at the start of a new year? Have fun with it and keep in mind you can switch things again for spring cleaning. Until then, see you next year Old Tanenbaum.







All It’s Cracked Up to Be January 2, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 3:39 pm

Awwww…a brand-new year. Always a time to look back and look forward as we wrap up another holiday season both literally and figuratively. Whether you’re still celebrating or are moving on, you’re probably also thinking ahead to the new year now upon us and perhaps even all those New Year’s Resolutions you might have made. I prefer calling them “intentions,” as I always have right and good intentions to make them happen. One of my annual New Year’s resolutions is to learn something new and I’ve been pretty successful following through. Last year I boogie-boarded for the first time. I also choose a word for the year. For 2022, my word was “pause,” which worked so well for me I might even keep it around this year.



Speaking of words, have you seen the above pic making its way around social media and the internet? Did you see your four words? Mine are Connect, Strength, Change, and Lessons. Love them all but as a creature of habit, the third one might be the most challenging. Here’s hoping the second and fourth ones will help me through it all!


If I’m being real, I really don’t like change. I like routine and plans. But, when necessary, I have and can adapt. I recently just had to actually…in a big way. My family had Christmas travel plans and we were so excited to spend Christmas in Hilton Head, SC. But, two days before our trip we were checking the weather and it looked really cold and really not fun…especially for a beach locale and for my husband the golfer. So….he called an audible and we changed everything in a matter of hours: our flight and that of our daughter, our hotel, dinner reservations, rental car, tee times, visits with friends…the works. Yes, it freaked me out but lists are my friends so once I had a “change” list; I was on. Truth be told, it was secretly kinda exciting!



The trip will be one that I’ll remember forever…for multiple reasons. I’ll remember how spontaneous we were in changing everything to sunny Scottsdale, AZ and the fun we had the first few days we were there. I’ll remember visiting our daughter’s old stomping grounds from living there after graduating from college and I’ll remember our wonderful casita room. I unfortunately, will also remember getting hit with an upper respiratory infection and finding my health deserted me in the desert. The fun and excitement  didn’t end there. Long story made short: we got stuck in the Southwest Airlines flight cancellation debacle of 2022 and had to drive home. Thankfully we already had a rental car, had friends to stay the night with halfway through the drive, and our daughter’s flight made it back to her home safely. I was never so happy to be in my own bed, albeit sick for five more days. Yep, memorable indeed.



Courtesy Gretchen Rubin

Last year was full of memorable people, places, and things and as we reflect on our experiences over the past 12 months I read about a great little idea. Author and happiness expert Gretchen Rubin asked her followers and readers “what would you put in your time capsule for 2022?” and of course it got be thinking. If I’m anything I’m a thinker and a very sentimental one. My time capsule might be pretty big!


Rubin suggested things like photos, travel souvenirs, and maybe a letter to your future self. What you put it all in is of your choosing and creativity. Or, you could even have a time capsule that’s only in your head or perhaps just a list of what you’d put in it. As with anything, have fun with it!



Another idea is to have a year of reflections instead of resolutions. Take time this week and month to reflect on your life: how it’s going, what’s great, what could be better, and whether you’re the person you believe you should or can be. Then, look ahead and hammer out ideas on how to make improvements or to simply be grateful. Ask yourself what you wish you’d have done more or less of, what made you proud last year, what values do you want to uphold or increase, and maybe even what your hopes are for 2023. You don’t have to go crazy or solve all the planet’s problems; just start small but meaningful and see where it goes from there.




That’s the problem. We all try to do too much as a new year arrives. Resolutions like “I want to lose 20 pounds” or “I need to exercise every day” might be more attainable if reworded to “I want to eat healthier” and “I hope to exercise 30 minutes at least 3-4 times a week.” Make them achievable. Make them attainable.


And don’t try to fix everything. In fact, sometimes the broken is where healing is found.



The Japanese have a beautiful concept called “Kintsugi.” It’s a form of ceramics that, when a vase or bowl or cup is broken, artists gather up the pieces and glue them back together using glue mixed with gold dust. In this way, they don’t hide the cracks they actually honor and own them, even accentuate them, knowing cracks are often where the light gets in.


I read about this in Matthew Kelly’s book “Life Is Messy” and found it so powerful. Kelly reminds us that our imperfections are what make us perfectly ourselves and that even when something is broken, it can indeed be beautiful again. It may not be exactly the same as before, but it can still be good. This includes people and it includes you.



In this way, the Japanese don’t pretend the vase was never broken and they don’t pretend they’re not broken. They accept that life is indeed messy and know that when we pretend to be someone other than who we are, our true self hides in fear and shame. We may appear shiny and new on the outside, but on the inside we are cracked and broken.



Kintsugi also teaches us that we can be other’s healers and glue each other back together using the gold dust that is love, connection, empathy, patience, forgiveness, acceptance, generosity, community, and kindness. Believing that something that has been broken can’t be beautiful inhibits us not only of joy, but of hope. Believing brokenness can be put back together is both liberating and healthy and just might be the perfect way to start out the new year. Whatever was broken last year can very well be healed and glued back together this year. Maybe my word this year will be “glue.” Maybe it will be “heal.” And maybe it will just be “pause” again as I work to heal, glue, love, and learn.


Happy 2023 everyone!




From Christmas to Chanukah December 18, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:37 pm



Happy Hanukkah!  What?  I’m not Jewish!  Nope, but as a Christian I know we owe a tremendous debt to our Jewish friends so I thought I’d take a break from my Christmas-themed posts and share a little Hanukkah history with you.


Today marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the eight-night Jewish “Festival of Lights,” which observers celebrate by lighting the candles on a menorah. As I write this and as you read it, Jews across the world are gathering to light candles and share blessings. We’ve all seen the tiered candelabras, now let’s learn about them.


It’s in honor of Judah Maccabee and his four brothers who lead a revolt against the Assyrian Greeks who had taken over Jerusalem.  The Maccabees won the war and regained control of their cherished temple, which the Assyrians had all but destroyed.  After cleaning it up, the Maccabees went to light a menorah lamp but could only find enough oil to last one night.  That’s when Jews believe a true miracle happened as it lasted eight nights, allowing them to make more oil.  This is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights.


During modern day Hanukkah traditions, each night one candle on a special menorah called a Hanukkiah is lit.  There are a total of nine candles and there are blessings said with each lighting.  It all kinda reminds me of our Christian Advent wreaths, their candles, and the accompanying prayers said with the lighting of them.


It’s not surprising, as Christianity is rooted in Judaism, the least of which is God’s own son, Jesus Christ, who was Jewish.  Other teachings Christianity received from Judaism is our basic understanding of God, God’s covenant with His people, and the practice of assembling together for worship.  Christians do so on Sundays; Jews on their Sabbath, roughly observed from Friday evening until Saturday night.  The two faiths agree on many things.  For example, Christians accept the Old Testament and all its teaching as inspired, and both faiths believe in the perfect creation of the world by an infinite God, that Satan introduced sin into the world, that God judges sin, and that sins must be atoned for.  What most prominently separates the two is that Judaism does not accept the central Christian teaching that Jesus is the Messiah.  For most Jews, the coming of the Messiah or the messianic age is still in the future.


Judaism is the oldest of the world’s three great monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all of which serve only one God.  Judaism is also the parent of both Christianity and Islam.  Jews believe Yahweh, the only one God, created and rules the universe and revealed his law, the Torah, to the then Hebrews.  The Torah contains more than 600 commands, which are summed up in the Ten Commandments.  Sacred scriptures of Judaism are the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  The scriptures also form the biblical Old Testament but do not adhere to the Christian New Testament.


So how is Hanukkah celebrated?  First and foremost, it’s all about the oil; that sacred oil used in the Temple by the Maccabees.  Today Jews traditionally eat two foods, sufganiyot, which are like jelly donuts; and the more famous latkes, which are basically potato pancakes.  Both are fried in oil and are eaten throughout Hanukkah.




As with Christians and Christmas traditions, Jewish families vary in their Hanukkah traditions.  Two things that are pretty standard are the giving of gifts and playing the dreidel.  Gift giving is reserved for children, who receive a small present each night for the eight nights of Hanukkah.  Unbeknownst to me, however, is that the dreidel is actually a game.  Each side of one has a Hebrew letter that stands for the phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” which means “A great miracle happened here.”  Players start with the same number of tokens, which can be anything from pennies to candies to the traditional chocolate coins called gelt.  Players take turns rolling the dreidel, hoping they land on the side that allows them to take the “pot” in the middle.  The game continues until one player collects all the tokens.  Sounds fun to me!


Although we’ve all heard of Hanukkah, its fame is partially due to the fact that it falls so near Christmas.  It is not considered a major holiday by Jews and is nowhere near the ranks of Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah or Passover, which are much more important and honored holidays.


Finally, is it Hanukkah or Chanukah?  A Hebrew word, it has many English spelling variations, the most popular of which are Hanukkah and Chanukah. Traditionalists say the proper spelling of the word, which means “dedication” or “induction,” is “Chanukah” as it comes closest to representing the pronunciation of the Hebrew word and using Hebrew letters. “Hanukkah,” however, more accurately recreates the Hebrew spelling. However you spell it or however you say it, say it with respect.


So here’s to my Jewish friends. May your Hanukkah be blessed and may your year be full of joy. Mazel Tov!


Making a List December 16, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:58 pm

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


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


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


Favorite Christmas Songs

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



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



“Little Drummer Boy” the traditional version and the amazing one by For King & Country.



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


“The First Noel.” Always gets me.


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



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


“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby.


“Angels We Have Heard on High” and its glorious “gloooooh…ria” chorus. 



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



“Sleigh Ride” and “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” by Darlene Love and the Ronettes.


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


“The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole.


“Do You Hear What I Hear?” Whitney’s is gold but Carrie Underwood has a fabulous version too.



“Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” by Gene Autry.


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


“Oh Holy Night” any traditional version.


“Walking in a Winter Wonderland” by Dean Martin. He will forever remind me of my dad and this song reminds me of him too.



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


And now…movies. Here are those that make my list:



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



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



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



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



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



“A Charlie Brown Christmas.” If you don’t know the history behind this classic, do yourself a favor and find it online. It will make you love Charlie and the gang even more and yeah, Linus really said that and the movie was really played annually on multiple stations, and no one was really offended.


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


“The Family Man.” Definitely not an upbeat Christmas flick but a new take on finding the meaning of life.


Yes, I’m aware “The Holiday,” “Love, Actually,” “The Christmas Story,” and “Diehard” didn’t make the cut. I do like the first two romantic comedies…don’t love them but like them…but the last two I’ll pass on. So many movies. So little time.


So there you have it…made my list and checked it twice. What’s on yours? I can’t wait to read them and your take on mine.




Tis the Season December 14, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:32 pm

Puttering around the house today as I baked and caught up on some DVR’d shows, I saw a commercial for Ronald McDonald House and I thought to myself, “what a truly awesome charity they are.” Providing safe housing and programs for parents, Ronald McDonald House programs are located near top children’s hospitals, allow parents who are far from home to stay close to their hospitalized child and benefit from the comforts of home without incurring hotel and food costs. It’s one of those places that if I were a gazillionaire, I would donate to in a heartbeat.


Tis the season for donations and donation requests. Every check out lane you go to you are often prompted or asked if you’d like to contribute to that store’s charity of choice. It’s hard to say no but it’s also hard to say yes to everyone and every need. Don’t get me wrong, I really like to donate to worthy causes, but the constant petitioning sometimes leaves me a little, well, uncharitable. And if I get one more packet of return address labels from a nonprofit asking for donations in the mail I’m going to scream!


So, how should one choose what charities to donate to? Most experts say the most important criteria is that you have a personal connection to it. You want to be able to not only donate resources, but your heart as well. I think of The Dog Alliance’s “Hounds for Heroes” program, which I donated to and volunteered at for years. I was passionate about the place and their mission until they made it just to difficult to do so and changed some of their vision as a whole. I still support “Hounds for Heroes” but my passion for the rest has somewhat waned. This is what nonprofits risk when they change and vocalize perhaps too much.



Most charitable organizations will agree that time is just as important as donating money and it’s nothing to be ashamed of if you simply can’t afford to give money. The first thing you should think about prior to making any charitable donations is your financial stability. Things like paying off debt, contributing to a savings plan, having adequate insurance, and building an emergency cash reserve should all be taken care of prior to considering donating any amount of money. Until then, that charity is sure to welcome your time and talents. 


There are so many charities that unless you have those you support and hold dear to your heart, it can be challenging finding one or more that fit your values and lifestyle. And, many of them are making tons of money despite the constant plea for help. Forbes magazine conducts an annual survey of America’s top 100 Charities based solely on private contributions and as luck would have it, released the 2022 survey yesterday. The Top 10 charities are:

  1. Feeding America – $4.6 billion
  2. United Way – 2.77 billion
  3. St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital – $2.42 billion
  4. The Salvation Army – $2.34 billion
  5. Direct Relief – $2.21 billion
  6. Americares – $1.22 billion
  7. Good 360 – 1.68 billion
  8. Goodwill Industries – $1.44 billion
  9. YMCA of the USA – $1.41 billion
  10. Habitat for Humanity – $1.27 billion


As I read this list, a few things came to mind. Number one, considering we are in a recession there’s a whole lot of money being donated! Not until #14, with Samaritan’s Purse at $953 million, was the total donated not in the billions. Also, I hate to admit it, but I look at this list and as I consider where to give this Christmas, those at the top of the list and taking in billions are probably not going to make my list of potential recipients. Somewhat surprising was that numbers 5, 6, and 7 are in the “International Needs” category. I don’t know about you, but I see and hear about a ton of needs right here inside our borders. Lastly, I was happy to see Samaritan’s Purse so high on the list, as they do critical and amazing work, and I was equally happy to see Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Catholic Charities come in at numbers 11 and 13, respectively. Both are important to our family. My husband spent much of his childhood inside his hometown’s Boys Club and as cradle Catholics, charities that align with our faith always align with our contributions.


With that being said and barring any natural disaster, I like my money to stay local and/or personal. Each year my husband and I make what we consider hefty donations to two charities each and one joint. We focus on our interests and how our lives have been impacted by certain organizations and go from there. 


In the past and possibly again this year, recipients have been:

  1. First Tee of Greater El Paso
  2. Painting Pandas
  3. Tunnel to Towers
  4. Faith-related charities, including our church, Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Carmelites of Santa Fe, and Annunciation Home.
  5. Both of our alma maters, Niagara University and The University of Oklahoma, often times NU’s golf team and OU’s School of Journalism. We’ve also donated to our daughter’s sorority in the past.
  6. Dog-related charities, including Houston Hound and Beagle rescue, where we’ve rescued two of our beagles; The Dog Alliance and their wonderful “Hounds for Heroes” program; and my new-found charity, Living Grace Ranch, which provides a permanent residence for senior canines (homeless, abandoned, rehomed, or surrendered) that otherwise would live out their lives in municipal animal shelters or foster care programs.
  7. Boys and Girls Club of East Aurora, NY
  8. Scottish Rite Hospital of Dallas


As I mentioned earlier, if I had millions and in addition to all of the above, I’d also give to:

  1. The Caring Place
  2. Hope Alliance
  3. BiG at Brookwood
  4. Breakthrough Austin
  5. Ronald McDonald House
  6. Wounded Warriors
  7. Family Research Council
  8. Make A Wish


Most of my giving is of local or smaller in nature mainly because I know where our hard-earned money is going. I don’t want to pay for those address labels mailed to me; I want to pay for programs and services. One way to somewhat guarantee this happens is to give to a local chapter of a big charity or nonprofit as those funds may hopefully stay local and not end up in a national headquarters’ red tape wheel. Again, do your research!


Notice I wrote “charity or nonprofit” in the above paragraph. Even though the two are often used interchangeably, there are important differences between the two and the differences might make a difference in where you choose to donate.


A nonprofit is a type of charitable organization or foundation created for a specific goal and purpose other than to make a profit. Oftentimes this involves furthering a social cause such as improving literacy rates or helping those experiencing unplanned pregnancies. But, the term “nonprofit” doesn’t mean the organization can’t make a profit. It can use donations to pay employees and cover operating costs but if it brings in more money than it needs to do so, those excess funds must be used to further its said goals. Additionally, nonprofits can be trusts, corporations, or associations and whether a company qualifies as a nonprofit may differ between states.


A charity is actually a type of nonprofit organization that exists to benefit the community or serve a social or philanthropic purpose. It is a business created to raise money and help those in need and serves a specific cause and often provides a free service to the public through the use of funds raised. All charities are nonprofits and must meet certain IRS criteria.


Then there are philanthropies and foundations.




A philanthropy addresses the root cause of social issues and seeks long-term approaches. In addition to giving money or volunteering, some philanthropists participate in advocacy work. You could say charity is a short-term fix while philanthropy is a long-term commitment. That’s not always the case but often applies. Another way to think of it is that charity results in direct relief of suffering while philanthropy seeks out the root causes creating the suffering and tries to find strategic solutions. Philanthropy is focused on rebuilding and charity is focused primarily on rescue and relief.


A foundation is a charitable trust or nonprofit created to fund other organizations or individuals for charitable purposes, often by providing grants. Some foundations also participate in charitable programs or activities.


Interestingly, the original meaning of charity was “Christian love of one’s fellow” and is rooted in Old English. When “charity” entered the English lexicon by way of Old French’s “charite,” it evolved into the word we are familiar with today.


If you are blessed with plentiful resources to give this holiday season, know that it’s not only the season of giving but the season of scams. To avoid getting duped, follow your philanthropic passions but be sure to research that the charity you’re considering is efficient, ethical, and effective. Once you find the perfect one for you, make sure that 100 percent or at least the majority of your gift will go to their programs and not administrative costs. A good rule of thumb is to focus your donations on those charities that give no less than 75 percent of donations to programs and leave a scant 25 percent for overhead costs


The best advice I can give is to open your heart and give with only the best intentions to only the most deserving and in need organizations. Even the smallest donation will be appreciated and don’t forget your time and talents. Tis the season and part of the reason.