Beyond Words

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

The State of Our Union June 26, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:22 pm

How did you read the above picture? It might depend on what you believe. Do you see “God is now here” or “God is nowhere?” Interesting, right?


Interesting too is that today is Sunday, or the Sabbath, the day traditionally reserved for religious services and when many attend church. Sadly, new polls are confirming less and less attendance. Coincidentally, another poll reported a record high number of Americans who rate the moral values of America as “poor.” Coincidence? I’m thinking no.


All one has to do to see the alarming American divide and our dying society is turn on the TV; especially during the past few days. I’m not going to even touch the current life vs. choice argument, but you could say it is the perfect storm of the religious and people’s perception of morals and values. With that being said…



A Fallen Nation?

Let’s start with the fact that, for the first time ever, “No Religion” is how more Americans replied to a recent survey. The findings were close, with 23.1 percent claiming no religion, 23 percent saying their Catholic, and 22.5 percent responding as evangelicals. Still, the numbers are considered alarming by many. The reasons for these reports are also many.


The decline of religion in American life is strongly to blame as the single most important predictor of adult religiosity is one’s religious experiences in childhood and how we are raised. According to an Eastern Illinois University survey, young people report being raised in less religious households than their parents. In other words, we can stop blaming young people for leaving religion as many never really had a religion to leave.



I don’t know about you, but my mom was and still is a huge influence on my faith. I was raised Catholic and am still a practicing one, all thanks to my mom and later in life, my husband. I by no means am a perfect Catholic but I do try to uphold my beliefs and church doctrine. Saying you’re a Catholic but publicly and powerfully advocating for the most obvious of no-no’s is both shameful and sinful to me. But I digress. Yes, we’ve raised our daughter Catholic but I can’t say she attends mass every week. She does consider herself Catholic and goes to mass and other Catholic services and has it at the top of her “list.” Thank God. Excuse the pun.


Her age group, according to the Survey Center on American Life, is less religious by every conceivable metric compared to young adults a generation ago. These Millennials and Gen Z’ers go to church less, say religion is less important, have more doubts about the existence of God, and increasingly identify with no religious tradition. (I bet they love getting Christmas presents and having the holiday off though!) This generation is also hungry for facts and have access to information that will support or deny anything they research. Parents today and say 20 years ago are and have raised a generation surging in secular identity and more Americans than ever before are being raised in secular households. Not sure if this was your plan mom and dad, but you might want to start paying attention.


But, it’s not just “the kids.” Americans from their 30s to 60s are also less affiliated and less involved in formal and informal worship than people their same age a few decades ago. Still, 57 percent of Baby Boomers say the attended religious services weekly during their childhood but only 40 percent of Gen Z’ers say their families did the same. Hmmmm….



This is troublesome as there are soooo many churches out there. You cannot drive around and not see multiple places of worship of many faiths. Mom and dad, who grew up going to church, are simply choosing not to take their kids to church and secular marriages are increasing. “It’s not for me.” “I don’t agree with all their beliefs.” “I won’t feel comfortable there.” “I will be judged.” These are all common reasons to avoid choosing church, but let’s all remember there is no perfect church because churches are filled with imperfect people. And the whole “I can be religious and spiritual without going to church,” defense? Okay. Maybe so, but remind yourself of the “strength in numbers” credo. It’s hard to be alone in what you feel. It can also be risky. As Pastor Joe Champion wrote, “Pirates attack solo ships not armadas and prowling lions attack stragglers not the herd.” Kids today are also saying religion in general doesn’t embrace their personal beliefs and values. Which brings us to…



Morally Wrong?

A new Gallup poll found a record high 50 percent of Americans rate the overall state of moral values in the U.S. as “poor” (the highest on record) and another 37 percent say it’s only “fair.” I’m no math major but even I can see that it’s nearly 90 percent. Ninety percent say the values of American are bad. Say that again and say that out loud. And just in case you’re wondering, 1 percent think the state of our moral values is “excellent.”


The future outlook didn’t fare much better, with only 18 percent of those polled saying morals are getting better while 78 percent said they’re getting worse. The latter number proves that majorities of both partisan (i.e.: political) groups agree that it’s all deteriorating with even Democrats becoming significantly more pessimistic (68 percent vs. the previous 49 percent) since Joe Biden’s first year in office. I guess it’s nice to see they agree on something. Baby steps?


So what’s up America? Why in heaven’s name are our morals declining? Is it the internet? Families? Schools? Lack of religion? I’m venturing to guess a loud “yes” to all four and more.



When asked to name the most important problem with the state of moral values in the U.S., the top response was the way people treat each other. Amen, right? Also mentioned often in the polling were lack of morals, sense of entitlement, racism, lack of faith/religion, and lack of family structure. I’m seeing a pattern here that should be obvious to all.


Our values and morals are lacking and declining at the same time our faith and families are declining. I’m not saying that if you aren’t religious your morals and values could be affected or just the opposite. Your religion does not make your morally superior or unflawed.  I just find it so interesting that the two polls mentioned here make it hard not to connect the two issues. Seems like a somewhat easy fix if we want to put the work into it. Stop with the wishful thinking. Stop with compromising. Stop with the doubting.  Find your armada. Find your herd.


Teach & Learn June 24, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 5:50 pm

Saw the movie “Top Gun Maverick” and gotta say, it was really good! Unlike every male I know (who thinks they are Maverick), I enjoyed the first one but I don’t count it among my favorites of all time. Same with Tom Cruise. Not my fave, seems a bit odd, but boy can he make good movies. “Top Gun Maverick” is one of them and a big salute to him and his fellow producers for keeping it unabashedly pro-America and woke-free. Whew and Amen!


Without giving too much away, Cruise’s character Maverick is back and re-engaged, only this time as an instructor. He’s not happy, only wants to fly, but takes on the challenge. That’s all I’ll say about it.


I will say it kinda ties into a post by Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite bloggers and authors, that asked “If you could take a class on any subject, what you want to learn?” and “If you were to teach a class, what would you teach?” Hmmmm…



The first one is fairly easy as I love learning new things, which is always my New Year’s Resolution. I’ve taken Italian lessons and ice skating classes, have learned to cross-stitch and fly fish, tried zip lining (key word “tried), have dabbled in photography, and have discovered the power of yoga and meditation. This year I learned to boogie board! I’ve also taken many a class, including several “tastings” of everything from martinis to tequila, sake to whiskey, and balsamic and olive oils. All were extremely fascinating and fun. I’ve also taken lots of cooking classes but could certainly take a class (or two or three or 20) on how to bake. A baker I’m not. To this day however, one of my favorite travel experiences was taking a cooking class in New Orleans. Whether you like the city’s cuisine or not, I highly recommend it.




Rubin’s answer took an interesting twist in that she said she wants to take a class on the Beatles as she’s a huge fan, which got me thinking. Rather than learning something new, maybe I’d like to learn more about something I love, enjoy, or am already fairly familiar with. The first thing, sadly, that comes to mind is every and all kinds of self-defense and self-protection. It’s a scary and anger-filled world out there and I’m thinking I need to be prepared for the worst.


Unbeknownst to me, I’m kinda already doing this as in the past year or so I’ve discovered I’m a huge introvert and have been learning all about it. A blog on this is in the works but in a nutshell I’ve learned I’m not shy, I’m not antisocial, and I’m not stuck up. I just don’t enjoy big crowds or small talk. I crave alone time and love deep conversation.  I’ve also learned that we introverts are indeed powerful, the world needs us, and we don’t need to become extroverts.  Enough on that as I continue to learn about it all.



Courtesy Susie Davis

On a lighter note, I’d love to take a class on something random. My book club recently read a book about butterflies and even though it was waaaay to science-y for me, I loved the idea of simply learning about butterflies. My husband is suddenly into birds so for Father’s Day he got a bird feeder and book on birds. Love it! (He also got a keyboard years ago and vowed he was going to learn to play. Needless to say a key has not been touch since. Finger’s crossed!)


I don’t need to become an expert on anything; I’m just interested in learning all about things like the Gilded Age of America, anything spiritual or biblical, or maybe the joy of gift wrapping and bow making.  The thing with me is, it would have to be a short-term class as I’m not big on long-term drawn-out commitments or events at this stage in my life.



The second question is a bit tougher for me. What would I like to teach or more importantly what would I be good at teaching? Many would right away say “writing,” but I truly don’t think I’m qualified. I may be a stickler for grammar, punctuation, and spelling but I’m not an English expert. I couldn’t tell you a participle from a preposition dangling or otherwise.  I’ve always said writing is a gift God gave me and that it comes easy for me. How do you teach that?


I suppose I could teach a class on fans…the type that cool you down not the type who root for teams, although I could probably do that too but my class would be very biased! About those fans though, I read a great book titled “The Language of Fans,” was fascinated by them so I read more about them and researched them, which led me to write a blog all about their history, function, and beauty.  I’d probably be great at teaching how to organize and plan but neither sound very fun to me. I love fashion and style but am not sure I could actually teach about it other than what not to wear! My style tends to be very traditional and simple so anyone looking for fads and trends need not enroll!



What about you? What would you like to take a class in? What class would you like to teach? They say you always learn when you teach so maybe a good idea is to learn about something while teaching it. If nothing else, why don’t all vow to take a class in simply teaching by example. We could all learn from that, right? Class dismissed!


When Life Gives You Lemons April 26, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:41 pm

Is it just me or does it feel like everyone you know is dying to be out and about? After more than two years of whatever you want to call it, people are ready to be out, out and about, and out loud. In person weddings are back, lunches are planned, travel is unmasked, and if you haven’t noticed, fashion is also on board. Look around and you’ll see head to toe clothing of bright colors and patterns. It’s as though designers felt the wave coming and we’re all jumping on board the ship of perky normalcy. I’m in!


Just today one of my favorite bloggers, Cathy Williamson of The Middle Page, posted the above vibrant and fun lemon bedecked Alice & Olivia blouse. I love anything lemon and love this blouse. It screams joy and optimism and it screams spring and summer. No mellow yellow here!


I’m here to say lemon is the color and topic du jour of late. I’ve seen everything from lemon bread recipes to lemon plates to lemon scented everything on blogs and sites everywhere. It’s also a color that reminds us of sunshine and cheer, both of which we’ve all be craving and needing.



I’m currently working on a blog about color and how it affects our mood and our world in general and have learned that yellow carries a positive connotation that conveys a joyous, happy mood and that wearing it creates an open atmosphere with people around you. Unfortunately not everyone can pull off a bright or mustard yellow top or look as regal as the always stunning Duchess of Cambridge in the above Rocksanda dress. If you’re like me and have skin with yellow undertones, be careful. Instead of choosing a full on yellow blouse, maybe go with something more along the lines of the above lemon one. Bees and daisies are good options too as are yellow accessories. A little yellow can go a long way. Be careful but have fun with it!



Kathy Womack

Fun. We’ve been missing it in groups and gatherings and who can blame us? Our country is imploding and the world is on fire, but we all desperately need a day, a night, maybe even a week of fun and fellowship.  In person. In sight. Smiling. Happy. Relieved. It might seem like a luxury and sadly a bit unnatural, but it’s what we crave and what we need.  It kinda reminds me of a famous club that began in a similar fashion: people wanting people.



We’ve all seen them: big groups of older women wearing big red hats and lots of purple. You may have heard about The Red Hat Society, but its history might surprise you. No, they’re not a cult and they’re not crazy, they’re simply women enjoying life and enjoying friendship. Founded in 1998, the RHS was formed because we all need a recess from the cares and duties of everyday life and it took one woman to see this and do something about it. Women tend to give their all to everyone and everything except themselves, and those Red Hatters discovered that having fun with like-minded women does the body, mind, and society good.


In the fall of 1997, Sue Ellen Cooper bought an old red fedora for $7.50 from a thrift shop and was inspired by it and the poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph that says in part:


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.


Love. It!


Cooper loved it too and used it and the hat as a way of encouraging a friend who was turning 50 to stay youthful and spirited. Maybe even learn to spit! She duplicated that gift upon request several times and soon her squad was donning red hats and wearing purple outfits to their get togethers. The group grew in popularity by word of mouth and gained national attention when an article on it was published in The Orange County Register and picked up by newspapers across the country. The rest is red-hatted history and since its founding, RHS has grown to more than 25,000 members worldwide and Cooper has written two best-selling books.



Call them what you want, but they get it. They get that socializing is essential. l can only help but wonder what all those Red Hatters did the past 2+ years. I’m guessing they Zoomed in their red hats and masked up at their coffees, but are now thrilled to travel and attend theatre events once again together and in person. We need people (and this coming from a very comfortable nesting introvert) and we need bright colors in our world. It’s time to buy the hat, call the friends, wear the purple, plan the party, go to that book club or spin class, pop that golden yellow bottle of Veuve, use all the colors in that yellow box of crayons, and color your world and your life again. And maybe make some Limoncello after the past two years of lemons.


Hop to It April 10, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:00 am

Easter Sunday is one week away so as we enter Holy Week, I thought I’d share with you some fun tidbits on some fun and popular things we think of when we think of Easter. From the Easter Bunny to Jelly Beans and more, have fun learning and sharing the stories behind each of them.


Easter Bunny

Let’s hop right to it with the beloved Easter rabbit, AKA the Easter Bunny. Much like Santa Claus and Christmas, rabbits have nothing to do with the real meaning of Easter, Jesus’ resurrection, but like other Easter favorites they do represent “new life,” which is what Easter is really all about.


Easter always occurs in spring and spring is when the weather gets warmer, flowers start to bloom, and animals come out of hiding after a long winter of hibernation. Lots of animals, including rabbits, are born in the spring and this is likely why bunnies go hand-in-hand with Easter.



Pine Tree Crosses

Did you know pine trees have crosses? I learned this last year but surprisingly never knew this growing up even though I did so in the Rocky Mountains where there are many pine trees. Apparently pine trees start their new growth right about now and their tallest branch shoots forth and upward and forms the shape of a cross. The golden-hued shoots first form vertically followed by side buds, which eventually form branches and new growths that resemble a cross.



They start slow and small, but as the days get closer to Easter, the tallest shoots branch off and form the familiar Christian symbol leading some believers to say “even trees know it’s Easter!” The fact that this happens around the Easter season is likely pure coincidence, but who doesn’t love a wonderful legend? The crosses are more prominent and more readily seen on Loblolly Pines in the southern U.S. and on Ponderosa Pines in the west but can also be found on a variety of other pines.



Easter Eggs

So, what about Easter eggs? Well, eggs generally represent new life and lots of animals like birds and lizards are born from eggs and many of them are born in the spring. And if you think about it, Jelly Beans (one of my favorite candies) are oval-shaped just like eggs so it’s no coincidence they are an Easter basket tradition.



Easter Lilies

Jelly Beans are are a favorite of mine, as is another Easter regular: the Easter Lily. Every year I buy myself one and even a grocery store variety is sufficient in that any lily smells divine and fills a room with its own heaven-sent scent. I can smell their fragrance just looking at the picture above. But why do we only enjoy them at Easter?


Traditionally, the trumpet-shaped white blooms symbolize purity, virtue, innocence, hope, and life…the very spiritual essences of Easter. They’re mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and are referenced several times in the Song of Solomon as well as in the Sermon on the Mount. Their religious tie-in goes further however.



Often called “white-robed apostles of hope,” lilies were said to be found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane after Christ’s agony. Tradition has it beautiful white lilies sprung up where drops of Christ’s sweat fell to the ground in His final hours. Today churches commemorate this belief by filling altars and aisles with Easter Lilies. The flowers have also played significant roles in tales concerning motherhood, making them fitting symbols of new life at Easter.




Lastly, how exactly did ham earn the right of meat of choice at many an Easter table? Tradition has it that hogs were slaughtered in the fall but due to lack of electric refrigeration, any meat that wasn’t eaten fresh in the cold months was cured so it would keep longer and be edible in the spring. It just so happened that, because curing takes a while, initial hams were ready right around Easter. Thankfully today we have the finest of refrigeration so hams of all sorts can be found year ‘round. Still, whether honey-baked or smoked, chances are ham will be enjoyed by many.


So there you have it, all things Easter wrapped up nicely in a virtual basket of info. I hope you learned something, enjoyed it, and have an Easter season filled with hope, love, and lots of Jelly Beans!


A Maid for Self-Made Success Story April 7, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:20 pm

Sometimes things…and people…aren’t what or who they appear to be. That is just one of many fascinating things I garnered from the intriguing Netflix series “Maid” and even more so from the thought-provoking book by Stephanie Land that it’s based on. I don’t often binge a series or feel like I can’t put a book down, but that was the case with both of them.


In short, it is a true story about Land’s life, who at 28 saw her dreams of going to college and becoming a writer dissolve after a summer fling resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. God bless her for choosing life and keeping her precious baby, but before long she found herself scraping by after leaving her abusive ex-husband and writing off her quirky mom and unreliable dad. She took a job as a housekeeper and from there it was all hard work and low pay but a will to survive and succeed.


When I bought the book I knew the premise of it but what she sees and the obstacles she faces were mind-boggling. Land tries incredibly hard to live honestly and honorably on the minimal means she provides and on what is provided for her and her young daughter. She is qualifies for food stamps, WIC coupons, and government housing but constantly has to prove her worth…or in her case, non-worth. Navigating the many rules and regulations associated with government funding…including finding day cares and housing that would even accept payment in the form of that funding…was as back-breaking as her job. It is truly alarming how hard she had to fight to receive help even as she faced the stigmas encountered of the working poor.


“I had to work constantly. I had to prove my worth for receiving government benefits. I made too much money to receive Medicaid.” And yet, she could hardly pay her bills. Getting approved for any government assistance also meant filling out loads of paperwork, meeting with often condescending government employees, standing in an endless array of lines, missing work to do so, dealing with constant illnesses her daughter picked up at day care and their mold-infested apartment, and pretty much jumping through constant hoops while juggling a very physically demanding job. Every day she hurt inside and out.


She had few friends as she was embarrassed to befriend anyone and have to come clean about her cleaning job. Still, she never gave up on her dreams of going to college and is the first to admit she didn’t fit the government assisted typecast in many ways when she writes, “When people think of food stamps, they don’t envision someone like me: plain-faced and white; like the girl they’d known in high school or like a neighbor. Someone like them. This makes them nervous. With one lost job, one divorce, they’d be in the same place as I was.”


“They” here meaning the thousands living paycheck to paycheck then and even into today as inflation continues to rise as do groceries, gas, and a host of other life necessities. In a different sense however, it can also mean those Land cleaned for and for who life wasn’t always as pretty as the picture. As a matter of fact, it was often dirty and full of dirty little secrets.


This part of her story amazed me and had me wondering, “what does this tell us all?” I know! I know! Raising my hand. It serves as a healthy reminder that the grass ain’t always greener yet sadly we all strive for those big lawns, big paychecks, and big houses. Many of those big houses with big lawns (she served numerous times as a gardender too) paid for with big paychecks that Land cleaned were homes to people who shared Land’s aches and pains and health problems. And love? Land’s meager apartments contained more love inside than all the mansions she cleaned.


“Living with illness or pain was part of my daily life, part of the exhaustion. But why did my clients have these problems? It seemed like access to healthy foods, gym memberships, doctors, and all of that would keep a person fit and well. Maybe the stress of keeping up a two-story house, a bad marriage, and maintaining the illusion of grandeur overwhelmed their systems in similar ways to how poverty did mine.”


Hello, it’s reality calling. Time to pick up.


Basically, what she learned is a lesson to us all: the upper-middle class and the rich have a whole lot of problems and spend a whole lot of energy hiding their imperfections and guarding their secrets. “Rich people still have problems and lack something,” she writes. “They hide in dark corners and self-help books and maybe have longer hallways and bigger closets to hide the things that scare them.”


As startling as that is to read, I would venture to say each of you know at least one person…probably more…similar to who she writes about. Maybe it’s a neighbor. Maybe a family member. Maybe a friend. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s way more prevalent than we’d all care to admit.


And yet, we just keep racing and chasing and buying and bingeing. All the while hoping that new house, new toy, or new spouse will bring us the happiness and health we long for. Newsflash and spoiler: that doesn’t always happen.


“If we only had these things I thought, we would be happy,” Land writes about her and her daughter’s humble and minimal belongings. “Most of my clients had these things-things I yearned for in those dark nights sitting up alone-and they did not seem to enjoy life any more than I did.”





Read that again and remind yourself that Land is doing it all alone…a single mother barely making it by and yet never giving up. Being a single mom is hard enough; doing so like Land did is commendable on so many levels and yet earned her very little, if any, downtime and me time. Time most of us take for granted. Scanning recipes online? No way. Bingeing something on a smart TV? Nope. Strolling leisurely through Target or Trader Joe’s? Negative. Being a book lover and considering Land is a writer, it killed me most when she wrote reading a book was a luxury she couldn’t afford.


“Time lounging to read a book felt overly indulgent; almost as though such leisure was reserved for another class,” she wrote. Pretty sure she’s not talking about a classroom.


Don’t get me wrong, “Maid” is not a depressing story by any means as there are many beautiful and inspiring moments throughout. What it is, is a first-hand and honest account of what workers like Land go through day after day and week after week. They are people we all know and yet perhaps don’t really know. This includes both those living in what we assume to be perfect little worlds and those laboring to improve their worlds. Most assume those homes are happy ones and many might assume those workers are either doing okay or living off the government. In reality, neither is 100 percent true.


So, the next time you’re driving by mansions on the hill or through secure suburbia, keep in mind that behind and inside those walls life may not be as perfect and trouble-free as you think. And most of all, when you see someone less fortunate but hard working keep in mind that they have dreams; dreams of hearing and thinking “you MADE it!” and maybe retiring from being a maid. Stephanie Land is proof that it can and does happen. You could say the former maid’s circumstances and results are what dreams are made of.




Irish Eyes Are Smiling March 17, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:00 am

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


What A Saint

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



Luck of the Irish

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


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



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




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


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


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



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



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




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




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




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

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:22 pm

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



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


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



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


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



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


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



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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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



And now, a word about that tall cactus…

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


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


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


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




Springing Forward March 12, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 3:38 pm

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



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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Deciphering the Super in Our Heroes March 5, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 5:14 pm

Courtesy Julie Weltens

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



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


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


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


I’ve been reading books of old

The legends and the myths

Achilles and his gold

Hercules and his gifts

Spiderman’s control

And Batman with his fists

And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list

But she said, where’d you wanna go?

How much you wanna risk?

I’m not looking for somebody

With some superhuman gifts

Some superhero

Some fairytale bliss

Just something I can turn to

Somebody I can kiss

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


Courtesy Kim Throckmorton-Kimmel

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



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


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


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


It got me thinking.


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


Indeed they do. Amen and thank you.


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


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


Single moms. Nuff said.


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


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


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


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


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


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



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




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



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




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



Courtesy Catherine Harkness

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



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


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



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



Intuition is superpower

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


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



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


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







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

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:11 pm

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



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


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


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



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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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



What the heck is roux?

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




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




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




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




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


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




Bananas Foster

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




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



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




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



Beyond the Food

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



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




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



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



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