Beyond Words

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

The King of all Cakes and Tuesdays March 1, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:00 am

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

 

 

Fat Out Special

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

 

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

 

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

 

Take the Cake

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

What is Your Mouth Behavior? February 26, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:40 pm

I’m here to say I love texture. Texture in home décor, apparel, and come to find out: food. I love textured wallpaper, throw pillows, and furniture with interwoven fibers and a nice mix of elements in a room. I also love fall and winter clothing over summer outfits, and the food I put in my mouth I’m a bit picky about. I’ve never liked anything squishy or slimy like scallops, gnocchi, or dumplings and I’m not a big fan of rice. The only time I (shockingly) veer off this food course is oysters. I do like them and especially the chargrilled ones at Drago’s in New Orleans. On the whole though, I don’t like anything slimy and recent studies confirm we all have food texture preferences.

 

 

An article entitled “Model for understanding consumer textural food choice” at onlinelibary.wiley.com caught my eye as it detailed categories of food eaters and how product development and marketing are developing products based on all of this. I love this kind of stuff and you will too as you figure out whether you’re a Cruncher, Chewer, Sucker, or Smoosher.

 

Apparently there is a definite relationship between what foods we like and tend to purchase and our chewing behavior. How we manipulate food in our mouths is a key indicator of food preference. Research was done on this and some of the results included test participants saying things like:

 

  • I like to suck on hard candy until it fully dissolves
  • I usually break up hard candy quickly and swallow it
  • I prefer hard crunchy cookies to soft chewy ones
  • I prefer soft creamy candies to hard candies

 

Are you feeling a food texture choice yet? Wait, there’s more!

 

So, the four “mouth behavior” groups mentioned above fall into two modes of mouth actions. Crunchers and Chewers make up Mode One in that they like to use their teeth to break down foods. Crunchers are more forceful biters and like foods that break up upon biting while Chewers like foods that can be chewed a bit longer. Suckers and Smooshers make up Mode Two and prefer to manipulate food between the tongue and roof of their mouth. Suckers like harder foods like hard candies and anything they hold in their mouths and suck for a long time (keep it clean here readers) while Smooshers prefer soft foods like creamy candies and puddings. Check out the below chart courtesy onlinelibrary.wiley.com to start getting a hint at where you might fall.

 

 

Table 1. Examples of products chosen by the different mouth behavior groups

Types of products chosen Mouth behavior classification group
Chocolate with nuts, hard chocolate cookies with nuts, CheetosR and RufflesR (PepsiCo), raw broccoli Crunchers
Gummy Bears, StarburstsR (Wrigley Co.), Twix (Mars, Inc), Kettle and CheetosR Puffs (PepsiCo), soft granola bars Chewers
Goat cheese, Buffalo mozzarella, French onion soup, whipped cream Smooshers
Jolly Ranchers hard candies, Werthers OriginalsR (August Storck KG) butterscotch pieces Suckers

 

 

My gut feeling tells me I’m a Cruncher as I love all the food listed for them but I also love anything gummy like Gummy Bears and Swedish Fish and prefer creamy peanut butter (which I adore) over crunchy. That’s why it was good to learn that just because someone falls into one of the four groups doesn’t mean they can’t spend time in other groups. It merely indicates foods more chosen and more delightful or satisfying. Amen as I also really like pudding and chewy caramels. Hmmmmm….

 

 

So, let’s dive further. The following chart is a great place to find your texture presence.

 

Table 4. Response patterns of behavior groups shown from survey questions

Chewers Crunchers Suckers Smooshers
Prefer products they can chew Prefer hard crunchy cookies over soft chewy Prefer hard candy over soft Let cereal get soft or eat soft cereals like oatmeal
Prefer chewy candy over hard candy Prefer hard granola bars over soft Like chocolate hard enough to suck on Prefer soft creamy candies over hard candy
Would choose dried fruit that is chewy Eat ice cream right out of the freezer Like to suck a long time on candy Prefer thick creamy snacks over crispy
Like chocolate with good chewing texture Like apples that are crisp Always have hard candy around Prefer flavored ice cream with no pieces
Prefer cereals like Cheerios or flakes Like raw vegetables Like mints with some burn Chewing gum hurts their jaw
Do not prefer chocolates hard enough to suck on Prefer ice cream with crunchy pieces Like high carbonation in drinks Like food that is soft and spreads through the mouth
Do not like to play with food in the mouth Smoosh foods that they could chew

 

 

 

Interesting, right? Let’s take chocolate as an easy way of delineating the four groups out.  Suckers tend to like chocolate that is hard enough to suck on, Smooshers prefer chocolate that melts fast, Crunchers choose chocolate that contains nuts, and Chewers opt for chocolate with a good chewing texture. Okay, this helps out because I tend to like chocolate with nuts. Give me a Snickers, Heath bar, or chocolate chip cookies any day.

 

If need be however, we all can easily adapt one type of food and its texture to one we prefer. For example, if a Cruncher is eating a soft food, they are more likely to choose one with nuts or chips. A Chewer eating a crunchy cereal will often add chewy ingredients like raisins.

 

 

As mentioned above, all of this is very helpful in marketing and product design. Designers and developers are now creating products for each of the four mouth behaviors when possible and are realizing that product textures and messages no longer resonate with everyone. I wouldn’t care how appealing and pretty an ad for scallops might be, it won’t ever convince me to buy the product. Now that you know this, I bet you’ll start noticing words like “creamy,” “crunchy,” “smooth,” and “crispy” in food product advertising.

 

 

Two more areas all of this impacts are the elderly and the obese. Think about it, elderly often have dental issues and devices in their mouths, making food manipulation more challenging. Crunchers probably have trouble with very crunchy foods as they age and instead of choosing softer foods, they may lose their appetites all together and be at risk of dangerous weight loss.

 

Weight gain also comes into play, but for everyone. It was hypothesized that once someone understands their preferred mouth behavior, they can better enhance compliance with diet and weight management regimes. WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, has taken this idea and successfully run with it, believing that by eating the food that appeals to your mouth behavior, the more likely one is to maybe lose weight and at the very least, be more satisfied and eat less.

 

Again, I find this kind of stuff fascinating. Now I know why I love Ruffles, crispy bacon, snap peas, cookies, apples, and Cheerios, but I can also relish a good steak, creamy cheeses, grapes, and those heavenly Swedish Fish. This Cruncher is a bite away from bliss. How about you? Are you a Cruncher, Chewer, Sucker, or Smoosher?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Boom in Small Towns February 8, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 6:52 pm

Close your eyes for just a moment and think of the theme song to Mayberry RFD. I bet you know it and I bet it makes you smile. Something about Mayberry, as fictional and unrealistic as it was, makes many of us long for the relaxed and laidback life Andy, Barney, Aunt B., Opie, Howard, Thelma Lou, and the rest of the gang enjoyed in their all-American village.

 

Or maybe, sing along to John Mellencamp’s hit “Small Town.”

I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be
Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say
Look who’s in the big town
But my bed is in a small town
Oh, and that’s good enough for me

 

Both my husband and I grew up in small towns and went to college in small towns. His hometown is actually referred to as “the village” and if Norman Rockwell could paint a town, it would make the perfect model for his brushes. We raised our daughter in a suburb of a big city that had a “small town feel.” Everyone loved the ice cream shop, adults were addressed as “Ms. Smith” and “Mr. Lopez” regardless of how well you knew them, and Friday Night Lights football meant the whole town came out. It was idyllic in that it was “small” but near a big city.

 

We’ve lived in that big city for 36 years now. We started in the central part of town but with each move we’ve moved further and further away from downtown and now live in what is often considered one of Texas’ most charming small towns. We’re still close enough to the city…a city that has exploded over the past 10 years…but we are far enough away from the things crippling it and many of America’s cities.

 

Come to find out, we’re not alone in moving out and moving away.

 

It seems there’s a boom in relocating to boom towns of small town America. Granted, some may be suburbs of bigger cities but it’s still becoming more and more apparent that Americans are growing somewhat weary of what living in a city really entails. Crime. Traffic. High cost-of-living. Leaders that seem far-removed and out-of-touch from their lives and concerns. And most recently, what’s being taught in our public schools and what’s not being taught. For the first time in recent years, the decline in U.S. rural population that began in 2010 reversed itself. Small towns, it seems, are having a big comeback. If you watch the news or read the reports, it’s easy to figure out why. Another day of grab-and-go retail robberies, protests protesting protestors, division, crowded everything, and noise.

 

As more and more shake the dust off of their city shoes in exchange for perhaps the dust of the outskirts of town, they are reportedly not only surviving but thriving. After two-plus years now of societal isolation, those making the move say they love the connectedness that small towns have perfected and they love how helpful and friendly people are.

 

 

Granted, a slower paced life in a smaller community is not for everyone and we need city dwellers! Yes, it’s great to live near good restaurants, fabulous art and activities, and an airport, but it’s also nice to have space and peace and quiet. A fast-paced life is much easier on the young than even the young-at-heart, so what’s somewhat surprising is that young couples, families, and even millennials are taking part in the move to move away. They’re choosing to nest. Choosing to create a home and life that are comfortable and comforting. Perhaps they’re trying to replicate their own childhood memories.

 

 

 

“A longing for our childhood home never leaves us. Wherever we live, we carry inside us a vision of the place in which we were, if not in every case happiest, then first conscious of the world beyond ourselves.” Marcel Proust

 

I couldn’t agree more. Maybe it’s because in the past month my family sold my childhood home as we moved our mom into assisted living. My life may not have been perfect and full of only happy memories in that home, but it was my home. Now, I’ll likely never step foot in that simple yet special house again.

 

 

As some of you are grappling with the same issues, maybe you’re thinking of moving to a small town to bring back that hometown feel. Slow things down. As we age, time does in fact speed up and feels like it goes faster and faster by the years. This is no mere perception, but perhaps science as Adrian Bejan recently surmised. The professor presented an argument based on the physics of neural signal process and hypothesized that, over time, the rate at which we process visual information slows down. This is what makes time “speed up” as we age. I always thought it was because we see fewer and fewer years ahead of us but I’m going with the scientist.

 

 

A slow down to this speeding up of time is maybe what we of a certain age are craving as we consider small town living. Places where doctors are nearby and know your name, school boards are accountable and listen, “shopping local” means shopping small, and common courtesy is common place.  At the very least, we seem to all be gravitating to neighborhoods and communities that offer what many consider small town assets. Having everything has been replaced by having certain things.

 

 

The past few years have taken a toll on all of us. Cities still seem to be masked up while small towns are less so. We’ve heard again and again the benefits of both minimalism (culling possessions and keeping only essentials) and maximalism (accumulating even what you don’t need or hoarding) but as one of my favorite bloggers of SusanAfter60 recently wrote, maybe it’s time for essentialism…culling what’s not essential and accumulating what is. Even Mary Poppins knows enough is as good as a feast and said so in one of my favorite quotes of all time. You might have less possessions but each one will hopefully serve you well. Wherever you live.

 

Resolve to Commit January 8, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 6:53 pm

I recently started the book “The Midnight Library” and its subject matter got me thinking. Thinking about life as I know it and have known it, hopes and dreams, and New Year’s Resolutions.  In brief, the book is about Nora Seed and the regrets that have piled up. Some legit; some just in her mind. But, when she finds herself at the Midnight Library, she’s given a chance to make things right and do things differently through its books. Needless to say, this guilt-ridden cradle Catholic and library/book lover is all over it.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love my one beautiful life and am so grateful for my many blessings, but I do have regrets and probably would have made different…and better…choices a few times in my life. Nothing earth shattering or life changing, just ones filled with more wisdom and less chance. More grace and less naiveté. It’s never too late, right?

 

 

Come Monday, we all might be feeling regretful. That’s the day, January 10, that a British study estimates most of us will have ditched our New Year’s resolutions. Stateside, even though a projected nearly half of all Americans made resolutions January 1, (or in this year’s case, January 3) nearly half of them will fail at the long-term achievement of them.

 

Ugh. Are you already a resolution fail?  Are you regretting either the one you chose or the pursuit of achieving it?

 

 

Every year my New Year’s resolution is to learn something new. I’ve taken classes in everything from Italian to ice skating, cooking to shooting a gun, bridge to yoga. I LOVE yoga and its bridge pose but I hated bridge. Too quiet, too serious, and way too much math.  My husband and I took dance lessons (he hated them) and I’ve improved my golf game (he loves it.) I’ve also learned to cross-stitch and tried Pickle Ball. Funny thing is, is that except for golf and yoga…and this blog, which I started on a whim in 2016…I haven’t continued my learning curves and haven’t really committed to any of them. Jack of all trades you say, master of none? Perhaps.  An interesting article on this very thing recently ran across my lap and I learned that the effects of being only partly committed to things can be heartbreaking.

 

If we are honest with ourselves, I’m sure I’d find I’m not the only one out there who is a half-committer. We check the box, dive in, give it our best, procrastinate, get distracted, and abandon it. This is the case with me with ambitions other than New Year’s resolutions. I’m a dabbler. I love to learn about something, give it a shot, and then I’m done. Apparently this is frowned upon and unless you really don’t like something, not committing to it will likely result in letting yourself down and maybe even letting others down. We beat ourselves up and brew up negative self-doubts.

 

Yikes. And here I thought I was just trying to expand my scope. Note to self Carla: commit!

 

Happiness guru Gretchen Rubin has tips on how to commit to committing and make sure resolutions we set are successful. First off she says, be specific. Don’t just say you want to find more joy or calmness in your life but instead identify what gives you joy or makes you calm and then resolve to do those things. “Read a good book” or “surround myself with people who are fun and likable” are way more likely to be accomplished than simply “be happier” and “sign up for tennis lessons” assures you will “learn to play tennis.”

 

And dump the demanding mindset. Seems like our resolutions are often grim or a grind. The more pleasant something sounds, the more likely you’ll do it and feel a sense of accomplishment. “Have lunch once-a-month with friends” will probably get checked off the list long before “learn to do my own taxes.” Think about it, if learning how to do your taxes is crucial, you’ll learn to do them resolution or no resolution.

 

Experts suggest setting smaller goals you truly want to accomplish something and keep at it. Rather than saying “I’m going to lose weight this year,” say “I’m going to work on losing 10 pounds between now and March.”  Also think about what didn’t work last year or in the past. Ask yourself why and either fix the problem or move on. Some also recommend setting monthly goals rather then or in addition to year-long commitments. Accomplish something every month or commit to doing something (or not doing something) for 40 days.

 

 

Rubin offers great advice and provides a great free tool with her annual list of things you’d like to do by the end of the year. She reminds us that items on this year’s “22 for 22” list can be easy or ambitious, one-time undertakings or habits that stretch for years. The list also contains your choice for your “Word of the Year.” A list and a word prompt?  Hmmmmm…pretty sure I quickly printed it out and got to work.

 

Almost instantly I wrote “Discipline” for my word.  I was thinking not only more self-control and self-discipline, but maybe that dreaded C word: commitment. On the flip-side, during my first yoga class of 2022, fabulous instructor Nicki of Inner Essence Yoga asked us to choose an Intention for 2022 and a word for 2022. Intention-wise, I went straight to “Hope and Healing” and first word that came to my head was “Acceptance.” So, do I commit to something this year or accept things as they are? Hoping it all works out!

 

 

I like the idea of setting “intentions” rather than making resolutions or even setting “goals.” The word just sounds more user-friendly and practical.  “I intend to learn or do XYZ and my intent going in is pure” jives with me way more than “I resolve to…” Tumaytoes tohmahtoes perhaps, but whatever works.

 

Whatever I choose to do or learn this year, I’m pretty sure it will be something safe and soundly thought out. I am not a risk taker. I don’t mind difficult or challenging, but risky or uncertain will certainly get a “no thank you” from me. I have zip-lined in the rain forest, took a solo dog sled ride in Alaska, and love doing the annual Polar Plunge on New Year’s Day, but that’s about it. I can’t even think about anything risky I’m interested in trying. If you think of something for me, please let me know.

 

Instead, I’m going to focus on something  “new” instead of something “no way.” I’ll learn something new, go somewhere new, and do something differently. The challenge will be figuring out how to really commit to something.  But, do I really need to? Do I have to?? If I decide to take piano lessons, do I really need to perfect my skill at it? Isn’t it okay to just enjoy learning the basics of something new and then moving on to something else? I’m thinking yes.

 

Lastly, accept the fact that you aren’t the same person you were one year ago (who is, right?!) and embrace the new and maybe different you. Remind yourself of your successes and victories and replace that dreaded I “have” to with I “get” to unless the “have to” is health related or essential. Stop wasting energy on people and things that drain your brain, show gratitude, and face the year and your intentions enthusiastically and with confidence. I’m confident you can do it!

 

 

Making a List: Christmas Carols & Movies December 22, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:00 am

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 radio stations galore. Sirius/XM has playlists 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 so many 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, Lifetime, and others are serving up their versions of Hallmark hall of famers. Even Netflix has a few!

 

So, which of the above 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!

 

Carla’s Favorite Christmas Songs

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

 

 

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

 

 

3. “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?

4. “The First Noel.” Always gets me in mass.

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

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

7. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby.

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

9. “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”

10. “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” by Darlene Love.

11. “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole.

12. “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

13. “Rudolph, the Red No-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry.

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

15. “Oh Holy Night” any traditional version.

 

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 Josh Groban 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 as they say, viral, and worth a listen. They are powerful yet purposeful and give me chills.

 

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

 

And now….movies. I recently saw “Christmas With The Chosen” and liked it, but it’s too early to put it on my favorite list just yet. Here are those that do make my list:

 

 

1. “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.

 

 

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

 

 

3. “It’s A Wonder 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.

4. “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. You’ll love it.

 

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

 

6. “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” If you didn’t watch the history behind this classic on “CBS Sunday Morning” this past Sunday, do yourself a favor and find it online. It will make you love Charlie and the gang even more.

7. “The Holiday” starring Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz is delightful.

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

9. “Love Actually.” A modern take on love and the holidays. Hugh Grant. Liam Neeson. Colin Firth. Laura Linney. Emma Thompson. Keira Knightley. British accents. Need I say more?

10. “The Family Man.” Definitely not an upbeat Christmas flick, it stars Nicholas Cage is a kinda new take on finding the meaning of life. No one can compare to Donna Reed, but Tea Leoni plays a great role.

 

Runners Up: “Last Holiday” starring Queen Latifah, “The Polar Express,” and “The Bishop’s Wife.” So many movies. So little time.

 

I can’t wait to read your lists and your take on mine. Enjoy and keep them coming!

 

Growing Christmas, One Plant at a Time December 20, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 9:00 am

If there’s one thing that screams “Christmas,” it’s the bright red of a poinsettia plant. We see them everywhere, from grocery stores to floral shops, but why? Why are they the Christmas plant of choice? And what about that holiday-named Christmas cactus? What’s its story? Let’s find out!

 

Poinsettias make beautiful additions to any Christmas décor but did you know this unofficial flower of Christmas isn’t really a flower per se? Native to Central America, the colorful parts of a poinsettia are actually the leaves of the plant, with the flowers being the small yellow dots in their centers. And although red leaves are the traditional Christmas choice, white and pink are actually quite popular too. But how and why did they become associated with Christmas?

 

It all goes back to a Mexican legend that tells the story of a young girl Pepita and her cousin Pedro who were on their way to church to visit the Christ child on Christmas Eve. The two children couldn’t afford to bring a gift to leave behind so Pepita picked a bouquet of weeds on the way and left them lovingly and humbly in the nativity scene where they soon transformed into beautiful red flowers. From that day on they became known as “Flores de Noche Buena” or “Flowers of the Holy Night.” How they ended up in the U.S. and one of the most treasured Christmas traditions is yet another story with a classic American twist.

 

Poinsettias get their name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He brought the plants back home in the early 1800s but they really didn’t become a holiday tradition until a century or so later. That’s when entrepreneur Paul Ecke, Jr. sent free poinsettia plants to TV studios across the country, which later ended up on none other than “The Tonight Show” and Bob Hope holiday specials. The trend caught on and today there’s even a National Poinsettia Day celebrated on December 12, the anniversary of Poinsett’s death.

 

The beautiful thing about poinsettia plants is they can last forever, even for those whose thumbs are anything but green. In fact, many will keep their foliage well into spring, especially those with lighter leaves.

 

When you first bring one home and if it has foil, remove the foil so the plant can drain. It’s best to place one on a plate or a saucer and never let standing water accumulate in the saucer. Keep your poinsettia’s soil moist but don’t over water. As for sun, poinsettias do best in somewhat cool but well-lit rooms. If you want to preserve your poinsettia for months to come, cut the plant back to two buds after the last frost and set it in your flower beds or containers on your porch or patio.

 

Wherever you put them, make sure they stay well-drained and get plenty of sun. Around October, you will want to put the plants in a closet, basement, or anywhere that is light-free for 14 hours a day. Come morning, move them into the light and continue this process for 10 weeks, which should take you right up to the Christmas holidays!

 

In Central America, a poinsettia shrub can grow up to 12 feet tall and did you know they also make beautiful cut flowers? To do this, after cutting the ends of a stem sear them with a candle to keep the sap from escaping, which prevents the stems from drooping. Place them in a vase with water and check the water level regularly, as they can tend to drink up lots of water! Place them on a table or mantel and take in their long-stem beauty.

 

 

Finally, are they poisonous? Long thought to be dangerous for both dogs and children, poinsettias are really only mildly toxic and the “poisoning” quotient they afflict is somewhat exaggerated. Here’s what we know: if the leaves are ingested, vomiting often occurs but since it would take a large amount of ingested leaves to be considered truly toxic, they generally don’t lead to poisoning as most animals and kids won’t eat loads of them because of their nasty taste and the unpleasant texture of their sap.

 

So there’s a “who, what, where, when, and why” on poinsettias, but what about that other holiday favorite: the Christmas cactus?

 

 

When you think of a cactus you probably think of a desert, but the Christmas cactus is said to have originated in the tropical rain forests of Southern Brazil. These plants often grow on top of other plants and among tree branches and because of their native origins, they thrive in humid conditions. And, these plants with long green arms and a rainbow of flowers can actually last for years. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, when cared for properly, they can live 20 or 30 years!

 

 

Known as a Christmas cactus, the plant actually has two cousins – the Thanksgiving cactus and the Easter cactus, which are very similar and get their names mainly from when they bloom. Don’t stress too much about which one you have, just focus on how to care for them.

 

All Christmas cactus thrive in cooler temperatures so it’s advised you keep them away from heat sources and put them in a cool place away from heaters and fireplaces. They also prefer sunny locations indoors, which can prolong blooms, but at night keep them away from light sources including lamps and overhead lighting. Proper drainage is also key.

 

Outdoors, make sure the temperature is warm and place them in partially shaded locales. Over-watering, considered watering before the soil is dry, is the main culprit to unhealthy plants. When watering, be conservative and if possible, choose to mist them, which they love. Think rain forest here and you’ll soon see a showy plant with stems arching over the pot’s sides and flowers in colors like peach and orange, as well as the traditional pink and red.

 

An added bonus to Christmas cactus is that they are easy to propagate. To do so, trim a few segments off a healthy plant and put them in a small pot, preferably with some of the original soil. Care for these new sprouts just like you would the parent plant. The best time to propagate is in the spring.

 

In many a home it’s just not Christmas without one or more poinsettias and a beautiful blooming Christmas cactus. Now you know why this is and how to ensure your plants live up to their traditions. Have fun and happy growing!

 

 

 

 

Do You Know What I Know? December 17, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 6:42 pm

It’s no secret I’m very traditional and love a good tradition. In a recent blog I dove into Advent, why we give gifts, and St. Nicholas. Today I’m continue the traditions and “why” theme and am including some fun facts and a little trivia on Santa’s reindeer. Enjoy!

 

 

Tis the season for seeing “Merry Christmas” and all things Christmas everywhere.  Sadly, you also often see the word “Christmas” shortened and referred to as “Xmas,” which has always irked me. In my thinking, doing so literally removes the real meaning of Christmas: Christ. But, I’m happy to report that there’s a somewhat acceptable explanation for it.

 

Apparently the X in Xmas doesn’t replace “Christ” from the word with the English letter X, but rather with the Greek letter “chi,” which looks like the English letter X. Chi is the first letter in the Greek word that we translate as “Christmas” and ancient Christians would abbreviate it by using only the first letter of it. They meant no offense and coincidentally, the letter also resembles a cross. In addition, the word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “messiah” and both mean “anointed.”

 

I still much prefer “Christmas” over “Xmas,” but am happy to learn the origins of the latter meant no disrespect to why we celebrate Christmas. Amen!

 

 

You don’t need to look very far this time of year to see those beloved red-and-white-striped treasures, candy canes. You see real ones hanging on trees, created and grouped onto wreaths, decorating packages, and all sorts of red-and-white themed Christmas decorations. They’re fun and they’re festive and they have an interesting story behind them.

 

On that very first Christmas morn, who were the first people to visit and meet Baby Jesus? That would be the shepherds and as they paid homage to the newborn Savior, they carried with them their crooks, which they used in the fields to round up sheep. It’s no coincidence that candy canes resemble those curved rods and that if you turn one upside down, you get the letter J for Jesus. The traditional colors of a candy, red and white, are also significant as they represent our Lord’s sacrifice and purity. Lastly, candy canes are just that: candy. They are sweet and meant for sharing so do so!

 

Candy canes can also be somewhat healing too, depending on how much actual peppermint they have in them. Peppermint, as many know, is great for taming tummy troubles like nausea to menstrual cramps and recent evidence shows it may also be a powerful response to irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint is also known to curb cravings, with one study reporting that by just smelling peppermint oil every two hours, participants were less hungry and less liable to overeat.

 

In addition to merriment and giving, the holidays are also known for bringing on headaches caused by tension, anxiety, and alcohol, but did you know that rubbing peppermint oil on your forehead and temples can be just as effective as acetaminophen at relieving the pain? Plus it smells so good!

 

Speaking of smell, tis the season for many a stuffy nose and congestion and yes, peppermint can help here too as it is chalk-full of menthol, the compound found in over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.

 

Peppermint oil is one of my favorites, and I use it in many ways, including:

 

  • Inflammation/arthritis/tendonitis: massage on inflamed area or joints
  • Headaches – rub on temples, forehead, sinuses, and neck
  • Respiratory – rub on sinuses
  • Appetite – inhale to curb
  • Diffuse for mental clarity
  • Itching – rub on area

 

I also use it in combination with other essential oils to relieve joints and muscle aches, sciatica, arthritis, inflammation, and tendinitis.

 

There are many versions of peppermint oil out there, so just make sure you get a pure and natural variety. I personally swear by Young Living and highly recommend its Peppermint Oil, along with all of its other essential oils and products.

 

Finally, the scent of peppermint can also improve concentration and has been linked to improved alertness, motivation, and even performance.

 

There are so many benefits and so many uses of sweet peppermint and who doesn’t love a festive candy cane?

 

 

We’ve all heard the song, have sang it many times, and probably know all the words by heart but what in the world are we talking about with “calling birds,” “maids a milking,” and “lords a leaping?” They’re all part of the famous “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol but they don’t signify the 12 days before Christmas as many believe and they have a Christian origin.

 

The celebration behind the tune started back in the Middle Ages as a way to mark the days between Christmas Day and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. From 1558 to 1829, Catholics in England were forbidden from openly practicing their faith so a song of 12 days was written as a catechetical tune that included hidden meanings of the faith. Secretly and on the down low, the verses reminded believers of some of the tenets of their faith without being overtly religious. This way, they could be sung without fear of punishment.

 

On that “note,” here are what the “Twelve Days of Christmas” symbols symbolize:

 

First Day: A partridge in a pear true. Jesus. Mother partridges are known to pretend they are injured as a way of keeping predators from their helpless nestlings, much like our Lord protects us.

 

Second Day: 2 turtledoves. Mary and Joseph and the Old and New Testaments.

 

Third Day: 3 French hens. The 3 Wise Men; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and the 3 Theological Virtues; faith, hope, and love.

 

Fourth Day: 4 calling birds. The four evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and their four gospels.

 

Fifth Day: 5 golden rings. The first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Also called the Pentateuch, from the Greek words for “five” and “books,” they are meant to answer the basic questions of life and its origins.

 

Sixth Day: 6 geese-a-laying. The six days of Creation as written in the Book of Genesis.

 

Seventh Day: 7 swans-a-swimming. The seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord as well as the seven Sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony.

 

Eight Day: 8 maids-a-milking. The eight Beatitudes given to us through Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Guidelines for true happiness, they have the power to turn the values of a secular world upside down.

 

Ninth Day: 9 ladies dancing. The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.

 

Tenth Day: 10 lords-a-leaping. The 10 Commandments.

 

Eleventh Day: 11 pipers piping. The 11 faithful apostles: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon, and Jude.

 

Twelfth Day: 12 drummers drumming. The 12 points of the apostles’ beliefs and their creed.

 

 

And finally, just for grins, how about some fun reindeer trivia and facts?

 

All of Santa’s reindeer were female because only female reindeer keep their antlers in December.

 

Reindeer are one of the only mammals that can see UV light, allowing them to see predatory polar bears against the snow and lichen, that fungi, moss-like plant they eat.

 

Caribou is simply the North American name for reindeer.

 

As the name suggests, reindeer are a species of deer and the only deer species in which both males and females can grow antlers. Yes dear…um deer!

 

The Sámi people, those famous reindeer herders of northern Norway, really do use reindeer to pull sleighs through the snow.

 

And now that you know all the 12 Days of Christmas meaning, do you know the names of all nine Santa’s reindeer?

 

And just to be safe, here’s a fun “Reindeer Food” idea to do with your kids: combine oats, “snow” glitter, and silver glitter in a bowl and have your children sprinkle it on the lawn or your porch on Christmas Eve. Tell them it will attract Santa’s sleigh with food and sparkle!

 

So there you have it and now you know. I love this kind of stuff and I hope you do too!

 

Merry Christmas everyone!

 

It’s the Most Wonderful and Stressful Time of the Year December 9, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:53 pm

 

Tis the season.

 

Tis the season for stressing out and burning out. But does it need to be? Isn’t it instead supposed to be wonderful?

 

 

Maybe it’s time we all just say no. No to over committing, over spending, over trying, over decorating, and over everything. It’s actually very sad that the most wonderful time of the year is often the most stressful. Funny how we currently see the word “peace” everywhere but don’t often feel it or foster it. Let’s start right now and give peace a chance.

 

 

It’s hard; I know. I’m the list maker of all list makers and tis the super bowl of list making seasons. Gift lists. Party lists. Decorations lists. Food lists. Lists of lists. But think about it, how much of all that is really essential?  Really essential?

 

 

 

Let’s start with gifts. Maybe it’s time to do a re-evaluation of who you exchange gifts with. My hunch is that if you asked many of them, they’d be all for ending whatever gift exchange tradition you may have. As for kids, stop buying them everything they want and ask for. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that since our daughter was born 28 years ago, she has only received three Christmas gifts (and maybe a little surprise in her stocking.) If three gifts were good enough for Jesus, they are certainly good enough for the rest of us. I also like my friend’s three gift idea of something you want, something you need, and something to read. How about instead of stressing your mind and your bank account out by buying everything on their list, you consider this:

 

 

Decorations are another doozy. I’m one for not putting up Christmas décor until after Thanksgiving, which makes Thanksgiving just that and not pre-Christmas, but I do feel the stress of having to take down all my pumpkins and turkeys immediately after and putting up our loads of Christmas decorations.

 

 

This year, I’m taking it a bit slower. Our decorations are out, out tree is up and the lights are strung on it but I’ve yet to hang to ornaments. I love our ornaments and I don’t want to feel rushed or pressured when unpacking them and hanging them up. I want to enjoy doing so and if that means not doing something else or waiting to do it, so be it. Taking the joy out of this joyful time creates unjoyful stress, drags us down, and depletes us.  Let’s instead do less and be more.

 

 

It’s all about measuring less on what’s on your calendar and more on what’s in your heart. Let things go. The line at the grocery store? Let it go. Your neighbor’s light display is bigger and bolder than yours? Let it go. Squeezing in that nail appointment? Let it go. Trying to accomplish too much? Let it go.

 

Speaking of that, if you tend to prove who you are by what you do or what you accomplish, news flash: it’s time to ask why. If a full calendar makes you feel important, take a good look at your appointments and commitments and decide what’s important, desired, and matters. Maybe, just maybe, consider giving and doing 90 percent rather than needlessly extending yourself at 110 percent. Good work never comes from someone who is overworked.

 

 

There’s a popular saying in Italian that says, “Dolce Far Neinte,” the sweetness of doing nothing.” I know it’s hard but also try doing nothing. Yep, nothing. Don’t stress about over-decorating and RSVPing “yes” to every invite. Doing nothing, as my girl Courtney Carver of “Be More With Less” reminds us, allows you to listen to your heart rather than all the chatter out there. Doing nothing will actually give you the energy to do something. Something you want to do. Something purposeful. Something mindful.

 

 

In today’s age of experts everywhere and on everything, it’s a bit comforting to realize Jesus came into the world as a baby, not an expert. He wasn’t born in a castle or to a king and queen and later ate with sinners and outcasts. He was actually a very simple guy. Simple, my friends, is good.

 

That simple guy proved this once again in the story of Martha and Mary. Invited into Martha’s home, she gets upset with Mary who sits listening at Jesus’ feet and leaves all the planning and prepping to Martha. Hostess with the mostest Martha complains to Jesus about Mary’s lack of help, only to be told by Him that Mary was to be commended for being still. Ouch. Truth be told, I’m a Martha. Big time Martha. Time to be more like Mary.

 

 

Celebrating Jesus’ birth should be peaceful, not stressful. He longs for us to rest in Him not be busy because of Him. It’s hard though, as that uninvited guest named Anxiety shows up on our doorsteps every Christmas. This is especially the case for women, who often bear the brunt of shopping, cooking, decorating, and all the details that go with. All the Marthas out there can often be overwhelmed and complain.

 

This Christmas however, this Martha is trying my hardest to not have a Martha Christmas, but a Mary one. Here’s hoping all of you also find joy and peace this Christmas season and many silent nights.

 

 

Advent, St. Nick and Why Do We Give Gifts? December 5, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 8:52 pm

advent-wreath1

 

In many Western Christian churches, including most Catholic and Lutheran parishes, today marks the second Sunday of Advent. On this day, a second candle on an Advent wreath is lit. The purple candle is called the “Bethlehem Candle,” demonstrates Faith, and reminds us of Mary and Joseph’s treacherous journey to Bethlehem.

 

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word that means “coming.” During Advent, Christians patiently await the coming of their Savior, Jesus Christ. An Advent wreath is made up of various evergreens, representing continuous life, as well as four candles that symbolize the four weeks of Advent. Legend has it that the four candles and the four weeks each represent 1,000 years and together total the 4,000 years between Adam and Eve and Jesus’ birth. Three candles on the wreath are purple and one is pink. They signify Christ being the light of the world and the contrast between darkness and light.

 

On the first Sunday of Advent, which begins the season of Advent four weeks out from Christmas, a purple “Prophet’s Candle” is lit as we focus on Hope and Jesus’ coming. Today’s purple candle will be followed by next Sunday’s pink “Shepherd’s Candle” reminding us of Joy and the birth of Jesus. On the last Sunday of Advent, the “Angel’s Candle” of Peace is lit. Some Advent wreaths also add a fifth white “Christ Candle” is the middle, which is lit on Christmas. Advent officially ends on Christmas Eve.

 

Growing up my family didn’t really celebrate Advent and my childhood home never had an Advent wreath or the other popular item, an Advent calendar. We basically had Jesus and Santa.

 

 

st-nick

Tomorrow Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas (and my dog Nikki’s birthday…named after the saint!) Considered the “first Santa,” good ole St. Nick wore a red coat like Santa, had a beard, and loved to share and give. He’s also mentioned in the classic “The Night Before Christmas.” Who knew?!

 

A very rich and generous man, St. Nicholas heard about a family that didn’t have enough money to buy food so he snuck onto their roof and threw some gold coins down their chimney. The coins landed in their stockings, which were hanging over the fire to dry. This, my friends, is why we hang stockings on fireplaces and put treats in them!

 

still-seek-him

 

And why do we give presents? Well, think of the 3 Kings. They brought gifts to the infant King and by giving to others, we model their generous act. Our daughter Kristen only gets three presents at Christmas, which has been our family tradition all her life. If three gifts were good enough for Jesus, they are certainly good enough for the rest of us!

 

 

All of these things explain some age-old traditions and also demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas. It breaks my heart to see the real reason for the season become increasingly “offensive” and secular, and my hope is that by sitting back and understanding exactly why we have days off in December and why stores love this time of the year, we will realize that there is so much more to it all than just time off, shopping, and Santa. I have hope.

 

A Thanksgiving Feast Safe for Fido November 23, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 3:49 pm

happy-thanksgiving-pets1

Thanksgiving is two days away and you know what that means: food. Lots of food! And, as much as we love all the turkey and fixings they are no bueno for something else we love: our pets.

Thanksgiving also means lots of people and kitchen chaos, which means you may not pay attention to what your dogs eat or sneak on the side. But if you want a day without a pet emergency room visit, you might want to take note of the ASPCA’s do’s and don’ts of Thanksgiving for pet owners.

Basically, the rules include no pets in the kitchen, stuff your turkey but not your pets, no booze hounds, and take out the trash!

pet-care_thanksgiving-safety-tips_main-image

When talking turkey, it’s tough to not give your dog a little nibble of the bird but just make sure it’s fully cooked, skinless, boneless, and has no tracings of twine or foil. The skin can be especially dangerous for Fido, as it will have spices, sauces, and fats that are both dangerous and hard to digest.

Bones, even those cooked like neck bones, are the worst and if ingested, will wreak havoc on a dog or cat’s digestive track. They splinter inside an animal and could lead to that dreaded emergency room visit.

Lastly, be sure to double bag and wrap-tie the turkey carcass and toss in an outside bin.

What’s the other Thanksgiving Day standard? Pumpkin pie! The pie is my absolute favorite but raw yeast dough will not be your pet’s fave. If ingested, the yeast converts sugars in the dough into carbon dioxide, gas, and alcohol, which can result in a bloated almost drunken pet with severe pain. This could be life-threatening and comes into play when making rolls and other bread items as well.

Nutmeg is a key ingredient in pumpkin pie and yams, but it is a big no-no for dogs. In fact, the seasonal favorite can cause seizures and central nervous system problems if ingested by a pup. Pumpkin and sweet potatoes themselves are fine in moderation; just make sure they don’t have any nutmeg or other spices.

Sage is also a popular Thanksgiving Day spice but it’s equally dangerous. It contains oils that upset a pooch’s tummy and should be avoided.

Along those same lines are onions and garlic. These two are pretty commonly known as bad for dogs, but just in case you didn’t know it, keep them away from your four-legged friends at all costs. Both contain sulfides that are toxic to dogs and can lead to anemia. Between the two, onions are more toxic than garlic and cooking them does not reduce their toxicity.

When I think of the holidays from my childhood, I remember my parents always had a big bowl of nuts on the coffee table. They were in a special wooden bowl and were not shelled. An old-school nutcracker and shell picker were always part of the set-up but when I think about it, it’s nuts to have nuts laying around if you have dogs, which we always did.

Nuts, especially walnuts and macadamia nuts, are uber dangerous for your dog. If a bad reaction occurs, a dog will be unable to stand, will vomit, suffer tremors and an elevated heart rate, and will have both a fever and weakness within 12 hours of digesting the nuts. Thankfully most symptoms go away but why risk it? Keep those nuts up high people.

Other things you should keep away from your pets

Drippings and Gravy

Turkey Stuffing

Raisins and Grapes

Mushrooms

Corn on the Cob

Butter

Chocolate

Alcohol

recipe-for-dogs

It’s not all bad news though and there are plenty of Thanksgiving Day items that can be safely added to your mutt’s menu, including:

Boneless, skinless and well-cooked turkey meat (no skin)

Sweet potatoes (plain)

Plain pumpkin puree

Green beans

Cranberry sauce

Carrots (raw or cooked but plain)

Apples

If you think your precious pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4436. It’s a number you should probably keep handy all year long.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and one with safe and happy pets!