Haiku Challenge

According to britannica.com, a haiku is anunrhymed poetic form consisting of 17 syllables arranged in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively. The haiku first emerged in Japanese literature during the 17th century, as a terse reaction to elaborate poetic traditions.” https://www.britannica.com/art/haiku. Originally, the haiku form centered on an objective description of nature suggestive of one of the seasons, that evoked an emotional response. Haiku today also explore imagery outside of nature.

When translated from Japanese to English haiku do not necessarily follow the 5-7-5 syllable format, leading writer Jack Kerouac to believe that, because of the differences in language structure, the western haiku should “simply say a lot in three short lines…”. This is the idea of haiku that I gravitate towards and hope to employ more, although I do use the traditional syllable structure.

Whatever format one chooses, the challenge is to express oneself in as few words as possible to deliver a vivid image with emotional impact.

I do not profess to be a learned or skilled poet, but I have dabbled in haiku and have composed many over the years. I love the challenge and discipline of brevity in expression.

I now challenge you, reader, to compose your own haiku, and to perhaps share with us. I will share mine and describe the scenes and thoughts that led to their creation. To help you get started, this MasterClass  article could be useful: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-write-a-haiku-in-4-easy-steps#4-common-themes-of-haiku-poetry

I wrote this in October.

Graceful Exit

Gold and red leaves fall,

making room for bright green ones,

in a new season.

This was inspired one starry night by the thought that we are made of stardust.

Stardust

Tiny spots of light

too far to reach out and touch,

yet I am of them.

A bird’s nest that was no longer hidden when the leaves fell.

Hidden Treasure

An abandoned nest,

revealed in now bare branches,

once sang with new life.

I hope you feel encouraged to attempt writing haiku. Just trying would increase your awareness of the world around you and encourage you to use your senses more fully. And to then condense your thoughts into just seventeen syllables or less, well, that’s the fun part. And don’t forget to share. Perfection is optional.

On The Lighter Side

Car Wisdom

The other day we got to talking about funny bumper stickers and other words of wisdom we have seen on cars. Here is the cream of the crop.

On an old, beat-up car with rust and different colored doors:

   When the Rapture Comes Can I Have Your Car?

On a fancy, expensive looking car with a logo that’s not Toyota or Honda or Kia or any that I’m familiar with, the license plate reads:

   WAS HIS

On an ordinary car:

Do You Follow Jesus This Closely?

On a car with a young driver:

   Warning: Mother of Student Driver On Board

On an ordinary looking car:

   My Rear End is Much Closer to You than it Appears

On an older model vehicle:

   Grandma Driving. Start Praying.

On a sports car:

   If You Want a Perfect Body, Please Take the One in My Trunk

On a youthful looking car:

  I Believe in Dragons, Good Men, and Other Fantasy Creatures

On a car driven by a young woman:

   I Think, Therefore I’m Single

On a momish car:

   Be Careful, Accidents Cause People

On a Mini Van

  I Used to be Cool

On a Saturn:

   My Other Ride is Uranus

On an SUV:

   I Brake for Pedestrians. Sometimes.

On an Older Model Car:

   I Brake for People Behind Me

Schitt’s Creek Trivia

Can you ace this quiz?

Hello Friend,

Our team won! But only one of two games of Shitt’s Creek trivia. We did not win the first because we forgot that Christopher Guest worked with both Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara on four films. We had a perfect score before that final question where we bet it all and lost it all.

The second game progressed to a tie breaker, but we managed to snag the win by a very strategic guess. We did not know David’s pin number, which had to be between one and ten thousand, so a teammate suggested we bet in the middle. Five thousand happened to come closest to the answer. We walked away with gift certificates for food and a pretty beer glass. (Bonus question: What is David’s pin number?)

A local restaurant, Bellacino’s Pizza & Grinders in Stow, together with Event DJs, host Trivia Night on Wednesday evenings. This is usually two games of general knowledge. We are regulars. We keep coming, not only because of the game and the company of friends, but for the food as well. Last night a patron was overheard to say, “I think this is my new favorite restaurant.”

The Schitt’s Creek contest was a special event held on Sunday. I brushed up on my Schitt’s Creek trivia before the game but some of the most difficult questions, in my opinion, were not asked, so I’ve compiled the list below for your entertainment. I have no way of hiding the answers so you would need to Google them or watch the show again to find out if you are correct. Good luck, but better yet, have fun!!

  1. What is Alexis’ middle name?
  2. What is David’s and Alexis’ room number?
  3. What is the name of Moira’s character in The Crows Have Eyes III: The Crowening?
  4. What year was the town of Schitt’s Creek founded?
  5. What year was Bob’s Garage established?
  6. What is the name of Bob’s wife?
  7. What is Ronnie’s house number?
  8. What is the name of Moira’s character on Sunrise Bay?
  9. What is the name of the muscled repairman on the show?
  10.  The name of what newspaper is on the red dispenser outside of the motel?
  11.  What is Twyla’s surname?
  12.  What was the original price that the shelving magnate was willing to pay for the town?
  13.  Did Alexis say “Ew, David,” more than 6 times or less?
  14.  How much money did Twyla end up with from winning the lottery?
  15.  What was the name of Stevie’s great aunt who bequeathed her the motel?
  16.  What is the name of the baby whom the family brought to Bob’s brother’s funeral?
  17.  What was the name of Bob’s brother who died?
  18.  How much unpasteurized milk did Johnny ask Alexis to buy?
  19.  What are the names of the two dogs in Ted’s house when Alexis first visits?
  20.  What streaming service distributes The Crows Have Eyes III: The Crowening?

Loofa to You, Nenwa to Me

Back to the Old Ways

Hello Friend,

I picked up a loofa sponge today. It was in the all-natural, organic category of spa-like bath supplies in the store. It also had an all-natural, organic, spa-like bath supplies price tag.

The label said loofa, but in my mind, I had picked up a nenwa scrubber. It was smaller than the ones I used when I was growing up in Guyana, South America, the ones that I would have traded in a snap for one of the brightly colored artificial sponges from the local pharmacy. Those had to be better because they were sold in a store and must have come from abroad. My nenwa scrubber was harvested from a vine that grew along the fence in our yard, nothing special. The scientific name of the variety we grew is Luffa acutangular, the ridged luffa. After the nenwa gourd was left on the vine to get brown, it was picked, peeled, the seeds shaken out, and the fibrous skeleton was washed and ready for use. So plain, so simple, so unexciting.

I wish I knew then what I realized later; that many of our everyday practices were based upon ancient wisdom, perfected, and handed down over centuries. What the west discovered many years later we were already practicing, but many of us did not recognize the value of the knowledge we had. We craved modern things, the things used by the English, and later, the Americans.

In the same aisle was coconut oil. Another of those things we took for granted. This was used as hair oil and as a moisturizer, but oh, what so many of us girls would not have given for some scented body lotion, Bath and Body Works style? The men had Brylcreem or Brillantine, a green pomade, for their hair, but coconut oil was the standard product for females.

Our family descended from immigrants from India. Most of the Indian culture was preserved, but since Guyana was then a colony of Britain, many tended to look upon western practices as superior.

The craving for things foreign extended to our food as well. The freshly caught, never frozen, organic fish netted that day was banal fare. Many a time we would have gladly swapped the fresh cuts of snapper or basha or smooth, succulent butterfish, for a can of Marshall’s sardines in tomato sauce or Alaskan salmon or Globe corned mutton that came all the way from Australia. Vienna sausage, which we considered a delicacy (much to the surprise of many Americans), fried up with tomatoes and onions and served with store-bought bread, was a much-anticipated Sunday breakfast. The cooked-from-scratch roti and vegetables did not generate the same excitement, or any excitement at all for that matter.

Similarly, we valued highly processed white sugar over the less refined sugars we typically used, and canned milk with pictures of contented cows, trumped the fresh milk delivered at our doorstep by the milk lady every day.

Our traditional home remedies such as ginger and turmeric have been gaining popularity in Western culture, but I will admit that I would take a cup of hot ginger tea for my cold any day over Buckley’s Cough Mixture, even if it is imported. As my brother would say, that stuff could put hair on your chest.

Mangoes, guava, sapodilla, and countless other fruit were available year-round, some of them in one’s own yard, but the fruit that were most prized were the imported apples and grapes that the stores stocked only in December. Many of the older folk still refer to apples as Christmas apples. That slice of apple and four or five grapes tasted like heaven.

My views have made a 180-degree flip. Over the years I have come to treasure those things I took for granted or scoffed at so many years ago. I realize the value of the things we had then, and regret that it was only after they were popularized by the west that I began to truly understand and appreciate the experience and knowledge that lay behind our practices and helped shape our lives.

Hunting for Expiration Dates

Why are they so well hidden?

Hello Friend,

I can only imagine how baffled the people monitoring the cameras in the grocery store security office might be at my behavior as I try to locate the all-elusive expiration dates on products. A good number of shoppers just pick up the first item in the front row and add it to their cart. Not me. I check the expiration dates on all perishables.

What the monitors might see is a woman in dairy acting in a strange manner. She picks up a tub of butter, turns it all around, looks at the lid, turns the container over, checks the bottom, then examines the entire circumference again before replacing it on the shelf.

In the milk case, she might look briefly at a couple of jugs before selecting one; the dates on milk are easily visible. The yogurt section is a different matter; the containers here require the same level of frustrating scrutiny as the tubs of butter.

The bread aisle presents a whole new way to test one’s eyesight and patience. There are times when I found myself acting like Rafiki presenting Simba in The Lion King, just trying to read what is printed on the bag. Usually, the small print is stamped over other labeling and is impossible to read, or creases in the bag make the printing too sloppy to decipher.

I am not so picky that I would not eat a food past its expiration date. If it smells good and tastes good, then it is good, is more the method I use. But it helps to have a guide, especially when you are shopping for just one or two people. Families with young members with hearty appetites might go through a loaf of bread, or a bag of chips in a day or two, so expiration dates may not matter that much to them. With less people using a product these dates become an essential guide, and this is especially true for the elderly. No one on a fixed, most likely not substantial income, wants to risk food spoilage.

I hope food manufacturers would recognize this and make the necessary changes. I have passed over purchasing many a food because I could not locate or read the expiration information. The brand names always stand out, and the nutrition information is well presented, but the same care is not given to expiration dates, an essential element in foods that have a short shelf life. Manufacturers should realize that dark on dark printing is not advisable in any situation, especially not on a cup of yogurt or other perishable foods.

The effort to add expiration dates is commendable, but the information is useless if one cannot read it. Since the boomer generation is a booming part of the supermarket scene and are most likely to rely on these dates, greater effort should be made to address the needs of this population.

I hope this issue comes to the attention of those who handle the labeling of perishable foods and they move to correct it.

Covid 19 Vaccine Booster Shot

Hit me with your best shot

Hello Friend,

I waited for the hammers to start beating a rhythm on the drum of my brain.

I waited for the fever to rise and the sweating to begin.

I waited for the ague.

None of that happened.

It was already twenty-fours after my Covid booster vaccine. The pharmacist said that I should expect a reaction similar to what I experienced after the second Covid shot, so I did everything that was necessary when I came home, preparing for the worse the next day.

My symptoms appeared about twenty-two hours after the second vaccine dose. The fever and sweats came first, then the shakes and aches, followed in quick succession by a pounding headache. Fortunately, the duration was a little less than twenty-four hours.

It has now been more than a day after my booster and all I felt was lethargy and mild pain at the site of the injection. I slept most of the day after; I just could not seem to keep my eyes open, but today I feel as fit as the proverbial fiddle. (Another simile that I don’t quite understand. Don’t fiddles never get out of tune? How does one determine the fitness of a fiddle? Maybe I should have said as healthy as a horse, but that would only lead to more questions). But I digress.

I am glad that the after-effects of the Covid booster were extremely mild, but even if they were not, I would still make the same decision to receive all the vaccines available against Covid. Such a small price to pay for the protection I receive against a deadly organism. This virus has already killed five million worldwide, so I feel privileged and fortunate to be able to receive such valuable protection against it. All I had to do was make the decision to be vaccinated, then find a location that administered the vaccine.

We each need to make the choice that we have every confidence in. We should feel that our choice is the best one for us and our families, to keep us all safe from the harm and death that this virus causes. I have no doubt that choosing to receive the vaccine is the best choice for me and my loved ones.

I thank all the scientists who worked together to make this protection available to us in such a short time. Scientific processes change over the years. Experience, new knowledge, advances in technology, and the sharing of ideas among those working towards the same goal, lead to more efficient and expedient results.

There was a time when Dr. Edward Jenner, in developing the first vaccine, harvested the cowpox virus from the blisters of those who were infected and administered it to those whom he vaccinated against contracting smallpox. He successfully developed a vaccine against smallpox, but he could not have done it if he did not have volunteers willing to trust him, and if others did not have confidence in his results smallpox, instead of being eradicated, might still be plaguing us today.

We have moved far beyond developing vaccines in the way of Dr. Jenner, but what has not changed is that we still need people to trust in the new methods of developing vaccines that our scientists now use. Just as we have progressed in the way we communicate, spread information, and develop new equipment and processes that govern every facet of our lives, we have also progressed in the way we develop vaccines. As in so many other developments, the methods now used are more efficient and results are achieved much quicker than in the past.

I have worked in a medical microbiology laboratory for many years, and I know that a few decades ago, once a culture was grown, it took two to three days to identify a pathogen, and to determine its antibiotic susceptibility or resistance. Now that entire process takes but a few hours, thanks to advances in science and technology. The information I have gathered from trusted sources on the development of certain vaccines gives me full faith in the efficacy and integrity of the Covid 19 vaccines.

The Patient’s Tale

The Power of Hope

Hello Friend,

Without trying to, Emma Bern (not her real name) taught me a lesson that has stayed with me for nearly forty years. It is one that I draw upon when I find myself on the verge of giving up hope.

At that time, in 1983, I was a newly minted medical technologist in a New York City hospital. Part of our duties was to go up to the floors each morning and draw the patients’ blood. As expected, we were subject to good natured ribbing where the patients called us vampires or blood suckers. Some who had grown tired of the procedure told us to get lost in no uncertain terms. These did not worry us for we knew that a no-nonsense nurse would soon visit them when she learned of their refusal.

Some patients stood out. The one who sounded exactly like Katharine Hepburn was one. She even looked somewhat like her, tall and lean with her hair up in a bun. She was a chatterbox and carried on a cheerful one-sided conversation as we withdrew vials of her blood. Then there was the most attractive, Hollywood good-looking young man who made us so nervous that we kept missing his bulging veins. And who could forget the addict who, when I could not find a good vein on her, snatched the needle from my hand, stuck herself in the thigh, and drew her blood. Her reaction was understandable for I’m sure I was hurting her and she must have gone through tedious ER procedures before coming to the floor.

The most memorable patient, however, was Emma Bern. Emma was in her late fifties. She had come in for surgery. The procedure was a success and Emma was recovering nicely. Her bright eyes and arresting smile welcomed me as I approached her bed. She knew why I was there, my basket of Vacutainer tubes and tourniquets, and gauze and Band Aids was a dead give-away, but Emma still smiled as I took her arm.

“My son’s coming today”, she beamed.

I asked where he lived and she said in Pennsylvania, just past Jersey. She chatted on and I learned that he was her only child. She did not mention a husband or other relatives.

Her smile and good spirits were contagious, and I left her bedside smiling.

“Good morning, Ms. Bern”, I called the next day. I tried to make sure that I got to be her phlebotomist that day also.

She beamed a reply, and when I asked about her son, she said that he would be there today. Something unexpected came up yesterday and he could not make it.

The next day her reply was the same, but a bit of spark had left her. And the day after that it was even less, until Emma smiled and spoke no more. Her sparkling eyes were now dull orbs with a far-away look. This was a time before HIPPA rules existed and I was tempted to ask for her son’s number and beg him to come, but then I knew that one, or several, of the nurses on the floor had already made that call.

One morning Emma’s bed was empty. It was not because she was discharged.

I know the sparsest details of Emma’s life, or of who she was as a person. I just know that the hope of seeing her son kept her happy and gave her a reason to live. When she realized that that was not going to happen, she gave up hope, little by little, and sunk into an abyss of hopelessness from which she, I suspect, did not care to be delivered.

It was through Emma that I learned first-hand of the power of hope to sustain us, and the power of hopelessness to destroy us. She may have given up hope, but I focus on the person she was when she was filled with anticipation of things to come. That memory has steered me towards hope many a time.

Live Each Day as if it were Your Second to Last

Don’t give up on tomorrow

Hello Friend,

“Live each day as if it were your last,” has become a common catch phrase that has been oft repeated, oft paraphrased, and oft taken too seriously, in my humble opinion.

Brilliant minds have touted this sentiment, from Marcus Aurelius to Mahatma Gandhi to Steve Jobs. It has even found its way into a song by Ray Charles, ”…  live each day like it’s your last, ‘cause one day you gonna be right.”

I am sure that I’m not in the same league as these men, but I do have opinions and will exercise my right to voice them, even if it means that I voice disagreement with the more learned and respected.

I would assume that Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said it first, given that he lived from 121 AD to 180 AD, but I prefer to take this phrase in the context of his entire sentence which reads: Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretense. Now if we were to take out the words ‘as if it were your last” that would be much more palatable advice for me. This way, I have hope for tomorrow.

I don’t know about you, but if I tried to cram everything that I wanted to do into one day I could never get to everything, and I would not enjoy anything. My goodness, that would be like packing an under-seat bag with clothes and what-nots for a week’s stay in a place where the weather is changeable.

Consider this: if we lived each day as if it were our second to last, we would always have tomorrow to look forward to, and then we can finish up things that we might not have gotten to today. And then if we still did not finish then we would still have the next tomorrow.

Now consider this scenario: what if a massive amount of people decided to live each day as if it were their last all at once? Seems to me that everyone would rush to their banks to empty their accounts (I remember that scene from It’s a Wonderful Life), they might gorge themselves on last-meal delicacies that would wreak havoc on their hearts, because they would soon have no use for it, and send their blood sugar levels into outer space. They might even give away all their prized possessions since, come midnight, instead of losing their coach and other material trappings, they would lose their lives.

And then, what if they don’t die? What if that was not really their last day? That’s when the real trouble begins. That would be quite a fine mess that they would have gotten themselves into.

I find myself more in league with those who value tomorrow as well as today. Scarlett O’Hara believed in the promise and hope of a new day, “After all, tomorrow is another day” she famously said. But the best advice comes from a little red-headed orphan named Annie:

“Tomorrow, tomorrow

I love ya tomorrow

You’re always a day away.”

That’s how I want to spend each day. Living a great day today, but still thinking about the possibilities of the next day.

The Manicurist’s Tale

 Change your perspective, change your life

 Hello Friend,

Every now and then I treat myself to a manicure and pedicure. A most relaxing experience, especially the pedicure. Having a professional manicure also reduces stress because, unlike when I do my nails myself, there are no uneven spots, or polish spilling over the sides of my nails, or, best of all, no cuts when I try to trim my cuticles.

I have noticed that most of the nail salons in my area are staffed by nail technicians from Vietnam. I have gleaned this information by making small talk during my pampering sessions. It feels rather odd to sit in complete silence when you are inches away from a person who is looking in your direction. I say glean because I don’t usually gather much information because of the language barrier, and I feel like I am being rude if I ask the person to repeat what they said several times.

But then, on one visit, I was lucky to have Lily (not her real name) tend to my hands and feet.

Like all the technicians, Lily wore a smile and spoke softly. She seemed to be much older than the other male and female manicurists who were in their thirties or younger. As she started my pedicure, she asked me about myself and my children and my work. She had a good grasp of English, and I was pleasantly surprised by that. Emboldened by her interaction with me I tentatively began asking her questions that were long on my mind.

One was my curiosity about why so many nail salons were owned and operated by Vietnamese immigrants. Lily explained that it was because very little knowledge of English was needed in that industry, from training to employment. If one or two people in the salon were reasonably proficient that was enough. The other workers could get by with signs and motions and very few words, as I have found out. Just a touch of a finger or a gentle tap would let me know exactly what I needed to do, whether it was to relax my finger, place my hand in the soaking bowl or move it to the fan.

I asked Lily about her family in turn. As she explained, Lily and her family, like many of the other Vietnamese in the area, were able to settle in America because their fathers worked for our armed forces during the Vietnam war.

I compliment her on her grasp of the English language, and she said she studied English in Vietnam where she taught high school chemistry before coming over to America. I wondered how Lily felt about leaving such a position of authority to do what she now did. The question begged to burst out of my mouth, but I could embarrass both of us if I dared ask it.

Lily spoke as if she knew what was on my mind.

“At first I cry. I not like working like this. I think about teaching, but I cannot be teacher here. Language hard. So, I do nails.”

Lily communicated the unhappiness she felt at moving from teaching students the secrets of science, to taking care of the hands and feet of strangers. It was obvious that that unhappiness no longer dominated her mood given her constant smile and cheerful rapport. Lily told me her secret.

“I always work hard and do good job even though I am not happy, but then I see I make other people happy. They like how their hands and feet look. They smile and say thank you. Then they start to ask to see me next time they come because they like my work.”

“It not like teaching chemistry, but I do something good for people to make them happy. Now I like nails better and I now more happy.”

I left the salon a satisfied customer. Not only did I receive a great manicure and pedicure, but I was reminded of how sometimes all it takes to improve one’s outlook on life is to make oneself see things from a different perspective.

In her worse moments Lily might have seen herself scraping dead skin from people’s feet, but in her more enlightened state she can see what she truly does – make people happy.

 The Beauty of Book Clubs

Expanding my horizons

Hello Friend,

One of the reasons why some do not like joining book clubs is that they are not too keen on having someone else choose a book, expect them to read it, and then to have to finish it within a certain time.

Those are precisely the reasons why I like being in a book club.

I am a member of two book clubs that meet once every month. One is hosted by the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library (I am very fortunate to live within ten minutes of two great libraries), and the other by a local teacher. One meets in the library and the other in a restaurant.

The process of choosing what we read is similar in both clubs; members make suggestions and the group votes on what selection we will read. The flavor of the discussions differs somewhat because of the different venues, but each place has its own appeal; the library is quiet with the focus being on the book we are discussing, while the more casual restaurant setting allows for deviations from topic as we order food and drink, observe other patrons, and have our chat move to more personal levels at times. Both clubs feature all genres.

I deliberately did not choose membership in book clubs that are more specialized, such as those dedicated to crime or the classics or history and biographies, because I wanted to experience a greater variety in topics.

Mystery, suspense, crime, is what I gravitate towards. As a result, I often enclose myself in reading cocoons, where, once I find an author I like, I read only his or her books until I exhaust all available titles. It happened with Tess Gerritsen, Patricia Cornwell, Harlan Coben, and most recently, Lee Child. And the same happened with Richard Paul Evans who is not exactly a mystery writer. As you can imagine, this pattern of behavior leaves me little exposure to other fine books and authors when I alone choose my reading material.

That is where the book clubs come in. They help me break out of whatever cocoon I’m wrapped up in and free me to explore other genres. If I were not a member of these two groups, I would not have come to know the delightful, quirky characters of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, or of the intense rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in The Last Days of Night, or of the experiences of war brides in Ship of Brides. I am enriched by the variety of books I am exposed to as a member of a general focus book club.

Besides the variety of topics that are covered, there is also the variety of perspectives that I am privileged to hear. I am usually surprised by someone else’s revelation of a point that I did not see before, or of how someone relates to a topic in a different way from me because of the differences in our lives. The discussions by a cross section of people with different experiences and perspectives enrich the sessions, and lead to a more in-depth knowledge of the work.

The time constraints imposed by book clubs help keep me disciplined. I am less likely to be tempted to watch every episode of the latest blockbuster shows on television back-to-back. I can ration my viewing to a few episodes per day and leave time for reading. It is a win-win situation for me.

The social aspects of getting together to discuss a book that we all read cannot be underestimated. I look forward each month to getting together with like-minded folk to share our thoughts as we indulge in a common interest. It is even more exciting when our views oppose that of our clubmates, but then we share our reasoning and perhaps raise questions that were not apparent before, all of which allows us a deeper understanding of the books we cover.

And if there is a book that one just cannot get into after several tries, no one compels you to finish it. You just wait and hope that the next selection would be more riveting.