Monday, March 1, 2021

Poetry Has Always Frightened Me. How About You?

Even back in elementary school, I loved to write. But not poems. Both reading and writing poetry scared me. I was afraid I wouldn't understand what the author was trying to say. The rules of writing poetry intimidated me. To be truthful, these fears followed me into adulthood and well beyond.

Text from a book explaining how to read poetry.
A page from "The Art of Writing and Speaking The English Language: How and What to Read" 
by Sherwin Cody, copyright 1905. Image by Susan Foster

Only in the last decade, I have begun to appreciate poetry. I now understand the interpretation of poems is subjective. Often, a poem is written to express a feeling even more than an actual thought. My favorite way to experience a poem is to listen to the author read it.

My education did not require me to write a lot of poetry. For this, I used to consider myself lucky, but now I am regretful. I do remember having to write a poem for a homework assignment (using the style of one of the poetry types we had been taught) when I was nine or ten years old. We were expected to read our work to the class the next day. I was terrified. 

I decided to write a limerick, probably because it was the style of poetry with rules I thought I was least likely to break. I don't think I realized back then that limericks are quite often funny and sometimes leud. Mine was neither! 

A limerick is "a humorous poem consisting of five lines. The first, second, and fifth lines must have seven to ten syllables while rhyming and having the same verbal rhythm. The third and fourth lines should only have five to seven syllables; they too must rhyme with each other and have the same rhythm."

"I can count syllables and come up with words that rhyme. Maybe I can do this assignment, after all," I thought.

I remember sitting a long time in our family room just twirling my pencil through my fingers, overcome by writer's block. I knew I needed to write just five lines with a set number of syllables. But, what to write about? My eyes roved around the room and finally focused on a figurine my parents had bought in Mexico, while on their honeymoon. An old man with a skeleton-thin horse. I vaguely remembered my parents telling me the story of why they bought it. Something about the old cowboy being named Tex and his horse was called Paint. 

Strangely, I still recall the lines I wrote and memorized to recite to my class the next day. I'm pretty sure I took the figurine with me to school to show my class, hoping it would bolster my performance. 

Here's the poem: 

There was an old man named Tex

He had an old dog named Rex

He had a horse named Paint

Who sadly once did faint

Because on him was placed a hex.

I was well-acquainted with Edward Lear's rhyme, "There Was an Old Man With a Beard." I know this because I remember studying the accompanying illustration in our copy of The Book of Nonsense when I was small. I suspect his first line may have laid the groundwork for mine.

  🤣 🤣 🤣 Well, I don't need to point out that my poetry was not award-worthy. That is one of the very few poems I've ever written. Lately, however, I've been thinking I should take another stab at poetry. Maybe I'll work on conquering the technique of the haiku.

A traditional Japanese haiku, according to this definition from is "a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Often focusing on images from nature, haiku emphasizes simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression."

Living in Montana, I certainly have plenty of images from nature to spark my creativity. 

A mountain scene with trees, snow and blue sky
This photo was taken from the car while leaving Big Sky Resort, Montana. Image by Susan Foster.

Some rules of poetry have relaxed a lot and new formats have emerged since I was in elementary school. These new forms are probably just as challenging to write, but somehow seem less intimidating. I was recently introduced to one of these new types of poetry by a review written by Adeola Sheehy-Adekale, about The She Book by Tanya Markul. The emotions this poetry evokes are almost visceral.

Sheehy-Adekale explains the recent style of poetry Markul uses is, "a form of writing which focuses on the affect it has, the shared experience which the reader can identify with, rather than rhyming couplets or any other poetry convention." 

What caused me to start thinking about poetry was a photo of a "tear-and-take" haiku poster tacked to a public message board. What a lovely gift a poem can be.

 Who knows, maybe one day I'll finally tackle my fear and try to write some poetry. But not today.

If you feel inspired to write a haiku about the mountain scene in the photograph above, feel free to share it in the comments below.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover. How I Became Aware of My Unconscious Stereotype

I previously published a version of this post on 10/23/14. Since newer readers may not have seen it, I've revised it a bit and I'm sharing it again. 

Never judge a book by its cover is a worn-out cliché, but it is true advice that I should have remembered during a brief encounter in the past.

Three old and worn hardback books propped up between some pumpkins
The covers on these books have seen better days, but the contents are still classic. 

I visited an auto parts store to buy jumper cables

Almost a dozen years ago, I stopped at an auto parts store one afternoon to look for the jumper cables. I had promised these would be our donation for the “car-care items basket" my son’s class was assembling, to be auctioned at the School PTA fundraiser later in the week.

I wandered up and down the somewhat scruffy and cluttered aisles, feeling very out of my element. I was surrounded by people who all seemed comfortable locating what they needed. I perused every aisle, but couldn’t find the jumper cables.

The store shelves were disorganized and I was overwhelmed

My frustration mounted and I was nearly ready to concede defeat and leave empty-handed. Suddenly, a man in dusty jeans and a rumpled store vest approached and said, “I’ll be with you in just a moment, Ma’am.” (He must have read my mind . . .)

Seconds after he spoke to me, my eyes spied an inexpensive “Emergency Car Kit.” The label bragged that it included all sorts of emergency items, including the jumper cables I had hoped to buy. Lying partially covered by another item on a bottom shelf, I had nearly missed seeing it. 

I was taken by surprise by the excellent customer service

When the salesperson returned to my side, I asked him if the contents of the kit were accurately depicted on the packaging, and told him why I needed it. He confirmed the contents. 

To my surprise though, he added,

Monday, February 22, 2021

How a Mistaken Identity Led to an Unexpectedly Delicious Oatmeal Recipe

Most of us know it is a wise practice to label food items before storing them in the freezer. Sometimes, though, we get lazy or just assume that we will recognize them. Or at least I do. 😊 

Food without a label can acquire a mistaken identity. This can have unexpected consequences, as proven by the oatmeal I made for breakfast.

A bowl of bright red oatmeal

My recent oatmeal "oops" 

To improve my diet and also just because I enjoy the taste, a while back I started eating oatmeal almost every morning for my breakfast. Not the prepackaged sugary kind. I get out a pot, place it on the stove and add some 5-minute oats (or more recently some steel-cut oats) with water, a pinch of salt, and some fruit. I cook these until they are nice and creamy, then scoop them into a bowl. A dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of nuts, and I see no need for any sugar. 

I recently read that while quick-cooking or 5-minute oats are better than the sugared individual-packet kind, steel-cut oats are even more nutritious. They take a little longer to cook, but the benefits (and the texture) are well worth it. 

I flavor oatmeal without sugar in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I add a little peanut butter and/or jam. It is really yummy with the addition of some fruit. Most often I just add part of a banana or some sort of berry. Fresh or frozen fruit cooks up equally well. 

This week, though, I accidentally added something quite unique ...

Friday, February 19, 2021

My Favorite Hat is a Helmet!

Note: This is a revised and updated version of a post previously published on November 22, 2014, but it seems worth sharing again, while a lot of the US is in the midst of a snowy winter.

I hardly ever wear a hat

I like hats - but I look terrible in them.  Something about the shape of my head and my hair just means that they never fit right.  I rarely wear a hat.

But - - there is one exception.  My ski helmet!

I never wore a helmet when I was younger

When I learned to ski as a pre-teen, there was no such thing as a ski helmet.  About 20 years ago, you might have spotted a ski helmet worn in a ski resort terrain park; then parents gradually started buying them for their small children.  

An article published by the International Skiing Association, Ski Helmets, How We Got Here, states “from 1995 until 2010, helmet use increased from 5% to 76%. Over that period, the rate of serious head injuries dropped by about 65%.” That's a pretty impressive statistic!

Not exactly cute, but it makes you look smart when you wear one

Gradually, more and more skiers over the past few decades have begun to realize helmets are a good way to protect their brainpower.  I was finally one of them.

It took a bit of convincing - I actually bought several but returned them without ever wearing them. I just felt really ugly every time I tried them on.

Finally, I found one that really fit, and I conquered my vanity. It has adjustable air vents for temperature control, a removable (washable) liner, warm ear muffs, and (my favorite) a dial to loosen or tighten the fit.  (Giro calls this their “in-form fit system.”)

Helmets are available at a wide range of prices.  

Even the most expensive price tag would seem like pennies, however, compared to a hospital bill ...  or a casket. 

The very first time I wore my ski helmet, I became a convert.  

Right away, I realized there are three good reasons to wear a helmet

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Random Acts of Kindness Week

Did you know this week is National Random Acts of Kindness week? Neither did I, until today. 

Staring out at our snowy property while I'm writing this, I pondered what random acts of kindness that I have experienced. One immediately came to mind:

Returning home in the wee hours of the morning, after a long and treacherous road trip in winter weather, my husband and I were dreading our steep driveway. We knew the snow would be so deep we would be unable to get up it. The thought of having to park at the bottom and trudge up the snowy hill, with all our bags and two very sleepy young children, in extremely cold temperatures, was almost more than I could bear in my sleep-deprived and weary state. 

To our immense surprise and gratitude, when we arrived we found that someone had plowed the driveway for us, while we were away. We never found out who kindly did it - but I will forever be grateful. 

As you may have guessed from my posts on February 1st and February 4th, I've discovered that it's fun to check the National Day calendar and see the celebrations or recognitions suggested there. 😊  Since "kindness" is one of my chosen "words of the year" for 2021, I cannot let a week devoted to kind acts go unnoticed. 

Actually, I think every week should be filled with random acts of kindness, but if designating one week of the year as such boosts the occurrence of these acts, then I'm all for it.

An Amelia Earhart quote about kindness on a photo of a pine forest

I tried to find a definition for random act of kindness. According to Grammarist, it "is an action that is performed for another, usually a stranger, simply to bring that person happiness." Most often, these acts are done without expecting anything in return or any praise or recognition. 

Paying for the coffee order of the person behind or ahead of you in line at the coffee shop, feeding a stranger's meter, or allowing a person to cut ahead of you in a line are some examples of random ways to be kind. Being kind, however, can be just as simple as saying something nice.

For example:

  • Telling a grocery teller you appreciate how speedy she is at her job, might just brighten up her day. 
  • A word of thanks to the mailperson for delivering mail even in subzero weather will warm them up a little. 
  • When you see a parent being patient with a toddler (or a teenager!) tell them you admire such good parenting. Better yet, if you witness an impatient parent (and if this action seems appropriate to the situation), try to sympathize with them and offer to lend a hand; it may defuse their anger and frustration.
  • In this hard time of social isolation, give a call or send a letter to someone you think might be lonely.
  • If you read an article or see a youtube video that moves you in some way, leave the author/creator a comment, give it a like or a clap, and/or share it with your friends and on social media sites. You'd be surprised how much that positive feedback to the author actually means.
If you are interested in other ideas of how to spread kindness, the Random Acts of Kindness website has a bunch.

Recently, news reports have contained a lot of anger, pain, and sadness. Goodness does still happen, though, and the following stories helped restore my faith in the goodness of humanity. They are worth taking the time to click and read them:

Remember that while random acts of kindness are often done for strangers, we should also extend these kindnesses to our friends, family, pets, the environment, and ourselves.

Did you know that in addition to being an aviation pioneer, Ameila Earhart was also a writer? She had some wise things to say about kindness.

"No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves."   ~~Amelia Earhart

Have a wonderful, kind, and caring day. 

Please social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, get vaccinated, stay healthy, and keep making the most -- of all your moments!

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Happy Valentine's Day 2021

How can we celebrate Valentine's Day during a pandemic?

small flowering cactus and valentine's day card
This card, showing a masked kitty with a facemask was sent to us by friends of ours and designed and printed by Ritzy Rose in Pickerington, OH.

February 14th is a day for showing sweethearts, friends, and family that we care. 

Are you at a loss for how to celebrate Valentine's day during this year of pandemic restrictions and fears?

Opportunities may seem limited right now, but it seems more important than ever to show others just how much we care. 

Here are a few last-minute ideas for you.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

How to Never Pull Up to the Wrong Side of the Gas Pump Again

Unfortunately, I don't know any good tips for saving money when you buy gas, but I do have an easy tip about how to save time (and avoid feeling frustrated) at the pump. I learned it from my son.

gas tank locator arrow

Our cars all needed servicing a while back, so I drove all three of them within a week. Later, I commented to my son that I wished that it was standard for all cars to have the gas tank on the same side. I complained that it is frustrating to realize, after getting out of the car to pump the gas, that I've pulled up on the wrong side of the pump. I am usually in a hurry, so even the few minutes wasted while having to reposition the car can cause me to be late for something.

My son laughed at me. In a kindly "Oh, Mom" sort of way.

Then he said,

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Don't Let Super Bowl Sunday Become Super-Spreader Sunday

man making chicken wings and giving the peace sign
We'll make chicken wings just for two today, as we have no guests coming to watch the Super Bowl.

I had no plans to write anything here today. But Super Bowl Sunday has me fired up. 

No, I'm not an avid football fan and I'm not passionate about who wins. Instead, I'm feeling fear, frustration, and anger at the possibility of Super Bowl events becoming COVID-19 super-spreaders. 

I feel I must weigh in with my two cents.

If people are not careful, today could become "Super-Spreader Sunday."

I was drinking my morning coffee and idly listening to a Sunday morning news show. The newscaster reminded us of what I'd already read, COVID-19 related hospitalizations have dropped to the lowest level since before Thanksgiving. Yay! But then she grimly commented that today has the potential of becoming a

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Homemade Soup Day

At the beginning of this week, I wrote some thoughts about National Freedom Day. Today's topic is also about a day of "national" recognition, but it's less serious and a whole lot tastier!

A bowl of vegetable soup with pasta, beans and greens

February 4th was somehow designated as National Homemade Soup Day.
Numerous references to it can be found on social media and the Internet. Curious, I did a fairly in-depth google search, but couldn't find much information about the history of this designated day. There is no mention of what person or organization started this trend or how it gained traction, but National Soup Day is listed on the National Day Calendar.

I'm perfectly fine with soup having its own day. Really, though, any day is a good soup day! 

February 4th was a well-chosen soup day for people in northern climates. There are few foods as comforting as a steaming bowl of soup on a bitterly cold day. For people in more southern regions, a cold soup, such as cold cucumber soup or a gazpacho would be a perfect choice this time of year.

Last weekend, a friend sent me a photo of the soup she had just made. It looked so pretty and so tasty, I asked her for the recipe

Soup recipes are usually pretty forgiving and easily adjusted.

Yesterday, I decided my friend's soup was the perfect thing to make for dinner. However, I didn't have all

Monday, February 1, 2021

Celebrating National Freedom Day in the USA. Is it Hypocritical?

The USA has always put a strong emphasis on freedom.

"Land of the free ... let freedom ring ...  ... with liberty and justice for all." 
Woman holding an Equal Rights for All sign
Peacefully protesting for equal rights for all on a very chilly day.

There are countless famous phrases and song lyrics that celebrate freedom as the bedrock of the United States. We even have a designated day to remind us that the United States is a country dedicated to the ideals of freedom. On June 30, 1948, a bill was signed by President Truman, which proclaimed February 1 as National Freedom Day. On this day, we honor the resolution signed by Abraham Lincoln, abolishing slavery.

All Americans do not have the same freedoms and opportunities

I have taken my own personal freedom mostly for granted throughout my life. I've been free to live life

Monday, January 25, 2021

January 2021 is Coming to a Close

How has your month been?

There are just six full days left in January of 2021. Has this month seemed to pass by slowly or quickly for you? 

If you feel like January has flown by, here's an interesting scientific fact that might interest you: 

According to scientists, the earth is spinning faster on its access than it has in decades, leading to shorter days.

A blurry photo of a spinning globe
Scientists claim our planet has been spinning more quickly on its access.

It might be tempting to blame this scientific discovery as the reason for time feeling like it's slipping quickly by. However, the article linked above points out that the increased rate of the earth's spin is less than 1.5 milliseconds per revolution. None of us, except the atomic clocks, could possibly notice this slight time difference.

As the pandemic drags on, I suspect rather than wondering where January has gone, many of us are probably amazed it is not yet finally February.

Did you make any New Year's Resolutions? Have you kept them? 

My past resolutions seemed perpetual and always flowed from year to year. So now, I don't make yearly resolutions any more, but just keep working on ones I've previously made. Here are just a few of them. Do any of them sound similar to things you need to do?

  • get files, recipes and photos organized
  • eat healthy and get fit
  • be better about keeping in touch with friends and family
  • clean up my computer and phone storage
  • get at least one e-book published and work on finishing my other works of fiction and nonfiction. 
I finally decided yearly resolutions of this type are just stress-inducing, because these tasks are ongoing in our lives. Setting a deadline for them doesn't really work. I doubt I will ever actually check any of these items off the to-do list. (The exception on the list above is "getting one e-book published." I do have a goal date set for that one!) The best I can do is just keep chipping away at the rest of them.

Have you picked a word for the year?

Instead of New Year's resolutions, like many other bloggers, what I have done over the past few years is to select a "word for the year."  The first time I did this was in 2015, and I wrote about it in the post "My Word." Keeping a word or phrase in mind is a way of reminding myself what self-improvement habits I really want to work on each year. Just thinking of my chosen word(s) reminds me to find ways to do so.

a photo of a dictionary page with the "word" highlighted
It may help to browse a dictionary, to find your word for the year.

This year, I've actually chosen three words: unity and kindness and equality.

Unity, kindness and equality are words which intertwine, but they are also very separate things. I'd like to think I've lived my life in support of these ideals.  But, as America has unfortunately taught us these past four years, there is always more each of us can do to be more inclusive, open-minded, united, and kind. 

Racism lives in all of us, and it is time to work hard to stamp it out. My first step has been to read the book "Me and White Supremacy." It was an eye-opener to read the book, but reading it is not enough. In the next few months I plan to do the hard work of journaling my responses to the questions in the book and educate myself to become a "better ancestor" as the author recommends.

Have you accomplished all your goals this January?

If you have broken your New Year's resolutions or feel like you have not met all your goals for January, do not despair. There are still six days left in this month during which much can be accomplished -- and of course, there is always February!

Please practice social distancing, wash your hands, wear a mask, get vaccinated, and stay healthy! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A New Day in the USA!

dog, sunset
Our dog, contemplating the promise of a new day... or just looking for deer!


Today, the United States inaugurated Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States and swore in Kamala Harris as Vice President. The ceremony went off without a hitch. The speeches, music, and poetry were uplifting and held a promise of hope many of us have not felt for four years; particularly in the last two weeks. Regardless of who we may have voted for, it is time for America to heal and unite. We can celebrate that our constitution held fast and our democracy remains intact.

President Joe and Dr. Jill Biden, Inauguration day

Photo of my tv screen: President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden walk from the motorcade to the White House.

While recent current events have been unfolding, I've been reading a young adult novel called The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani. It is a 2019 Newbery Honor book, told as letters/diary entries written by a young half-Muslim, half-Hindu girl to her deceased mother. She shares her perspective of the events in 1947 when India became independent of British rule and separated into two countries: India and Pakistan. Hindus and Sikhs would occupy the new area designated as India and the Muslims would live in Pakistan. This meant the uprooting of many families, sometimes violently. Many perished in the migration.

When I closed my Kindle last night, I thought about what would happen here if Americans ever split up our country. Can you imagine being uprooted and told you had to move to a different place; just based on the way you voted, your religion, or the color of your skin? It is too awful to even contemplate.