Pay Attention!

April has been designated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as “Distracted Driving Month.” It seems to me that it should have been named “Non-distracted Driving Month” but be that as it may, we need to be reminded to pay undivided attention to our driving.

The NHTSA states that at least eight people die each day from distracted driving. That is in addition to the 1,000 who are injured daily. Cell phones are the first culprit that comes to mind. We love our phones and it is hard to not use them when driving, but whether hands-free or not, using them is dangerous. Auto manufacturers have not helped because they keep coming up with more technology to use while in the car.

Technology is not the only danger. Other areas named by the American Auto Association (AAA) as distractions from driving, include loose gear, GPS, eating, children and pets.

Stay alert! Stay alive!

Photos and Graphics by Pixabay

Motorcycles

May Is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

Now that warm spring weather is here we see more motorcycles. We also hear them revving up beside us. I used to find that loud sound intimidating but now I know that for the most part they are loud so that we know they are there. Too often motorcycles are overlooked on the streets and highways. Car and motorcycle drivers must be more alert to one another to prevent accidents.

Drivers

  • Always check mirrors and blind spots for motorcycles
  • Signal before changing lanes or merging with traffic
  • Increase following distance behind motorcycles
  • Never try to share a lane with a motorcycle. They have the same right to lanes as other vehicles.

Motorcyclists

  • Before you ride check tires, brakes, headlights and turn signals
  • Be sure cargo is secure
  • Always ride with a helmet and other safety attire. Helmets are 67% effective in preventing a brain injury and 37% effective in preventing death. When I see a cyclist without a helmet I immediately think, “Organ donor.”
  • Make yourself visible. Keep your lights on and wear bright colors. Position yourself in the lane where other drivers can see you.

Both cyclists and other drivers must always follow traffic laws. Each should respect the rights of the other. Never ride or drive impaired.

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Some information from “AAA Traveler” May 2020
Photo from Pixabay

Train Ride

Paris to Rome

A few years ago my daughter, Dianne, and I had a delightful train experience. We traveled from Paris to Rome on one of the older trains, not the sleek bullet type so popular in Europe.

We prepared for our overnight excursion by buying French foods. We purchased a loaf of bread, a chunk of cheese, some grapes and a bottle of wine. We were ready for a fun night. For a short time, we were waiting for the train’s arrival in the hot sun. We began to notice an unpleasant smell that became more offensive by the moment. We looked at each other quizzically but each assured the other, “Yes, we had remembered our personal deodorants.” At this point, we began to look around us at others wondering about their hygiene. Finally, we boarded the train and were escorted to our little private quarters for the night. To our horror, the awful odor was following us. It was when we unwrapped our food we realized it was our choice of cheese.

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Other than the cheese incident, our train ride was perfect. A uniformed steward informed us in writing he was our personal “chauffeur” for the night. It turned out he had specific messages written on small cards because he could not speak English. It’s a good thing he had the cards because we didn’t understand French!

Looking out our window during the daylight hours we saw acres and acres of sunflowers and at intervals homes and barns with thatched roofs. The countryside was like an artist’s canvas and yet so alive.

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Once it was night we slept well to the sound of the tracks and gentle rocking of the car. It was a magical trip.

“We have come five hundred miles by rail through the heart of France. What a bewitching land it is!” Mark Twain from The Innocents Abroad (1869)

New Harmony

The Harmonists

During the mid-eighteenth century, there was a place in Delaware known as Murdering Town. The folks who lived there were from Germany and believed strongly in the separation of church and state. They developed into a pacifist society migrating to Pennsylvania where they built the town of Harmony, which sounds like a far cry from Murdering Town. These folks couldn’t seem to stick in one place for long and in the early nineteenth century, they moved their Harmony Society again, this time to the state of Indiana.

New Harmony

In Indiana, these peace-loving people gave all their worldly possessions to the Society which in turn provided for all their needs. They developed an existence dedicated to harmony and for a few years all was good, but then they made a fatal mistake. They adopted celibacy as a way of life, and “the rest is history,” as the saying goes. Eventually, the founders became extinct and the town was re-established by Mennonites who gradually faded away and closed their church there.

Today New Harmony is a wonderful place to visit and certainly appears to be an idyllic place to live. The old town once plagued by calamities such as fire and tornadoes has been restored. While full of interesting places to visit, eat and be entertained, it remains a quiet and peaceful village. 

 

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The homes are restored and surrounded by beautiful gardens. The public spaces are verdant in every direction. To visit there is to experience going back to a time of true harmony and tranquility. 

Nearby is a 3,500 State Park, known as Harmonie. It offers hiking, horse and bike trails, campsites, fishing, and rental cabins. The park also has Interpretive Naturalist Service in the summer months as well as picnic areas and swimming in an Olympic sized pool and the Wabash River. 

 

In the next post, I’ll tell you a bit about my personal retreat in New Harmony a couple of years ago. 

 

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”  Thomas Merton

Rocks

Rock & Roll       

Hard as a Rock

Rock On!

Dumb as a Rock

Rock, Paper, Scissors

As you can tell I have rocks on my mind. I’m sure some who know me might say I also have “rocks for brains.” And, today that might be appropriate.

When I went to Great Britain recently, I was so grateful and amazed to see Stonehenge for the first time.  https://crookedcreek.live/2018/10/10/stonehenge/

For good reason visitors are not able to touch the huge rocks that make up this wonder. I was very fortunate that our hosts on this trip knew where there were similar stones nearby that could be seen up close and that could be touched at will. 

Kevin and Helen Elliott took our party to Avebury where the rocks in the slideshow below were personally accessible. I loved seeing all the random rocks, so similar to those with which Stonehenge was built but not arranged in the same pattern. I felt a strange reverence when I touched these stones from so long ago. 

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Around these huge rocks were grazing sheep, burial mounds like those surrounding Stonehenge and in a few places even roads that traversed the mounds.

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On this same trip while in the home of friends in Wales, I became aware of a different type of stone called crystal. While there I was given a rose quartz crystal that I now treasure. I am not yet knowledgeable enough to say much about crystals and their possible powers, but I am beginning the process of learning. I wanted to share this with you while we are on the subject of rocks, which are not technically the same thing, but they are both contained within the earth and no doubt carry many secrets of the past. What powers they may hold, I hope to learn. 

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“In my work, and my life, I feel a desire to merge. Not in terms of losing my own identity… but there’s a feeling that life is interconnected, that there’s life in stones and rocks and trees and dirt, like there is in us.”  Bill Viola

A Castle in Wales

Chepstow Castle

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In beautiful Wales, there are many well-preserved castles. This Medieval one was built a year after the Battle of Hastings. For nearly 1,000 years Chepstow Castle has sat atop a cliff overlooking the Wye River below.

I felt almost a reverence as I walked onto the grounds and looked up at the stone walls and towers. I kept thinking of the people who lived there long ago and wondered what their lives must have been like. Walking along the chambers and climbing the stairs I wondered how life was for children who were born there.

I’ve chosen some of the 50+ photos that I took at Chepstow Castle and shared them with you in the slideshow below.

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“I had always been interested in mythology. I suppose my brief stay in Wales during World War II influenced my writing, too. It was an amazing country. It has marvelous castles and scenery.”

Lloyd Alexander

Tip Re’ Tires

Confession

I know nothing about tires, other than they need to be kept inflated. My tip is more about what to do to prepare for car trouble which came about for me recently because of tires. After more years of driving than I care to calculate I had my first blowout a couple of weeks ago. Oh, I’ve had flats, they are not that dramatic, but a blowout, now that is pure drama! I’m happy to say that I maneuvered my car safely to a stop in an emergency lane. After collecting my thoughts and calming my nerves for a minute I called AAA, grateful as I looked at my card to note I’ve been a member for 29 years. I was sure help would be on the way in no time flat (pun intended). That’s where the tip comes in. 

The Tip:

For one hour I sat waiting for help to arrive to place my spare on my wheel so that I could be on my way. One hour! It was 91 degrees so I was thankful to have adequate fuel to use the A/C intermittently. I read everything on my phone and had to resist calling anyone to chat because I didn’t want folks to be concerned about me. But I had nothing to do, nothing to read . . . wait that is not exactly true. 

I opened the glove box and rooted around finding the vehicle registration, an owner’s manual and insurance verification. BORING! Then I spotted two white envelops which I had forgotten having in the car. One contained a copy of my Living Will and the other a copy of my Health Care Surrogate document.  https://crookedcreek.live/2017/01/25/death-decisions/  Realizing that I had not updated these papers in over a year, I spent that long wait reading, initialing and dating each page so that my time was productive after all. This is not what I recommend but it was a good alternative to having something more interesting to read.

Yeah, back to the tip: I now have good reading material in my car. I’m ready for any emergency. Don’t leave home without something to read in case of an emergency! 

“I had to stop driving my car for a while… the tires got dizzy.” Steven Wright

Theme photo in title by Pixabay

 

Scenes from Russia

Matryoshka  (Stacking) Dolls

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White Nights

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Peter the Great’s Bridge and Smolny Cathedral  (during white nights)

Beginning in May and lasting into July it never gets completely dark in St. Petersburg due to its geographical location as the Northern most city in the world. This period of time is referred to as “White Nights.” It was an eerie feeling and messed with my circadian rhythm. This was not the biggest deterrent to sleep, however. Never have I see such big and persistent mosquitos. They buzzed loudly and got in my face belligerently each evening in the hotel. They seemed partial to the face and hands for their nightly feast. I counted 20 bites on one hand and 10 on the other as well as enough on my face to look like I had chicken pox! 

Goodwill Games

The Goodwill Games were started in Moscow in 1986 by Ted Turner as a response to political difficulties surrounding the Olympic Games at the time. While I was in St. Petersburg the country was hosting the games for the second time. It was exciting to see the enthusiasm the games inspired and I knew the city was presenting its best face for the onslaught of tourists.
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Hotel

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The hotel I stayed in was the Rusky as I recall. It had a lot of marble, but not the beautiful expensive type that I was used to seeing working in the magnificent Humana headquarters in Louisville, KY. This marble was lifeless and the rooms were little more than one would expect in a hostel or at camp. Although clean the beds were cots, the bathroom’s plumbing was exposed and the mosquitos had free access to guests. 

This view outside the back of the hotel is more representative of what the city was like in 1994.fullsizeoutput_1695

Cemetery

Cemeteries are one of my favorite sites to visit. Those in Russia were certainly not a disappointment. By tradition, they are divided into three sections. There is a section reserved for Communists, usually signified by the hammer and sickle. fullsizeoutput_169d

There is a section for those involved in the Arts and another for regular people. 

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Tombstone of a “regular” person

Things We Take for Granted 

This I saved for last. One thing that we take for granted here in the US and in much of the world, I suppose, is toilet paper. We load our grocery carts with no thought to what life would be without this commodity. In Russia in 1994 that was not the case. Many public restrooms had no T.P. at all. Others had attendants who presented you with a couple of squares as an allotment as you enter. Some places had a sheet torn from books (see the example from “church” below.) Here is the collection that I preserved:fullsizeoutput_16b0

Part 6 of 6

Note: Thank you to Lula Reynolds for giving us a break from St. Petersburg and sharing her visit to Moscow (2012) in the last post. 

 

Theme graphic in title by Pixabay

 

Moscow, Russia

Welcome Guest Writer: Lula Reynolds traveled to Russia 18 years after my trip to St. Petersburg. She has graciously shared the post below about the city of Moscow. Thank you Lula! 

My one-day visit to Moscow in 2012 was interesting but left me with lots of questions.  I had visited Communist China so knew a little about what to expect.  However, Moscow was different from China and even from St. Petersburg.  In St. Petersburg, the people and guides were open and friendly and were willing to answer our questions.  The museums were beautiful and ornate. 

For our trip to Moscow, we could go by plane or high-speed train.  We chose the 4-hour train trip to see some of the countryside.  As we rode farther away from St. Petersburg, there were fewer buildings and those that we saw were very small, almost like huts, and crowded together in villages.  We were told that these were country homes.  The landscape reminded me of the movie, Dr. Zhivago, without the snow. 

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Moscow Metro by Pixabay

When we arrived in Moscow, we were introduced to our guide, a lady probably in her 50’s, dressed much like what I thought of as a typical Russian. Our first experience was a ride through the city to a Metro train station where we rode the subway for a short distance. The station was spotlessly clean and was exquisitely decorated with sculptures, chandeliers, mosaics and marble walls and ceilings.  It was a work of art, leaving us to wonder if all the stations were like this or if this was their showpiece. 

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Kremlin Tower by Pixabay

Our tour for the day included a visit to the Kremlin and Red Square. Our guide kept a swift pace and throughout the day a couple of men would appear to walk beside her and check off her schedule. She kept us in tight control, asking us often not to wander from the group. At one point a couple wanted to stop at a restroom they spotted but she said no, that a restroom break was scheduled later.  When we were allowed to ask questions, she would not answer political questions. 

I had always thought of the Kremlin as government buildings. We were not able to tour the government portion of the Kremlin, which is an old fortress and the seat of the President.  The part of the Kremlin we visited was the Armory Chamber which was a museum of Russian history.  It was beautiful and very crowded and we were guided through to see the armor, coronation dresses, jewelry, golden carriages, and Faberge eggs.  There was much use of jewels and gold in these items. 

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Museum: Gallery of Painting by Pixabay

We had been told not to touch anything, lean against anything or take pictures.   Near the wall in several places were older ladies (with their purses on their arms) seated in chairs.  If someone accidentally touched or leaned against a wall, they would come over and remind us not to touch.   

Our guide walked swiftly all day. She was off the bus and on her way before the last person exited the bus.  At one point when we were going up some stairs to a restaurant for a Russian dinner (beef Stroganoff), one of the tourists remarked that she walked so fast that we couldn’t keep up. Her response was, “Russian women are tough.” 

The Kremlin included Cathedral Square, surrounded by 3 cathedrals. Important Russian ceremonies take place in the beautiful gardens.

Red Square has been the place of numerous historical and political events in the life of Russia.  As we walked in Red Square there were many people hustling about, young and old.  We noticed that the police or military would not make eye contact. 

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GUM Department Store by Pixabay

Red Square is made up of the Kremlin, the Lenin Mausoleum, the Church of St. Basil the Blessed, the State History Museum and GUM, the largest department store in Russia. 

We were given an opportunity to wander shortly in the department store which is like a mall. The shops looked very similar to US shops and were brightly decorated. 

Our day in Moscow was packed with sights, but I came away feeling very confined and not really learning a lot of information about the people and its culture.  I admired the exquisite and lavish beauty of the museums and churches but left wondering what daily life is like for the people in Moscow. 

Scenes from Moscow and title graphic by Pixabay

 

 

Part 5 of 6

 

Russian People

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Women 

While in Russia I met many interesting people. There were men who were bus drivers and pastors and volunteers, but it was some of the women who I really felt that I got to know. The interpreter, Natasha (yes, really, Natasha) was a beautiful young woman in her early twenties. She never lost patience with my questions and never seemed to tire of explaining what it was like to be Russian. She was proud of her country and especially that unlike when she was young, now she has the opportunity to meet travelers from all over the world.

Then there was Maria who was about thirty or so, it was very hard to tell because she wore a scarf that appeared to cover a shaved head. Her five-year-old son, Eugenia, was with her. He was wearing undershorts and a soiled button up shirt. After talking with her through Natasha for a couple of days, I learned of her sad history.

She said that she had been born and raised in the Islamic tradition, but was no longer sure of that status. Her mother died when she was a child and her husband and father were both recently deceased and she had no “papers” to prove that she was a citizen. The government had taken her father’s apartment and she was left without a home or income. She and Eugenia had been living in a cemetery for weeks at this point with some food provided by a friend. She was looking for work and offered to clean the church (Central Baptist of St. Petersburg, membership of 1,200) for food for her son.

There were many older women who dutifully cleaned the church, so there was no work there for Maria. They were caring, giving women who had little to give, but soon though, Maria and her son had clothes and food and a few other necessities. There were those who offered to help her in trying to obtain the papers necessary for livelihood. I had no way of knowing the outcome for Maria and Eugenia. I look at their photos and wonder what their lives are like today.

Unfortunately, there was another group of women in Russia who worked in what some call the “oldest profession,” prostitution. Apparently many women were all over the country trying to live by selling intimate services. Below is one of the cards left throughout the hotel where I stayed. This is not a profession. And, it is not a choice many women make other than out of necessity. Based upon recent news from Moscow, the situation has not changed for this population of Russian women. 

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Apartments/Schools

In St. Petersburg it seemed that everyone lived in an apartment. I saw no private homes, although I am sure there were some grand ones for those high up in the government, mafia members and others with access to wealth. 

I walked through an apartment complex that must have housed at least a thousand residences. There were no sidewalks, simply paths through the knee-high grass. There was a school that could only be identified by a couple of crude pieces of playground equipment, otherwise, the school looked like another apartment building. 

I visited a couple from Kentucky who lived in a ninth floor apartment and the elevator was out of service. I was rewarded by seeing a mama cat and her kittens living on the seventh-floor landing, making the climb work the effort. 

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Pushkin stock-vector-vector-portrait-alexander-pushkin-471393209

Alexander Pushkin was a poet and playwright who lived from 1799-1837 in St. Petersburg. There was a little town named after him and I was fortunate enough to be able to visit not only the park-like village but also a small hospital there. The facility looked more like a US nursing home of years ago. The beds were small and uncomfortable looking. Many of the patients who chatted away in Russian with clueless visitors looked old but it may have been due more to life conditions than chronological age.

One thing that I will never forget in that hospital was a very large printed, framed portrait of our then current US President, William J. Clinton.

Part 4 of 6

Theme graphic in title by Pixabay

St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia

Language

The Russian language is very difficult. I worked for months before the trip to learn as many words as possible. I listened to tapes (yes, cassettes) and gradually learned approximately 100 Russian words. Today after all those years, I remember about three or four: “No”, “Goodbye”, and “Thank You” for sure. Often when the people heard a visitor say a few words of Russian they then assumed that you spoke the language.  That could create problems without enough words to explain. 

                         Alphabet:fullsizeoutput_1688

Currency

The currency when I was in Russia was very weak.  A ruble was worth less than 1/10 of a penny. Each day would begin by standing in line at a money exchange kiosk. 

St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad)

Transportation 

There were few private autos in Russia during the 1990’s, but there were trolleys, buses, subways and a few taxis. Public transportation was dependable, but very crowded, especially the buses which were cheapest. Commuters were jammed tightly together but never looked one another in the eye.

The Metro (subway) was one-third mile underground. The escalators were efficient in transporting passengers to and from the trains. The trains ran at 100 MPH and were clean and safe. The interpreter I was with said that pick-pocket thieves were on the lookout for tourists, but I experienced no problems nor suspicions.

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The Arts

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The Hermitage

The Hermitage is one of the world’s most premier museums. It is filled with priceless art and at the time I visited it had no temperature or humidity control for protection of these precious pieces.

Patrons were asked to remove our shoes and use soft slippers provided to reduce noise. We were allowed to walk around with few to no guards or docents to prevent damage to the irreplaceable works of art. 

Music and dance are adored in Russia and I was fortunate to be able to enjoy both while in St. Petersburg.

The ballet Swan Lake was performed in a historic theater by a newly formed dance company which now performs all over the world. The theater was grand, but showed signs of age and lack of maintenance as evidenced by the restroom picture below. 

I also had an opportunity to attend a folk music show with traditional dance, costumes, and instruments. It was the first time I had seen or heard the three-stringed instrument called a balalaika. 

 

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Photo by Pixabay

Part 3 of 6

Theme graphic in title by Pixabay

Russia 2

Preparation

Traveling to Russia in 1994 was no doubt very different than today. At that point, Russia had just become more open to travelers due to “perestroika” but was not yet well prepared for those travelers. Before leaving home certain shots and immunizations were recommended. While at the Health Department meeting these requirements I received a handout warning against eating raw fruits and vegetables or anything, including using ice, that might have come into contact with unpurified water. There was a warning to use bottled water for toothbrushing and to not open the mouth while showering!

The Trip

The trip from Louisville to St. Petersburg, Russia took almost nineteen (19) hours with about fifteen (15) actually in the air. Along the way, we landed in Germany and then in Poland, which did not allow passengers to deplane. Officers came on board and checked our passports and visas and then would not allow the pilot to take off for two unexplained hours.

When looking down at Russia prior to landing in St. Petersburg it was hard to comprehend the country’s size, nearly twice as large as the US and containing eleven (11) time zones. Local time was eight hours ahead of EST, which made phone calls home complicated, so I only called once to say I had arrived safely. It is just as well because phone calls to the US were difficult to make, unreliable and very expensive. 

The population of Russia at this time was 149.5 which was actually about 5.6 million more than the current population. Education was free and the literacy rate was 99% at that time. 

The Culture

Before the trip, I read a document prepared by Brigham Young University which provided insight into properly interacting with the Russian people. It was entitled  “Culturgram ’94 Russia (Russian Federation)” In it, I learned many things that made me better prepared, but also a bit apprehensive. Here are a few customs that I tried hard to remember while visiting.

  • If you ask “How are you” be prepared for a detailed answer. It is not the casual greeting that we use, but a serious question.
  • One should eat with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. Hands are kept above the table at all times. Leaving food on one’s plate is rude.
  • Pointing the index finger is impolite, as is talking with one’s hands in the pockets or with arms folded.

Some other information of interest was that flowers are given in uneven numbers except at funerals! Russians prefer social interaction prior to business discussions and when a bottle of vodka is opened it is expected that it will be emptied by those present. Not surprising is that alcoholism is a serious problem. 

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Part 2 of 6

Theme graphic in title and photo by Pixabay

Beauty 3

Food for Thought from “Beauty 2” Quotes

 https://wordpress.com/post/crookedcreek.live/3480

I have thought about those quotes from well-known men and my thoughts follow each in red:

“A beautiful woman with a brain is like a beautiful woman with a club foot.” Bernard Cornfeld    This crook millionaire is dead now.

“The highest prize in the world of men is the most beautiful woman available on your arm and living there in her heart loyal to you.” Norman Mailer  And besides all the women he had relationships with, he married six others, one whom he stabbed twice in the abdomen.

“There is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.” Tom Wolfe He has a Ph.D. from Yale and has had an outstanding career as a writer. Since he has only had one wife one would assume she must be a really good cook.

“It’s the combination of marrying a beautiful woman three decades younger and my iPad that keeps me young.” Bruce Forsyth    He was married three times and lived to be eighty-nine so apparently, his last young wife, a beauty queen, did keep him young. Or perhaps it was just the iPad?

“Surrounding myself with beautiful women keeps me young.” Hugh Hefner
This old fart finally died in spite of all his beautiful Playboy Bunnies.

“My addiction has always been to beautiful women, being surrounded by them.” Corey Feldman   Yeah, well okay, but you are no prize and you are also only 5’5” tall so it is doubtful they surround you for the reason that you believe.

BEAUTYMaybe only skin deep, but so very essential for the female it seems. 

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BEAST –   Was he really?

As I said earlier I often come to my conclusions and hold steadfastly to them without knowing the whole story. All I knew was that Beauty fell in love with a big hairy animal. I saw that as unacceptable on every level. Why must a female be so needy as to accept this as her fate? One reader pointed out that Beauty was good-natured and kind and that her virtues were rewarded. I had not gotten close enough to give much consideration to anything except what I saw as inequality.  

My Granddaughter (the same one who insisted I watch Frozen) knowing my strong feelings about the lack of egalitarianism in fairy tales as well as life, in general, asked me recently if I knew the backstory of Beauty and the Beast. I did not, but I do now. She explained that he was not really a beast, but a young prince who had been cursed by a wicked fairy. Only the love of a beautiful young girl could break the curse, but he was not allowed to tell Beauty that. She referred me to a group of podcasts that tell an earlier “non-Disneyfied” version of the tale. As I listened to the podcasts I learned that this was a complex story involving multiple cultures, families, communities, and fairies both good and bad.  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/tales/id1345709834?mt=2

It was shocking to learn how long this story has been around and how much it has and yet has not changed over the centuries. My interest being kindled I began to research more about the origins and found that the original was written in France in 1740. The original author was Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve but in an interview with the BBC http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-35358487  Dr. Jamie Tehrani stated: “Some of these stories go back much further than the earliest literary record and indeed further back than Classical mythology – some versions of these stories appear in Latin and Greek texts – but our findings suggest they are much older than that.” If this researcher is correct then such stories began as oral tales perhaps as long as 4,000 years ago. 

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Photo Courtesy of Google

Another interesting theory is that the Beast was based on a true story. There are paintings from 1580 of a man named Petrus Gonsalvus who had long hair on his entire body and face, a condition called “hypertrichosis”  or “Ambras Syndrome.” Gonsalvus as a child was abducted to the court of King Henry II who was reportedly interested in peculiarities. He was kept on as a court jester until the death of the King. After a marriage was arranged by the late King’s wife through trickery he was allowed to leave with his surprised (horrified?) wife.  They had seven children, three of whom had the same genetic syndrome and who were removed from the home to please other wealthy royalty.  

The original tome by Barbot de Villeneuve was first abridged in 1756 and then again in 1889. Since that time it has evolved through books, on stage as an opera and ballet and in movies. It has even been on television including The Hallmark Hall of Fame. When I’ve considered The Beauty and the Beast up until the past couple of weeks I had no idea that its history went back perhaps to the Bronze Age. Does that make its story better? Does it make it more acceptable? Apparently, it does for it to have endured so long and to have been enjoyed by so many. 

Number 3 of 4

Theme photo in title by Pixabay

Paths

Paths, Poems, and Plans

We have had some fun with poems lately.   Poem Challenge

I’ve never been a poet in any sense of the word, but once in a while, I do write something that I call poetry. I’m sure that you do as well. It can be a few simple lines but it means something to you and you write it down to preserve and to perhaps share with others. I also like to read poetry blogs and there are a few that I follow.  One is sentimental, another is harsh revealing pain and turmoil. Each is a glimpse into someone’s life and if you are interested, let me know and I’ll provide links. 

Sometimes we make things harder than they need to be. Poems don’t have to rhyme for our purposes. Just write and don’t think about those terms you learned in school such as “couplet” or “stanza” that may keep us mute. If you insist on being a proper poet, i.e. being further intimidated, go ahead and check out this site with 37 poetry terms such as “hendecasyllable.” http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/common-poetry-terms.

Recently a friend gave me a book containing poems written by Matthew J.T. Stepanek, a big name for a small boy called “Mattie.” I vaguely remembered hearing of this child several years ago, but I had no idea of the extent of his talent and his insight. Perhaps you are familiar but if not you may learn about his amazing life here (or just Google his name).  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mattie_Stepanek

In the book given to me, Hope through Heartsongs written by Mattie, my favorite poem is entitled “Hope for Life’s Journey.” 

Someday.
I'd like to see what's down every road.
I'd like to travel across
Every highway and every byway.
I'd like to explore
Every mountain pass and every sandy trail.
I'd like to follow
Every straight route and every winding path.
Someday.
I'd like to understand
From where all things come,
And to what all things are destined.
Someday.
Even though I am sure of my lesson-
That we are all hoping to the same place-
I'd like to take the time
To travel and explore and follow,
So that I can really see and understand
What's down every road. 

Hope for Life’s Journey written by Matthew J. T. Stepanek (1990-2004) in August 2001

Do you have Mattie’s curiosity for what is down every road, every path? If so please don’t wait. Plans are important, dreams are great . . . but without action, they remain just that. To make them reality we must exert an effort, we must act, we must step out. Who knows where those roads and paths will take us until we travel them? As Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Frost had two choices. We live in a world with many more options. We have access to superhighways, shipping channels, airlines and global destinations. There are far more than we can ever choose, but would it not be a shame if we took the same ones day after day and then finally one day left behind feeble plans and faded dreams that went nowhere?

Some of the paths I’ve chosen to follow and explore recently. 

Deep South

Recollections of Travel 

Traveling in the South was a real treat for many reasons including the soft accents and colloquialisms. I will never forget being in an elevator in Montgomery, AL when a smartly dressed woman walked through the door and requested I “mash 6” for her. I’m sure my mouth was agape while I figured out she wanted me to push the button for the sixth floor! 

Being a Kentuckian, I’ve always wondered why we are considered “southern.” We are far from Montgomery, New Orleans and other southern towns where honeyed accents prevail. In fact, we are squarely in the middle of the Eastern one-third of the US. I know I have an accent, but in my opinion, it is not Southern, but country. I hear it, I’ve been reminded of it and even teased when traveling to cities to the North or out West. I must admit when I was teased I often became, even more country, sprinkling “Y’all” liberally throughout the dialogue. Accents are intriguing.

Charleston, SC

A long time ago a business colleague and I spent a week in Charleston, SC, training staff at one of the ambulatory care centers slated soon to open. It was going to be a demanding schedule which was a shame because by all accounts Charleston was a beautiful historic city. We knew we would have little time for anything other than work but two things were obvious. We had to have a place to stay and we had to eat, so we optimized both requirements. We chose an extra nice hotel situated on the beach and planned to sample the local cuisine at the finest places. 

While I don’t remember every detail of that week, some things do stand out. One was sleeping with the sliding glass doors open to the balcony so I could hear the ocean. The pounding of the waves was magically relaxing after long days of teaching and orienting nurses, doctors, radiology and lab technicians as well as clerical staff. They were experienced professionals but needed to learn the policies and procedures established by our company. 

Seafood

Our treat for the week became the wonderful restaurants, especially those specializing in seafood. Each evening we would choose a different place and linger over dinner while reviewing the events of the day. We were never disappointed in the meals nor the southern hospitality. We tried many types of food, but I kept going back to my favorite, shrimp. I ate shrimp as appetizers and in main courses prepared in various ways. I did not tire of these plump, juicy crustaceans night after night. Clip-art-shrimp

On Thursday night sleep came quickly while I listened to the sounds from the beach. Approximately an hour later, I awoke to severe abdominal pain. It was intense as I sat up and turned on the bedside lamp. Within seconds I was aware of itching of my arms and trunk. The itching intensified to the point that the abdominal pain was almost forgotten. As I called my colleague, Gale, whose room was just down the hall, I saw I had red hives, some as big as my hand, quickly advancing over my trunk and limbs. By the time she got to my room, I was tearing at my skin, unable to control the itching or accompanying panic. Thank goodness, Gale was not only intelligent, she was a “take charge” type who also had Benadryl in her room. I probably owe her my life. She forced me to swallow two capsules of 25 mg. each while she shouted demanding I stop scratching. That was impossible for me as the more vascular areas swelled and throbbed with an itch I didn’t know was possible. 

Hospital

In the city hospital emergency department (ED) those accents I had been enjoying all week, became so pronounced I could barely make out was being said to me. Perhaps it was my state of fear and agitation, but the only person I could understand was the doctor who was from Vietnam! As my lips, tongue, and throat continued to swell I could not believe how chatty he became. He did all the right things obviously because I survived anaphylactic shock, but when he had learned the company I worked for and that I was from Louisville he found those facts far more remarkable than my precarious medical situation. 

You see, this was during the time that the Jarvik 7, an artificial heart engineered to replace an ailing human heart, was being implanted in Louisville, KY.  The surgeon who performed the first such procedure in Utah had moved to Louisville to perform his second and subsequent surgeries at one of the hospitals owned by my employer. The Vietnamese ED physician kept asking questions about that famous surgeon. Did I know him? What was he like? What did the Louisville medical community think of this procedure? If he had known I was recently a nurse manager at the same hospital where this device was being implanted, I doubt he would have been able to focus on his patient at all, i.e., ME! 

Thanks to quick thinking on the part of my colleague and in spite of the ED doctor’s infatuation with the artificial heart surgeon I survived to work another day in Charleston even though it was without sleep. After returning to Louisville tests confirmed I was allergic to crustaceans, e.g. shrimp, lobster, and crabs. I have not eaten shrimp, or any other crustacean, since that trip to lovely South Carolina.shrimp-2393818_1280

For years I grieved the loss of shrimp and lobster. I also went through a stage of blaming myself (called “personalization” by Sheryl Sandberg in her book Option B) for overindulging and thereby becoming sensitized. Finally, I was able to not only accept, but be a little grateful as my research revealed a close kinship between shrimp and certain bugs (arthropods.)


 

NOTE: Allergy to crustaceans is not the same as a shellfish allergy. Oysters, clams, and mussels, for instance, are not crustaceans. For simplification I refer to crustaceans as the ones with antennae. lobster-1538643_1280

Photos by Pixabay

Chicago 2

Recollections of Travel

The last several blocks to the Knickerbocker were silent . . . and damp. My husband looked sad, but he did not say a word after I confessed being responsible for his assault. I think I would have felt better had he berated me, but that was not his style. After checking into the hotel we decided to nap before going out to dinner. It had been a long day and we both were weary. When we awakened hours had passed and the city lights reflected throughout the room. I think it was the effect of those bright, cheerful lights that restored our mood. We went for a walk holding hands and putting our bad start out of mind, ready for adventure. After walking several blocks we had not found a place where we wanted to eat dinner and so decided to order room service and a bottle of wine. The evening was turning romantic.

The next morning I noticed the half-full bottle of Cabernet on the table as I headed toward the shower. When I was ready for work, Raymond was dressing for his day of sightseeing. We planned meeting back at the hotel lobby later in the day so we could move on to a different location for the next workdays. 

When I returned in the afternoon he was sitting there right on time and had even had the car brought around from the garage. As we drove through the city the event of the day before seemed a fading memory. After checking in to the new hotel we ate dinner and did more sightseeing before heading in for the night. Our luggage was properly stored side by side on the luggage racks, but something did not seem right. I had a feeling of foreboding I could not explain. As I began to unzip my suitcase, I knew something was terribly wrong. The bouquet I detected was definitely Cabernet and then I saw IT. The dark red wine had seeped from the corked bottle in MY suitcase! fullsizeoutput_b00

His Really Bad Idea

Turning to Raymond I tried to remain calm while asking him why he felt compelled to bring along the wine and why it was in my suitcase. Before I screamed, which I very much wanted to do, luckily I remembered his reaction to being hit in the face with the can of soda yesterday and I refrained from both screaming and assigning blame. Slowly he realized what a catastrophe this was. I had no clothes to wear for the next two days of meetings. The smell of the pungent wine had permeated even the items which were not damp. There was no way my clothes could be cleaned by tomorrow morning or even that they would not be stained after dry cleaning. The suit I had worn today would have to do for the next two days! There was no time for shopping either, just time to rinse out underwear for the next day. It was the first time I wished Raymond wore pajamas because I had to settle for one of his tee shirts for sleeping. 

The rest of the trip is thankfully a blur. I’m pretty sure Raymond spent his days watching TV in the hotel room. I recall being embarrassed about my repeat outfit and wondering if it had even picked up the smell of wine from our room. We didn’t drink often which would make it even more ironic if word got back to the office that for two days I had smelled of wine! At the end of the day on Thursday, we decided we were ready to go home rather than spend more time in the city as we had planned. When our luggage was stowed in the trunk the smell of wine wafted out and the bellman looked surprised but said nothing. I drove through the night carefully obeying the speed limits and hoping there would be no reason to be pulled over by a police officer. I was sure I could smell the wine in the front of the car, too. It was a very long, slow trip home.

That was the only time Raymond ever accompanied me on a business trip. He never asked. I never asked. In fact, we never discussed IT again.

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Photos by Pixabay

Chicago 1

Recollections of Travel 

The first time I traveled to Chicago I remember spotting the city abruptly rising up from the surface of the earth like a majestic metropolis among white clouds stationary in the sky. As I looked down, I was in awe of the biggest city I seen to date. After landing I could not wait to look around before I had to go to work the next day on Michigan Ave. 

I was born in the country and became a woman in a tiny town. I had traveled, but Chicago seemed more sophisticated than any city I had experienced thus far. I was so glad that I had brought my camera, something I had never done on a business trip. With my new Canon AE 1 in hand, I stopped worrying about looking like a tourist and started taking pictures of the tall buildings, beautiful parks and the Chicago River running through the city. Before long I felt so comfortable I imagined being a reporter for the Tribune or Sun-Times and by the time I returned to my hotel not only my feet hurt, but also my neck from looking up at the buildings reaching for the sky. What a great day, but alas I needed to prepare for work the next few days. 

Due to my company’s large presence in the area, over the next couple of years, I traveled to Chicago and its suburbs many times and it quickly became my favorite city. I still feel this way even after spending time in New York City and several European cities. Not even the fact that I had zero photographs from that momentous first trip dimmed my enthusiasm. You see, this was during the time when cameras were loaded with film and I had failed to properly engage said film in my fancy new camera so the roll that should have contained 36 newspaper worthy photos was completely blank! I learned to properly load the film and thereafter saved my fancy camera for vacations. 

My Really Bad Idea

My husband had not been to Chicago and I wanted him to experience the city, so we planned for him to accompany me on one of my trips. Having always flown into O’Hare or Midway, I was a little apprehensive about driving my pretty red sports car in the city, but I didn’t really give it a lot of thought until IT happened. 

After five hours or so on the road, discussing our plans and enjoying the trip we were in the heart of the city heading to my favorite hotel, The Knickerbocker. It was a beautiful summer day and I felt lucky we could drive leisurely with the windows down. I was enjoying Raymond’s reaction to the city I had grown to love when someone loudly blew their horn behind us. 

At the next stoplight an apparently full can of Sprite came hurtling through the open window and hit my sweet, innocent husband on the side of his face and the liquid spilled over him and sprayed the car. He looked at me incredulously and I was immediately overcome with guilt and fear. Fear is understandable as the car chased us for a couple of blocks with the driver yelling obscenities, right? But, why did I feel responsible for this terrible assault? IT happened because when the horn blew behind us I had immediately given a reflexive response. I had flipped the driver the bird. 

I now had a serious choice to make. I could allow Raymond to think the people of Chicago were jerks (and this one clearly was) and that he could anticipate being accosted on every corner. Or, I could confess and let him know his wife had precipitated the attack. I chose the latter. 

The trip was only beginning.

 

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Photos by Pixabay

 

Taken for a Ride

Recollections of Travel 

Houston

In Houston, the taxi driver taking me to MD Anderson Cancer Center was gigantic. He had a Jamaican-sounding accent and wore an enormous cowboy hat.  His remarks were friendly at first as he discussed the need for health care reform obviously assuming that I was interested in his opinions. He progressed to make disparaging remarks about “foreigners who take jobs from native Americans.” It was obvious that he considered himself to be one of the latter in spite of his very black skin, so I wondered if I was wrong about his being from Jamaica. I said something about American Indians being actual “Native Americans” and he postulated “they were not really here first,” he’d seen a documentary on PBS. I did not debate that issue with him.

During the ride, he talked cloyingly nonstop and I became rather uncomfortable as his comments grew more inappropriate in content as well as tone. At the time Ann Richards was running for governor of Texas and the driver declared that he did not want her to win, because “women should not be at the forefront.” It was hard to not debate that point, but I again managed to refrain. At that point, he asked me where I was from, not an unusual question for a driver picking up at the airport. When I said, “Louisville,” he asked about horse racing, again appropriate. I replied that the Breeder’s Cup was taking place there in a few days and his response was “I hope you breed something good down there.” Okay, so now I thought he had embarrassed both of us to the extent possible with words, but I was wrong. Suddenly he began to laugh when a female driver slowed and motioned him into the traffic flow. I thought I had missed something because it seemed simply a polite, not humorous, gesture. He spoke loudly in the car’s direction saying, “Thank You!” and then to me, “I’ll have to do something nice for a woman tonight! I’m glad that I have never impregnated a woman.” It was with considerable relief that I saw my destination up ahead. 

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Baltimore

Out of all those years of travel that cab ride in Houston, TX was the most bizarre, but two others stand out as slightly concerning.  One night, after entering a cab at the Baltimore Airport and asking the brooding driver to take me to my hotel near Johns Hopkins the entire city suddenly turned black. To me, it was an ominous sign, especially that it occurred the exact moment that I stepped into the cab. He drove silently block after block, underneath unlit traffic lights, in front of darkened buildings and deadened street lights, not saying a word that acknowledged he had even noticed the blackness surrounding us. Apparently, he was a seasoned driver, because within about a half hour he pulled in front of the looming darkened hotel. He popped the trunk to get my luggage and Baltimore was immediately illuminated with a brilliance that stung my eyes!

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Kansas City

Very late on another night I arrived at the airport in Kansas City and gave the driver the address of my hotel. About forty minutes later I was beginning to worry a little and then I suddenly saw that we were passing the US Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth! Much later I safely arrived at my destination and paid a $65 (in 1994 dollars!) tab which of course was an item of interest when I turned in my expense account. 

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Photos by Pixabay

Fashion on the Road

Recollections of Travel

While trying to work in the Delta lounge during a long layover, I was distracted by the TV. It was not loud, in fact, the voice I heard droning on was barely a murmur. Perhaps that is why I could not resist listening to his descriptions of the perfect and perfectly beautiful models sliding onto the show runway. Their hair, flawless, shiny, and straight flowed spontaneously. The make-up was subtle in its goal of looking natural. His sensitive voice was fluid and sophisticated as he described the women. He talked about the models wearing fabrics “sort of blue, sort of yellow and sort of print.” The non-colors were equivocal, there or not there, whatever you wanted. As he proceeded to detail the faces with terms like “the non-lip,” the gaunt women walked up and down, staring into nowhere with eyes that weren’t. 

Later in the week while attending a medical conference at UCLA, I was listening to a distinguished bone marrow transplant physician, world-renowned for his pioneering work with stem cells. As he spoke, the room became absolutely silent while over one-hundred (100) attendees listened in awe to this brilliant scholar describe his latest techniques and accomplishments. 

It was impossible to not notice a movement in the back of the silent room as a woman, too polite to make a distracting click, clack noise with her four-inch heels, walked the full length of the conference room on her tip toes. As she began the trek she looked back and forth, apologetically, at those who observed her progress. She hunched over to appear smaller and assumed an awkward gait resembling a person crippled by some congenital deformity. 

The beautiful woman, hobbled by her stilettos, had broken the mood of academics absorbing knowledge and now we were simply enjoying the show.  

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Photos by Pixabay