October 1, 2021

mountain cabin, West Virginia
 This is what our mountain-top vacation cabin is supposed to look like on a sunny day.


GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN

I am not a go-live-on-the-top-of-a-mountain kind of woman.

This was never more apparent to me than after spending four rainy days in the hills of West Virginia with our daughter, her roommate and her roommate's family, the Browns.

My husband and I didn't realize we'd need an SUV with four-wheel drive to get to the cabin.  We were driving a Honda Accord.  About one fourth of the way up the mountain, the bottom of our car scraped the stony road and we got wedged in the middle of nowhere without good cell-phone reception.  Luckily, we had texted the Browns our arrival time.  They met us (in a SUV with four-wheel drive) and helped us ease our car off the rocks.  With their guidance, we were able to turn around so we could head back down the mountain.     

Once we found a level, grassy place to park our car, the Browns informed us they had to go into town to get gasoline.  You see, taking us to the cabin would take 15 minutes up and 15 minutes back down for them.  As they drove away, my husband decided to walk up part of the mountain and ask a neighbor if it was okay to leave our car on their property.  And during this time, I am sitting alone in the car feeling uncomfortably abandoned.  All I had was a cell phone (with spotty reception).  My brain was racing with scary thoughts:  what if a local came out with a gun (not unheard of in Appalachia) or what if a bear spotted me?  What if a bear spotted my husband?  He was taking a ridiculously long time.  The sad thing was, during this time alone I could not take in the beauty of the scenery.  It's odd how worry can be overwhelming.  I sat by myself for what seemed the longest fifteen minutes of my life.

The backyard view from our cabin.
Finally, when my husband showed up and the Brown's returned, we began the arduous, bumpy journey up the mountain.  As we inched up the incline, ever-so-slowly at a snail's pace, trying to avoid deep ruts and huge rocks, it suddenly became apparent to my husband and I that we were going to be totally dependent on the Brown's to travel up and down the mountain, unless we wanted to walk one and half miles down a steep jagged road to our car.  And so, we felt somewhat trapped, held captive by the mountain so to speak.  God forbid there would be an emergency.  Or we should run out of wine.

When we arrived at the cabin, we found it to be spacious and comfortable with views of the surrounding hills enshrouded in clouds.  But half-way into our mini-vacation, I realized being in the mountains of West Virginia was not for me.  I wasn't stoked about campfires and having smoke permeate my clothing.  I wasn't crazy about hiking and having mud cling to my hiking boots.  I wasn't thrilled about mice and having them gnaw in the bedroom throughout the night.

Blackwater Falls, WV
This may sound like I'm giving the entire experience a bad rep, but I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to experience living in the Appalachian Mountains, having delightful company, and enjoying outstanding meals.  I had fun riding horses through the valleys and forests of W.V. and hiking (on a paved path) to Blackwater Falls.  I loved listening to the thrushes calling out from the forest at night.  But being isolated on top of a mountain brought new appreciation of living in the suburbs. 

Never again will I take for granted that I can drive to the grocery or gas station in less than five minutes and get to the house on a smooth street that takes me directly to the front door without having to negotiate a steep incline, driving over rocks the size of small boulders, or getting stuck in ruts.  I will never take for granted smoke-free clothing or clean hiking boots.  Most importantly, I will never take for granted that I can go to bed peacefully, without ever once having to set a mousetrap at the foot of my bed.  

I admire those hardy souls who can adapt so easily to a wilderness environment.  I'm not that flexible.  Being in a cabin on the tip-top of the world is fine for a few days.  But four days on a mountain is the limit for this city-dwelling gal.  

À la prochaine! 
 



September 1, 2021

putting on makeup for a photo shoot, REAL ID

PHOTO SHOOT

I got all duded-up to have my picture taken—not for a book cover or for a newspaper story, but for a REAL ID.  You laugh, but I aimed to have a good picture taken because all of my driver's license photos have been atrocious.  In fact, I dislike my photo so much I hide my driver's license in the back of my wallet behind the credit cards. 

The day of the photo shoot was in July, which for Kentucky usually means the weather will be hot and sunny.  Perfect!  But on the day of our appointment, the forecast was for rain.  And that meant I had to battle the frizzies.  I used a hair dryer to flatten my bangs, applied a generous amount of hair spray, and then covered my bangs with hair gel to prevent them from curling up and making me look like a four-year-old child.    

That was just the start.  My makeup had to look fresh and natural.  After applying a firming dry oil to my neck, a light layer of moisturizer to my cheeks and under my eyes, I reached for the liquid liner for my upper eyelids and used a pencil liner for the bottom lids.  Then, I brushed on a neutral matte eyeshadow and a little mascara.    

When my eyes were finished, I applied a creamy foundation and brushed on a powder blush to the tops of my cheekbones and a bit on my chin.  I lined my lips and then used a wine-red base color and went over that color with a little magenta, which complements the rosy blush.   

You'd think with all of the makeup I'd be good to go, but there were flaws to cover up like the freckles on my nose and the circles under my eyes.  (I've been taking Vitamin K which is supposed to help dark rings...and I'm still waiting to see the benefits.)  So, I reached for my favorite product: concealers.  Yes, plural.  I blended the two together and applied this mixture lightly under my eyes and down the center of my nose.  

I scrutinized my makeup and lo and behold, the skin under my eyes now looked puffy.  I had to put on extra eye correction cream and more concealer.  Finally, all looked good.  I selected a black top to wear because I photograph better in dark colors.  And I was set to go...

The bangs are cooperating
except when my husband and I drove to the Lexington Regional Driver's Licensing Office, we couldn't find the place.  We bypassed it twice and needed to use Google Maps to direct us.  By now we are running late for our appointment and when we arrived there were no parking places.  Mind you, there were plenty of reserved spaces (all empty).  We drove to an adjacent lot where signs read FOR EMPLOYEES ONLY.  Screw that.   

And the moment I stepped out of the car, the wind began to pick up and the air got humid and all I could think about was getting inside quickly so my hair wouldn't frizz and my bangs wouldn't curl.  We dashed inside just in time.  The skies let loose and rain came pouring down.  

Once inside, the receptionist asked our names and appointment time.  Then she directed us to have a seat.  Man, oh man, the room was packed. No one was wearing a mask.  I assumed everyone was vaccinated, but who would know?  No one asked if we had COVID symptoms.  I squirmed in my chair.  I was unaccustomed to being close to other people.  Even though my husband and I were vaccinated, we tried to socially-distance ourselves.  I had brought a mask, but I had no plans to wear it (I know, stupid and vain)—nothing was going to ruin my make-up.

We waited and waited, even with an appointment.  In the meantime, we watched more people file in.  Most of them didn't have appointments.  To my surprise, in the time we waited (30 minutes) only one gentleman caused a bit of a ruckus.  We all heard his story:  he hadn't made an appointment, but he worked 70 hours a week and had used a vacation day to renew his license.  You could honestly say the entire room felt sorry for him.  The receptionist must have been in a good mood.  She gave him a time later in the day. 

After twenty-five minutes of waiting, I was dying to go to the bathroom.  Damn my bladder.  I tried not to think about going and patiently waited.  Five minutes later, our names were called.  As we stood in line, I slipped into the bathroom (thank goodness it was close by).  We only have to wait a little bit longer to get this show started.    

We were directed to a booth and asked to present our driver's licenses, passports, proof of address and social security numbers.  Then, we answered the required questions.  Finally, finally the pictures were taken.  My husband's photo turned out reasonably well.  I didn't have the heart to look at mine until we got back into the car.   

And the results?  THE best driver's license picture I've ever taken—and I've been driving for 50 years. Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was my make-up.  I was shocked.  This picture was flattering.  It's kind of a shame it will rarely be seen.  But the good news it won't relegated to a place behind the credit cards.  It has earned a better spot.  Breaking tradition, it will go where it rightfully belongs—facing outward at the front of the wallet. 

À la prochaine! 




July 29, 2021

infestation, ants, Raid, funny story by Randi Lynn Mrvos
                                                                                                                                                                                                           Photo: Maksim Shutov

THE ANTS GO MARCHING ONE BY ONE  

We've got ants.

And I don't understand why these itty-bitty creatures insist on seeking out our house when they can have the great outdoors for themselves—which from an ant's perspective must seem enormous.  There are plenty of houses in the neighborhood.  Why the Mrvs'?  Maybe they like the smell of cooking or a vacation away from the colony?

Judging by the army of ants, you'd think we'd hung a plaque on the front door that says "Welcome Y'all" as is customary with many Kentuckians.

Our kitchen is under siege.  These ants are perfectly camouflaged—their black bodies blend with the dark granite countertops.  So, how does one fight them?  We tried ant baits.  

In about a week the battle was over, but before their demise they must have called for reinforcements because in no time, their huge cousins (seriously, picture ants on steroids) crawled on the deck, the patio, and the front porch and then invaded our house.  Let me tell you, this troop traveled in hordes.

By now you've realized that I am not a fan of ants, but let me throw in that I equally abhor spiders.  It's possible they could help with the ant invasion, but they're not allowed in the house either.  No arachnid is going to share my living space, despite the fact they eat ants.

There is nothing funny about ants, unless we cover the funny-sounding word shpilkes pronounced:  spill-kees.  Shpilkes is Yiddish for “pins and needles” or in other words, being fidgety or feeling anxious, like having
courtesy Amazon.com
 ants in your pants.  When people can’t be still or pace back and forth, they are said to have the shpilkes


That's about as funny as it gets with ants.  

My husband set out new ant baits, but these did not combat the enemy.  So, he resorted to spraying Raid insecticide (a great product name when you think about it because a raid is defined as a hostile and surprise attack).  But after the hostile and surprise attack, the ants were for the most part unfazed.

We were losing the battle and figured it might be time to call an exterminator. 
                                                                   
Before surrendering and calling in the big guns, I goggled homemade bug killers and found that a 50/50 solution of water mixed with white vinegar is supposed to stop ants in their tracks.  Easy enough.  Mix, aim, and squirt.  Time will tell if this simple tactic will work.  

You might think this blog is giving ants a bad rep. I mean, all they've done is crawl on the kitchen floor.  They haven't gotten into any food.  They haven't bitten us.  And they amuse our cat Ozzie.  

The Old Farmer's Almanac states ants can be helpful: "Most ants nest in the ground, digging a labyrinth of tunnels that allow air and moisture to get to the roots of plants. The leaves and insects brought into the nest decay and fertilize the surrounding plants. Many ants are predators and feed on insects that attack lawns and gardens, and in the process of gathering food, they often pollinate flowers and distribute seeds."  

After learning about the benefits of ants you might think I'd feel guilty about the way we've treated them.  But these benefits take place outside—in the lawn or in a garden.  

And definitely not in the house.  If ants could read, I would put little signs on the deck by the kitchen door informing them to Bug Off!  That might seem a bit harsh, so I would put up one more sign in the garden that would say Welcome Y'all!  That way, we'd come to a truce.  We'd all be happy.  
These itty-bitty creatures might be inclined to accept the invitation and make the great outdoors all theirs.    

À la prochaine! 













July 1, 2021

 

conundrum buying a formal gown; formal wedding
                                                                                                                                                                                                        Black—my go-to color

                
I WON'T BE WEARING BLACK

My favorite color is black.  

Proof?  My closet is arranged in color groups from light to dark, where some of the clothes are pinks, yellows, blues and purples and more than half are black.  

I feel comfortable in black.  And black is easy—it goes with everything.  

But a dilemma came up this winter.  My husband Jim and I have been invited to a formal wedding.  Naturally, I planned on wearing black.  It will be a fancy evening affair and black would be appropriate.  But Jim said he'd like to see me in another color.

That got me thinking.  Maybe it was time to mix things up and try a different shade for a change.  So, I began searching online for styles of wedding guest dresses.  One company stood out: JJ's House.  It carried a huge assortment of gowns and the prices were reasonable.

If you look at the color palette, you can see the selection of colors.  I liked stormy or wisteria—but I'm not sure.  Not wearing black, my go-to color, has thrown me for a loop.  Feeling unsure, I asked a friend.  She selected dusk which is a beautiful color, but my husband thought it was too subtle.  My hairdresser has great fashion sense.  He chose coral.  Meh, not my favorite.  Too bright.  Then I asked my daughter.  Her choice:  cabernet.  Hmm, maybe.  Decisions, decisions.  

Since choosing a color was nearly impossible for me, I focused on selecting the style of the dress.  This decision would be easier.  My vision:  a fitted bodice with sequins, a flowy shirt, a rounded neckline and sleeves.  Believe it or not, that combination was easy to find. 

But I had forgotten one detail:  choosing the dress length. What was appropriate for a formal affair?  I googled formal weddings to find out and discovered a variety of choices:  full-length, mid-length, cocktail, and tiered skirt.  So, what would be the most acceptable?  Since I knew the mother of the bride, I asked for her opinion.  She told me she was wearing floor-length, but to wear something that would make me feel comfortable.  She was being polite, but didn't she know I needed more direction than that?

I'm only 5'3" and a floor-length would not be ideal.  A length that would hit at the calf would be better.  The hem could always be shortened. 

Finally, I was making progress.  I felt good about the style and length.  So, two decisions down and one to go—choosing the right color.  I felt pressured.  Over two hundred people will be attending.  Our daughter will be among the twelve bridesmaids.  I'm sure the wedding we will be extravagant and glamorous.  So, it's important to me to wear a color that will make me feel confident, especially since I won't be wearing black.  

After months of going back and forth and agonizing about making the right choice, I made a decision.  Drumroll, please.  And the color is:

Cabernet.   

When the dress arrived, I tried it on for my daughter.  Ever-so-carefully, I slipped it on being mindful of the delicate sleeves.  The bodice fit perfectly.  The length hit just below the calf.  My daughter assured me that with heels the hemline will fall at a good length.  After her approval, I placed the gown into the guest room closet for safekeeping.  It's going to be a surprise for my husband and he'll see it for the first time on the evening of the wedding. 

Wearing a deep-red gown will be something new for me.  Something a little out of my comfort zone.  Bolder.  More daring.  I'm a little nervous about wearing a new color and yet, I'm excited.  Change may be good.  I have a feeling cabernet may be every bit as elegant as black.      

À la prochaine! 




June 1, 2021

friendship, friends
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Photo: Katie Treadway 
FRIENDSHIP: REAL OR FAKE  

It's hard to admit, but twenty years ago one of my friends broke my heart.  

Ellie used to invite my family to her home to celebrate Passover.  She and her husband were fun to be around and they were generous, gracious hosts.  Besides celebrating the Jewish holiday, we'd go out to dinner, to the theatre and to art shows.  At the time, I thought Ellie was my friend.  It didn't turn out that way.  

The first sign that something was not quite right cropped up when we invited Ellie and her family over for dinner.  They arrived over an hour late.  Though they apologized, my carefully planned meal turned out dry and disappointing.  Shortly after that, she called to say, "I'm a bad friend, aren't I?"

As I look back, it was her way of telling me our friendship had ended and I didn't pick up on the clue.  From then on, Ellie stopped inviting us over for Passover and out for social events.  She never returned my calls, even at a time when I had a health scare.  What made it hard was, she never felt inclined to give me an explanation.

I was crushed.  The situation weighed on me heavily.  I couldn't shake the rejection. I adored Ellie and missed her.  Then as the years flew by, it finally dawned on me that this relationship was meant to be short-lived.  It had never been destined to become what I had hoped it would be—a lasting friendship.  So, it was time to let it go of the negative feelings that were weighing me down.  But how does one let go of someone?

I suppose we all have ways of freeing pain.  For me, it happened unexpectedly on a beautiful sunny spring day.  I stepped outside and for whatever reason, I thought about Ellie.  Even though we hadn't seen each other in years, I was still troubled and hurt.  But that day, I was inspired to change the way I felt about her.  The first thing I did was to forgive her.  Then, I imagined carrying our sad little relationship in the palms of my hands.  I raised my arms to the sky and let the wind carry the pain away.  Suddenly, I felt lighter.  At peace.

Of course, I'd like to understand why Ellie cut me out of her life, but that will never happen.  We are part of the past, and not to be part of the present or future.  

It's sad to conclude that Ellie and I never shared a true friendship.  For her, it was more of a convenient connection.  Be it as it may, the situation brought into focus the true relationships that I have with other friends.  

I have friends who would never break my heart.  We care about one another and share life's joys and troubles.  We speak honestly to each other.  We can rant and rave.  We are thoughtful...and just listen.  We are patient with each other.  Most importantly, we can count on each other.  These relationships are true and have lasted and will last for many years. 

And isn't that what real friendships are all about?  

À la prochaine! 


May 1, 2021

learning French                                                                                                                                           Photo: Soroush Karimi 

J'ADORE LA LANGUE FRANÇAISE 

OMG or even better, OMD (Oh Mon Dieu)—I love the French language. 

My passion for French began decades ago when I was in high school.  Back then, students were required to take a foreign language.  We had three choices:  Spanish, French, and Latin.  Since I did poorly with Spanish in elementary school and felt Latin would not be useful for me, I decided to take French.  La langue était marveilleuse (the language was marvelous).  I would have liked to have studied more French in college, but my class load was packed.  Learning French would have to wait.  

Then many years later, my passion for the language was rekindled.  When my husband and I decided to travel to France as a graduation gift for our daughter, I enrolled in a French class to become better acquainted with the language.   

In our beginner's class, we started with adjectives which may seem easy, but they are not.  French nouns are masculine or feminine.  A house is feminine.  But not everything in the house is feminine.  The bedroom and bathroom are feminine, but the garage, the attic, and the living room are masculine.  

I discovered that words have different meanings depending upon which definite article is used.  For example:  Le vase is the vase.  La vase is wet sand.  Le livre is the book and la livre is a pound.

Learning vocabulary can be challenging.  Travailler does not mean to travel.  The correct word is voyager.  Coin means corner, not pieces of money.  And coin-coin is quack-quack, the sound a duck makes.  Even more confusing is the word librairie, where one goes to buy a book, not borrow one.  The word bibliothèque is a library where you can check out books.

On top of that, there are homophones which are words that sound the same.  Glass (verre), green (vert), earthworm (ver), toward (vers) and a gray-green color (vair) are all pronounced "vare."  You have to listen to the context of the sentence to understand which is word is being used. 

Despite the complexities, I gradually learned adjectives, moved on to verbs and figured out how to put simple sentences together.  I felt fairly confident we could get by in Paris.  I knew how to say bonjour (good day), merci (thank you), s'il vous plaît (please), je voudrais (I would like), au revoir (good bye) and the ever so important phrase où sont les toilettes (where are the toilets?)  

Croissants, not muffins.  Photo: Dana Deaner 

And yet when we arrived in France, I could not communicate that well.  I could order wine with dinner, but not a muffin for breakfast.  That's crazy, huh (C'est fou, n'est pas?) The word muffin is spelled as it is in English, but in French it is pronounced "mew-fah."  The waitress didn't understand me, so I ordered a croissant instead.  

It's been seven years since my first adult class.  I can read fairly well and understand conversation if it's spoken slowly.  But speaking effortlessly stills eludes me.  Living in France would be helpful, and though that is a dream, it will have to wait.  In the meantime, I take two French classes a week: a grammar class and a reading class.  I also listen to podcasts in French and study grammar in supplemental workbooks. 

So why I would put myself through learning a difficult language?  The answer's easy:  I have an overwhelming love for French.  It's good for my brain and it's beautiful to speak.  I will keep taking classes to learn grammar, vocabulary, and expressions.  The ultimate goal is to speak more fluently and to be understood.  Because I plan on returning to Paris.  And when I return—I'll be having a muffin for breakfast.

À la prochaine! 




April 1, 2021

abnormal mammogram
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: Neal E. Johnson
A JOURNEY I WOULDN'T WISH ON ANYONE, PART II

Three months ago, I was not cool, calm, or collected.  In January, I received word of an abnormal mammogram.  What made it worse was having to wait two more weeks for additional testing.  

On the day of the diagnostic mammogram, I felt fairly calm.  I was called back to the exam room for four different x-ray views.  But after waiting thirty minutes (and getting more and more worried) I found out that the results were inconclusive.  So, I was called back for an ultrasound.  While the technician performed the test, she assured me that everything looked normal.  The radiologist also performed an ultrasound.  She too, thought the breast tissue looked normal.  Finally, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  But then the radiologist wanted to know more about my family history.  When I told her that my mother died of breast cancer, she recommended that I have an MRI with contrast dye.  Really?  First the mammograms, then the ultrasounds and now this.  January was a miserable month and from what it looked like, February was going to be no better, and all I wanted was for this journey to be over.  

I had a telehealth appointment with my physician, hoping she'd say an MRI would not be needed.  No such luck.  We talked about my risk factors and though the chance of getting cancer was low, she wanted me to go ahead with the MRI.  It would be a more definitive test.  My doctor reassured me that everything would probably turn out alright.  She prescribed an anti-anxiety med that contained an antihistamine in case I'd have a reaction to the dye and she told me to take Pepcid and my migraine medicine.  Eh...I wasn't so sure this combination of meds would keep me from getting queasy.  Believe it or not, that was my biggest fear about the procedure.

The MRI would be in ten days.  In the meantime, I tried to psych myself up.  I'm BRCA (breast cancer gene) negative.  I'm not overweight.  I exercise and don't drink much alcohol.  I've calculated the risks and the chances of cancer were low.  I sent good thoughts into the universe.  And still, fear crawled into my brain, poisoning my tenuous hold on positivity.  As I waited for the date of the MRI (February 5) to roll around, I tried to stick to my writing routine, but it was hard to concentrate.    

The night before the MRI, I set out a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and tennis shoes.  Afterward, I got this feeling that the meds would work and keep me from being sick to my stomach.  In fact, the next day, I woke without feeling anxious.  I ate a light breakfast and took my medicine.  Then, my husband drove me to the clinic because the anti-anxiety med could cause dizziness.   

In less than fifteen minutes, I was called into the exam room and was given the option of removing my face mask.  The head rest had been sterilized so I chose not to wear a mask since I would on my stomach for twenty minutes.  The tech gave me headphones to drown out the noise.   

I climbed onto the metal bed and tried to get comfortable, but lying on the hard surface strained my back and pressed against my chest.  I gave myself a pep talk:  you can do this, it's only for twenty minutes.  I calmed down and then the procedure began.  And then...HOLY CRAP!  I hadn't bargained for this kind of noise.  It blasted louder than a fire alarm.  No volume of music could drown it out.  The only thing that helped take my mind off the racket was to visualize peaceful images. 

After the test was completed (HALLELUJAH) the tech helped me to my feet.  I put on my mask, got dressed and joined my husband.  He was relieved that I wasn't nauseous, though I had stuffed a plastic bag in my pocket just in case. 

The results would be reported in four days—on February 9th, the death anniversary of my mom.  That totally sucked.  I did not want to receive news that day.  So, a day earlier, I checked the patient portal for test results, hoping that they'd be there.  They weren't.  

I checked on the ninth, hoping there would NOT be any results.  There weren't, thank goodness. I would have broken down if I had heard bad news on the day my mother had died.

I expected to hear something on February 10.  I didn't.  So, it was time to muster up courage and check in with radiology.   Damn, I hated making this phone call.  My heart was beating a mile a minute.  I waited for the nurse to find the results.  And then she read the report.  It was negative.  Negative!  Finally, this worrisome journey was over.

Many of my friends and most of my family stayed in touch and sent texts to check up on me as I waited on the results.  It's funny how something as simple as I'm thinking about you can mean so much.  For those who reached out to me, thank you.  I'm forever grateful for your kind thoughts and prayers. 

Two months ago, I began a journey that I wouldn't wish on anyone.  But after the experience, I found there were opportunities to be thankful, to reevaluate goals, and to realize strengths.  There were opportunities to reach out to friends for support.  And what they said surprised me and warmed my heart.  They told me I should not have waited to until the end of the journey to tell them my story.  They told me I should have shared it with from the start and every step along the way.  

À la prochaine!