October 1, 2020

<img src=”2020 Kentucky Derby".png” alt=”writer writes about Kentucky Derby during the pandemic">
                                                                                                                                                                                                                Photo: Courier Journal 

A NON-TRADITIONAL RUN FOR THE ROSES  

I love to watch the Kentucky Derby.  It's not just a competition of three-year old thoroughbreds galloping around a dirt track.  It's a horse race steeped in tradition.

And yet the 146th running of the Derby was just plain sad.   

The Derby has always taken place during dogwood-blooming time on the first Saturday in May.  This year, it was in September.  

The Derby always drew fans dressed in classy suits and showy hats.  This year, no fans were allowed to sit in the grandstands.   

The Derby is always raced by jockeys wearing brightly-patterned silks.  This year the jockeys added face masks to their attire.    

On this Derby day, I think back to a happier, more carefree time, to the time I joined friends for the 100th running of the Derby.  We arrived at the entrance at 4:00 in the morning with coolers of food and drinks.  Since we had to wait for Churchill Downs to open, we dozed on blankets laid out on the pavement.  Four hours later, we made a beeline for the infield to grab a spot by the rail—a race in itself with other early-risers.  What I remember most is a warm sunny day, a crowd of hippies and partiers, a streaker who climbed a flag pole, and the Derby winner, Cannonade.    

Winning Impression, photo: Churchill Downs 
Experiencing one Derby in person was enough for me.  Ever since then, I watch the race at home with my husband, away from the sun and drunk fans and close to a bathroom where I don't have to wait in line. 

As always on Derby day, we sip on mint juleps.  It's a Mrvos tradition.  This year we concocted a batch using Woodford Reserve and topped it with blackberries and fresh mint from our garden.  I'm not much of a bourbon fan, but when the ratio of alcohol to simple syrup leans more to the sugary side, it's delicious.  And this sweet drink helped wash away some of the sadness that had settled upon Churchill Downs.

Another one of our Derby traditions is to root for a horse that we think will win the race.  This too, chased away some of the Derby blues.  We had something to look forward to.  My husband typically goes with the favorite.  I like to cheer on the grey horses.  I believe they try harder because their coats are not as flashy as the chestnut-colored thoroughbreds.  My money was on Winning Impression.  (He finished in 12th place in a field of fifteen.)

We added a new tradition this year.  My husband decided to make burgoo, a traditional dish served at Kentucky racetracks, made with beef, tomatoes, potatoes, mixed vegetables, thyme, sage, sherry and red wine.  Imagine a thick hearty stew.   Having good ol' comfort food also helped to lift our spirits.       

Our traditions make the Derby special, in spite of the changes brought on by COVID, changes that ultimately give all sports a melancholia, a palpable sadness whether it's football, baseball and basketball games or tennis matches or horse racing. 

I'm hoping by next spring, the regulations will have been eased and that the 147th Kentucky Derby will be run in the month of May.  That there will be grandstands filled with fans decked-out in fancy suits and elaborate hats.  That there will be jockeys wearing silks without face masks.  Churchill Downs is an elegant southern racetrack and the Run for the Roses should be held as it was conceived, ever so colorful, full of pageantry, and forever steeped in tradition. 

À la prochaine! 

Please follow me on Twitter and RT my pitches on October 29th for #PBPitch (and I'll reciprocate)  https://twitter.com/RandiLynnMrvos  







September 1, 2020

<img src=”writer's cat.png” alt=”writer writing about cats”>

LOVING NOT ONE, BUT TWO STRAYS  

I'm not embarrassed to say that I love a scruffy cat called Putty.  

Putty is the cat that I took care of for over seven years.  Ever since a tom cat attacked him on our deck, I've seen very little of my sweet stray.      

writer and cats
Putty chilling after a dish of tuna
When Putty first came to our door begging for food, he was shy and he didn't hang around for long.  Over time, he became accustomed to me.  He'd follow me on the deck when I fed the birds or in the garden when I weeded.  He'd come to patio after I'd drive into the garage and greet me with a gravelly meow.  Putty would even let me pat his head.  He learned his name and would trot up to me when I called him.

Putty had it made.  This cat ate canned cat food and tuna. He was spoiled rotten and I loved spoiling him.

But after the cat fight, he's only returned one or two times.  I've seen him in the neighborhood when I take a walk, and I'll call him, but he doesn't come to me.  He only stops and stares.  I wonder where he hangs out.  I wonder if someone else feeds him.  I wonder if he has forgotten me.  

<img src=”writer's cat.png” alt=”writer writing about cats">
Kitty says, "Feed me." And I do.


Then this spring, another stray cat came to our deck.  She's beautiful and tiny and I call her Kitty.  You can see from this photo that her left ear has been clipped.  This is called ear-tipping and it is the universal sign that a feral cat has been sterilized.

Kitty is like a miniature version of Putty, though instead of having black spots on a white coat like Putty, she has striped spots.  Like Putty, she has green eyes and a pink nose.  She has the identical facial pattern as Putty, which looks like she's wearing a cap that comes to a point on her forehead, curves around her eyes, and extends down to the upper cheeks.  She looks like she could be his daughter.

 One night, I heard an angry growling sound coming from   outside.  It could only mean trouble.  Another stray, a huge   Russian Blue cat, was fighting with Kitty.  It was like a rerun of   Putty's skirmish on our deck.  I banged on the kitchen window but that did not stop him.  I opened the door and yelled at him, and then both cats ran away.  Luckily, the attack didn't harm Kitty or scare her from coming back. 

Kitty makes herself at home on our deck much like Putty had done, stretching out on her back with paws facing the sky, curling on a chair, or resting under the picnic table.  But no matter how comfortable she is lounging on the deck, I have not gained her confidence.  She stares at me through the kitchen door wanting to be fed.  Then when I fill her bowl, she skitters to the opposite side of the deck.  She comes to eat only after I close the door.  In time, this may change.  

Part of me feels that Putty's departure has made room for a cat that needs more attention than he does.  I try to wrap my head around the fact that Kitty is the cat that I'm supposed to be caring for, not Putty.  In a way that makes me feel better.  That somehow this is how things are meant to be.  But it doesn't mean I like it.  It's just how things are for now.

Though I enjoy having Kitty around, I am ever hopeful that Putty will return*.  Maybe during the winter months I'll be putting out tuna for him.  And when the weather gets colder, I'll be taking care of not one, but two strays, little Kitty and a cat that I call Putty. 

À la prochaine! 

*Putty stopped by on Sept. 19th!!! Guess what he had for dinner?


August 1, 2020

A WRITER'S LIFE DURING A PANDEMIC 

It's no surprise that our lives have changed because of COVID-19.  While we strive to keep our routines like they were prior to the pandemic, I think it's safe to say we've all had to adjust.

Previously, I attended one ballet studio class and three French classes once a week and went to the gym every day.  Now, I take my ballet and French classes on Zoom in the evenings.  And though the gym opened a few weeks ago, I feel safer avoiding it for the time being.  To get exercise, I walk for at least an hour or more each day.  

Overall, my life hasn't changed drastically.  And I'm thankful that my routine is fairly normal.  So, this is pretty much the general structure of my day.   


          Feed Ozzie (there's food in his bowls,                                             Feed our beloved stray Putty 
         and yes, he has two food bowls)                                     

                                                   Have breakfast (notice who eats before me)                                                            
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
                                         
                Work on clients' manuscripts                                                     Work on my manuscripts


    Move the cat 

                             Tweet                                                                                      Work on my blog
                        Keep up with LinkedIn                                                    Create a pin for Pinterest

Study French
Have lunch

Move the cat


I used to workout at the gym after lunch. Now I walk in the neighborhood.

                                                                          

              Study French, encore                                                                              Move the cat                                                      
                                                                                              
Have dinner


Attend a Zoom class (French or Ballet depending on the night)


Work on my manuscripts


   And finally...relax with my hubby and Ozzie   


That's my typical day, packed with activities that keep me busy and productive. 

I have no major complaints...yet sometimes my life feels surreal, like I'm having a bad dream.  And when I wake up, everything will be back to the way it once was.  I'll be back dancing in the ballet studio, back learning French in a classroom and back working out in the gym.

But this is the reality, the new normal.

It's sad and frustrating that life has changed, that life is so different.  I could bitch and moan, but what good would that do?  So, I will strive to be thankful, aim to be positive, do my best to be patient, and be willing to find ways to adjust.

À la prochaine! 








July 1, 2020


<img src=Jefferson Memorial.png” alt=”writer in Washington, DC during George Floyd demonstrations">

THE LAST TWO DAYS OF MAY 

Two days before demonstrations broke out in response to George Floyd's death, my husband and I helped our daughter Abby relocate to Washington, DC.  During the 540-mile drive, we weren't thinking about anything political and we certainly didn't think there'd be civil unrest.  Our biggest concern was moving Abby safely.  Though this should be a happy occasion, we were sad that we would not be able to get physically close or hug one another because of COVID-19.

Feelings aside, these are...

the things I observed: 
  • traffic was not heavy on the interstate or in Washington, DC.  There was little road construction.
  • everyone social distanced in rest stop restrooms and washed their hands.
  • only 40 - 50% of the travelers wore masks at rest stops.
  • about 90% of the residents in the neighborhood of Mount Pleasant, Washington, DC wore masks.
  • in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Washington, DC, only 50% of adults picking up carry-out food wore masks.
  • all employees in fast-food restaurants wore gloves and masks.
  • dining rooms in fast-food restaurants were cordoned off and strips of tape were placed at six-feet intervals to ensure social-distancing when placing an order. 
  • the hotel receptionist sat behind a large plastic shield. 
  • the Embassy Suites looked like a ghost town.   
  • Rock Creek Park was crowded, but people practiced social distancing. 

the things I didn't foresee: 
  • the truck rental company not having the vehicle we had reserved.
  • we'd have to park a block away from my daughter's apartment to move her in.
  • I'd have to stand guard after the furniture was unloaded onto the sidewalk.
  • some of the furniture being too heavy to be lifted up steps. 
  • we'd have to rent a storage unit for the furniture that couldn't be carried into the apartment. 
  • the move being so emotional for our family. 

the things I didn't expect:
  • not having dinner because COVID-19 forced restaurants to close early. 
  • the streets surrounding our hotel to be blocked by police cars.
  • an angry, loud crowd outside our hotel shouting and throwing parking cones into the street. 
  • riot police assembling on the street and lining up shoulder to shoulder behind bulletproof shields.
  • my anxiety level to be sky-high, not knowing how the police or crowd of people would react.  
  • Washington, DC locked down for a curfew. 

The last two days in May were stressful for our nation.  On a personal level, the weekend was equally as stressful.  But we got through it.  Despite a few glitches, the move went fairly well.  It actually turned out better than I had thought it would.  For months, the three of us had been social distancing and limiting contacts, so we felt safe to be close.  And therefore...

the thing I am most grateful for: 
  • heart-felt hugs from a happy, loving daughter. 

À la prochaine!  



June 1, 2020


                                                                                                                                                                                                             Photo: Tastyoasis.net
A TASTE OF COMFORT 

The coronavirus pandemic has touched nearly everyone in the entire world.  Though we're inching toward reopening the nation, the daily reports of new cases and deaths are grim.  Still, my husband and I feel compelled to listen to the news each night at dinnertime.

This ritual reminds me of my youth when my family and I sat at the dinner table and watched journalists report from the jungles of Vietnam.  I was sixteen-years old.  Every evening we listened to the number of body counts and saw the horrors of the war.  In many ways, the harsh reality of COVID-19 seems no different.  And yet, this pandemic is so incredibly different because we are fighting a war in our own country and it affects each and every one of us so personally.

During these hard times, it can be challenging to keep spirits lifted.  It can be tough because the news of the illness is ever-present on television and in the newspaper.  It totally sucks.  So we must find ways to deal this unprecedented situation.

We all have different ways to cope.  I've found that watching funny movies, talking walks, engaging in Zoom classes and doing Face Time with family make me feel better.  And I should mention there's one other thing:  good ol' comfort foods.  You know the foods that provide consolation or a feeling of contentment.  The foods that are sugary or full of carbohydrates.  The foods we may associate with home cooking.

One recipe that comes to mind is my mother-in-law's famous noodle kugel.

Millie loved to cook and bake for her friends and family.  I honestly couldn't tell you what I liked the best from her vast repertoire:  banana split cake, chocolate Texas sheet cake, cream puffs, and the list goes on.  Then there's her fried chicken—move over Claudia Sanders.*  You've got nothing on Millie's crispy, moist, tender, tasty chicken. 

But for comfort food, I think of her noodle kugel.

This recipe is so damn easy to make.  My husband and I can't get enough of it.  I promise, you will LOVE it.

So, here you go:

Noodle Kugel

2/3 package of wide or extra wide noodles
5 eggs
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 Cup (heaping) sugar
dash of nutmeg

Cook noodles about 7 minutes to al dente.  Drain noodles when done.  Coat the baking dish with a cooking spray to prevent sticking.  Place cooked noodles in baking dish.  Stir in butter.  In a mixing bowl, beat eggs well and then mix in sugar.  Pour over noodles.  Sprinkle with nutmeg.  Bake at 350° until the top gets brown, about 45 minutes. And enjoy.

It may be months before the gloominess of the pandemic goes away.  But we can put down the newspaper and can turn off the television for awhile.  We can engage in activities that bring smiles to our faces.  And we can savor our favorite foods.  Because now more than ever, we all need a little more comfort.
Bon appétit!


*Colonial Sander's wife's restaurant is in Shelbyville, Kentucky.






May 1, 2020



ONE COMPUTER-LOVING CAT 


Ozzie is one unhappy kitty when he can't get online.  But this has not always been the case. 
Ozzie giving me that look

Years ago, I tried to entertain him by finding YouTube videos of singing birds, but he could have cared less.  He preferred to sit at the kitchen door and watch the birds feeding on our deck.  But lately, he's had a change of heart.  I found a video of birds eating seeds in a forest and now he can't get enough of it.  Which is a little problem because I need to be online to do writing, marketing and consulting.  And with COVID-19, I am on the computer even more taking French classes and a ballet barre.

Since I can't be in a classroom, I now use Zoom, a video-conferencing service where I can meet my teacher and classmates online.  Classes feel different, but hey, we are still learning and interacting.  My Zoom French class is structured just as we would as if we were at the Carnegie Center.  We chat about what we did over the weekend and then they we dive into a grammar lesson.

For my French reading class, six of us meet with our teacher on Zoom and cover two chapters of Petit Nicolas*.  We talk about the grammar and vocabulary and discuss the plot of the story.  In the semi-private class, we work on speaking and comprehension.

So, I do three French classes a week on Zoom, plus a ballet class.  Luckily, I have a place in the house where I can move furniture aside and follow along with the teacher to do a 50-minute barre and a 10-minute center adagio.
Plié, plié, rélevé

But my class time and work schedule eat into Ozzie's entertainment.  How do I know?

He cries when he sees me sitting at the computer.  He puts his paw on my lap, meows, and looks at me imploringly.  He wants me get off the computer.  It's like he's saying, "Scooch over.  Can't you see it's my turn?"

These days Ozzie likes the YouTube videos more than watching the birds that feed in our backyard.  Maybe he thinks the birds on the website are really real.  One time when a bird flew away from the seeds, Ozzie leaped to the back of the screen, thinking it had landed there.

Ozzie even likes to watch my ballet class.

I have created a monster.  When he watches, it's like he's in a trance.  Totally engaged and mesmerized.  Which on a positive note keeps him out of trouble, like trying to tear the screen door to get outside.

BIRDS!

I'm trying to figure out how to share the computer with Ozzie.  I'm basically a computer hog.  I've got to be online for my classes and allow more time for writing.

So, we have to find a way to compromise.  Ozzie could watch when I go out for a walk, but that happens to be his nap time.  So, the best time for him to have the computer to himself is when I have dinner and when I watch the nightly news.  He gets at least two hours of uninterrupted bird time.

This time slot seems to be working and Ozzie is entertained.  It's like I get the day shift and he has the evening shift.  We found a way to share.  And as long as he doesn't get frustrated trying to catch the seed-pecking birds, my YouTube watching cat is purrty darn happy.

À la prochaine! 

*Petit Nicolas, a hilarious book series written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Jean-Jaques Sempé, is about a young French boy and his friends and family.









April 1, 2020


THE GIFT

It's easy to take reading for granted.  I don't think twice about reading a novel, the newspaper, text messages and emails.  But every so often...I am reminded of the gift of being able to read.

Just recently, I discovered a short story about an illiterate elderly woman who longed to have someone teach her how to read before she died.  This story reminded me of a person I once knew.

When I was in my late twenties I dated Jay, a young man from southern Kentucky.  Jay and I used to go out for dinner and to the movies.  During the times we went out, I never noticed that he always ordered the same thing I ordered.  He used to ask, "What sounds good to you?" or "What are going to have?  

These clues never registered with me.  

And this behavior went on for several months until we went to see a movie.  I thought he'd like a war film, so I suggested the movie Das Boot, a gripping movie which follows the lives of a fearless U-Boat captain and his inexperienced crew as they patrol the Atlantic and Mediterranean in search of Allied vessels.  

Since the actors spoke in German, the movie had subtitles.


Afterward, I asked Jay if he liked the film.  That's when he fessed up.  He told me he could not read. 
I was shocked and then felt terrible that he sat through a movie unable to grasp what was happening.  

Jay hid his illiteracy well.  He certainly fooled me.  When we talked about it, he told me his teachers just passed him on to the next grade.  He also told me about the serious setbacks and financial problems he faced because he was illiterate.  In fact, he told me that he could not read the important documents needed to run his auto repair shop and consequently, an employee swindled money from his business.


Jay is not alone.

As reported by Literacy Works (www.litworks.org), more than 30 million adults in the United States are at or below the third-grade level in reading, writing, and math.  

An article published by the Huffington Post on November 27, 2017 states "according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. The current literacy rate isn't any better than it was 10 years ago."

The consequences of illiteracy are far-reaching.  According to the Literacy Foundation, the illiterate face unemployment and lower income.  They have lower-quality jobs and a reduced access to lifelong learning and professional development.  They have more workplace accidents.  And, they face health risks because they are likely to misuse medication due to having trouble understanding the dosage and the warnings.  

From time to time I wonder about Jay and about the challenges he may face. Then surprisingly, we ran into each other many years later.  He happened to be at a small social gathering sponsored by my daughter's school.  Jay was dating a nice woman and he seemed happy and healthy.  Of course, I didn't ask, but I'd like to believe he learned to read.

World Book Day will be celebrated on April 23.  And I will think of Jay.  He affected me in a profound way.  Having known someone who could not read was something I never thought I'd encounter.  Having known Jay reminds me of the importance of reading.

Being able to read is powerful.  Reading affects your daily life and future.  It entertains and informs, increases vocabulary, and improves memory.  It enhances your imagination.  It can lift your spirits, relieve stress, and brighten your day.  

To paraphrase author Kate DiCamillo, reading should not be presented as a chore or duty, but offered as a precious treasure.  

I couldn't have said it better.  Reading is a gift that should never be taken for granted. 
À la prochaine! 

Here's where you can borrow books from the National Emergency Library:   https://archive.org/details/nationalemergencylibrary