April 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: Egor Barmin

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Just the other day, I needed to return a pair of athletic shoes.  I expected an easy transaction—bring the box to the store, open the box, show that the shoes had not been worn, produce the receipt, and get the credit.

But the experience was far from easy.  Or polite.

Seeing I had a return, a young salesperson lectured me that since this store was a local business I should try on more shoes, even though I explained this was my third trip to the store and nothing had worked.

He suggested giving men's shoes a go, and I tried doing just that on a previous visit, but my size was not available.  This salesperson was unrelenting, pressuring me to shop and this conversation was getting edgy.  He moved at a snail's pace processing the return (that was okay, I wasn't in a hurry), but he scrutinized the receipt (as if it had somehow been faked).  I was beginning to feel anxious.  This shouldn't be taking this long or be this weird.

Then he inspected the shoes to look for damage.  Mind you, this was not a casual glance which would have sufficed because I told him the shoes had not been worn outside and they were less than a week old.  Nevertheless, he inspected the right shoe, ran his hands over the soles, stretched the shoe laces and peered inside.  Suspiciously.  Then, he scrutinized the other shoe.  He made me feel like I was a criminal trying to pull something over on him.  His attitude was offensive.

Before leaving, I asked the young man to cancel the hold I had made on a pair of Asics athletic shoes because I had bought a pair of Brooks shoes (love 'em) at a different shoe store.

Instead of saying thank you for letting me know, he scornfully informed me that Asics shoes were for narrow feet.  It was as if he was saying was:  Idiot. You are returning shoes marked wide.  Why on Earth would you place shoes that run narrow on hold?  In my defense, it made sense for me to try Asics since my daughter had lent me her pair for my aching feet when we were traveling abroad.  I kept quiet.  There was no point in defending my reasoning or starting an argument.  But he was pushing me to the verge of tears.  He didn't know I was suffering from a stress fracture and standing there waiting for him to process the return was getting unbearable.
Photo:  Eduardo Dutra

Unfortunately, this hasn't been my only encounter with rudeness.  At Starbucks, a barista huffed a heavy sigh when I asked where the napkins and straws were located.  At a grocery store, a young checker rolled her eyes at me when I asked her to place my groceries in a plastic, not a paper bag.

To others, these expressions of being put out may not have even been noticed.  But I noticed and didn't enjoy being treated that way.  Maybe writers are just over-sensitive people.

Back to the shoe store.  I contacted the store manager, explained my take on the situation, and expressed how I wanted something good to come of this.  She appreciated my calm approach and wanted to use this incident as a teaching lesson for her employees.  She said she'd follow up.

In the meantime, I wonder:  Will my conversation with the manager make a difference?  Will it cause the salesperson to think about his attitude?  Or will nothing change?  Will it make him angry and defensive?

Maybe something positive will happen.  I am hoping the manager will be able to point out how actions and attitudes affect others.  I am hoping she will convince her employees to be more polite and understanding.  To be friendly and considerate.  I am hoping she will be able to impress the power of kindness.

À la prochaine! 

March 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Photo: Gyorgy Bakos

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I'm a picky person.  I'm picky about clothes.  I'm picky makeup and hair style.  I'm picky about having a clean house, being on time, and publishing features for KIT.  But I am not too picky about food.

I enjoy experiencing the delicious delicacies of different cultures whether it's Portuguese, Italian, French, Creole, Mexican, Spanish, Jewish, Serbian, Croatian...and the list goes on.

Though I'm not too picky about food, I have known some picky eaters, and most of them are four-legged creatures.  Namely, our cats.

Our first cat Ollie (God rest his soul) ate dry cat food.  He wasn't picky about the food, but he was picky about HOW he ate the food.  Ollie liked to play with his food.

After I'd pour kibbles into his bowl, he would put his paw inside and flick one out to eat it.   Now maybe he didn't like touching the bowl with his whiskers.  Whatever.   But when he was hungry, we knew it.  He was loud.

Scoop.  Crunch.  Scoop.  Crunch.  Scoop.  Crunch.

Which leads to the question:  why do parents tell their kids don't play with your food?  Isn't the objective to get kids to eat what's served?  Playing with food worked for Ollie.  Why not kids?  Unless parents are pressed for time, seated at a restaurant, or teaching manners, playing with food could get kids to eat their veggies.

Our second cat Ozzie is not as picky.  He likes wet and dry food.  He doesn't flick food out of his bowl, but he likes to have a clean food bowl when it's time to eat.  Which is often because he is, like most cats, a grazer.  Ozzie wants to have treats sometimes before he eats.  And if he spends the entire morning sleeping on the bed in the guest room as I write, I will bring his food bowl to him.  This brings new meaning to breakfast in bed (okay, stop rolling your eyes).

We also take care of a stray cat we call Putty.  During the winter months, we have a heated yurt for him.  And he loves it.  But lately he's getting choosy about meals.  First, he enjoyed Luvsome dry food, which I also serve to Ozzie.  After a while, I thought the morsels might be getting boring for him, so I added some Purina wet food.  This combination used to make him happy and he'd lick the bowl clean.

On one particularly cold day (in the teens) I felt sorry for him and put some of Ozzie's premium wet food on top of the Purina wet food.  Putty picked out the Weruva cat food and left the Purina.  That's pretty nervy for a stray who should be thankful he's getting fed.

And then I got the feeling my stray strays.  He works the neighborhood—presses his sweet face up against a glass door or window and stares until he's fed.  No telling how many neighbors he's visiting.  Obviously, a lot.  He's gotten plump, much fatter than Ozzie.

To be fair, not all four-legged creatures are picky eaters.

When it's winter, I put grapes in the bird feeder for the cardinals and robins.  These birds eat berries and since the trees are bare, they go for the grapes which I'm guessing must be a good substitute for berries.

Seeing that they enjoy fruit, I decided to try something new.  One day, I put a banana in the feeder.  And...they ignored it.  Maybe it was a texture thing.  So, before accepting defeat, I poured safflower seeds around the banana, you could say as an appetizer.  The birds ate the seeds and left the banana.

How can birds be so picky in the winter time?

Be it as it may, I will accommodate these picky eaters.  I enjoy watching the birds and having Putty visit our deck.  And I wouldn't want them to go hungry in the winter.

So, Putty will have expensive wet food.  Birds will get grapes.

And as for feeding our indoor feline?  By now, you all know the drill.  Ozzie will be having his breakfast in bed.

À la prochaine! 

February 1, 2019

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer

A Pain in the Jaw   

I get TMJ.  And it doesn't make me happy.

The technical name is temporomandibular disorder—a fancy name for a pain in the jaw.  If you've ever had this condition, I can sympathize.

For me, TMJ affects the joint by my ear.  Yawning hurts.  Chewing is challenging. 

Muscle relaxers don't touch it.  Or painkillers.

TMJ can affect my writing.  When it flares up, I find it hard to concentrate on editing for Kid's Imagination Train ezine, revising manuscripts, or composing blogs.

I have to give up eating my favorite crunchy cookies, Tate's Bake Shop Gluten Free ginger zinger cookies.  And that makes me grumpy.

Experts say the exact cause of this disorder is difficult to determine.  Pain may be due to a combination of factors such as jaw injury, genetics, or arthritis.

Luckily, my brother is a dentist.  He told me TMJ can be caused from clenching or grinding teeth.  So, he made me a night guard, an acrylic piece which slips tightly over my teeth.

I have used the guard countless times and it helps.  But during the latest TMJ flare-up, I couldn't find the guard.  This little treasure is always kept in a case under the sink in a basket, which also holds a case of my daughter's orthodontic retainers that she wore 14 years ago after having braces.

One thing is for sure—my daughter likes to hold on to things.  She's sentimental.  So that's why we still have the retainers as well as baskets of elementary-school papers and art projects.  We also have plastic tubs of her stuffed animals, dolls and doll clothes, and a kitchen playset complete with plastic food and dishes, which may come in handy if I become a grandparent.

I digress, so, back to the night guard.

Surprisingly, I got the okay from my daughter to toss out the retainers. (I am not sure why she came to this decision, but I was thankful).  But many months later, it dawned on me that I had grabbed the wrong case and accidentally discarded my night guard instead.  That was an expensive mistake.  Though my brother didn't charge me to make the guard, it would cost hundreds of dollars to get a replacement.  It's like I threw $300 in the trash.

Since I didn't have a night guard, I went to my dentist to see what he could do for the jaw pain.  He suggested doing jaw exercises,  going to a TMJ clinic, and looking into physical therapy.  He also said he could make me a new bite guard.

I thought it would be more economical to try jaw exercises.  This, along with applying warm towels did the trick, and in about two months the pain went away.

TMJ is annoying.  It crops up unexpectedly and it lasts indefinitely.  But if the pain is not too bad, I can concentrate on my writing.  I can still have French roast coffee.  I can switch to soft chewy cookies.  Granted they're not my favorite cookies, but sweets after lunch make me happy.

And as for having my daughter's retainers instead of my night guard?  Well, that little treasure makes one member of our family a very happy Mrvos.

À la prochaine! 

January 1, 2019

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I've had to fight my whole life to be heard.   

I am an introvert.  But this doesn't mean I'm quiet.       

It might seem like I'm quiet when I'm with a group of people.  But I'm listening.  I wait before jumping into the middle of a conversation.  Like in French class.  The class is lively and everyone has an opinion, whether it's on politics, the latest movie, and of course anything French.  Because there are so many people wanting to express themselves, it's more comfortable for me to speak up after everyone has had their turn.  If I try to join in, my voice gets drowned out because I'm soft-spoken.  I've learned if I want to be heard in French class, je dois être patiente (I must be patient).   

I am an introvert.  This doesn't mean I'm aloof.

After graduating high school, I applied to the University of Kentucky Medical Technology program.  This required an interview.  The night before the interview, I rode the bus from Louisville to Lexington and slept on the floor of a friend's dormitory room.  The following morning, I met with three professors—two of them made me feel at ease and another one terrified me.  I had no clue how the interviews went.  There was no feedback.  But then several weeks later, good news arrived.  I was accepted into the MT program.  Afterward, I had access to the results of my interviews.  On one, there was a note which described me as being aloof.  Really?  ALOOF!  So far from the truth.  The professor interpreted my reserved nature as haughtiness. 

I am an introvert.  This doesn't mean I am shy. 

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, believes Western culture misunderstands introverted people.  Introverts are conceived as shy, but that's because they may not be comfortable expressing themselves verbally.  Cain says introverts, "often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation."  

That quote rings true.  I found it excruciatingly difficult to ask questions or to speak up in high school. Luckily, I had the opportunity to take a creative writing class as an elective.  As a teenager, writing gave me the chance to express myself more freely.  

And it still does.  Though I worked as a medical technologist for over twenty years and made a nice living, it was never as fulfilling as writing.  

Writing allows me to be creative.  It gives me the opportunity to entertain and educate others. It empowers me.  It gives me voice.  Writing helps me fight to be heard. 

Contrary to what people may think, I am not shy. 

I am not aloof...or quiet.  

I am and will always be an introvert.

À la prochaine! 

December 1, 2018

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I'm a venter.  I am vocal about things that bother me.  Just mention submitting and you'll get me going.  Submitting to agents and publishers is frustrating.

It wasn't always like this.

Twenty years ago, a writer would simply send a submission in a 13 x 9" envelope with a cover letter and SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to an agent or an editor.  Within about three months they'd receive a response in the mail.  Writers would get a definite yes or a no about their manuscripts.

Now days writers submit electronically, and most publishers respond only IF they are interested.

Professional writers put thought, care, and time into every submission.  And, we want to hear back.  Instead, we wait three months wondering if our submission has even been received.  We wait three months wondering if our submission has been read.  We wait three months wondering if someone likes our work.  We wait three months and hear nothing at all.

Whenever I used to discuss submitting with my mother-in-law, she would answer with an expression that rhythmically and rhetorically rolled off her tongue, "What are you doing to do?"  Which meant: there's nothing you can do.

But that was not me.  There was something I could do.  I could vent about it.

Given the submission situation, I have found that I'm not alone.  Other writers feel the same way.  They're not happy about the way submitting has changed.  They vent, too.  And with all of this venting, you may wonder if it is healthy.  So, I did a little investigating, but I found that the subject of venting is complicated and thorny.

Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University and the lead author of the 2002 venting study says, “When people vent their anger, they want to hit, scream or shout, and it feels good to do that, and so they think, Oh, it feels good it must work,” says Bushman.  “But it also feels good to take street drugs and eat donuts. But just because something feels good doesn’t mean it’s healthy.”  

David M Reiss, M.D., a San Diego-based psychiatrist weighs in.  He states, “There’s certainly an advantage to acknowledging your emotions and being able to express them.”  Reiss believes there's a right way to vent.  The key is finding the right person.  “It has to be someone who is not just going to join you in the anger but is also going to help you to come to terms with it and help you calm down,” he says.

According to Psychology Today, there are positive and negative features to venting.  While venting can increase level of distress and antagonize others, it can discharge negative emotion and can help you feel better.  Dr. Leon F Sheltzer, Ph.D., an anger management specialist says, "Generally, it’s better to let things out than hold them in. And doing so feels almost akin to problem-solving—in the moment, at least. Venting your frustrations alleviates tension and stress."

For me, venting allows me to express my frustration and to let of negative energy.  Regardless of what some experts say, I think it's healthy to let off steam.  I'm all for venting.

Especially when I don't hear back from an agent about a manuscript that I love.














I'm glad to get that off my chest.

À la prochaine! 

November 1, 2018

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I love learning how to speak French.  But little did I know that through the love of French, I would meet a French-speaking dog.  To understand how that happened, let's journey back in time.

My love of French began in the 10th grade.  In class, our instructor taught us present tense verbs and vocabulary, nothing terribly difficult.  At sixteen, I was hooked on French.  But unfortunately, the next year in French II, I learned very little for two reasons.  One, our French teacher took a leave of absence, so ill-equipped substitutes tried to fill in.  And two, I sat next to a drop-dead gorgeous guy with blue eyes and an impish grin (you could say I was a bit distracted).  When college rolled around, I tried to fit French in, but my schedule was too tight and Chemistry classes were way too demanding.

Luckily, later in life, I found foreign languages were offered at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, my hometown.  After registering for class, I flipped through the grammar book.  The lessons and exercises were overwhelming.  I wanted to quit even before taking the first class.  My husband encouraged me to give it a try and I'm glad I did.  My first teacher Monique was from Normandy, France, and though she could be intimidating, she was an amazing French teacher. 

Monique moved away from Lexington after I had taken three years of French with her.  A young woman from Kentucky stepped in.  Erica majored in French and lived in Deauville, France for a while.  I take classes with Erica at the Carnegie Center as well as a reading class held at her house.

At Erica's, only four or five people attend.  With fewer people than the Carnegie class, we have more time to read and to speak French.

Erica offers us coffee or tea and snacks like chocolate candy bark or raspberry cookies while we read Le Petit Nicholas, the hilarious series that centers on the friends and family of a young boy named Nicholas.  Sophie, Erica's dog joins us.

One time, I brought dog treats for Sophie.  Elle les a adoré—she loved them.  However since then, whenever she sees me climbing the steps to the house (or if she hears my car pull up) she goes bonkers, barking and dancing with tush and tail shaking.

Once, I forgot to bring a treat.  Oh là là!  So, Erica slipped me some dog vitamins to give to Sophie.  That was not what Sophie had in mind, but she ate them up anyway.

As you can see from the photos, Sophie is a beautiful, mixed breed.  What you may not know is she's très intelligent.  She understands French and English.  She may even speak in French.

This is what I imagine she might be saying when she sees me at the door (with the English translation in blue.)

Bonjour.     Hello.

Qu'est-ce que je sens?     What's that I smell?  

Avez-vous des biscuits?       Do you have treats? 

Tu ne peux pas me tromper.     You can't fool me. 

Je sens des biscuits!  Je sens des biscuits!  Je sens des biscuits!     I smell treats!  I smell treats!  I smell treats!

Je sais qu'ils sont dans ta poche.     I know they're in your pocket.

Je ne bouge pas avant d'en avoir un.     I'm not moving until I get one.

Je vais aboyer, mendier et m'asseoir à tes pieds.     I'm going to bark, beg, and sit at your feet.

Je vais mettre ma patte sur tes genoux.     I'm going to put my paw on your lap.

Je vais te regarder.     I'm going to stare you down. 

Vous n'aurez pas de café jusqu'à ce que je reçoive un biscuit.     You will not have coffee until I get a treat.

Vous n'aurez pas de chocolat jusqu'à ce que je reçoive un biscuit.    You will not have chocolate until I get a treat.

Vous ne pourrez pas lire votre livre en français jusqu'à  je reçoive un biscuit.      You will not be able to read your French book until I get a treat.

Puis-je avoir un biscuit?      May I have a treat?


Avec du sucre sur le dessus?      With sugar on top?

Un biscuit, un biscuit, un biscuit!  Merci.     A treat, a treat, a treat!  Thank you.

C'est délicieux.   It's delicious.  

Je suis une heureuse chienne.     I'm a happy dog.   

Très heureuse.      Very happy.

After having treats, Sophie snuggles on the couch next to Erica.  She naps while we read.  And then an hour and a half later, Sophie leaps off the couch to say au revoir...

but she has one last question.

Apportez-vous des biscuits la semaine prochaine?      Are you bringing treats next week?

J'adore des biscuits!

À la prochaine 

October 11, 2018

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


I'm a graduate of the University of Kentucky, but I'm not much of a football fan.

Basketball fan, oh yes.  That's a different story.  I'm glued to the television whenever the Cats play basketball.  Football is harder to watch.  The team hasn't had a winning record in years...and then along came Benny Snell.  

Snell is like a bulldozer smashing through defenders when he carries the ball—every time he carries the ball.

A commentator explained why Snell is so driven.  Benny Snell envisioned playing for Ohio State.  Being an Ohioan, he wanted to become a hometown hero.  But his dream did not pan out.  During recruiting, Snell was told that other players were faster and more talented.  

In a Herald-Leader interview, Snell revealed that he got discouraged at camps. “I found myself at camps being the best one and still guys were getting the running back MVPs and all that, but I was the best one,” said Snell.  "I knew I was. So, from then all the way until now, getting a low ranking as a running back, me not being productive, me being at Kentucky, I’ll forever keep this chip on my shoulder and keep running hard.”

The doubters are the ones Snell remembers before every practice and then during every game.  That's what fuels him, gives him an edge.  He thinks of it every time he plays a game.  He is determined to be great and to give everything he's got with every single play.

“It’s something I think about all the time, but when I’m about to go out before a game, I think about, ‘OK, deep breath, now it’s time to go,’” he said.

Many players never make it to their dream schools.  The difference is, few use rejection the way Snell does.  Snell takes rejection and uses it for the best. 

This might be easier said than done.  But others think it's possible, too.

For instance, Brett Berhoff, contributor for the Huffington Post believes that good things can come from rejection.  He says don't take the rejection too seriously or too personally.  He makes several suggestions:  

  • Treat rejection as a learning experience.  Think about how you can improve.  What will you do differently? 
  • Use rejection to carve another path to your goal.  Take an optimistic approach.  Develop a positive attitude.  
  • Transform rejection into opportunity.  While rejection is associated with negativity, it can be used to generate positive action.  Utilize that energy and emotion with the next opportunity. 

Best-selling author and acclaimed speaker  Margie Warrell  is a firm believer that rejection can open other doors.  Warrell says, "It is vital to your long-term success not to let fear of future rejection keep you from putting yourself ‘out there’ and risking more of it," she says.  "As a little-known first-time author, I must have submitted my first book to over 30 publishers before I finally landed an international publishing deal." 

Warrell believes the more you put yourself out there, the better the odds you will achieve what you want.  She says that if things don't go as planned, stay open-minded and act on the feedback.  Use the feedback to move forward.  

Warrell's comments remind me of the struggles many writers face.  More often than not, writers hear "I'm afraid I must pass" or "It's not a good fit for me."  It can be defeating.  But even the best-selling authors like Theodore Geisel, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, and J.K. Rowling were rejected.  That did not stop them from getting their books published.

It takes courage for writers to continue to put their work in front of publishers after rejection.  They must channel the energy of the rejection to learn, to revise, and to submit again. And again.  

No matter what you are trying to achieve, you can use rejection to motivate yourself.  That's what Benny Snell does.  And it's working.  As of the first five games (and I might add, all wins) Benny Snell has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and has broken UK's all-time rushing record.  Snell never gives up.  Ever.  

Remember this running back when you get a rejection.  Don't quit.  
Fire yourself up.  Be like Benny Snell.  Give your next attempt everything you've got.  Rejection is like stepping stones to your success.  Don't let rejection go to waste.  Use it.   

À la prochaine