Sunday, March 27, 2011

Customer Servass

In Paris, customer service is almost as elusive as Big Foot. I am not the first person to write about this fact, but now I can write about it from the perspective of my own numerous experiences. The ubiquitous principle in the States, "The customer is always right", is the exact opposite in France. As a Parisian consumer, one becomes accustomed to being made to feel small, insignificant, bothersome, and/or just plain wrong.

Take for example, restaurants (the ones without those little Michelin stars). Waiters do not work for tips, therefore, their attitude of annoyance at even our tiniest and most basic request, such as, "Le addition (the bill), si vous plait?" will not affect their take-home pay. Soren and I ate lunch with friends recently at a popular establishment frequented by Parisians. This place, we were told, serves a fabulous Magret du Canard. They must have had to go out to the country after our order to slash the ducks' throats and pluck their feathers before bringing them back to the restaurant for cooking because an hour after ordering, still no Magret du Canard at our table. Our friend, who speaks better French than Soren, got the attention of our busy waiter and inquired about our lengthy wait. In response, our waiter shrugged his shoulders, looked miffed, and basically retorted something hautily French  along the lines of, "What can I say, it's taking long because it's taking long." Fifteen minutes later, our meals arrived without any acknowledgment or apology. And no free drinks or dessert as compensation either! Alas, this is the French way.

It is also the French way to charge customers money when we call the customer service department of say, the electric company, who charges us twenty cents a minute on top of the initial 1.20 euros we're charged to make the call in the first place. Is this backwards or what? The obvious question is what incentive do these companies have to provide efficient service in the first place when they make more money if they are anything but?

Last month, while browsing in a shoe store, I noticed a style in the window display that I wanted to try. I knew better than to touch it (see previous post "Shopping: Je Ne Comprend Pas").  Upon hearing my request, the clerk tells me that shoe is unavailable in my size. However, I see that the one on display is, in fact, my size. I indicate this knowledge to her and she flatly refused to allow me to try it. I am so perplexed by this logic; obviously, the store will make money from the sale of those shoes, right? Aren't businesses in the business of making money? I am beginning to think French businesses are in the business of pissing off customers by not giving them what they want.

Case in point: the grocery store. I have witnessed shoppers present coupons only to be lectured by the cashier and eventually, the manager, about how and why the coupon cannot and will not be honored. I am fairly certain it's not a simple matter of an expired coupon date because the conversations that I have witnessed between employees and customers have lasted too long and are way too contentious. Of course, I always unwittingly wind up in line behind these coupon-bearing customers. My best guess is that the customers have presented their coupons  midway through the check-out process and the store's antiquated computer system is incapable of processing a coupon for an item that has already been scanned. I imagine that updating their computer system would obsolete the long-standing rules and procedures that managers and employees believe to be the cornerstone of their (unfriendly and inefficient) business model.

Speaking of antiquated, we take our dry cleaning to a 'presse' that does not have a modern computer system logging their customer's transactions by their name, address, and/or phone number. We had not given any thought to their outmoded system until one day, Soren arrived at the presse to pick up his dress shirts. He came back to the apartment empty-handed, explaining that he did not have his claim ticket with him upon pick-up. "Can't they look you up in their computer," I asked? Uh, no. See, it works like this- no ticket, no shirts.

The lady at the presse told Soren that he needs to go home and find his ticket. Soren unsuccessfully searched through every pocket, shopping bag, and trash can hoping to find this darned ticket. The only hope he had now was that the written description (in French) of his shirts that he left with the presse lady along with his mobile number would result in a phone call from her explaining that she had found his shirts.

The next day we passed by the presse while out running errands and Soren decided to give it another try because he noticed that a different lady was behind the counter. This lady clearly did not want to be bothered because she coldly and dismissively told Soren, "Vous venez demain à 13:00h."  Does she know for a fact that his shirts are going to decide to appear exactly at 1:00 p.m. tomorrow or is there actually going to be an employee present at that time who will actually help to find them?

The next day's agenda was completely structured around this 1:00 p.m. call-time at the presse. Cold Lady was there again, and she was no warmer today than yesterday- in fact, she pulled a diva maneuver on me when I attempted to film Soren speaking French to the other nicer presse lady. Cold Lady put her hand in front of my little Flip video camera and told me not to film. I explained, in French, that I was filming only my husband. The other nice presse lady was smiling at me, but Cold Lady would have none of it. So I stopped filming. It is Cold Lady's voice you hear at the end of this short clip, telling me not to film:

Nice Lady explained that we needed to walk next door and enter the door code that would allow us passage into the back of the presse. But why? Amidst the strong dry cleaning odor and the hundreds of bagged clothes hanging from the mechanical rack, I wondered, "How many other customers get to come back here because of a lost ticket?" At this point, Soren was asked what day and time he had originally dropped off his shirts. As the wife (a.k.a. The House Manager), I obediently replied since I retain all kinds of useful information that pertains to the daily managing of our life while Soren retains other kinds of information that does not leave room in his brain for dates and times of dry cleaning drop offs.

Nice Lady proceeded to use this data to search through the computer, presumably to pinpoint where, on this mechanical rack, we would have the best chance of finding Soren's shirts. If this is the format under which they store their data, why didn't one of the presse ladies ask Soren this question two days ago? Granted, a lost claim ticket does present the presse with a nuisance given their outdated system of record-keeping, but certainly it's their obligation to do their best to find their customer's items, right? Apparently not. Instead, it is the customer's responsibility to do so which was made evident when Nice Lady demonstrated to Soren how to operate the mechanical rack by pushing the green button to start it moving and the red button to stop it. She had more important things to do like attend to the other customers  waiting at the counter so she left us to fend for ourselves. We couldn't believe this was happening. I was excited to film this novel experience, but I was hesitant because of the presence of Cold Lady. "Screw it," I thought, "I'm filming!" That didn't go over very well with Soren or Cold Lady as seen in these next two clips:

Soren started and stopped the machine several times as we searched in vain through other customers' shirts to find his. Every few minutes, Nice Lady had to interrupt our search so that she could operate the rack to find the clothes of the customers at the counter. Eventually, I spotted the shoulder of one of Soren's shirts peeking through the clear plastic garment bag just as Nice Lady found the computer record of the date and time of Soren's drop-off. Turns out that I was off by a day. It's not like I have a computer for a brain, but I'll bet that my brain operates more effectively and efficiently than most French businesses. This was proven beyond a reasonable doubt when Nice Lady filled out a handwritten claim form, requested Soren's signature, then proceeded to staple this form into a large three-ring binder full of similar claim forms belonging to the elite group of others who, like us, have been granted access to the back of the presse to find their clothing items.

Another recent example of the glaringly different mindsets regarding customer service occurred at the fitness club. The three or four mornings a week that I exercise there I see the same cleaning team, a man and a woman, who diligently mop the floors, wipe down the machines, buff the mirrors, clean the toilets and tidy the locker room. The lady seems nice enough. I have seen other gym members conversing with her and I have said my pleasant and polite "Bonjours," to her when I pass by.

Sometimes, since I quickly get bored with the machines and nautilus equipment, I set myself up in the aerobics studio with a little circuit training that includes a floor mat, a step, free weights, and my gliders (round neoprene discs) that I bring from home. Two weeks ago, I was working out with this setup and Cleaning Lady entered the studio with her large dry mop. At the time, I was in the middle of a set of tricep dips that I do using the storage locker for the sound system since it is about the height of a workout bench.  Near me was the step and my other equipment. In the back of the studio were two older men completing reps of their Jane Fonda floor exercises. From across the room I could tell that Cleaning Lady was speaking to me. I removed my headphones to better hear her, and, not surprisingly, I couldn't understand what she was saying, but, since context is key when trying to understand a French person speaking French, I pretty much assumed she was asking me to move my stuff. With my few words of French and my pantomiming, my hunch was confirmed and I heeded her request to move the equipment to the front corner of the room so that she could clean that section of the floor. I didn't mind at first, I was nearing the end of my workout routine for the day and it hadn't occurred to me to be anything but accommodating. Yet, afterward, as I rode home on the Metro, I couldn't help but think about how the cleaning crew at Renaissance Clubsport in Walnut Creek would never inconvenience a member in the middle of their workout.

Fast forward to last Friday. Same scenario, only this time Cleaning Lady was armed with a vacuum and I was in the middle of a cardio portion of my interval training. In the mirrors in front of me, I eyed her circling the room with that vacuum, moving ever so diligently closer to me and my equipment. As I was in the middle of some jump squats, I decided then and there that if she asks me to move, I will not accomodate her request for two main reasons: I am growing weary of being inconvenienced as a French customer and, at this particular moment, I was in the middle of my workout and happened to be in a really good grove with a really good tune playing on my iPod. Sure enough, she asked me to move. Without missing a beat or a jumpsquat, I looked her squarely in the eye and said, "Non." Cleaning Lady's eyes widened with surprise momentarily, then narrowed with a flash of anger. I can imagine the frustration she was feeling at knowing that she could not communicate with me since she already knew I am a non-French speaker for I too was feeling the same frustration. I wish I had been able to clarify my defiance and explain to Cleaning Lady that that I pay membership fees to workout at this gym and that a portion of my fees contribute to her salary and therefore, as the customer, I expect to workout without being interrupted. To drive my point home further, I would add that her interrupting my aerobic studio workout is no different than if she had asked me to get off the treadmill in the middle of my run so that she could wipe down the machine and since I have never seen that happen, certainly, the same courtesy can be extended to me in the studio. Obviously, much remained unspoken between us and she left the studio shortly thereafter, but not before AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" came on and a feisty feeling flooded my body and I began my next set which coincidentally happened to be a two-punch roundhouse kick combo. Cleaning Lady's been thunderstruck by the Américaine and doesn't know what hit her. I do feel a little bit bad, but not really. The (Américaine) customer is always right, right?

Boutique clothing stores in our neighborhood are one place that I have experienced customer service; the kind which makes me usually want to shoo the clerk away like a pesky fly. Back home, I am familiar with the stores that use 'hard sell' commision-based tactics and I avoid them almost at all costs. But these Parisian boutiques have so many unique fashionable items, plus, these smaller stores are not heated to sauna temperatures- unlike the grand Parisian department stores- so I grin and bear the hovering of these boutique clerks.

In these small establishments I have no way to blend in with other shoppers (I am oftentimes the clerk's sole customer) or ensconce myself with a rounder of clothes in the far back. I become the clerk's mission; they want to succeed in selling me something- anything- even if it looks like crap when I try it on. I have learned that they will tell me that pants that have an extra inch around the waist look, "Tres adorable!" while they bring me a belt and proceed to cinch it around my waist, hoping, I'm sure, to sell more items ("I sold the Américain pants and a belt!"). A shirt with absolutely nothing flattering to offer my frame or skin tone will be lauded as, "Magnifique!" and anytime I am in a dressing room for more than 3 minutes, the clerk asks me, "Madame, everything is okay?" as if I may have vanished into thin air behind the curtain. I hate Paris boutique dressing rooms. They are the size of a phone booth and there are no mirrors. The mirror is always inconveniently located on the wall outside of the dressing rooms so that customers are forced to emerge and subject themselves to the eagerly awaiting sales clerk so he or she can start laying on the frequently false compliments.

Once, there was a male sales clerk that was so intent on sharing his opinion with me that he tried every possible way he could think of  (in less-than-perfect English) to express himself, albeit unsuccesfully. I had tried on a dress that I had decided I liked very much. He concurred, however, he was not fully satisfied with his assessment and he asked me to show him my "form" so that he could determine which type of something- either there was not an English equivalent word or he could not recall the correct word or words- I'm not sure, but apparently, this dress called for that very something and he was determined to go fetch it for me. But first, I had to show him my "form". Thank goodness he was gay (at least I was 99% sure) because my natural assumption that he was asking to check out my ass did not bother me much at all. Yet, showing him my backside did not satisfy his need to know what 'form' I currently have. I then figured he was inquiring as to the type of underwear I had on. Again, thank goodness I'm thinking he's gay at this point because I nonchalantly replied, "Thong," while pantomiming a narrow strip with my thumb and forefinger. Still, this left him unsatisfied. He struggled a bit longer, trying to explain himself. Finally, I asked him, with obvious dismay, "You want to see my underwear?!" Shocked, his eyes bugged out and his hand flew up to his pursed mouth while his cheeks flushed a bright shade of crimson. "Madame, non! Désolé, non! Oh la la, non! I am not that way, I say this to you! Forgive me, my English is bad!"

Now I feel terrible! I have completely embarrassed this guy- we were having a complete misunderstanding- he was simply trying to be (overly) helpful and sell me both the dress and the something else that apparently, was not underwear. Pink Cheeks then dashed away, presumably ashamed by his English skills and his assumed offense. I reentered my dressing room actually quite amused- this was the most enjoyable pesky clerk experience yet. It's not often that I get to experience a stranger trying to check out my over 40-year-old ass- imagined or real, gay or straight, and my ego certainly is not going to be picky. Better yet, I got a great dress and a great memory! I am still dying to know what the heck Pink Cheeks was trying to ask me. I do give the guy an 'A' for effort- he puts the 'A' in customer servass, that's for sure!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Touchpoints- 0 to 6 Months

The decision to travel back to the states for a home visit during the girls' two-week February break was originally one that I had to think about for a few days before embracing the idea. When Soren suggested it, back in December, I had some initial resistance because I had done a lot of work to mentally prepare myself last year that I would (and could) endure the entire upcoming year living outside of my comfort zone. Heading home felt to me, at first, like a cop-out. I was hung up on needing to prove to myself that I could last a whole year in Paris as an expat without caving into my periodic feelings of homesickness. I was also worried that visiting home would create resistance (within both me and my children) to returning to Paris for the next six months. Thankfully, I got over these feelings, told Soren to book our flights, and together, we decided to keep our trip a secret from the girls. I love a good surprise, and I had an intense sense of gratification pulling this one off when the girls and I arrived at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport.

It was a fast and frenzied two weeks at home, but now that I am on the other side of my visit, I can frame up our experience in the context of the book, Touchpoints, by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton (who just happened to be Soren's pediatrician when he lived in Boston briefly as a child). Touchpoints- Birth to Three is a manual about expected childhood developmental milestones that I poured over as an expectant parent more than eleven years ago.

It occurred to me that expatriats experience a relatively standard set of developmental milestones too. The developmental expatriat milestones that my family (individually and collectively) has moved through in our first six months as expats in Paris started to reveal themselves on our journey back home. The girls and I had just arrived at our crowded gate area in the Washington Dulles airport and found seats while waiting to board our San Francisco-bound flight. Within a few minutes Nola turned to me and exclaimed, "Mom, people are so loud here!" Yep, she's right about that one, Americans are much noisier than the French in public spaces. The next day, while out and about in Walnut Creek, Raelyn complained, "Mom, we're too dressed up!" In actuality, the girls were not wearing anything fancy, they were simply wearing their Parisian clothes which does not include the California wardrobe staples of baggy jeans or sweatpants, t-shirts with logos and/or screen prints, white sneakers, crocs, or flip-flops, basketball shorts, and baggy sweatshirts. I love that they are able to notice these cultural relativities with such apparent ease.

One of our Walnut Creek outings was a trip to Nordstrom to purchase a pair of shoes for Nola. While I appreciated being in a department store without feeling like I was going to die of heat stroke, what I appreciated even more, was Nola's lack of shyness and her refined behavior. Upon concluding the purchase, Nola, unprompted by me, turned to the saleswoman and politely said, "Thank you, goodbye," as if doing so was as second-nature as breathing. It dawned on me in that moment that the past six months of forcing Nola to live outside of her comfort zone has produced an unexpected gain in her confidence and politeness. Training the girls to take initiative and say bonjour, au revoir, and merci when in a Parisian place of business as is the 'French way', has paid off in that they unconsciously applied these skills at home too. I love that they have two sets of cultural norms to now draw upon moving forward in life. Social studies are really so much richer when experienced rather than taught. Too bad high school social studies programs can't afford international field trips.

Another thing that I found especially endearing was Raelyn's continued use of French with her immediate family even after the plane touched down in San Francisco; her simple comments and questions about what she saw, ate, or needed- in French. I got the sense that she wanted to remain tied to her life in Paris; speaking French was her way of accomplishing this. Raelyn and Nola are straddling two worlds now, it's fun to see them navigate this fact.

One of the ways this straddling of two worlds shows itself is by the polarities of appreciation and disgust we feel for attributes of both cultures. For example, the first thought that popped into my head while walking to baggage claim at SFO was, "There are so many overweight people here." This reality is a no-brainer, however, having been removed from this milieu for a period of time brought the contrast into sharp focus for me along with feelings of disgust for America's gluttonous ways. (Cheesecake Factory anyone?)

To contrast this issue further, I  must mention the dichotomy between a group of American women ordering dessert versus a group of French women doing the same. As is almost always the case when I dine with American friends, when the time comes to order dessert, we banter back and forth about whether or not anyone wants dessert in the first place. Then, when we finally (and predictably) decide to share one, none of us wants to be the one to choose it. Meanwhile, our patient waiter is surely trying his or her best not to eyeroll us while probably thinking, "Great, another calorie-counting group of 40-somethings. Just pick something dammit!" When our one dessert finally arrives, we take turns having bites, sometimes leaving a last little bit in the dish, other times urging the others to take the last bite as if doing so ourselves would put us over the top. Honestly, one fourth of one dessert is not going to make any of us look like those overly large people I noticed at SFO (Cheesecake Factory desserts excluded).

In Paris retaurants, dessert is the rule, not the exception. One dessert per person is the norm in fact. Even at lunchtime. I have nothing against my American friends who shy away from desserts, but it has been really refreshing to be with my French friends and experience them not dithering over the matter. They order, they eat, and, more importantly, they enjoy without guilt or worry. It's liberating to live in a culture where the mindset seems to be 'indulge in all things pleasurable with moderation'.

Smoking apparently, is not on the moderation list. During our visit to Walnut Creek, I was able to enjoy running outdoors without inhaling any second-hand smoke. When I run to and on the Promenade Plantée in Paris, I pass by many a cigarette smoker, all of whom just happen to be exhaling at that moment. Yuck. I think the health benefits of my running may actually be counteracted by the quantity of second-hand smoke that I have inhaled in the past six months. And that's not even counting the amount I inhale if we choose to dine al fresco at a cafe. Parisian smokers have been banned from the interior of restaurants, but this means we non-smoking diners have a tough choice to make when the weather is beautiful. I really appreciate California's stricter smoking regulations and the increased freedom of choice I have there because of them.

The next appreciation is simple: Mexican food. I greatly appreciate tasty, authentic Mexican food. I miss it terribly. I gorged on it as much as I could while at home. Parisians don't know what they are missing.

Driving- like riding a bike, you never forget. Six months of not sitting behind a wheel and I picked it right back up again. I could tell my car missed me. I can't say I feel the same about my car though. Paris's Metro can't beat driving (or Bart, obviously) in my opinion. I'd much rather people-watch while commuting somewhere than have to pay attention to stop signs and traffic lights. As I was telling many friends back home, I now have the intent to park my car at Whole Foods or Target, rolling cart in hand, and circle Walnut Creek in pursuit of my errands. Walking the length of downtown Walnut Creek does not seem unreasonable at all. City living has completely changed my perspective on distances. I vow to become recognizable to Walnut Creek strangers as, "That 'walking woman'".

Our very satitsfying and full life in Walnut Creek was so nice to delve back into. Friends and family galore, including our two new nephews who were born during our stay, were soaked up as much as possible. I miss this life. However, it was evident that the trappings of such a full life can often include an overall lack of balance, or at least the challenge of creating balance, and we felt that tug-of-war almost immediately upon our return. So many friends, family, and things to do and not enough time compared with life in Paris where we feel like time is on our side. Granted, our Paris social and family life is less full, but if it weren't, Sundays, at a minimum, would be set aside for family and friends as is the cultural norm here. Not soccer games, errands, and paying bills. Imagine if American retail stores closed their doors on Sundays. I told you I love a good fantasy.

I have grown accustomed (kind of) to frequent feelings of helplessness and inadequacy in my Paris life. So, it was with great relief that for two weeks I had no difficulty communicating with anyone (husband and children excluded) or getting my daily needs met in and around Walnut Creek. Life is so much easier when people speak my language (again, husband and children excluded).

In contrast, just yesterday, I had three experiences of helplessness in fairly rapid succession. That morning, I had to call the girls' school to inform them of their absence due to illness. Their previous absences had been called in by Soren so, because of my novice status, I wrote out my French script, practiced it out loud with Raelyn, and made the call. I read my script beautifully. But then the secretary spoke. What she said, I have no idea- she spoke so darned fast! So I repeated my script, unable to mask the nervousness in my voice this time. By now, Raelyn had come over to listen in and help translate. This helped a bit, but finally, the secretary said something neither of us understood. While Raelyn and I were staring at each other wide-eyed and paralyzed, the secretary could be heard over the speaker, "Allo, allo?" Finally, as I started to stammer a response, she hung up on me. Can't say that I blame her. The saving grace is that Raelyn did hear the secretaty say that she would inform their teacher. That's all that really mattered anyway.

Next up, I needed to find out from our Parisian doctor if I had to schedule an office visit for what I suspected was a case of conjunctivitis. That meant I needed to track down Soren at his hotel in Atlanta so that he could phone the doctor's office in case the French-speaking receptionist answered. After the secretary fiasco, I was not up for another attempt at phone communication. "No visit needed," reported Soren, after he called, "Go to the pharmacy and buy these medications instead," he directed me.

Off to the pharmacy I went disguising my three-day old outfit of sweats with tall boots and a long coat. Due to the girls' illnesses, I had not left the apartment since my immediate grocery run upon returning from the airport last Friday. Why hadn't I thought of this shortcut to getting dressed for errands in Paris before?  Heck, I could even venture out in pajamas, at least in the winter time, and nobody would be the wiser. I entered the pharmacy with my trusty piece of paper in hand listing the required medications. Soren assured me that the Asian pharmacist that works at our local pharmacy speaks English. The only problem was that he was helping another customer so I got the help of the French pharmacist. I spoke about the problem and my needs in French, including my standard apology for my terrible French and that I really only speak English. She proceeded to tell me how to administer these medications and I pantomimed the request that she write it down. I understood her to ask me how I was going to understand her writing. Hasn't she ever heard of Google Translate? When it came time to pay, I handed her my credit card. No go. Cash only. But why? She repeated the amount and I heard her say fifty- something euros. My wallet contained a fifty euro bill and a twenty euro bill. I handed both bills to her. She looked shocked and handed the bills back to me. She repeated the amount, more slowly this time, and I realized that the causes of my mistake were twofold: I have the obvious language barrier working against me, and, I also  have the cultural relativity of health care warping my ability to understand too. She did not say, "Cinquante (50)," rather, she said, "Cinq (5)," and some odd euros. This explained her not accepting my credit card; the transaction amount was not great enough. This also explained why I thought I heard 'fifty' since back home, medications are quite expensive and I was conditioned to fork over a large amount of dough for them. As the pharmacist gave back my fifty euro bill she said, in English no less, "You are much too generous!". Okay lady, here's the thing- you know that I am struggling my ass off trying to communicate and understand here and, all along, you could have chosen to speak at least some English and make it easier and less stressful for me. If you know those particular English words, not to mention your ability to infuse sarcasm with that statement, then clearly, your English is way better than my French. Come on, throw me a bone! This is not the first, and certainly won't be the last time I interface with a French person who clearly delights in the pleasure of seeing us foreigners struggle with their beautiful language only, at the last moment, to drop us a hint of their English skills. To top it off, upon my turning around to exit the pharmacy, I crashed into the lip balm display proving, without a doubt, that speaking French is not the only way to demonstrate how lame I can be sometimes. I don't believe clumsiness is a developmental milestone for expats, but if it were, I'd probably make a great case study.
Touchpoints for Expats- 0 to 6 months
Holli Rae Kaplan

All over the U.S. and in over twenty countries around the world, Touchpoints has become required reading for anxious expatriates. Holli Kaplan's great empathy for the universal concerns of expats, and honesty about the complex feelings the experience engenders, as well as her uncanny insight into the predictable leaps and regressions of the expat experience, have comforted and supported expats since its original publication.
Kaplan introduces information on physical, emotional, and behavioral implications of the expat experience. She also addresses the new stresses on families and fears of children, with a fresh focus on the role of language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, and homesickness. Kaplan brings an expat's insights into the many perennial issues covered in this comprehensive book. No expat should be without the reassurance and wisdom Touchpoints provides.
Read about these issues and more:
  • language barriers 
  • lonliness, isolation, and homesickness
  • helplessness
  • cultural relativity
  • straddling two worlds
  • new and unusual foods
  • expat children
So, you see, I got rolling with one of my fantasies here. It was so easy to paste Brazelton's book synopsis and change some wording.  Thank you to those of you readers and supporters out there who have planted this little seed for me. It will be fun to explore the possibilities of my writing and see where it all leads...