July 1, 2019

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Doing the laundry in the Mrvos household is never boring.  My husband Jim helps out by doing loads of his biking and tennis clothes, but he is not as lucky as me.  When I do the laundry, surprises show up.  The thing is, I never know what the surprise will be until after the clothes have been washed and dried.

Our laundry room is small, but it's conveniently located upstairs next to the guest room/office.  If I'm doing a load while I'm writing, all I have to do is listen for the washer to stop, hop up, pop everything into the dryer and then go back to work.  Doing the wash couldn't be easier.  Far different than my college days.  Back then, I stuffed quarters in my pocket and lugged a mountain of dirty clothes in a basket three blocks to a laundromat.

For the most part, Americans take doing the wash for granted.  But if you stop to think about it, laundry practices in countries all over the world are more labor-intensive than the way we do the wash.

In Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast in western Africa, laundrymen known as Fanico go from door to door to collect laundry to wash and haul it away in a wooden cart.  The laundrymen make their living by washing clothes by hand in streams using palm-oil soap.  

The Moroccan city of Chefchaouen is known for its striking blue-washed buildings.  Here, people travel to the Ras El Maa waterfall to wash their laundry.  The clean wet clothes are then strewn and left to dry in laundry huts. 

In India, washers called Dhobis specialize in cleaning clothes. From dawn to night, the Dhobis and their families wash up to 1 million pieces of clothes a day.  They hand wash the clothes with local water, beat them against a hard surface, and leave them out to dry on a clothesline.  
In many European cities, people hang the laundry outside because they don't have space for a dryer like this home in Dubrovnik (pictured above).  When my family and I visited the walled city, this particular clothesline struck me.  The vibrant clothing seemed to be carefully arranged and presented like a colorful painting.

Clotheslines remind me of my grandmother and mother.  Even though they had a dryer, they hung laundry outside to dry from spring to fall.  I remember my mother hanging laundry on a rotary clothesline with a large circular canopy.  My grandmother used a clothesline that spanned a good portion of the width of her backyard.  They must have liked the way fresh air permeated the sheets.  I can't even begin to imagine how time-consuming it must have been.  Give me a washer and dryer any day.

In the Mrvos household, the wash is done about twice a week.  It is fast and easy and it is usually worry-free...unless things get in the wash that shouldn't have been washed.  Like tissues.  Wool sweaters.  Dry-clean only clothes.  And Nellie Belly Boo.

Nellie was our daughter's big fluffy stuffed dog. I can't explain why she chose this moniker, but Abby has a penchant for giving animals unusual names, alive or stuffed.

I don't know what possessed me to wash her toy dog.  But after a sudsy bath in the washer with Tide, Nellie Belly Boo was no longer fluffy.  Her fur got this matted down look.  Abby was in tears—even though her beloved toy was clean.  From that day forward, I was forbidden from washing Nellie ever again.

As to the surprises that I alluded to earlier, here is a list of the things that found their way into the wash:
  • gum
  • pennies and dimes
  • concert stubs
  • clothes tags
  • receipts
  • dollar bills
  • a guitar pick
  • earbuds
  • a Lexmark name badge
  • a pen
  • a tube of sunscreen 
  • a plum pit 

This silver item pictured above is the strangest thing I've ever washed. It's all twisted and unusable now.  Can you guess what it is?

Clue #1:  it does not belong to me.
Clue #2:  

I don't mind doing the wash.  It usually doesn't take up too much time.  It can be a nice break from writing when writer's block sets in or when my brain gets overwhelmed with editing.  And, it can be fun when a surprise shows up.  Who knew laundry could be this much fun?

À la prochaine! 

I enjoyed your posts......the laundry one really got me laughing.  I too have experienced very strange things coming out of the washing machine......some were impossible to identify after spinning them.  I’ve washed rocks & other treasures when the boys were little.....especially after a week at Boy Scout camp. The big boy(Steve) was also very entertaining .......medical supplies would occasionally show up from his pockets or money .......change or bills.....or keys.  Nancy B.

I just wanted you to know I enjoyed the blog and related to it on several levels with similar early experiences and the convenience of having my laundry room and office on the same level – the basement. I do, however, hang our sheets on the line because of the fresh aroma – at least in warmer weather.  Jan C.

I think your mystery laundry find was the spring from your grandfather's watch, which somehow wound up in the pocket of your favorite overalls, which hadn't been washed since grandfather learned how to tell time.  Marshall C.

June 1, 2019

                                                                                                                                                                                                           Photo: Mahkeo 

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Author wannabes crave instant gratification.  They want to get published and they want to get published NOW.

How do I know?  I've learned that many of my mentees submit their manuscripts before they are thoroughly edited.  These writers revise, but they believe a second draft is good enough to submit.  They can't wrap their heads around the fact that it may take multiple drafts to shape a manuscript.

I want to shake some sense into my dear sweet mentees.  Many of them don't have the patience to hone their craft.  On top of that, they are so confident and enamored with their stories that they brush off sound advice.  They want to get published as fast as possible, regardless of the quality of their submissions.

Below are two mentoring situations that I've handled recently.

Case #1:  One of my mentees wrote a picture book with a conflict that only older children can understand and appreciate.  She felt that since her children understood the advanced concept in her story, other young children should be able to grasp the concept, too.

I suggested that she keep the characters and plot of the story, but create a conflict that the very young could grasp more easily.  After all, picture books are generally for ages 4 - 8.  Unfortunately, the story sends a red flag to an agent or publisher because the conflict is too advanced for young readers.  But this writer stood firm on her beliefs.

Case #2:  Another one of my mentees wrote a story where the main character's want is weak and vague.  So, here we have a story where there is nothing at stake.  As much as I tried to impress upon this writer how a protagonist needs to develop a compelling want, he refused to change his story.  He failed to understand that an audience (and publishers) want to root for and cheer on the main character.  But when the want is trivial, readers are not going to give a sh*t.

Sadly, that was not the only problem with the story.  The resolution was the second problem.  In this story, the main character relies on an adult for help.  In picture books however, the main character must solve a problem (overcome the conflict) by himself.  According to Writingworld.com  https://www.writing-world.com/children/picture.shtml,  "You need a main character (preferably a child or animal), who has a problem that he needs to solve.  Along the way, the child has obstacles that he must overcome.  Finally, he solves his problem by himself without the aid of an adult."

Photo:  Annie Spratt
In both of these cases, the mentees resisted meticulous revision and submitted their work to publishers.
Several weeks later, one wrote to me wanting to understand why his submission was rejected.  It's hard to know the exact reason, but I had a feeling that on top of having a problematic manuscript, he probably failed to follow the submission guidelines. Oh là là!  

Writers love their manuscripts and many don't like making changes to their work.  They don't want others to tweak it.  It's their baby.   But there comes a time when it is necessary to listen and not be defensive and stubborn.  Writers need to see their manuscripts objectively like an agent or publisher would view their work.  They need to be open to revision and send their very best because the competition is steep in the world of publishing for kids.

It doesn't hurt my feelings when writers ignore my advice.  Ultimately, it's their choice whether they edit their stories.  However, while I may not know everything, I speak with authority and from the viewpoint of an author and an editor who has been writing and publishing for over twenty years.

I want writers to succeed.  My suggestions are tailored to help writers reach their publishing dreams by pointing out the essentials of writing and submitting a picture book manuscript.  But at times, I feel as if I'm beating my head against a wall.  It's like the saying...you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

And sometimes in the case of mentoring, you can take a writer to the path of success, but you can't make him take a step.

À la prochaine! 

May 1, 2019

Surprisingly audacious reflections of a humble writer


Putty is two-timing me.  Yeah, that adorable black and white cat pictured above.

This is the cat that has a warm house on our patio.  This is the cat I feed four times a day.  Or more.

How do I know?

Lately, Putty has been putting on weight.

At first, I thought he was just puffy-looking, growing more fur on that white belly to stay warm during the winter months.  But upon closer inspection, he just started looking heavier.

I feed him moderate servings of dry kibbles and wet food, but not enough for him to look chunky—though when he comes to our deck and presses his face against the glass of the door, he often receives an extra helping.  Still, he only comes around three times a week.  It is obvious that Putty is hitting up on other neighbors.

I wanted to know where he went.

Plan A:  The collar

I bought a neon pink collar and wrote on it with a marker: 'Who cares for this cat?' along with my cell phone number.  Getting the collar on him would be tricky because I didn't want to take a chance of getting bitten.  So, when he arrived on our deck, I slipped on a coat and garden gloves for protection.  Then, I set out a bowl of wet cat food.  While he ate, I snapped the collar around his neck, which is not as easy as it seems with a squirming cat and thick gloves.

Now, whoever feeds him will see the collar and may be curious to read the message.  I expected to hear from a neighbor in no time.  It was disappointing.  Nobody called. 

Then within a week, our little stray showed up on our deck without the collar.  I got the feeling he would not wear that gaudy pink.  He would not.  It's not in his color wheel.*

Plan B:  Surveillance

Even though the collar didn't work, I was still determined to see where Putty went after I fed him.  One day after he had a bowl of food, I watched him trot from our deck, cross the street and amble up the driveway directly across from our house.  And then he disappeared from sight.  I had no idea where he was headed, but the houses across from ours have dogs, so he probably wasn't going there.  I had a hunch he was going through backyards to get to Oak Creek Drive, one street over from our street.

I phoned Kate, a neighbor and cat-lover who lives on Oak Creek to ask her if she had seen a black and white cat.  She said, "You mean, Double Stuff?  Sure, I know him."  Kate explained she feeds him premium wet cat food and has a warm house for him.

But that's not all.  Her neighbor also feeds him.

And she had a heated home for him!

Plan C:  Share

Putty puts up with gets along with our cat Ozzie, as long as the screen door is closed.  They are, for the most part, buds.  But given the opportunity, Putty would bite Ozzie.  I know because it's happened before. 

When it's warm outside, Putty takes naps in the sun.  He shows no interest catching a bird even though we have several bird feeders on the deck.  He could care less about squirrels.  Putty has expensive, more refined taste.

Since I've fed Putty for over two years, he knows and trusts me.  He'll come up to the door when I call him and he'll let me pet his head.  When he hears my car pull into the driveway, he trots down the deck steps to greet me.  So, this makes me feel like Putty is MY cat.  But he is not.

The hardest thing for me is to get used to the fact that my stray strays.  Sometimes, I get a little jealous and offended.  I think:  what's wrong with what I'm serving today?  But I've come to realize that kind people welcome him.  They give him food and comfort.  They like him and treat him well.

I'm okay with sharing him with others.  My stray has figured out who to be nice to and what to do in order to be fed.  Putty, or should I say Double Stuff, knows what side his bread is buttered on.

* "I will not wear that gaudy orange.  I will not.  It's not in my color wheel"  Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

À la prochaine! 

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!