COVID-19: Vids + Plants + Pets + Podcasting

Quick question and get your ears ready for another Happiness Between Tails podcast soon:

Have you checked out the new podcasting integration between WordPress and Anchor? I’m getting ready to try it and wonder if you have thoughts to share regarding it. (Here’s a podcast I published some months ago.) According to WordPress’ recent email, “We’re excited to announce a new feature that automatically converts the text of any page or post into a podcast on Anchor, the world’s largest podcast platform. If you’re already blogging on WordPress.com, there’s a good chance it’s podcast-ready—because our new integration with Anchor means you can now turn your words into audio in a few steps. The blog-to-podcast process is simple, and it opens up your work to new possibilities and listeners.”

COVID-19, staying-at-home included, is plenty hate-worthy. (I’ve griped about it here and here and here.) But not everything, i.e., I’m writing my novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” at a far better clip. (I elaborated on some COVID silver linings here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here, as did author Alice Renaud here.)

Our doggie sits politely for pumpkin seeds. Anyone got a pumpkin seed?

Nonetheless, there are those among us who love, loooooove, luuuurrrve COVID-19. Indulge me for how tickled I am by the “sound effects” of one such COVID fan…

Our fluffed, furred, feathered, slippery, scaled, and whatever else creature-family who can’t get enough of us — those guys are overjoyed! In their unique ways, they broadcast, “Hurray! Our people are home!”

At the start of quarantine, I heard a radio item about a doggie who needed a vet’s attention because she’d sprained her tail from wagging it so much!

People I know average an extra three hours to their days thanks to working from home. Here in Los Angeles County, “driving’ is a euphemism for “fuming in stand-still traffic.” Think of all the heart attacks fended off if we didn’t have to waste hours fuming behind the wheel. Just the other day, road rage triggered (pardon the sad but irresistible pun) a shooting in Long Beach.

More free time means more gardening. Urban gardening activist Ron Finley of South Central Los Angeles says, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

His TED talk describes how his first parkway (what divides sidewalk from street) orchard-ette turned eco-lutionary…

When we moved into our home, my dear husband, Khashayar, applied his engineer’s practicality to our front and backyards. “If we’re going to work it, we’re going to eat it,” he said. Or something to that effect.

Which is why we’ve got several fruit trees crammed onto our bit of green. We (okay, he did the grunt work as our soil is basically clay) spent Sunday laying the groundwork for this year’s tomatoes and herbs.

Our little garden blooms with future fruits and herbs. Our little garden blooms with future fruits and herbs.

Do you know a pet who’s celebrating COVID-19?

Novelist Alice Renaud’s COVID-19 Inspo: Animals + Publishing

Quarantine: I enjoy staying home, but only if it’s by choice.

Yet I must admit, living at a slower pace has offered me more space to work on finishing “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” my novel. Make no mistake, COVID is awful, as I’ve discussed here and here and here. However, silver linings exist such as those I wrote of here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Read on for how staying home and animals inspire fantasy romance author Alice Renaud, a Londoner. She also details how she published her award-winning books!…

Novelist Alice Renaud.
Novelist Alice Renaud.

Our Furry and Not-So-Furry Friends by Alice Renaud

As we begin to emerge from our third lockdown in a year (and boy was this one painful – over four months, and in winter) I’m reflecting on what I learned during this extraordinary year.

One thing I’ve discovered is that animals and nature are even more essential for my well-being than I thought. I’ve always loved the natural world, but during the lockdowns it has proved a lifeline. Admiring fresh flowers, lying on the grass on a sunny day, and watching birds, have injected pleasure into otherwise drab days. I’ve realized that even insects are fascinating. I’ve enjoyed observing the butterflies, ladybirds and bees as they emerge from hibernation and launch themselves into the world (which is a little bit how I feel right now as I learn to go to the shops again and dare to have a coffee at a terrace.)

Photo of a butterfly by author Alice Renaud.
Photo of a butterfly by author Alice Renaud.

I’m not the only one. Many people in the UK have discovered the joys of nature during the lockdown. Long may it last! Many have also adopted animals. My favorite pet is the cat, or The Cat as I’m always tempted to write, because The Cat is an animal that would definitely write its name in capitals if it could write (and maybe they can but are hiding it from us). We don’t have a Cat at the moment, since our last pet went to the great basket in the sky, so I content myself with the neighbours and family’s Cats, like Tabitha, my aunt’s tabby, shown here staring at the neighbour’s feline.

Photo by author Alice Renaud of her aunt's tabby and a neighbor.
Photo by author Alice Renaud of her aunt’s tabby and a neighbor.

Animals and the natural world are a big source of inspiration for me and play a big part in all my stories. My Sea of Love series, which won its category in the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Award, follows the lives and loves of shape shifting mermen and mermaids. In their aquatic form my merfolk have a tail but not a fish tail. They’re mammals and look quite a bit like dolphins or porpoises. I grew up by the sea and love all marine creatures. I’ll never forget the day I saw a porpoise for the first time. I was amazed by the power and grace of that big animal, and the ease and speed with which it swam through the waters. I’m also fond of seabirds, even seagulls which a lot of people in the UK don’t like. They can make a nuisance of themselves by stealing chips and cakes, but they’re sociable, tough, highly adaptable, and fantastic airborne acrobats.

Cover of Mermaids Marry in Green, a fantasy romance novel by Alice Renaud.

My books feature both real animals and fantastical ones. In my latest release Mermaids Marry in Green (also a winner in the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Award) there is a shifter mermaid, a warlock who can change into a cat, and also a mythical Welsh water monster, an afanc. Part beaver, part crocodile, he possesses magical powers and brings the hero and heroine together. Welsh legends are full of marvellous creatures and I enjoy putting them in my stories. As well as the afanc, there is the Ceffyl Dwr, the Water Horse, and the Giant Cat of Anglesey. Now that’s a feline I’d like to meet!

Wherever you are, I hope you are keeping well in these strange times, and I hope that like me you will find comfort in the company of furry (or not so furry) friends and in the beauty of the natural world.

My Publishing Journey

I started writing at the age of 14, but it’s not until many years later that I got my first short story published in a UK mass market magazine. I carried on writing and publishing romantic and family-themed short stories for several years before trying my hand at longer fiction. My first three romantic novels did not find a publisher, then I discovered that witches, mermen and angels were a lot more fun than sheikhs and billionaires. My first paranormal romance novella didn’t find a publisher either, but then I joined a writing group and met my wonderful tutor and editor, Laurie Sanders. She helped me whip another story into shape, and in 2019 A Merman’s Choice was published by an indie publisher, Black Velvet Seductions. Since then I have published two more novellas with them, and have contributed to several collections of short stories. I enjoy working with BVS very much. Ric Savage, my publisher, gives his authors plenty of freedom, I can write the story that I want to write without having to worry about conforming to strict pre-defined criteria. The other BVS authors are a great bunch and very supportive. Our anthologies are a great way to discover the writing of all these talented authors. The latest, Cowboy Desire, is out now in ebook and paperback.

For more about Alice, visit her site here.

How’s your creativity going?

Guest Blog Post: The Tao of RELATIONSHIP by Bryan Wagner

Communication is not easy. Whether I’m listening, reading, looking… all my interactions are colored by my perspective that’s shaped by my present and past. Sometimes my simplest, most straight-forward conversations are with my dear doggie.

Who do you interact with most easily? Blogger/writer Bryan Wagner presents workshops on Zen, Tao, and Shamanism. Here’s his take on relationships…

Bryan Wagner and a friend spending quality time together.

“The Tao of RELATIONSHIP” by Bryan Wagner

Communion is creating and embracing an emotional, spiritual, sharing of each other.

We can enter a state of communion if we are present and each of us has the desire, openness, and willingness to remain so. 

We can also use that willingness of communication to build a more intimate exchange that leaves traces of each participant within the other. That is the act of communion. Communion is not just language and sharing. Communion is a process further than language, it is the art of complete communication in the moment. Genuine communion happens when things move between those in relationship that is grounded in the awareness of the moment.

I believe that the sharing of emotional content is important to the state of being in communion. That means to express emotional, non-verbal content, and then allow the receiver to process it in whatever form that action takes.

Communion happens inter-species because spoken language is only a very small part of communion. Some of my happiest moments are in communion with animals. I think in part because they are aware and painfully honest in how they respond. Being with animals has the effect of clearing the detritus and fog from my thinking and reference frame on life. I engage in the state of love so readily with animals!

I honor and value those that I commune with and actively seek out building those relationships that offer that place of intimacy. I encourage people to embrace the idea of communing with others and seek those relationships out in their own lives.

Today I will spend some time communing with Spike and P’nut and a horse named Anastasia. I can’t think of a better way to share life. – Bryan Wagner

Who do you interact with most easily?

Part 3: Purringly Stunning Sydney, Australia with Video by da-AL

Beaches, cats, tango, and theater — that’s how our extraordinary trip came to a marvelous close.

Relaxing under a rock.

Our last little bit of holiday was spent admiring Sydney’s shore. The weather was gusty and somewhat chilly for us sunny-never-a-cloud Los Angeles folks — so when one of us decided it was time for a siesta, we gathered ourselves under some rocks. The view of the sky was terrific…

Australia’s beaches are stunning.

Bondi Beach is ultra-popular, though I doubt any of Australia’s shoreline isn’t stunning. Did you know that Australia has surf life-saving clubs?…

Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club.

Our bed and breakfast hostess, Belinda Selway (you can reach her at: Belinda at ArtbyDesign dot net dot AU), revealed heroic patience when she tolerated my extreme egg fussiness and made me the b-e-s-t poached egg ever — I’ve yet to risk another even cooked by me! Under her roof, we admired great art and sorted out romances. She offered us useful tips for where and how to enjoy the short remainder of our stay.

Belinda and her cat are the best!

Plus, she shared her charming cat. Don’t be fooled by those sweet feline eyes — pretty kitty is quite the mouser. And her purring is hypnotizing…

We were so busy having fun that we forgot to take more photos…

  1. Many sincere thanks to the supremely likable Tango Embrace Australia dance group for being so kind that they asked one of their members to give us a ride. Oh, how I wish I remember that charitable dancing driver’s name. Better, however, that I admit my bad manners than allow her to think we don’t continue to be grateful for her generosity and that we much enjoyed our chat with her!
  2. At the Sydney Opera House, we bought same-day tickets to their theater and got front row seats to an outstanding show — for less than we’d have paid for a half-decent dinner! We also had a scrumptious splurge meal on their patio that was served by a waiter who was bionic, a great entertainer, and professional. Alas, another Sydneysider who I’d like to thank more personally but whose name eludes me…

This great trip started with New Zealand’s beautiful Auckland / Rotorua / Redwoods / Huka Falls / Craters of the Moon / Waitomo Glowworms Caves / Taupo / Pirongia / and Hamilton Gardens. In Australia, we met terrific family in Gold Coast / observed these exciting birds — and these too / hiked breathtaking views / enjoyed delicious eats at the beach / saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary / had fun with Rita Rigby / enjoyed a bit of the beauty and beasts of Brisbane / and in Sydney we enjoyed these sights and this art, as well as what you just saw in this post…

How loud does your cat purr?

Guest Blog Post: Soulmates by Kevin Cooper

Writing can be lonely — unless one has a special friend — like a beloved pet! Do you have a soulmate who’s not human?

Author, songwriter, and avid movie goer and reader Kevin Cooper blogs from England. Two furry mates cheer him for all his endeavors…

Aragorn and Rico when Kevin Cooper and his wife first got them.

* * Soulmates * by Kevin Cooper * *

Our cats are our little soulmates. They bring us a wellspring of joy and happiness and are a huge source of comfort, well-being, and healing.

When we first got the brothers: Aragorn (grey) and Rico (black) at 6 weeks of age, Pat had just come home from hospital having had a major surgery that involved placing a rod in her ribs to support her shoulder blade which hung loose after the muscles around it had wasted away. Having them on the bed with Pat brought such comfort and joy to her.

Aragorn now.

It was only a few months later when I became really ill and bedridden myself for a few days, and I never forget it. Rico never left my side except for natures calls. Before that, he hadn’t really paid any attention to me at all. He was always far too busy exploring every little corner of the house so you can imagine my great surprise when he decided to spend all that time by my side. I know without a doubt that his presence had much to do with my swift recovery.

Rico is quite reserved and doesn’t take to visitors… He loves his privacy and doesn’t like any kind of change in the house. But secretly, he loves to play and loves to be loved. Recently he has taken to fussing a bit as well. I say secretly because no one else ever sees it.

Aragorn is a fusspot. Make up the bed, and he’s on their kicking up a fuss, and rolling around. He has to be in on EVERYTHING and will nosey up to just about anyone.

Rico now.

Whenever we go out, they greet us at the door, and Aragorn fusses… They want to know what we have in the bags, but more importantly, what we have brought for them. And so of course, we ALWAYS remember to get them something!

They are the most lovely of pets and while they do have their moments. (As do all brothers, I’m sure.) I absolutely love watching while they chase and play with each other. But my favourite times are those when they want me to get down on the floor and join them. Each of them has many a time stolen a stylus while I’ve been reading on my kindle or pen from me while I’ve been writing and ran away with it in their mouths to get me to play with them. And sometimes I get a good telling off if I ignore them for too long.

They are seven years old now, and we have been there for each other over the years and will be for years to come. They are a Godsend, and without a doubt, they are Soulmates.

About the author: Kevin Cooper is an author, songwriter, and avid movie goer and reader. He lives in England with his wife and two adorable cats. When he is not out with his wife at the movies or playing on the floor with his cats, you might just find him quietly sneaking away to write about the latest book he has finished reading. You can find out more about his books and music, and the books he reads on his website.

Guest Recipe + Kindness: Pirongia, New Zealand by da-AL

Vicky Apps (with her kitty) is a wonderful hostess!

We had less than a week to sample beautiful New Zealand. We’d landed in Auckland, spent a night in Rotorua, hiked a few hours in the Redwoods, strolled along Huka Falls, peered into Craters of the Moon and visited the Waitomo Glowworms Caves, and then river rafted in Taupo — then later Hamilton Gardens. (Eventually, in Australia’s Gold Coast, we visited family and birds of Australia Part 1 of 2 plus Part 2 of 2, then we marveled at the Spectacular Views in and Around Gold Coast, enjoyed a delicious meal on the beach, saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, had fun with Rita Rigby, met the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there, and enjoyed Sydney this much and that much, as well as the purring there!

Pirongia was a lovely village (by the way, it was interesting to find that as far as I know, here in the U.S. we only use the term ‘city’, not ‘village’) to spend our final night before returning to Auckland. Short as our visit to Pirongia was, our hostess, Vicky Apps, made it memorable. If you’re ever in the area and need a cozy room at a reasonable price, I highly recommend emailing her at apps@xtra.co.nz

Vicky and her charming kitty, made us feel like family at her gorgeous, spacious home. We so enjoyed sitting in her flower-filled backyard and chatting with her. Moreover, she even washed (and folded!) my clothes at no charge. For breakfast, she shared delicious homemade jams and preserves, including one that was made from a guava type fruit found only in New Zealand. (By the way, New Zealand has its own variation of sweet potato too, which I regret not getting a chance to sample.)

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash.

When I much enjoyed some of Vicky’s Anzac biscuits, an immensely satisfying sort of oatmeal cookie that was devised for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during World War I, she generously hand-wrote the recipe for me!…

Vicky’s recipe for Anzac biscuits, page 1.
Vicky’s recipe for Anzac biscuits, page 2.

Do you have a biscuit or cookie that’s special to where you live?

Arthritis Remedy for Dogs and Cats: The Power of Warmth by da-AL

Winter can cruel to aging warm-blooded pets. The best arthritis advice I received was when my great vet told me, “Just get them through the winter.”

Cropped photo of someone in a bunny rabbit suit walking into bleak distance
Wonderfulness via Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com and tweaked by da-AL

Even in warmer climates like Southern California, winter is his busy time when it comes to pet owners frantic to relieve their pets of arthritis pain. “Even if it feels warm to us, they know it’s winter,” he said.

“Keep them warm,” was his advice. At all hours.

An electric blanket is perfect during the night. Toss it over your pet’s sleeping area. Make sure it’s the type that will stay on at a very low setting all night (don’t get the kind that switches off after only an hour).

Of the many remedies I explored to make my best friends comfortable, the electric blanket afforded them most dramatic relief.

How do your pets fare in winter?

Guest Blog Post: Benefits of Tea by Rhiannon Brunner

As a novelist, tea is one of my best friends. If I want a boost, to warm my fingers, something tasty and healthy yet free of calories (given how writing involves little physical energy), or during the moments I want to commune with others (making a story can be like cooking,  the ingredients being actually living).

Tea is infinitely varied — hot or cold, fruity or robust, earthy or sweet, and on and on — there’s a tea for everyone. Blogger Rhiannon Brunner lives in Vienna, Austria. She’s written a pile of books about subjects that interest her in German, which she’s planning to soon translate into English.

What’s your favorite tea? Here she describes hers…

Photo of Rhiannon Brunner
Author and blogger Rhiannon Brunner.

Tea offers extremely valuable properties. Many minor physical pains can be easily relieved with the right one.

If you take a look at my tea box, you will find some herbs that serve healing purposes. The classics (rosehip, chamomile, and fennel) are of course included. However, I would like to present here two varieties that I have long considered to be absolutely essential:

Damiana is a healthy and good tea.
Damiana is a healthy and good tea.

Damiana

Damiana tea tastes like dried hay.

Its positive effects include stress relief (it makes one slightly euphoric), relief of menstrual pain, and it has anti-inflammatory properties. 

Many people find it helps relieve stomach problems, acts as an aphrodisiac, aids sleep, and strengthens the heart and general circulation.

Bitter gourd is another great tea.
Bitter gourd is another great tea.

Bitter Gourd

If you don’t like the bitter taste, sweeten it with honey, because it tastes really bitter!

Above all, diabetics and health-conscious people enjoy its positive effects. If you want to lose weight, you are well advised to use it, since the usual diet does not need to be changed at all.  

I have experienced this on my own body — although I did not even intend to. It includes saponins, which helps the body to break down dangerous abdominal fat (visceral fat). Bitter gourd helps to get rid of the type of fat that not even the most restrictive diets can get to. To check the results, I asked a couple of friends to drink the tea as well. Their results were like mine.

Bitter gourd is rich in iron, calcium, phosphorus, copper, potassium and the vitamins A, B1, B2, and C. Therefore, it is optimally suited for a health-conscious lifestyle.

Caution is advised only for pregnant women and people with low blood pressure.

My personal favorite way to take bitter gourd is this one, Trà Khổ Qua. It is a combination that also contains Reishi mushrooms, which makes the bitter gourd less bitter, as well as additionally healthy.

I highly recommend anyone to engage in tea and be open to a variety of impressions.

Good tea is like a beloved friend. And so — let me say — it is tea time.

 

Alice is Rhiannon Brunner's lovely cat.
Alice is Rhiannon Brunner’s lovely cat.

Visit Rhiannon Brunner’s blog, where she discusses her projects, cats and daily life.

More about good tea.

Interested in the classical tea ceremony?

Flamenco Fusion by da-AL

“Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” is the title of the first of my soon-to-be self-published novels. The ‘Sitting Cat’ part of the title refers to the geographical shape of Iran…

Map of Iran out lined in shape of a Sitting Cat.
Map of Iran outlined in the shape of a Sitting Cat.

I grew up with only classical music — and flamenco music and dance. My father, who left Barcelona in his mid-20s, wanted it that way. Since I left home at 18, it’s a gift to watch any type of dance I like and to listen to every kind of music that comes my way.

Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam respectfully and lovingly fuses dance cultures.
Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam respectfully and lovingly fuses dance cultures.

I still love classical — and flamenco! Especially fascinating to me is when flamenco is fused with the dance of Iran, where my husband was raised. Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam is an Iranian dancer now residing in France. Flamenco is as much about individuality as it is about technique — it accommodates all cultures, all forms of beauty.

If only politics were as intent on creating a climate of ‘we’ rather than an ‘us vs. them’!

The way Ghalam (click here for his Facebook page) fuses dance styles is respectful and hypnotic…

For more flamenco, check out Part 3: Marvelous Madrid — Flamenco

What fusion art do you enjoy?

A letter to God from Dog (as discovered by da-AL)

My doggie and I were at her vet’s office, waiting for her anal glands to be expressed (eeeewwww!!!! indeedy) when we saw this anonymous missive posted on the doctor’s wall:

Pug photo by Ryan McGuire altered by da-AL
Pug photo by Ryan McGuire altered by da-AL

Dear God,

Is it on purpose that our names are the same, only reversed?

When we Dogs get to heaven, can we sit on your couch? Or is it the same old story?

Why are cars named after the jaguar, the cougar, the mustang, the colt, the stingray, and the rabbit — yet not for a Dog? How often do you see cougars riding around? We Dogs love nice rides. Would it be so hard to rename the “Chrysler Eagle” to the Chrysler Beagle”?

If a Dog barks her or his head off in the forest and no human hears, are they still a bad Dog?

Detail of pug photo by Ryan McGuire
Detail of pug photo by Ryan McGuire

Things we Dogs can understand:
– Human verbal instructions
– Hand signals
– Whistles
– Horns
– Clickers
– Beepers
– Scent IDs
– Electromagnetic energy fields
– Frisbee flight paths
What do humans understand?

Please, more meatballs, less spaghetti.

Are there postal carriers in heaven? If so, will I have to apologize?

Why do humans smell flowers yet seldom if ever, smell one another?

Detail of pug photo by Ryan McGuire
Detail of pug photo by Ryan McGuire

It’s not easy being a Good Dog. Here are some of the things I must remember:
– I will not eat the cat’s food before they eat it or after they throw it up.
– I will not roll on dead seagulls, fish, crabs, or other beautiful things just because I like the way they smell.
– The litter box is not a cookie jar.
– The sofa is not a face towel.
– The garbage collector is not stealing our stuff.
– I will not play tug-of-war with Dad’s underwear while he sits on the toilet.
– Sticking my nose into someone’s crotch is an unacceptable way to say “hello.”
– I don’t need to suddenly stand straight up when I’m under the coffee table.
– I must shake the rainwater out of my fur before entering the house — not after.
– I will not come in from outside and immediately drag my butt.
– I will not sit in the middle of the living room and lick my crotch.
– The cat is not a squeaky toy. The noise it makes when I play with it is not a good thing.

Sincerely,
Dog

P.S. When I go to heaven, may I have my testicles back?

Photo by Ryan McGuire
Photo by Ryan McGuire