Eating Thoughts + Infidel753’s Vegan COVID Ones

Little K-D girl definitely loves her meat — and anything else her people are eating. Here she works her hypnosis… Photo thanks to Khashayar Parsi
Little K-D girl definitely loves her meat — and anything else her people are eating. Here she works her hypnosis… Photo thanks to Khashayar Parsi

What kind of eater are you? Writer, reader, whatever you do for fun (I’m working on my novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat’ and “Tango & the Sitting Cat”), you gotta eat, right?

I’m sort of vegetarian — more pescatarian — more accurately hypocritical — but definitely not vegan.

Whatever one is or isn’t, I believe the thoughtful — and emotional — life is best. The idea of considering one’s actions, being honest with oneself and the world at large mean a lot to me. Particularly because I believe not being so causes harm, i.e., people doing bad things to themselves, each other, their pets, the environment. I’m no expert, though. The only thing I know for sure is that generalizing generally gets me in trouble.

So for the rest of this post I’ll stick to worrying about myself. I’ve written about what my pets have taught me here and here and here

For a long time, I didn’t really want to eat meat, but I ate it because the vegetarians I knew were so insufferable that I didn’t want to be anything like them. For one thing, they were awful to eat with, the way they’d badmouth nearby meat-eaters and discuss food in unwholesome ways. But as someone who too often bends backward to be understanding and accommodating, who am I to speak badly of vociferous vegetarians?

What I can say is one day I attended a BBQ. One where the hosts had purchased ribs as I’d never encountered them before; long racks of them, as boney and white-pinkish as mine! I can’t remember if I ate some to be polite. What I know is that very night I had a nightmare wherein I ate the little lovebird I owned at the time. It didn’t help that around then (in real life, I mean) it seemed convenient, tasty, and nutritious to once a week or so rinse a dead refrigerated Cornish game hen and dump it into a crock pot with veggies. How grown up of me — Voila! — dinner awaited as soon as I got home from work!

After aforementioned BBQ, the next time I rinsed a little boney pink-white-grey game hen — I thought of my ribs, my pet bird who was named Gumbie for her adorable putty green feathers, and the nightmare.

I can’t remember if I immediately — “cold turkey” harhar? — stopped eating flesh. Maybe I ate whatever was left in the fridge as it would’ve been beyond disrespectful to toss the corpse remains in the trash….

What I’m sure of is the convergence of discomfort woke me to the fact that I was foolish to eat meat only because I didn’t want to be like the sort of folks I could never anyway be.

It wasn’t hard to stop. The meaty meals I enjoyed had to do with the stuff on them, the sauces and such. And I’ve always loved veggies and fruit and nuts and beans and grains and the like. Good chance less meat would clear space for more of the better stuff, assuming I didn’t fill said “meat gap” with candy. That I could easily do as I love chocolate, but I didn’t. Not much, at least.

The first year, to be social, I ate a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches. I was taken aback by just how much meat some people consume when I heard lots of, “I would starve if I didn’t eat meat. What do you eat?” The trickiest situations were eating at people’s homes until I realized I should just bring a good veggie dish to share. As a result, I found people enjoy veggies a lot more than they think, so long as they’re prepared nicely. In fact, at parties, it’s the veggie pizzas that usually finish before the meat ones.

But I eat fish sometimes. So I’m a hypocrite. Though I don’t go out of my way to eat fish meals…

Eating is complicated. For all the health advice I’ve encountered, stress is hands down the worst thing for us. And eating can be super emotional. So if not eating meat is going to stress anyone out, not that anyone seeks my opinion on this, I’d say just go ahead and eat some, but try to do it with thought and compassion.

For sure don’t heap more of it than you can eat on your plate and then throw it away. That animal died for you, after all, unwilling as it was. And try to make sure it had a halfway decent life before it was led into a slaughterhouse or tossed into boiling water or…

Why am I telling you all this?

Because I recently stumbled onto “Infidel753: we are not fallen angels, we are risen apes,” a blog filled with so many genius posts that I asked Mr. Infidel753 to guest blog post here for you! The following post he wrote for us is what inspired my preceding aside. BTW, with all the quarantining, like him, between no social eating and exercising more regularly since now I do it on zoom without having to add in a commute, I’m now actually healthier.

Born in the United States since his parents arrived here from Britain, Indfidel753 blogs from Portland, Oregon. He’s been to the UK, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Germany, Ukraine, and Japan, and hopes to travel some more. Though he earned degrees in Middle Eastern history, he works in something secret that’s other than academia. A blogging pioneer, he started in 2006!

An in-depth portrait of the author, Infidel753.
An in-depth portrait of the author, Infidel753.

Pursuing health in a land of sickness by Infidel753

It started with the pigs.

For most of my life I ate pretty much like a typical American. That included eating meat, with little or no thought to what meat is or where it comes from. But due to a long-standing interest in evolutionary biology, I steadily learned more and more about animals — including how similar they, especially other mammals, are to humans in many ways. Did you know, for example, that the other great ape species have the same blood types as we do — A, B, O, etc? In the case of chimpanzees the blood chemistry is close enough that transfusions between species would be possible, with individuals of the same blood type.

Around 2008 my reading made me aware that pigs, in particular, are at least as intelligent and emotionally sophisticated as dogs. This made me uncomfortable with the thought of eating their meat. Most people, at least in the West, would not be comfortable with eating dog flesh because we think of dogs as quasi-persons. But I realized that eating pig meat was no different — so I stopped doing it.

Over time, as I learned more, I extended the same principle to mammals generally. Cattle and sheep are not as intelligent as pigs, but they’re also self-aware creatures, and I could simply no longer blank out the knowledge that what I was eating was part of the corpse of a conscious being. Finally I gave up meat altogether. Even animals like chickens and fish seem obviously self-aware to some extent, and they certainly have the capacity to suffer.

And suffer they do. Most meat now is produced on factory farms, where animals are kept in horrific conditions of overcrowding and immobility, constantly dosed with antibiotics to suppress the infectious diseases which would otherwise run rampant under such conditions (and even so, disease is often widespread). Unlike many vegetarians, I don’t really like animals — they’re unpredictable, generally not very clean, and in many cases dangerous; I don’t like having them around me. But I don’t like the thought of them suffering.

But I still hadn’t grasped the implications for human health. If anything, I worried that eliminating meat might lead to malnutrition. I still ate things like eggs and cheese, as well as the wide range of processed junk that makes up so much of the “normal” American diet.

By the beginning of 2020 I knew I needed to do more. I had lost some weight, but at 225 pounds and 5’11″ I was still clinically obese, and I was about to turn sixty. That put me in the express lane to a stroke or a heart attack. I started educating myself about health and came to realize that animal by-products like cheese and eggs are probably even more toxic to the human system than meat is.

The pandemic was the final straw. It soon became clear that if you catch covid-19, overall health has a lot of impact on how badly it harms you. I observed rigorous isolation to avoid the virus, but I knew I couldn’t absolutely eliminate the risk of catching it. So I cut out all the remaining animal products and most of the junk food. It was, I suppose, partly a way of feeling proactive and taking action rather than being passive in the face of the viral threat.

I also became something of a fanatic for learning as much as I could about the effects of various kinds of food on the human body. Human anatomy and biochemistry are those of a herbivorous animal, not an omnivorous one, and our pervasive problems of obesity, diabetes, arterial damage, and a dozen other scourges, are simply the kinds of things that happen to an animal when it eats the wrong kind of food. Such problems have historically been rare in populations which traditionally ate a mostly starch-based diet with very little meat, as in much of Asia — but as prosperity brought American-style eating to those cultures, American-style health problems have followed. Conversely, among Americans, it’s vegans — those who eat mostly vegetables, fruit, nuts, and legumes, eschewing animal products and keeping processed stuff to a minimum — who statistically suffer least from such ailments. All this self-education helped me stick to the new path.

The results far exceeded expectations. By the end of 2020 I had lost thirty pounds, and the joint inflammation flare-ups and chest pains which had plagued me for most of my life had almost disappeared.

This isn’t a “diet” in the sense of a temporary program to be followed until its goals are achieved. It’s a reversion to what should be the norm. I consider it analogous to quitting smoking.

In terms of popular thinking and moral consensus, I think meat-eating today is about where slavery was around 1800. Most people still accept it as a normal part of life without giving it much thought. Only a small minority recognizes that there’s a serious moral problem, to say nothing of the health issues. But that minority is growing with time. There is, at least, fairly widespread awareness of how much animal farming contributes to global warming. But that issue is only the tip of a very large, ugly, and dangerous iceberg. Over time, I hope and believe, the reality of the problem will become widely understood despite the dense fog of misinformation, propaganda, and wishful thinking that now obscures it. Until then, at least I personally am no longer implicated — and no longer harming myself.

How do you feel about eating these days?

My Bday Res + COVID Vax2, and Christoph Weigert’s DIY Book Promotion

It was my birthday a few days ago (COVID-19 style: quiet and sweet) and yesterday I received my second COVID immunization shot. For anyone like me and my husband who had COVID, the side effects of the vaccine can be worse than for most. Both shots have been a doozy for me. If the U.S. had taken the pandemic seriously from the start, countless lives would have been saved and fewer people would feel as horrible as I do after getting their shots. Which is to say, mask up and get your vaccine — side effects are way better to experience than wrangling COVID.

In my side-effect addled state, I’m announcing here that I’ve promised myself to complete my novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” once and for all by my next birthday (and hopefully lots sooner). That said, I’ll keep this short so I can go back to bed. Thank goodness my dear doggie is more than happy to lie about with me.

Update: I wrote the above after a night and day of relentless nausea, severe headache, and fatigue. However, besides waking this morning with wringing wet pajamas and bedsheets, I slept pretty well. Fever and aches are gone, moreover I’m not nearly as light-headed, tired and nauseated. Fingers crossed, this time I’ll recover from Vax II way quicker than Vax I. Regardless — please, please, please get your vaccines. I’ll take Vax over actual COVID-19 any day. In Iran, where my dear in-laws live, they don’t even have the luxury of choosing whether to get vaccinated. Despite whatever outlandish “news” Fox News and their ilk tell us, Iranians continue to be hit extra hard.

K-D with da-AL.
Forgive the weird hair bump at the top of my head — the result of showering yesterday, then not having energy to comb my hair until this morning. Today I managed a little lipstick and blush, plus a few moments of doggie backyard cleanup. The fiendish grin is due to torturing my dear husband to snap this pic for you.

Here to share book promotion know-how is Christoph Weigert, author of “Imagination: the Secret Nobody Talks About.” He’s from Bavaria and now lives in Berlin. To learn more about him and his book, check out his site.

Getting the Word Out About Your Book by Christoph Weigert

Writing a book is one thing, publishing and pushing it out into the world is something quite different, yet they are inextricably entwined. Pictures of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde come to mind. Publishing — ignoring this often unloved and unasked for task would be a great disservice to ourselves as writers. 

In the following I want to touch upon different efforts I currently deploy for my debut book Imagination: The Secret Nobody Talks About. 

There is a company I admire and whose content on YouTube I cherish. One day one of their coaches remarked he creates his own audio version for books he likes, and he was the editor for a book the company’s CEO wrote. My instincts were on full alert and a few e-mails later, mixed up with weeks of waiting, he became the editor to my book. Eventually he also narrated the audio version, and I even included an interview with the CEO.

Soon my book will be offered as a free bonus to participants of an online course that Jon, editor to my book, will host. This adds to the book’s exposure to the public.

The question here is: can you cooperate with people and integrate them into your next book project, or at least write about them? Being part of a book project seems to be flattering, and it can open new doors for you as a writer.

Another of my publicity efforts is the creation of a so-called funnel. For a deep dive into this topic, I recommend Dotcom Secrets by Russel Brunson. A basic description of a funnel is that once someone is already interacting with your product, or is on your webpage, then you offer them other products. A waiter offering you dessert, or a automotive dealer selling you an insurance on top of your new car are examples from daily life for this type of business consideration.

What could be additional offers of an author, besides obvious ones like an e- or audio format that accompany the book’s physical version?

Maybe art has inspired your book? Or a bundle of interviews with experts that shine even more light onto the topics you love to elaborate on?

A basic theme of my book is the power of creativity and imagination, as well as how to connect with it and train it like a muscle. Hence I came up with the following additional offers for my funnel: 

  1. A guided imagination meditation and an audio that contains a wide range of additional imagination exercises.
  2. As another step, I’m offering a training video that enhances physical power and flow, because a strong mind (an empowered imagination) needs a strong body.

These are my two cents on furthering the good cause of your book, making it work for you and getting rewarded in return. I hope you can get something out of it and I wish you happy creating and writing.

Do you make birthday resolutions?

Happy Persian New Year and we just got our 1st COVID-19 vaccines


Happy Persian New Year!

Note: I just got my 1st COVID vaccine, a Moderna, yesterday. I won’t lie — it’s knocked the stuffing out of me so I’ll keep this post brief. Make no mistake, as uncomfortable as I feel (achy, chills, fever, headache, poor sleep, which means my body is building protection, doing what it’s supposed to do), I most certainly will get my 2nd shot and totally recommend everyone get immunized.

Persians like my dear husband celebrate the Iranian New Year on the first day of spring. The celebration is two solid weeks of partying and time off from work, much like our winter holidays. Same as the European New Year, Nowrooz is a secular holiday. However some regard it also as a holy time.

No-rooz mobarak: Happy New Year
Eid-eh shoma mobarak: Happy New Year to you (formal)
No-rooz pirooz: Wishing you a prosperous New Year
Sad saal be in saal-ha: Wishing you 100 more Happy New Years

Here we stand before the “sofre” that Khashayar puts together annually. Items represent a plethora of auspicious things that start with the letter “s” (in Farsi, of course). Here and here when I posted earlier about it, you can find out more. What a delight to see that my local Ralph’s grocery store put out a sofre with detailed explanations.

Khashayar and da-AL standing before their Happy Persian New Year arrangement.
Khashayar and da-AL with their Happy Persian New Year spread.

And what would a holiday be without a cute little dog licking her lips at the sight of those tasty patries?

Our doggie always sits very nicely when she asks for treats!
Our doggie always sits very nicely when she asks for treats!

Have you been immunized against COVID-19 yet? If so, which brand did you get, and how were your first days, and later?…

COVID, Friendship, Writing, and Books: We’re better

It’s official — as of yesterday, I can smell the cinnamon in my oatmeal and taste hot chocolate — hurrah! Smelling flowers is uplifting — but no longer worrying that I could be snuffed out by toxic air or spoiled food? — mega-hallelujah!

Senses, mwah and mwah! Please don’t ever leave me again! Here’s to hoping that a benefit of COVID will be more research spent to help all who have limited abilities to smell or taste…

Illness is dreadful, but now that I’m securely on the other end of it, I see it provided me some upsides. For one thing, it’s reminded me how beyond-lottery-winner-fortunate I’ve always been in regards to wonderful friends — and that includes you, dear reader. Most strangers are merely people we haven’t yet had the opportunity to become friends with, no?

Besides appreciating the kindness of pals and soon-pals, I wish I could say I completed extensive writing on my “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat” novels, but my writing energy was nowhere to be found.

However, sitting and lying about  enabled me to do some reading. Without revealing plot points, here are my reviews of four books I’ve just finished. When I review books I appreciate, I notify the authors. Occasionally they email me back 🙂

Cover of "Earthlings" by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings: A Novel by Sayaka Murata

Pardon the gray matter, but my brain just exploded. This book is like nothing I’ve ever read before — and I read a lot of books and genres.

Picture Sayaka Murata’s earlier book, “Convenience Store Woman,” as a string of firecrackers that cleverly illuminates how soul-sucking capitalism can be. “Earthlings” is akin to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when 80,000 people vanished in the blink of an eye and 200,000 mostly civilians perished.

Equal parts sci-fi, reality, magical realism, comedy, horror, satire, and gore, she says this is her other-worldly response to a Japanese health minister’s announcement. In 2007, he said, “The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can do is ask them to do their best per head … although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines.”

Granted, there are beaucoup reasons “Earthlings” isn’t for everyone — but I have no time for those who’re simply offended that the story isn’t as cutesy as the iconically Japanese cover. The same goes for reviewers who lament the dearth of “likable” characters. For Murata, no one is all-good or all-bad, and no gender or age has it easy. Surely when Murata named an essential character “Yuu,” she knew the meaning of “you” in English.

Cover of "Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends" by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

This is a wise and chatty culmination of what the authors learned as co-hosts of their “Friendshipping” podcast. Their mantra: “Friendship is a skill.” Indeed, it’s one that merits continual honing, for which they offer great suggestions.

Cover of "The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention" by Julia Cameron

The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s 12-week manual, “The Artist’s Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” is ultra groundbreaking to creatives of any ilk. Each non-fiction book Cameron has published since then reiterates much of her original teachings — but for me, the repetition often works. This newest text is a 6-week DIY course that emphasizes the value of listening to each other, our environment, and ourselves.

Cover of "The 90-Day Novel" by Alan Watt

The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within by Alan Watt

Good chance Julia Cameron fans will enjoy this, given that there are a few similarities. If Cameron doesn’t resonate, you still may find this bread-crumbs/inside-to-out writing approach useful.

Are you reading or writing lately?

Me and COVID plus Imagining a New Place by novelist Chris Hall

‘Sunset over the Berg River ©River Tides Guesthouse’ – where author Chris Hall stayed when she began writing her book, "Song of the Sea Goddess." Owner Mike Harvey is a good friend of hers and the photo is from his website.
‘Sunset over the Berg River ©River Tides Guesthouse’ – where author Chris Hall stayed when she began writing her book, “Song of the Sea Goddess.” Owner Mike Harvey is a good friend of hers and the photo is from his website.

Writers get to build whatever world they please — sometimes our novels bend the truth only somewhat — other times they invent entire new gallaxies.

My works in progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” are set in fictitious towns within Los Angeles during 2002 and 2003. Back then, COVID-19 didn’t exist…

Note: Earlier this week, my husband became feverish and unwell. Turns out he has COVID-19. He’s doing his best to get well while I feel healthy and am awaiting my test results. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been super careful. I’m letting you know this as a reminder that one can never be too conscientious about avoiding this severe illness and about working civically to help contain it. (Here’s the follow-up, and here’s after that. and here’s the latest.)

Deciding on setting and histories and all that goes into storytelling is chancy no matter what an author chooses to create. There will always be fans and foes. To be a novelist requires enough passion to outrun the discouraging thoughts that can torment us.

Chris Hall has been wonderfully prolific over the last few years. She’s published three novels and a short story collection! Originally from the UK, she describes herself as “a compulsive story-teller, cat slave and hen keeper.” To sample her short fiction, fan fiction, mini-series, and poetry, as well as to follow her on her various social media, check out her website.

“Song of the Sea Goddess,” her most recent novel, is set where she lives now, the Western Cape of South Africa. Here she describes why she decided to depict a South Africa different from how it is in real life…

Author Chris Hall.
Author Chris Hall.

“From the Writer’s desk” by Chris Hall

Writing a novel is not just about telling the story. There are other considerations that come into play. I’d like to share with you why I was motivated to write a book set in South Africa. In particular, why I chose to paint an idealised portrait of the place and why I drew on the overarching theme of environmental destruction, rather than dealing with the gritty issues of race and poverty in my latest novel, Song of the Sea Goddess.

The Setting

When it came to writing this, my fourth novel, I was determined to set it in my adopted country, South Africa. I’d been living near Cape Town for almost ten years and the time had come to give voice to the people around me. I’d also decided it was time to transition from historical fiction. It was time to write in the moment, but at the same time include elements borrowed from the ancient lore of the African continent, which are written on cave walls and embedded in the landscape.

I knew I needed a setting to match the story I was about to tell, although the story hadn’t really even begun. Then, at the beginning of 2019, while staying in a small town on our very beautiful west coast, while I sat by the banks of the Berg River and watched the little boats going past on their way out to sea, I was moved to write a story about a fisherman with a little boat.

Every writer needs a helper as inspiring as Chris Hall's kitty, Luna.
Every writer needs a helper as inspiring as Chris Hall’s kitty, Luna.

The Characters

I’m a lazy novelist. I let my characters emerge and develop and play around in my mind. Even before they are fully formed, they are always desperate to run to centre stage and act out their parts.

But there has to be a starting point.

A few of my key characters are based on people I met when I first came to live in South Africa. People whose backgrounds were unfamiliar to me; people who come from what are euphemistically called ‘formerly disadvantaged communities’ (as if their communities are not still disadvantaged in this country, which has the most polarized society on the planet).

I could have written about some of their struggles, about the conditions in which they live, about the poverty and lack of opportunity that characterizes their communities, of how they’d suffered under apartheid, but as I got to them better, I realised that none of them wants to dwell on any of that.

So I decided I could give them better lives, locate them in a much more pleasant place and put a positive spin on this beautiful country.

I mixed them up a bit, taking a little bit of one and blending it with another, but their voices are true and their characteristics mirror real life in many respects. There’s a nod to some of the darker side of people’s lives with Sam’s flight from the Cape Flats’ gangland and in the history behind Jannie’s tattoos from the notorious ‘28s’ gang.

On the lighter side, several of the comical incidents, like when Auntie Rose loses her false teeth down her pants’ leg, are little events that actually happened. The food that the Aunties make and sell in the novel is based on recipes that I tasted and talked about with people. The love of food and the common ground we found over cookery has cemented several friendships in my new town.

The Theme

Concern for the environment is a theme I continue to return to in the short fiction and poetry, which I write on my blogsite, and while watching a TV documentary about water pollution, an idea began to form in my mind for the backdrop to my novel’s narrative. Water is in short supply in our country anyway, but what if the rivers were threatened? And what would happen if the forces of nature were moved to fight back? Soon my emerging novel would take a new and interesting turn.

My love of the landscape and ancient lore of the country that I now call home will continue to feature in my work. I’m already embroiled in a sequel to Song of the Sea Goddess, where myth and magic will once again be awakened in the little coastal town where the great river flows from the purple mountains into the southern ocean.

Visit Chris' site to order her books, and to find out more about her and the rest of her writings.
Visit Chris’ site to order her books, and to find out more about her and the rest of her writings.

Have you ever created a new world?

Holidays Capote-Style by da-AL

Gentle and cruel, personal and universal — writer / novelist / artist / actor / personality Truman Capote captured the holiday season to a “T”-ruman in his “A Christmas Memory.”

A lifelong bestie of another of my beloved authors, Harper Lee of “To Kill a Mockingbird” renown, Truman grew up queer during times when that wasn’t allowed. Hell, it’s still not allowed, not really despite the two-steps-forward/one-step-back strides that humanity has been making lately.

Truman Capote at 23, thanks to Wikipedia.
Truman Capote at 23, thanks to Wikipedia.

I happened upon Truman’s “A Christmas Memory” by chance. It’s part of his book, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s: a Short Novel and Three Short Stories,” the whole volume of which is mind-blowing. His print version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is nothing less than enchanting for how it captures the heartbreaking nuances of love and friendship, particularly between a gay man and a straight woman. (Incidentally, another book I adore along those same lines is “The Object of My Affection,” by Stephen McCauley. That novel as well is much more profound in print than in the film.)

Poster for "Breakfast at Tiffany's" from Wikipedia.
Poster for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” from Wikipedia.

Please don’t judge “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by its movie version. It’s stunning because of Audrey Hepburn, her iconic dress by Hubert de Givenchy, and so forth — but its racism toward Asians is deplorable. Moreover, it’s nowhere near as deep as the fabulous book. Unfortunately, Truman seems to have actively prostituted his masterpiece novella to Hollywood. Why? Was it due to his tragic and increasingly alcoholic life?

Truman Capote, four years before his too early death. Thank you Wikipedia
Truman Capote, four years before he passed away. Thank you Wikipedia.

The story in its p.r.i.n.t.e.d. form reminds me of how this whole pandemic situation has upended our holiday season, yet in some ways “righted” them. This year I’m extra thrilled that my dear ones are in good health. I’m happier for the smaller gestures. Living “sheltered-in-place,” I’m reminded that even though we can feel alone, we never really are.

Writer/novelist/artist/actor/personality Truman Capote.
Writer/novelist/artist/actor/personality Truman Capote.

No matter how poorly we feel and badly we are treated, one kindred face can make all the difference. Here in this vintage video, Truman doesn’t tell us this — his story enables us to feel it…

How are your holidays unique this year?

DIY Heaven by da-AL

Photo of my Cousin Ana's new rooster.
Cousin Ana’s Roco: Ro + Co = “rojo” (Spanish for “red”) + “colorado” (Spanish for “colored red”).

What if, despite what some writers and books tell us, there’s no afterlife? But there’s still a heaven, yet it’s one we make right here, right now. Better yet, what if it doesn’t take much to create? If easy micro-kindnesses wend far and meander back to us?

The holidays are upon us. It’s definitely not my favorite season. Not at all. It’s contrived; there’s so much expectation, manipulation…

Yet this last week turned me mushy. Not in the faux sentimental way depicted on TV and billboards targeting us to spend, spend, spend. It’s not by chance that Xmas decorations look sad in daylight. Ugh, these two months can really get on my nerves.

Back to mushiness. Years ago, when a sweet friend was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, another great friend and I pledged to do a walkathon for MS. One of those where we collected donations in advance of all the miles we planned to walk.

Walkathon day came… and… what can I say other than, the truth is not pretty? It was hot and crowded and yucky, and that was while we searched for parking. The two of us ate our sandwiches in the car and promptly drove home. Sans walking, we mailed in the monies. In my case, I’d amassed a few hundred dollars over just an hour or so of cubicle-hopping around the ad agency I temped for.

What’s stayed with me is how out of the thirty or so people I begged (please don’t ask me to attempt math here), most gave anywhere from a few to twenty dollars. A little pitched in by each person within a bunch added up very quickly!

Another personal story of how one small gesture can ripple wide, this one recent

Last April, a friend mentioned she’d begun foster parenting. It was the start of Los Angeles’ quarantine, and Covid-19 was creating a worse need than ever for people to take care of kids. (Note to self: when I am Goddess of the Universe in my next life, foster parents automatically get express tickets to heaven.) For anyone who isn’t aware, the 24/7/365 job requires half a year to get certified and pays heck, as this foster parent reveals.

My friend is Wonder Woman when it comes to embracing all that life presents. A devoted mother, wife, business owner, daughter, and more, she and her husband are now fostering an adorable baby girl with health issues and a super charming little boy with challenges too. When I mentioned to my husband what she was doing, he decided to knock on the doors of several of our neighbors who have kids. He requested whatever hand-me-downs they could spare and Voila! Over two weeks, even the friends’ friends contributed to what became quite a heap of helpful kid things!

Further confirmation that our little gestures can create a positive groundswell was in my local newspaper a couple of days ago

(And by the way, this also shows why local news is a necessity, not a luxury. Every city would benefit greatly to have a news outlet of its own.) Turns out the good deeds of a man living on the street have given rise to much more goodness. As you’ll see in this article about him, as well as this one that includes a video link, generosity small and large boomerangs all over the place and continues to add up to a whole lot of fabulous! The comments on the GoFundMe page that Bruce De Mille put together are beyond heart-melting.

All this leads me to explain these delightful pictures

Any little stray dog or innocent chick who meets my Cousin Ana has hit the sweetness jackpot! Her house is t-h-e place to go to be safe, sound, and never eaten…

Cousin Ana's chicken, Pepa, was 11 when she passed away not too long ago...
Cousin Ana’s chicken, Pepa, is 11 years young…

 

When Pepa was gone, Cousin Ana got 5 baby chicks. Here they are, 3 months old now! Surprise, one is another rooster...
When Pepa was gone, Cousin Ana got 5 baby chicks. Here they are, 3 months old now! Surprise, one is another rooster…

 

Cousin Ana's is heaven for needy little dogs! (L-R) Here's Tiky, Albert, Bella, Nike, Beethoven, Charlie. The last ones are brothers and sister.
Cousin Ana’s is heaven for needy little dogs! (L-R) Here’s Tiky, Albert, Bella, Nike, Beethoven, Charlie. The last ones are brothers and sister.

 

Beethoven loves modeling whatever Cousin Ana knits.
Beethoven loves modeling whatever Cousin Ana knits.

 

Here's Cousin Ana's Albert, on his way home from the groomer's.
Here’s Cousin Ana’s Albert, on his way home from the groomer’s.

When I try to be kind or when I see others being nice, I feel safer and happier — like heaven is here, right now.

How do you create your own heaven?

Elephants in India: 3 easy tips for how we can help by Chelsea

Asian elephants greeting each other by inter-twining their trunks By jinterwas - [1], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22849407 Asian elephants greeting each other by inter-twining their trunks, by jinterwas – [1], CC BY 2.0

It’s simple to be cynical. When I travel, it’s easy to regard those different from me derisively. When I point at others, as the old saw goes however, the majority of my fingers point back at me.Living in the prosperous United States as I do, it’s tempting to ignore how our politics hurt ourselves and other countries. If it was ever possible to do — now amid our police brutality of innocent people, during these perilous times of COVID19 — how can anyone overlook how intertwined and interdependent everyone everywhere is?

Blogging has gifted me the unexpected delight of a number of followers from India, a huge country I’ve yet to visit, but obviously multi-faceted and amazing in countless ways. For one thing, they’re home to the amazingly evolved creatures called elephants!

Globetrotter Chelsea, a native of Northern England, is based out of Barcelona, Spain. On Chelsea’s blog, along with epicurean insights, she offers her unique take on various lands. Here’s a slice of her visit to NW India and her insights about how we can all become part of the solution when it comes to helping animals. The main organization she discusses, Wildlife SOS, is an award-winning charity founded by and administered by Indians…

Blogger/traveler Chelsea was profoundly moved by her visit to India. Blogger/traveler Chelsea was profoundly moved by her visit to India.

Elephants in India: 3 simple ways to help by Chelsea

It was my love of nature and animals that led me to Wildlife SOS India. Today I’d like to tell you all about the encouraging work of this fantastic conservation non-profit, particularly with regard to elephants, how COVID-19 has affected wildlife, what you can do to help, including other organizations.

What’s Wildlife SOS?

It’s a conservation non-profit set up in 1995 to protect and conserve India’s natural heritage, forest, and biodiversity. It is currently one of the largest Wildlife Organisations in South Asia. Its main missions are:

  • Conservation and protection of wild populations and habitat.
  • Rescue of injured and displaced wildlife, and to look after the welfare of captive populations.
  • Research into better protecting and caring for wildlife.

WSOS leads a massive variety of projects: battling illegal animal trading and poaching, advocating for wildlife within the legal and legislative systems, mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, and organising awareness workshops, to name just a few.

And the projects are just as diverse as the huge variety of animals they rescue every year ranging from snakes illegally captured by snake ‘charmers’, peacocks poisoned by pesticide, sloth bears forced to ‘dance’ for entertainment, and elephants enduring a life of cruelty in the tourism industry.

Love elephants? Read on!

Although WSOS is internationally known for its pivotal role in eradicating the practice of dancing bears, they are becoming increasingly well-known for their rescue and rehabilitation of elephants.

Their Elephant Conservation and Care Centre was created in 2010 to rehabilitate severely abused and exploited elephants, and nowadays houses over 25, many of which were rescued from a lifetime in captivity where they were forced to beg on behalf of their abusive owners, work as temple elephants, perform in circuses and give rides to tourists, among countless other atrocities.

Elephants in captivity face a life of cruelty and abuse, starting with being poached from the wild as babies, isolated from other elephants, and beaten until they can be coerced to do anything. (Note from da-AL: the video link that follows is truly upsetting.) The taming’ method for an elephant usually goes like this: baby elephants are kept in a small cage similar to those used in intensive pig farming, and they are tied up with ropes so they can’t move. The elephant will then be subject to repeated beatings with nails, sticks, chains, and bullhooks. In a process lasting several weeks, the animal is starved of food and water while enduring sleep-deprivation, until they submit to their owners, who can then use them for financial gain.

This cruel practice is aptly called phajaan or “breaking of the spirit”.

All captive elephants will go through at least some form of this vicious ritual. Next time you see an elephant used to give rides or appearing in a film, the signs of abuse will be easy to spot. Shredded ears where they have been torn by bullhooks, nasty skin conditions, lacerations all over their body, and tears in their eyes are all indications of abuse. It’s simple really — no wild elephant would voluntarily paint pictures, perform in the circus or let people ride them.

Only a creature that has had its spirit crushed through abject torture would submit to such unnatural behaviour. While in Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to still find a circus with real elephants, it is estimated that there are approximately 2,700 captive elephants all around Asia that are still actively subjected to some form of exploitation.

Such abuse is particularly sad when we consider that elephants are among the most intelligent of all land mammals. Elephants exhibit renowned cognitive skills and share many behavioural traits with humans. These sensitive souls exhibit grief, altruism, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness and have excellent memories. They remember other elephants and humans they had met briefly decades previously, and they will certainly never forget the anguish they endured all their captive lives.

As visitors to the Agra Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, it was heartwarming to see elephants which had endured a lifetime of cruelty finally be able to spend their days in peace, enjoying long relaxing mud baths, receiving a nutritious diet and veterinary care, as well as enjoying a daily stroll in the open fields with their friends.

Some phony ‘sanctuaries’ are more like petting zoos and little other than dressed-up tourist traps where the mistreatment of animals is commonplace (here’s how to spot one). In total contrast, at Wildlife SOS’s rescue centre in Agra, only small groups of visitors are allowed to come on a prearranged visit, and no touching of or direct interaction with the elephants is permitted. Elephants are in no way made to perform for visitors, and riding is, of course, banned. Although these elephants would not be able to survive in the wild again following decades of captivity, they are well cared for and live as natural a life as possible in the centre.

Indian elephant bull in musth in Bandipur National Park , by Yathin S Krishnappa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24916395 Indian elephant bull in musth in Bandipur National Park, by Yathin S Krishnappa – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

How to visit Wildlife SOS

I was deeply impacted by the life-changing work Wildlife SOS is carrying out and would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone visiting Agra should carve out a firm place in their itinerary to visit both WSOS centres in Agra to see the projects first-hand. We hired a driver and visited the Taj Mahal, the Agra Bear Rescue Facility and Elephant Conservation Centre all in one day, with time to get the 5pm train back to Delhi, so it’s definitely possible to have this eye-opening experience on a day trip!

For more information, check out Wildlife SOS’s website to find out more about how to visit the Elephant Conservation and Care Center. Make sure to get in touch in advance by sending an email to visit@wildlifesos.org to organise a customised visit. It’ll be the highlight of your trip to Agra!

Refuse to Ride Elephants sign by Chelsea. Photo by Chelsea.

How has COVID-19 affected Wildlife?

The current COVID-19 crisis is making its effects felt universally and is forcing us to reexamine our relationship with wildlife and nature.

Now confined to their homes, people are increasingly realising the benefits and importance of spending time in nature, notoriously polluted cities like New Delhi are enjoying some of their first blue-sky days in a long time, and wild animals have been venturing into urban city centres now devoid of the usual throngs of people and heaving traffic. Wild boars have even been spotted taking a stroll around the metropolis of Barcelona!

Another silver lining of the current pandemic is that it has shone the spotlight on the illegal global wildlife trade. There is more awareness than ever of the risks that exotic animal markets pose to human health and increasing pressure to close them down for good.

At the same time, wildlife tourism is being severely impacted by restricted international travel. On the one hand, this is good news – the lack of tourists will be a relief to elephants who are otherwise forced to give rides all day. On the other hand, rescue centres like Wildlife SOS will not be able to welcome visitors whose entrance fees go towards the animals’ upkeep.

Ultimately, whether it comes as a blessing or a curse, COVID-19 has come as a wake-up call, and one thing is certain: we need to seriously rethink how we treat the natural and animal world around us.

3 Easy Ways Everyone can help — Wildlife SOS and beyond… 

  1. Visit the WSOS site for everything from how to spread awareness, fundraise, volunteer, and sponsor an animal, to opportunities to assist children in Kalandar. In addition to learning more about their groundbreaking conservation work, visit their bear and elephant facilities in Agra, if you’re in Bangalore, South India.
  2. Here’s a WSOS link if you’d like to sign a petition to ban riding elephants, to ban the use of animals for medicine and food, this one to protect India’s wildlife from open wells, and this one to outlaw the use of elephants for tourists to ride.
  3. Donate elsewhere: every little helps, especially now during the COVID-19 crisis with food shortages looming.

My visit to the elephant centre left me emotional, and a lot of tears went into writing this article. The way humans treat their fellow living creatures is disheartening, to say the least. We call people ‘animals’ when they act aggressively, brutishly, and uncivilised, but really, animals don’t hold a candle to the depths of fiendishness us humans are capable of on a regular basis. In fact, it’s animals who time and time again surprise us with their altruism and affection towards humans. Here are examples of our wonderful dolphin friends!

But I’m also optimistic. Yes, there is still an enormous amount of needless animal cruelty going on today all over the world in the name of entertainment, medicine, food, or whatever other reason you can find a justification for, but there are also beacons of hope like Wildlife SOS.

As more people shun the use of animals for their own perceived gain, I like to think we can stride in the direction of a world with a little less suffering, and a lot more love and compassion.

Sending you sunshine and positivity, Chelsea!

Dear readers, please weigh in…  

Sheltering in Place Thoughts 4 Writers: mine w author Paul Broome’s

FOMO: fear of missing out

COVID19 has nixed all that for me, replaced it with guilt for how great mine and I have it. No one I know directly is sick. Early on, a couple of brilliant friends were ailing from it, but after a stint at home, I’m relieved to report that they’re well and back to work… The weather’s been marvelous this entire quarantine… Working from home is no prob… Bills are paid…

Social distancing is hardly the equivalent of isolation. Being sequestered pales in light of flagging economies… people whose lives are overturned by illness and debt and worse…

da-AL social distancing with K-D doggie.
Social distancing isn’t so bad when you have a friend…

Again with the guilt… Because as a soon-to-be-published author (and podcaster here!) — fewer errands and less commuting is lending me more time to think — and to write, write, write!

Authors fork over wads of money, more than I can afford, to attend retreats. I’ve often drooled over websites that advertise sojourns in the woods, luxury cabins populated with fellow scribes who share s’mores smokey firepits. The beautiful escapes provide meals and laundry and cleaning and errands — e-v-e-r-y single thing that hinders writing is whisked clean away. All I’d need to do (besides the money part) is to write and to talk about writing and to listen about writing! Sorta like being cared for as lovingly as if I were a baby — a writer one, of course — sans the diapers — no?

Writing retreat in mind, that’s why I’ve resolved to make use of the sequestering. I’ve knuckled down, slammed away at the keyboard. And it’s going pretty well! Other posts I’ve written about the pandemic are here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Fellow author/blogger Paul A. Broome is a retired English professor. He recently completed his first novel!!!! Yeah!!!! It’s named “Girls Who Don’t Believe.” Now he’s working on another!

He and his wife, Sadako, live in North Alabama with their two pets, Cody, a black lab, and Tora, who he affectionately describes as, “a crazy tabby.” Here’s a slice of his “sheltering-in-place” life…

Paul A. Broome with Cody.
Paul A. Broome with Cody.

What to Do When There’s Nothing to Do by Paul A. Broome

We Americans are people who truly enjoy looking at things — any and all things. I personally do not see this visual obsession of ours as a problem. Looking at things can be understood as one of evolution’s magnificent gifts to humankind. Early on, we had to look carefully at the world around us in order to eat green leafy things that wouldn’t poison us and to avoid big furry things that would eat us. Now we happily look at things to satisfy our aesthetic demands, or more prosaically, to figure out whether or not we want to shell out the bucks to buy it!

Red bird about to fly to the feeder. Photo by Paul A. Broome
Red bird about to fly to the feeder. Photo by Paul A. Broome

At any rate, here we are, all of us, whether we agree with it or not, sheltering in place to avoid a virus, that can, for a short amount of time, float in the air, after someone sneezes, coughs, or shouts to their spouse at the other end of the pet food aisle to get two packs of Kitty Treats for Angel. “The one with tuna!”

Sheltering. In. Home. Is it really so bad?

I don’t think so, and many folks with whom I’ve chatted over these past six weeks do not think so either. Even when states, counties, and cities are trying to re-open, many people are reluctant to go skipping out to the nearest sports bar and hoot and holler while gulping down beer after beer. It turns out that a good number of cautious and wary citizens (I count myself in that number) had rather stay at home and finish that wonderful novel, the one I purchased last year, and never got around to reading. One friend of mine tells me that she’s gotten absolutely hooked on coloring books for grown-ups. She went on to say she bought a large set of colored pencils and has become fascinated with the way different colors work together. I’m beginning to think that’s not such a bad idea. But what about those moments when you have absolutely nothing to do? Or you’re just “tired” of doing things.

One of our first rose blooms this spring. Photo by Paul A. Broome.
One of our first rose blooms this spring. Photo by Paul A. Broome.

Here’s something I enjoy.

I love sitting outside and watching the birds at the feeder: red birds, blue birds, goldfinches, brown sparrows. It’s an endless show of color. And then the squirrels sneak up, and Cody, our black lab, wakes from his nap and chases them back into the trees. The trees that are now thick with leaves, green leaves, so many shades of green that flip and shift in color when the wind blows, and the treetops lean gracefully like ballerinas, and there’s a hawk, wings spread, held aloft on currents of warm air, serene and full of mystery, like those soft, white clouds beneath the deep, blue sky, coming out of the east, drifting quietly to the west.

And when it starts to turn dark? I watch it turn dark. It’s really quite beautiful.

I truly hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of my world. Thank you for taking the time to read, and I’d like to send a warm thank you to da-AL for allowing me to be a guest blogger on her site.

How about for you? Is sheltering in place giving you more time to pursue some of your favorite activities?

Sheltering = Lovely Guest Recipe: R. Cheadle’s Fondant Peonies

Staying home makes me hungry! How about you? And when I get hungry, my first thoughts are of sweets! Cute ones are all the more enticing…

South African author Robbie Cheadle hosts a blog, has an author page on Goodreads, and Tweets from Johannesburg. For all ages, she writes books and contributes to anthologies. There are her “Sir Chocolate” children’s books (co-authored with her son, Michael Cheadle), and her middle-grade “Silly Willy” series. And there is her preteen/young adult fictionalized bio about her mom’s World War II childhood in England, along with a book of poetry co-authored with Kim Blades. As Roberta Eaton Cheadle, she’s venturing into supernatural and horror stories for adults and young adults, the first titled, “Through the Nethergate.”

Robbie (Roberta) Cheadle writes, blogs, and videos for all ages from South Africa.
Robbie (Roberta) Cheadle writes, blogs, and videos for all ages from South Africa.

“How to make fondant (sugar dough/paste) peonies” by Robbie Cheadle

My husband’s birthday is approaching, and I wanted to make something special to mark the day, especially as we are likely to still be in some form of COVID-19 lockdown. I decided to make peonies in a dark pink and dust the outer petals with edible gold.

Making the peonies was quite a challenge, as I wanted to get the shape right. Peony petals curl inwards, which means that each layer must be allowed to dry completely inside a correctly sized bowl-shaped container. I made these containers out of tin foil, which I pleated and folded to fit the four different stages of the petals.

A fondant peony for Robbie's husband.
A fondant peony for Robbie’s husband.

You will need…

  • Fondant coloured dark pink
  • A large fondant rose cutter
  • A large and a small ball tool
  • Edible sugar glue
  • Peony petal cutters in three sizes (standard pack)
  • Edible dark pink food colouring powder
  • Edible gold dust
  • Two medium-sized paintbrushes
  • A flower veining tool or toothpick

Process

Mix a quantity of dark pink fondant and place it in a lock zip plastic bag. Take a small amount and roll it out as thinly as possible. Use a thin layer of cornflour on the surface of the fondant when you roll it out to prevent it from sticking. Cut out two rose shapes using your large rose cutter.A rose-shaped layer of fondant.
Use a ball took or toothpick to frill and flute the edges of the two rose shapes and use the flower veining tool or toothpick to texture the petals. Place in a small silver foil container pleated to round the petals. Allow to dry to the texture of leather.A silver foil container pleated to round the petals.

Roll a bud from fondant with a fatter base and narrower tip. Use a bit of sugar glue to attach it to one of the rose shapes. Paint a small blob of sugar glue on the bottom part of each petal on both sides and wrap the petals around the bud. Use a toothpick to separate the petals and create a rosebud shape. Use sugar glue to attach the enlarged bud to the other rose shape.Building the layers of a fondant peony.

Wrap the other shape around the enlarged bud. Leave to dry overnight.The other shape wraps around the bud.

Roll out more dark pink fondant and cut out six peony petals using your smallest peony petal cutter. Frill and flute the edges using a small ball tool or a toothpick. Use the toothpick for flower veining tool to texture the petals.Toothpicks help frill and flute edges.

Place them upside down in a sliver foil container and allow them to dry to the texture of leather.Outer petals take shape.

Dab sugar glue along the bottom half of both edges of the petals and place them around the bud, pressing them firmly into place with your fingers. When all six petals have been placed around the bud, place the flower into a piece of silver foil shaped into a cup. Leave overnight to dry. Your flower will look like this…Taking shape after several days.

The following day cut out six middle-sized peony petals and repeat the steps above. Place in a slightly larger silver foil cup and leave to dry overnight.Foil helps the shapes to hold while they dry.

Repeat the above process on days three and four, using the large peony petal cutter and slightly larger silver foil cups.Fondant peony, almost done!

Once the peony is completely dry, use a medium-sized paintbrush dipped into dark pink food colouring power, and smudge it into the centre of the peony. Dip a medium-sized paintbrush into edible gold shimmer dust and paint over the outermost petals until they shimmer and shine.
Your peony flower is now complete.

For step-by-step instruction on how to make more of our fondant artworks, for recipes, and for free audible readings of our free Sir Chocolate books, please visit our YouTube site.

Our YouTube site is a community service project that my two sons and I have started to bring readings of our free Sir Chocolate books and simple recipes to children and their parents to help keep children entertained during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our step-by-step creature videos can be made with children using playdough or fondant.

These are trying times worldwide — perhaps my other posts here and here and here and here and here and here and here will lift your spirits a bit?

Has your eating changed since COVID19?