Please Snail-Mail a Recruit + Willow Croft on Writing and Animals

Justice… I’m in the middle of continuing writing from here and here (in between working on my novels) about doing jury duty (read of the actual trial in an upcoming post) and some general thoughts about justice that have resulted.

Postcards and letters are much appreciated by Rebekah Hyde, USMC Recruit.
Postcards and letters are much appreciated by Rebekah Hyde, USMC Recruit.

Today’s post begins with hefty justice — a letter to you from Patricia Hyde, my friend whose daughter, Rebekah, is determined to do justice for her country by serving in the Marines. Rebekah needs our encouragement while she mends from injuries sustained during military training so she can jump back in where she left off. The week before she began training, she got married. With luck, she’ll finish and see her husband next February, a year later.

Of all the military branches, Marine boot camp is the longest and probably most rugged. While healing, Rebekah still works, doing less taxing activities. Recruits are restricted from the outside world. They are obliged only snail-mail and one phone call a week. That’s it.

Should you find it in your heart to write to her, I doubt you’ll find anyone as grateful to receive your postcard or letter. 

After Patricia’s letter here to us, continue on for speculative fiction/horror author Willow Croft’s guest post regarding how she came to be published and her love of animals…

Patricia with her soon-to-be-a-Marine daughter, Rebekah Hyde.
Patricia with her soon-to-be-a-Marine daughter, Rebekah Hyde.

Patricia’s Letter to Us About her Daughter’s Service as a Marine Recruit

Note: info within parenthesis added by da-AL

Dear Reader,

This story is about my daughter, Rebekah Hyde, age 22. She tried out for the US Marine Band after she finished high school. Alas, she wasn’t selected, so she applied again after graduating from California State University Long Beach. After four years of college, paid for by working at Jersey Mike’s (a sandwich chain) and as a piano teacher, she was accepted into the USMC band. However, she must first get through boot camp.

Her adventure began February 8, 2021. After a two-week quarantine, she was shipped with other recruits to Parris Island, South Carolina.

Two months later, I received a fateful call. My daughter was seriously injured while carrying her 65-pound backpack. She suffered a stress fracture of her pelvis, both sides of her groin were pulled, and one of her fingers was broken. Nothing, though, can make her quit her dream.

Presently assigned to a medical platoon, she is coming along, healing and feeling less and less pain. In a few weeks, Rebekah will be placed in an active platoon to finish boot camp where she left off.

I’m concerned for her during “The Crucible,” a test every recruit must pass to become a marine. To graduate, recruits need to be “Forged by the Fire of the Crucible”: 54 hours, 48 miles, 45 pounds of gear, 36 stations, 29 problem-solving exercises, 6-8 hours sleep, and 5 MRE’s (Meals Ready-to-Eat). Of course, I’m concerned about the 45 pounds of gear — whether her pelvis will survive the weight on her small 5-foot, 110-pound body.

Rebekah is my only child. Strong and courageous, she will not give up her dream of joining the “President’s Own” and traveling with the US President.

When Rebekah was eight, she begin her music career playing the piano. In the sixth grade, she picked up the flute and immediately fell in love with it. She participated in marching band all four years of high school and also traveled with independent bands like “Impulse,” competing and showcasing her skills with the flute, cymbals, and synthesizer keyboard. Throughout it all, I was by her side as a “Booster Mom.”

I’d appreciate your letters and postcards to Rebekah, to encourage and motivate her through “The Crucible.” Prayers are also welcome.

Please write to Rebekah at:

RCT Hyde, Rebekah

STC/FRP

PO BOX 15210

Parris Island, SC 29905

God bless you and your family. Thank You!

Sincerely,

Patricia Hyde

Willow Croft's book of poetry, "Quantum Singularity."

Willow Croft writes and blogs from the high desert. Her speculative fiction/horror has appeared in many anthologies and journals. Her blog includes more of her writing, her Amazon page, and her other social media links. When she’s not writing, she cares for three rescued cats…

“Writing, Publishing, and My Love for Animals” by Willow Croft

About Me

I acquired a degree in writing and literature from Goddard College (Vermont) back in 1998-2001 but I didn’t actually start writing in hopes of getting published until about the mid- to late 2010s. When I was growing up, creativity was only something you did on the side (if ever!) once you found a job and were a fully functioning and conformist member of society. Only then was it okay to express your creativity, and only if it never took the place of “real” work. And it was because of my 30-plus quest for “real” work that I not only acquired significant physical limitations, I was in a place of mental and emotional desperation. I was living in increasingly conservative, intolerant Florida, I couldn’t find any sort of work, I had been threatened by one of a group of those rabidly conservative types my home state was notorious for, and I had just gotten my master’s degree in a (futile) hope of expanding my hire-ability, with no luck. Although I had started my own freelance business, I was still having problems earning enough income to be independent, and I was just living under so much fear and sadness and stress that I allowed myself to turn to writing, because I just didn’t know what else to do any more. I mean, it was to the point where I was like “I’m almost middle-aged, and I’m still living way below poverty level, I have nothing to show for my efforts to conform to the system just to ‘get a job’ and I have very limited options, so why not write just to keep yourself sane?” And, amazingly, I started to get published in magazines and in anthologies. Granted, there was an immense amount of hard work and dedication involved, but I was actually seeing a return on that, as opposed to anything else I had attempted to achieve over the span of my lifetime. I could spin out so many cliched terms about what getting published meant (and continues to mean), but they are all sincere: a lifeline, a light in the darkness, a refuge, a sanctuary… the list goes on.

So, that’s my main issue with standardized education (and standardized employment, for you grownups out there!). Why force kids to live up to a standard and regimen that many adults (including me!) would have difficulty managing? (I mean, come on, schools; by the time pencils are sharpened, supplies and materials organized, fidgets and energy calmed, and brains drifting into the task ahead, then  —BAM! — it’s time to go to the next period or switch to the next educational subject area and OMG I’M THE TEACHER and I’ve just gotten into the zone and HOLY COW it’s already time for the SWITCH?!??!?! And all I can hope for at that point is that I’ve at least provided the kids some levity in their otherwise dull, rote-learning educational experience by watching their substitute teacher’s brain implode.)

Photo of Potato, Willow Croft's tabby cat.
Photo of Potato, Willow Croft’s tabby cat.

I mean, come on, what’s wrong with making education dynamic and fun and intuitive and stress/pressure-free and exploration-based? When did we stop making space for kids to be kids (and not mini-adults) in schools?

So, even though I’m not currently teaching, I still daydream about this amazingly interactive, pod-based learning environment for the school system that allows children to immerse themselves for a week or two in diverse and wide-ranging areas of interest of their choice, while teachers and guest teachers can weave in essentials, like reading, math, etc., as seamless parts of each pod. And utilize them to build up skill zones like critical thinking, creative nurturing, curiosity-fueled engagement, and more.

And, in the end, the school system could actually not only prepare kids for the changing world (of which, I firmly believe, the standardized school system is outdated, inefficient, and impractical, and well in need of not just an update, but a complete overhaul.)

And, in the best part of all, give kids a chance to explore all aspects of their potential, while they have a safe, judgement-free, supportive environment to do so, instead of having to play self-discovery catch-up as best you can at an older age. I mean, I look back now, and I know that tendencies of mine that had been criticized and considered a detriment, would have been an asset in the careers I had wanted to explore.

But I’ve tried to make up for lost time. As you can see from my “Tips” list, below, I’ve had the opportunity as an adult to explore things, and causes — namely animals, and the environment — that interest me. I may never be able to be the marine biologist or live the purely artistic lifestyle I dreamed of as a child, but at least I can reconnect with my innate interests and passions as best I can, with the time I have left. Why can’t kids have that, with all the time they have ahead of them? I don’t think it’s fair, to strip them of their potential, while we, as adults, want to make them fit into confining little boxes just because we had to/have to.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soap box, and into the tips I learned from my explorations as an adult (where nobody could deter me from getting involved in causes like this!).

About My Love of Animals

Anyone who knows my blog knows I love animals. And if you don’t… well, guess what? I am very passionate about animals and animal welfare. And I don’t just blog about animal welfare causes, like in my fixed post, “The Real-Life Horror of Pet Overpopulation.” I have been very involved in animal rescue causes… everything from cleaning out kennels to assisting on a cat hoarding investigation (and the cats’ subsequent relocation) to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. I’ve even attended greyhound racing protests. I often have a wonderful rapport with my animal friends, especially cats, chipmunks, and…skunks!

Photo of super fluffy calico cat, Moon Pie.
Moon Pie was a five-year-old, un-spayed, feral cat that showed up in my portal. Many of her behaviors and her physical state also pointed to her having been abused at some point. She was a tricky combination of feisty calico and feral. But I patiently worked with her for almost a year, and she’s now a happy indoor-only cat (though still very feisty!). Moon Pie is one of a set of feral cats I rescued from the street — all of which are indoor-only now.

So, even when I’m writing horror, I often include animals in my short stories and other written material. I especially like to include shelter animals and also try to give animals the agency and empowerment they often lack in the real world.

Here are a few examples (links) to stories (in anthologies) that include animals:

An attempt to liberate animals from laboratories:

Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Magic

Rescued, Adopted, and Shelter Animals/Animal Shelters:

EconoClash Review #7

The Hollow: Where All Evil Things Lie Vol. 3

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown

So, for this guest blog post, I’d thought I’d share some tips learned from my years in animal rescue and wildlife rescue/rehab.

On Wildlife

  • Can be a hard thing to resist. Even I, a former, longtime, wildlife rehabber who absolutely knows better, sometimes feel the compulsion to feed my wild animal friends (which I don’t give into). But it can do more harm than good. Like with dogs, people food is not good for animals. So, the next time you’re tempted to feed ducks, turtles (or, heaven forbid, raccoons!), or any other kind of wild animal, please try not to give in to the urge. It may seem like a small act, but it can be a matter of life or death for the wild creature.
  • It should go without saying, right? If you find an injured wildlife, immediately contact your local wildlife center or wildlife rescue group for advice, and the most current information regarding the proper rescue of the animal. Be hesitant about handling injured wildlife, as to avoid injury to yourself from a scared or stressed animal. Also, wildlife rescue organizations always need volunteers, and that can be the best way to learn how to safely handle wildlife, and perhaps even assist on wildlife rescues and releases out in the field.
  • Instead of an environmentally detrimental turf lawn, consider a landscape design that provides food, shelter, and a more natural ecosystem for animals, birds, insects/bugs, and other critters. If you put out water for wildlife and/or birds, make sure it’s flowing and not stagnant. Standing water cannot only play host to harmful bacteria that can sicken wildlife, it can also be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Consult with the Parks Department or the Extension Service in your area for more expert advice on supporting the local wildlife in your region. Bat houses, birdhouses, and bee houses can be fun additions to your wildlife-friendly zone!

On Adopting Pets

Again, do I even need to say it? Okay, if you insist. “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” Spay/neuter your pets to prevent shelter overcrowding and pet overpopulation. Don’t buy breed or purchase any animals from puppy and cat mills. I worked for a number of years (and plan to, again, when I get settled) in animal rescue and in animal shelters, both as a volunteer and as a paid employee. I even worked on a hoarding case, once. It’s fulfilling work, but also heartbreaking. Heartbreaking for so many different reasons. Mainly, there are too many animals and not enough homes. So, here’s some basics for navigating the pet adoption realm.

  • Give older cats and dogs a chance. For some reason, people seem to think any animal that’s not a kitten or a puppy as “old”. To put this in perspective, my own two cats (both adopted from a shelter) lived to be twenty and twenty-one, respectively. Cats over five years old are a lot more mellow and are often a better companion for families with kids, especially smaller kids. Teach kids (and, yes, even other adults) to be respectful of the cat’s boundaries, and provide spaces for the cat to get away from visitors, household residents, and the like. Adding vertical spaces to your home (cat towers, cat-friendly shelving, etc) can help the cat adjust and minimize stress and behavior issues. I’m not as much as an expert on dogs as I am on cats, but investing in proper training can be a life saver. Literally, in the case of the dog.
  • Keep cats indoors. I admit, I grew up in a household that let cats be indoor/outdoor, and I made the mistake of allowing my first cat be indoor/outdoor, and he developed so many behavior problems as a result. Everybody’s divided on this issue, but I am adamantly, fiercely entrenched on the side of keeping cats strictly indoors. It makes it easy to relocate, plus it saves on having to take the cat to the vet every other week for some abscessed wound after it tangled with a raccoon. Not to mention it’s so much less stress when you’re not worried every time the cat disappears that it’s been run over, or poisoned either accidentally, or on purpose by an angry neighbor because cats consistently ignore property lines. Plus, indoors, they’re not wreaking havoc on an already embattled ecosystem. Cats are opportunistic hunters and have a detrimental impact on local birds and wildlife. Now, here’s the worst parts to letting cats run free, and leaving dogs unattended in the yard: they are vulnerable to theft. And by theft, I don’t mean by people like me who might see a loose animal and think it’s a stray (Joking! Well, sort of.). I mean people who cruise neighbourhoods and steal pets in order to use them for bait animals in dog fighting or to sell them to laboratories for animal testing. Urban myth, right? Nope. Every few months, there would be a flood of lost pet posters in my (former) neighbourhood in Florida. I learned what was most likely happening to the animals from an animal rescue worker who’d been volunteering for about twenty years.
  • “Cute” pets like rabbits do not make good pets for kids. Which is a shame, because rescued rabbits need homes too, as they are often acquired as gifts and then discarded like so many other pet animals once the novelty wears off. I always make the joke “Unless your kid is 4-H experienced…” because rabbits require so much finicky care and handling. If rabbits are held the wrong way, they can kick and break their backs. They need so much specialized care, and unless the parent or guardian is prepared to take on that care, I wouldn’t recommend it. And, hopefully this goes without saying… get the rabbit spayed/neutered! Because rabbits really do breed like, well, rabbits! Or save yourself a lot of headache and stress, and turn the kid onto herpetology (from a licensed breeder that only sells captive bred reptiles, etc.).

Still have questions? Need advice on the weird and wacky things cats do? I’m always willing to talk animals. Visit me on my blog.

Do you know someone who could use a snail-mail letter or postcard? And have you rescued any animals?

My Abortion Story + Jury Service Pt 2

Your comments to Part 1 of this post on my jury duty have lent me courage.

On Olvera Street, you can buy stuff like these Calaveras-style (skeleton) caricatures and plush versions of Mexican pastries. Photo by da-AL.
On Olvera Street, you can buy stuff like these Calaveras-style (skeleton) caricatures and plush versions of Mexican pastries. Photo by da-AL.

In posts and comments here and elsewhere, I often mention the importance of blogging, how delighted I am that social media and our freely commenting allow us to become closer to each other. The simpler it is for people to express themselves into the ethers, the smaller our the world becomes. When we speak from our hearts and personal experience, we see we all need each other and that every single one of us linked in doing our best to get by each day.

All that, and still I left out a vital bit of my own story last time. In that post, “My Jury Duty Pt 1 + Infidel753 Works for Justice and Freedom to Choose,” guest blogger Infidel753 told of his experience as a volunteer for an abortion clinic. As a “pro-choice escort,” he navigated women past the intimidation efforts of anti-choicers. As a result, some readers were inspired shared their views on abortion rights.

Pico House, across from downtown Los Angeles' historic Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
Pico House, across from downtown Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street, was built in 1870. Photo by da-AL.

My Story

When I was in my mid-20s, I terminated two pregnancies. Within the same year, I got pregnant twice, each time using different forms of birth control. At the time, I’d been living with a boyfriend since I was 18, a sweet, intelligent man I loved dearly.

We were surviving on sporadic work, earning hardly above minimum wage. For that and many more reasons, I didn’t feel like I could give a child the kind of start on life that I would have wanted.

The procedures were expensive and weren’t covered by my health insurance. Each was horribly painful. Afterward, I ran fevers of 104 and was forced to take days off from work, which I could barely afford.

The picturesque old church across from Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
The picturesque old church across from Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.

Fortunately…

I had a kind lover to help me through. Never have I regretted my decisions.

In addition, in my 30s, I was sexually assaulted. Good luck, as if the term can apply to any part of such a trauma, is the only reason I didn’t get pregnant.

Throughout, I’ve enjoyed sheer fortune. What I mean is, the freedom to choose is easy for lucky women, regardless of laws. Those to whom life offers stepping stones and opportunities, circumstances that allow them respectable status and money — they can always spend enough to choose when and if they have children.

Part of the fun of jury duty was walking the local sights, like these stalls of Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
Part of the fun of jury duty was walking the local sights, like these stalls of Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.

Choice

When people are eager to control others, they often interject comments about the for people to “be held accountable.” Their fingers continually point, and always away from themselves.

When we kid ourselves that we know what’s better for our neighbor, it’s easy to view the world as “them” vs. “us.” It’s not so very long ago when United States medical officials decided it was ok to pretend to treat black people for syphilis when really they were studying the full progression of the disease. (Check out that real life horror out here.)

If a woman is resource-poor, network impoverished, lacking in status, uneducated, plain ol’ poor and any of the rest of the often insurmountable challenges life can present — the option to decide whether she bears children is often beyond reach.

What if you’re very young and your family is the opposite of a Hallmark card? What if you’re not emplyed? Or your job doesn’t provide insurance and sick days? What if the rape was more than you could bear? And you don’t want the added burdens of facing the police, defending your reputation as well as your case, can’t afford a good lawyer, and don’t want to confront whoever assaulted you in court?

It was closed when I strolled by, but here’s where you can go up to see a David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of Mexico's greatest muralists) mural that was hidden for many years. Photo by da-AL.
It was closed when I strolled by, but here’s where you can go up to see a David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of Mexico’s greatest muralists) mural that was hidden for many decades. Photo by da-AL.  

Accountability and Responsibility

What if, what if, what if? No, it’s no one’s business why or how many times any woman has an abortion.

When statistics tally how many people consider abortion acceptable, they sidestep the real question. What begs to be asked is whether government is entitled to rule the female body.

It is neither your right nor mine to decide who gets abortions, to force anyone to get sterilized, or to force them to bear a child.

What is your business and mine is this: it’s their body. End of story.

Is it still legal to get an abortion?

How sad that anyone needs to ask. Mercifully, the answer in the United States is yes, in good measure due to the work of Planned Parenthood.

The organization offers all kinds of affordable health care, mostly but not all concerning reproductive health, to all genders, all ages, all over the world. Interestingly, in 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law funding for family planning services, Planned Parenthood included. According to Wikipedia, Nixon decreed, “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

Remember, however, it’s not enough to win our rights — we must continually work to retain them. Unfortunately, the right to choose is continually endangered by anti-choicers.

Need proof we can’t rest on our laurels? According to Wikipedia, here’s what happened elsewhere: “Poland is one of the few countries in the world to largely outlaw abortion after decades of permissive legislation during Polish People’s Republic. About 10-15% of Polish women seek abortion in neighbouring countries due to the strict restraints in their own country. Poland’s abortion law is one of the most restrictive in Europe, along with a group of other traditionally Roman Catholic countries of the region (Malta, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Vatican, Monaco and Andorra).”

In non-Covid-19 times, the plaza at the mouth of Olvera Street is filled with performers and audiences. Photo by da-AL.
In non-Covid-19 times, the plaza at the mouth of Olvera Street is filled with performers and audiences. Photo by da-AL.

What about Pt 2 of my jury duty?

It was a holiday weekend, so we all stayed home that Monday.

Since my car was in the shop, on Tuesday my husband lent me his car. Ten minutes away from home, his “check engine” light blinked on.

Fortunately (a word I don’t use lightly, as explained several headings ago), I had another car I could borrow. My mom lives with us and she was away visiting my brothers who live in different states. Can one take a vacation when one is retired? Regardless, her generosity allowed me to continue jury duty, albeit half an hour tardy that day.

Today’s post was an emotional one and it took a lot out of me so I’ll leave off here and fill you in on the rest of my jury service next time…

Here's one entrance to the Olvera Street outdoor mall. Photo by da-AL.
Here’s one entrance to the Olvera Street outdoor mall. Photo by da-AL.

In the meantime, since the courthouse was in the Los Angeles Historic District, these photos are of Olvera Street. I walked there during our lunch break. According to Wikipedia, it’s “been the main square of the city since the early 1820s, when California was still part of Mexico, and was the center of community life[ until the town expanded in the 1870s.”

How much control do you want your government to have over your body?

Our COVID + Carrot Delight Cake Healthier Recipe by Khashayar

Our COVID Healing and Carrot Delight Cake Healthy Recipe by KhashayarEver crave a treat that tastes decadent but is a bit healthier? Get your veggies and good fats with this brownie-like moist loveliness.

Khashayar came up with it just before the two of us came down with COVID-19. (Here he first contracted it and here I got it too and here is how it went after this.)

Thank goodness COVID-19 hasn’t affected my ability to write and read, aside from the days it weakened my sight and energy. We’re much better, wake each morning slightly less raggedy than the one before in terms of feeling totally human.

It has a week since I’ve been able to smell and taste. If I hold my nose to a jar of cinnamon powder or a bottle of lavender oil, absolutely nothing registers. Taste is down to an occasional three notes of flavor. They’re subtle and offer no complexity. If something is super salty, ultra sweet, or blazing hot, they’ll call like old friends from a place so distant I can hardly hear them.

I tried sniffing a bottle of bleach… nearer = nothing… nearer = nothing… short of sticking my nostril right over the spout, a revelation terrified me. How easily I could accidentally truly damage myself without these two senses. How easily anyone could! My heart goes out to all who suffer this.

I try to rev my appetite by conning it that texture and temperature are flavors. My clothes haven’t gotten too baggy yet. I try not to stress over whether things will always be this way.

Ah, yes! There is indeed another note of taste I neglected to tell you about! It’s the most important one; the love Khashayar infuses into all of his cooking rings loud and clear…

Ingredients

2 pounds carrots
2 cups regular white sugar
2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup olive oil

Topping

2 cup greek yogurt
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 farenheit degrees.

2. Mix together all the dry ingredients: carrots, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

3. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and milk.

4. Combine all the above with the melted butter and olive oil.

5. Pour the batter into a 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.

6. Bake for an hour or until a toothpick inserted into it comes out clean.

7. Let the cake cool.

8. Stir topping ingredients together: yogurt, honey, and almonds.

9. Slice the cake and serve with a dollop of the topping. Garnish with fresh or frozen berries (frozen like they’ve been powdered with sugar as they thaw). It also gets a nice chewy crust when heated. If you prefer it warm, don’t add the topping until it’s out of the oven.

Hungry for more? Khashayar has lots of other recipes such as a great hot soup, a crunchy salad, a fruity dessert, an entree, and this appetizer and this one.

Do you have a favorite healthier dessert?

Recipe: Diana’s Tiramisu by da-AL

How's about a slice of tiramisu? Here's how...
How’s about a slice of tiramisu? Here’s how…

Do angels exist in everyday life? Indeed, Cousin Diana was one. Her life was far too short, but such can be the case with the sweetest among us…

Photo of Cousin Diana.
Cousin Diana.

Years ago, when my husband and I visited her in Italy, she prepared a fantastic multi-course vegetarian meal that ended with this nirvana-inducing tiramisu. Diana Ferretti Ruberti. Upon our return to the States, Diana sent me the instructions and helped me with it over the phone.

Recipe can evoke great memories…

Born in Argentina, she moved to Italy as a teenager and later worked as a teacher, married, and raised three great kids. Diana was lovely in every way and an amazing cook!  Her son, Stefano Ruberti, generously lent us these photos of her. Diana with her husband and small children.

Tiramisu Recipe

  • 8” x 8” x 2” serving dish or pan
  • 3 medium eggs, extra fresh
  • 2 cups strong coffee, either lukewarm or cold. Decaf and instant work great.
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules to stir into pudding
  • 8 ounces mascarpone, which tastes like an amazing cross between butter and cream cheese.
  • 3.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chunks, 72% to 99%. Grated, or knife chopped, or put the chocolate into a plastic bag and take a hammer to it.
  • 24 regular-sized ladyfingers

Optional Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange rind
  • unsweetened cocoa powder to dust over the final layer

Before You Begin

  1. Assembly takes anywhere between half an hour to an hour, depending on how fast you are around the kitchen. It won’t be ready to eat for another six to twelve hours, as it needs time to set in the fridge. I like to prepare it the night before, then serve it the following afternoon with milk or coffee — or wine!
  2. Review the recipe and visualize the best way to organize things.
  3. Then you’re ready to lay out ingredients and tools such as bowls, pan, whisk or mixer, and mixer or blender for pudding, stuff you’ll use to grate chocolate.
  4. Unwrap ladyfingers and put them into a separate bowl.
  5. Raw eggs are called for and chocolate melts when it’s manipulated too much, so I like to keep things cold and work steadily.

Mixing the pudding

  1. Egg whites: in a separate bowl, whip until stiff.

    Bowl of whipped egg whites.

  2. Yolks: in a separate bowl or a blender, beat in 1/2 teaspoon instant granulated coffee, mascarpone, and sugar. Now’s the time to add any “optional ingredients.”

    Egg yolks beaten with marscapone, sugar, and a little coffee.

  3. Fold egg whites with egg yolk mixture.

    Fold egg whites with egg yolk mixture.

Layering into a pan (you’ll be making 2 layers)

Layer #1

  1. One at a time, dip 12 of the ladyfingers into the coffee liquid and use them to line the bottom of the pan. It’ll take a little practice to figure out how long to let the cookies soak. Too little, and they’ll stay stiff. Too much, and they’ll dissolve. Either way, though, it’ll still be tasty.

    A lady finger being dipped into coffee.

  2. Top the cookies with half of the pudding.

    The 1st layer of cookies covered with half of the pudding.

  3. Finish the first layer by sprinkling half of the chunked chocolate over it. Now it’s time to do everything the same for the second layer.

    Finishing the first layer by sprinkling half of the chunked chocolate over it. Now it's time to do everything the same for the second layer.

Layer #2

  1. Same as above, dunk another twelve cookies in coffee and stack them over the first layer, all in the same direction as the first bunch.

    Dunking the rest of the cookies in coffee, then layering them in the same direction as the previous ones.

  2. Fold any loose sugar from the cookies into the remaining pudding, then spread everything on top.

    Covering the second layer with the remaining pudding.

  3. Complete the second layer with what’s left of the chunked chocolate. Dust with cacao powder, then cover and refrigerate at least four hours (longer is better).The second layer for the tiramisu completed with what's left of the chunked chocolate, and dusted with cacao powder, then chilled for at least 4 hours.

Serving it…

Once it has been refrigerated for at least four hours, cut it into squares — It serves 9 to 12 lucky people. If there’s any of the yummy liquid at the bottom of the pan, spoon it over pieces. Keep any leftovers refrigerated and eat them within three days. Tiramisu, once it’s set in the fridge, freezes wonderfully and is also delicious served frozen or thawed!

Tiramisu makes any day a holiday!
Tiramisu makes any day a holiday!

Does a food or special recipe remind you of a loved one?

Recipe: Butternut Squash and Cod Soup by Khashayar Parsi

Recipe: Butternut Squash and Cod Soup by Khashayar Parsi A festive bowl of Khashayar’s Butternut Squash and Cod Soup!

More time for me to write my novels, for my husband to cook marvelous meals — of course I hate the devastation of Covid-19, yet those are two ways I’ve benefitted from it. (More about the unexpected bonuses of sheltering-at-home here and here and here and a guest’s exert advice on how to deal with anxiety here.)

Soups are like smoothies on steroids — more interesting, cooling or warming, super nutritious or totally indulgent.

Every day since the pandemic began, each night is a culinary adventure. (More of Khashayar’s recipes here and here and here and here and here and here.)

Recently he made a massive pot of this — yum!!!!

Butternut Squash and Cod Soup by Khashayar Parsi

Ingredients

1 small butternut squash

1 medium onion

4 Tbs coconut oil

4 Tbs unsalted butter

1 Tbs turmeric

2 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp ground saffron

1 Tbs of white sugar

1 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp ground chili pepper

1 quart almond milk

1 quart water

1 cup Chardonnay wine

¾ cup of white rice

16 oz cod filet (or similar)

Split the Squash lengthwise and bake the halves in a 400∞F oven for about 45 minutes or until they are softened but not browned. Let them cool just enough that you can handle them. Spoon out the seeds and peel them. Cut the butternut squash into smaller chunks and set aside.

Chop the onion and sauté in coconut oil for about 7 to 8 minutes on medium heat until lightly golden. You can use a large pot so that you can finish the soup in the same pot. Add butternut squash, butter, and all the spices. Mix well and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add rice, almond milk, and water. Bring to boil on high heat, and then let simmer on low for half an hour. Stir the pot a few times to avoid any burns. Add cod and wine and cook for another 10 minutes.

Puree the soup, adjust the seasoning, and serve in a bowl.

Garnish

Oven roast 4 cloves of garlic with skin. Peal and mix with 1 Tbs of minced ginger. Add them to ½ cup of balsamic vinegar, 1/8 cup of soy sauce, and 1 Tbs of brown sugar, and cook in a saucepan on medium heat until it thickens to the consistency of molasses.

Drizzle over the soup and add some green peas. Don’t stir in the garnish; that way, there’s an extra burst of delightful flavor and texture in each bite!

Our dear doggie is quite an enthusiastic kitchen mate, always eager to help with pre-wash and to conduct her version of composting dog-healthy scraps. Our dear doggie is quite an enthusiastic kitchen mate, always eager to help with pre-wash and to conduct her version of composting dog-healthy scraps.

What’s your most satisfying food for this season?

Recipe: Herb Salad Amazingly and Tasty by Khashayar Parsi

What book lover or writer wouldn’t benefit from someone else taking up the meal preparation slack while they’re reading or working on a novel? Anyone can cook tasty fare that’s unhealthy. The real art lies in food that’s both healthy and delish. How fortunate I am that my husband works from home these days and loves to cook.

Let me count the ways...breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner...I could eat this for any and all of these!
Let me count the ways…breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner…I could eat this for any and all of these!

Forgive, dear reader, the drool on these introductory words. My aim is to give you an idea of what the recipe that follows tastes like, but I’m too busy dealing with the watering in my mouth to think.

Okay, here goes—fresh, crunchy, sweet, salty, peppery, soft—and delicious!!!!!!

There. Oh, and exotic yet familiar, green and healthy, yet decadent. Easy but a bit time consuming so make enough for a few meals. It’s filled with everyday ingredients like bread and cheese, but with the added specialness of a not-your-run-of-the-mill sort. Lavash (a soft, thin unleavened flatbread available at many grocers) and feta,(a cheese made from the milk of cows or goats or sheep) and greens that are best eaten raw yet go cosmos-beyond lettuce and spinach. Things of which the mere scent of them are heaven!!! These are fresh herbs such as dill, tarragon (worthy of making into a perfume though one might get bitten…) and parsley and cilantro. If you’ve got more, great, but if you haven’t got these, all is forgiven because most any green leafy goodness will do.

There—I’ve said it—onto the recipe. Oh, and it’s my husband’s own making, a melange of cultures, and personal preferences. It’s a forgiving dish—I make it my own way, and that’s good too—but let me step aside. Today it’s Khashayar’s turn to be our guest here. Slobber away, folks! By the way, he’s got more healthy easy recipes here and here and here and here and here and here too…

Yum!!!
Yum!!!

Herb Salad Recipe by Khashayar Parsi

Ingredients

Dressing:

  • EVO 1/2 a cup (note from da-AL: EVO is the abbreviation for Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
  • Lime 1 small

Herbs:

  • Basil (Lemon or Thai) 1 bunch
  • Chives (or Green Onions) 1 bunch
  • Cilantro 1 bunch
  • Dill 1 bunch
  • Parsley 1 bunch
  • Tarragon 1 Bunch

Feta Cheese 8 oz (another note from da-AL: this is a particularly wonderful cheese because it’s so flavorful that one needs far less than most other types. To lessen saltiness, drain the brine and replace it with water. Another great think about it that when it’s stored in either brine or water, it keeps for a very very long time.)

Garlic 4 cloves

Lavash Bread 16 oz

Grapes 1-1/2 cups

Nuts:

  • Almonds 1/2 a cup
  • Cashews 1/2 a cup
  • Walnuts 1/2 a cup
  • Onion 1/2 a medium size

Spices (Ground):

  • Cinnamon 1 teaspoon
  • Cumin 1 teaspoon
  • Pepper (Black and Cayenne) 1 teaspoon each

Instructions

  1. Mince the onion and garlic, and put them in a large bowl. Add lime juice, EVO, and pepper (black and cayenne). Mix and let them soak as you prepare the rest of the salad.

Photo of beautifully minced onions and garlic.
My honey chops onions and garlic beautifully!

Tip: Do not add any salt; feta cheese is already salty. If you like it saltier, adjust it at the end.

Tip: Save 2 teaspoons of EVO to toast the nuts.

Spices from ethnic markets cost a fraction of what they do in regular markets.
Spices from ethnic markets cost a fraction of what they do in regular markets.

2. Chop the cilantro, parsley, dill, chives, lemon basil, and tarragon.

Tip: Dry well after washing them.

Tip: If you use a food processor, make sure not to mince them.

Chopping fresh herbs like this Italian parsely make the whole house smell wonderful!
Chopping fresh herbs like this Italian parsely make the whole house smell wonderful!

3. Roast the nuts for about a couple of minutes on medium heat. Let them cool to room temperature and crush them.

Tip: You can put them in a bag and use a hammer.

Tip: Do not grind them. Crushed nuts will give the salad a better texture.

Home-roasted nuts are the best!
Home-roasted nuts are the best!

4. Crumble the cheese.

In Iran, if you ask for cheese, you'll get feta.
In Iran, if you ask for cheese, you’ll get feta.

5. Dry the lavash sheets (on very low heat) until they are like crackers, and crumble them by hand.

Tip: Be careful; they can go from perfect to overdone very quickly.

Tip: Do not use a food processor, because it makes bread crumbs.

Lavosh that's crisped makes for fancy crackers!
Lavosh that’s crisped makes for fancy crackers!

6. Add the herbs, walnuts, feta cheese, lavash and the remaining spices to the bowl and mix well. You can also add grapes like these (1 1/2 cups) from our backyard.

Let your imagination run loose! This recipe accommodates whatever modifications you prefer.
Let your imagination run loose! This recipe accommodates whatever modifications you prefer.

Nooshe-Jawn (Bon Appetite in Farsi)

Tip: Serve with some fresh tomatoes and cucumbers on the side.

Do you have a tasty, healthy, and easy dish that you like to make?

Videos plus Happy Un-Father’s Day! by da-AL

Screenshot of Josh's video from No Dad? No Problem! shoutout for me!No Dad? No Problem!‘s” shoutout for me — get yours too!

Whenever a holiday looms, my first reaction is to gag at all the goopy generalities that pop up more vigorously than do the weeds in my lawn. At least those I can pull up. But what do I do with celebrations that dictate only one way to feel?

Take, for instance, Father’s Day. Everywhere, right about this time of year, are messages of how wonderful dads are. Okay, let’s say that some fathers are. And a bunch aren’t, right? The same goes for Mother’s Day and “blessed is the family” designated events such as Xmas, Thanksgiving (and don’t get me started on other sundry celebrations).

Back to Father’s Day. No matter how relentlessly someone tries to gaslight me into their parallel universe, the fact remains tht mine wasn’t “nice,” to use a shorthand for all the ways he was relentlessly “awful” (an understatement). Writers who go into detail about stuff like that deserve the utmost respect. But if I elaborate further now, my loved ones will be stuck with a glum me for the rest of the day.

Besides, my purpose here is to, a) remind you that it’s okay to not get warm fuzzies over any kin-dedicated day — and, b) to let you know about a way to enjoy an avatar father! A do-over of the very best kind!

Some people are scared of strangers. From childhood on, they were most comforted “in the bosom of family” (a term that for me conjures only snarky innuendos). My growing up was the other way around. I love strangers. Some could be dangerous, but ditto for relatives. Better still, with strangers, there are no expectations. Moreover, they don’t have to be in my home.

Any nicety from a new person warms my heart better than finding treasure on the sands of a long-deserted beach. Ta dah! Enter Virtual Dad!

During my ongoing education that’s poised toward a future podcast of my novels, I googled some things about microphones. After bumbling upon Josh’s Youtube channel and thanking him for the info, I saw his offer to record personalized fatherly praise.

Cynic that I can be, I almost didn’t ask, figured nothing (or worse) would come of it. Then, to prove my own point to myself, I typed in a request…

Waddya know?! — within a matter of days, he answered with this. Basically, all I’d said was that I was working to publish my first podcast episode. Clearly, he researched my blog so he could get the shoutout just right. Plus he pronounced my name perfectly…

…and wouldn’t you know it, I surprised myself by how it bowled me over! He doesn’t ask for cash, he doesn’t proselytize, and thank goddess he’s neither racist nor bigoted — he’s just — dare I type this? — a decent person.

His Youtube “about” page tells how he — wait for it — basically wants to be a good father to his own four kids and to help others along the way. He describes everything from how to shave and how to avoid scammers, to the three best ways for young people to succeed in life and how to whip up easy eats like a grilled cheese sandwich golden and crispy enough to smell through the screen.

To be clear, dear readers, I’m not into guns whatsoever. In your interest, I watched his episode on them. Hallelujah, he wasn’t promoting gun ownership and he prefaced his talk with extensive stats on how truly dangerous they are and seriously they must be taken. Having served in the United States Air Force for twenty years, some of his duty in Afghanistan, and losing many friends, his weapons experience is vastly different from mine.

In addition, despite that I’m a vegetarian, for your sakes I sat through his chicken grilling DIY. His interspersed recount of a near-killing incident was in no way self-aggrandizing, was totally sober and compassionate. He’s obviously from a different culture than I was raised in and definitely overly young to be a real dad to me — but that’s just fine. I don’t ache for a father, not in the least. That said, the aforementioned sincere kindness of strangers has always served me well.

Essense of dad? Eau de dad? Dad-ness? It’s all good. Maybe it will be for you too?

If you’re not into father stuff, but appreciate something vaguely in the same vast range, here’s this…

There you go, friend. For anyone anywhere yearning for kind words from a father-ish nice adult any time of the year, and for whom Opie’s dad character on the Andy Griffith TV shows isn’t interactive enough, consider a virtual alternative.

Have you ever felt Happy Un-Father’s Day-ish? If you know of anyone or want someone to understand, please share this post. Maybe they’ll find comfort in that Un-Father’s Day, any day of the year, is okay.

COVID19 all-ages humor uplift: Guest Blog Post by Mike Befeler

Everyone seems distracted these days. I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with someone outside of my home that wasn’t 80% about COVID19… How about you? No — before you answer that — more importantly, my arty friends, how do you keep your creative juices flowing lately?

Kid-lover and child-free-by-choice as I am, these days, my heart goes out to my friends with families. Now more than ever, it’s become a challenge for many to attend to the emotional as well as financial needs of their flock. (Here and here and here and here and here and here and here are a few of my posts that I hope will help you cope with the current crisis.)

To lighten everyone’s hearts, enter novelist/mystery writer/blogger Mike Befeler! He’s been our guest at Happiness Between Tails before — when he presented his engaging geezer-lit mysteries here and his delightful paranormal geezer-lit mysteries here. A proud grandfather, he’s using this quarantine to apply his imagination to a younger crowd. His brand-new uplifting and humorous short story about the Coronavirus pandemic is free to all who act quickly. Read on for how to get it for free!…

Author/blogger Mike Befeler with his family -- and Mickey!
Author/blogger Mike Befeler with his family — and Mickey!

Writing a Short Story during the Coronavirus Pandemic by Mike Befeler

Like so many people, I have been hunkered down at home during the Coronavirus pandemic. My last writer activity before self-quarantining was the ill-fated Left Coast Crime Conference in March. I arrived in San Diego, had a full day of conference activity, and then the remainder of the conference was canceled.

My main activity since then has been taking care of our four-year-old grandson during the workweek. Since we weren’t getting together with anyone in-person except our immediate family, I started phoning old friends around the county to check in with them. In addition, we held Zoom calls with our kids in other parts of the country and even with one of the neighborhood friends of our grandson.

Mike Befeler writes for all ages, including his charming grandson!
Mike Befeler writes for all ages, including his charming grandson!

At first, I did no new writing. Then an idea struck me. Since I have another grandson who is in middle school, what would it be like for a boy his age to be an only child at home with his parents? The idea grabbed me, and I began writing a journal from my fictional boy’s point of view. I tend to be an outliner, but in this case, I operated as more of a seat-of-the-pantster. I had no idea where his journal would go. I sprinkled in some of the things going on in the news and how a boy would handle being bored and not able to see his friends. As I wrote, a whole new plot developed. My protagonist, Tad, made an unexpected discovery that changed his life. The result was a story titled, “Coronavirus Daze,” which I have just published as an e-book on Kindle. My goal was to provide an inspiring and humorous story that would give a positive diversion for readers struggling with being homebound.

A little by Mike about his short story, “Coronavirus Pandemic”…

The uplifting and humorous story is about a boy keeping a journal during the Coronavirus outbreak. A middle school student in Southern California, Tad must deal with the boredom of being stuck at home with his parents during the Coronavirus pandemic. He has a life-transforming experience when he makes an unexpected discovery. Readers may shed a tear and will undoubtedly have some chuckles as Tad recounts his adventures in a time of chaos and uncertainty.

You can get it for free! Email Mike at mikebef@aol.com for a copy. If you enjoy the story, pass it along to your family and friends.

About Mike Befeler: he is the author of seventeen books, including mysteries, a thriller, and a biography of a World War II veteran. Two of his mystery novels have been finalists for the Lefty Award for best humorous mystery. He began writing later in life and lives with his wife Wendy in Lakewood, CA. He played competitive tennis as a kid and in college and now enjoys pickleball (when the pickleball courts open again).

My arty friends, how are you keeping your creative juices flowing?…

Inspiration at the Getty Museum Los Angeles by da-AL

My honey, me, Angela, and Kim took a tram up to see the Getty Center.

Having family over to visit is an opportunity to see my own city through new eyes. It’s the best kind of stay-cation! We took them to visit the Getty Center (which shouldn’t be confused with the Getty Villa)…

The Getty Center offers amazing views.

The first area we visited was their gardens…

Getty Center gardens with the Getty’s amazing travertine architecture.

What could be better than art featuring a cat lover?…

Portrait of Magdaleine Pinceloup de la Grange by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, 1747.

And what’s more manly than manly royalty showing off his 64-year-old dancer legs in tights?…

Portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701.

Which is happier do you think — horse or rider?…

Angel of the Citadel by Marino Marini, 1950.

Mercury is a god of things good and bad and everything in between, so it stands to reason that his shadow would be as interesting as he is…

Mercury by Johan Gregor van der Schardt, 1575.

All this art was made me hungry…

Still Life: Tea Set by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1782.

The sun began to cast long shadows across this Getty fountain — we were inspired to make our own art!…

Our great day at the Getty made us want to dance!…

so we danced…

and danced…

and danced!

It was a perfect way to end the day!…

Sunset at the Getty is spectacular!

What inspires you?

Guest Blog Post: Equines Empowering Women! By Anne Leueen

Did you know that owning and caring for a horse or a donkey empowers women? Here blogger Anne Leueen fills us in…

HorseAddict

In the developing world two-thirds of the livestock keepers, that is a total of approximately 400 million, are WOMEN

The Brooke, a charity that focuses on working equines,(horses, donkeys and mules) is a major supporter of the women and of their working equines. The Brooke works in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East reaching over two million working horses donkeys and mules. The Brooke is not a rescue organization but with vets, animal welfare specialists as well as advocacy and development specialists works to improve the lives of working equines and to educate and support their owners.

Photo from Brooke Website

Here is what the Brooke has to say about their work with women.

Owning and caring for equines, alongside earning income from their work, raises women’s social status and recognition in the community. Equines help with household chores, which frees up time for women to participate in…

View original post 300 more words