Menendez Bros + My Jury Duty Pt 3 + a Podcast Note

Photo of Menendez brothers with their father, Jose, whom they murdered.
Photo of Menendez brothers with their father, Jose, whom they murdered.

Justice — trials, how our system works, lawyers, juries… all these topics have been on my mind since I recently completed doing jury duty. Since the week before I started it (here are Part 1 and Part 2 about it), I’ve wondered about the Mendez brothers. You know, those rich guys who killed their parents back in the late 1980s. This video I checked out from my happy place, a.k.a. any public library, explains their story.

The brothers somewhat physically resemble my two older brothers, plus we three were raised “tennis-y.” Our household wasn’t hellish in the way of Lyle and Eric’s, but controlling and cruelty and looking the other way existed.

Please don’t get me wrong: a) my brothers aren’t killers and they’re nothing like the Menendez — and b) I believe murder is despicable.

Unlike the Menendezes, we didn’t suffer rich-people burdens. Here’s one man’s take on growing up “in tennis” for some players at the nosebleed rungs. Our dad wasn’t a powerful movie mogul, and we weren’t indoctrinated to keep up with the Beverly Hills set. There are benefits to being an apartment-dwelling plebeian. Tennis earned my brothers college scholarships. As for me, I set out on my own the moment I graduated high school, determined to sooner resort to prostitution than go back.

As a writer, I began as a journalist, then later attended a course on fiction. A classmate, Vonda Pelto, wanted to learn story telling for a recount of her former career as a psychiatrist at the downtown Los Angeles jail. Her primary function was to prevent serial killers from dying by suicide. How’s that for irony? (Here’s an enlightening article about discussing suicide.) Her patients ranged from Charles Manson and porn star John Holmes, to “Hillside Strangler” Ken Bianchi and “Freeway Killer” William Bonin.

Clearly, those killers fall into a different category than the Menendez brothers.

Almost every day in Los Angeles is sky perfection.
Almost every day in Los Angeles is sky perfection.

Back to jury duty…

For a thumbnail of what I posted about jury duty so far, picture “Car Problems” as my middle name. Was it mere coincidence that the morning my mom lent me her car, in front of the courthouse was a man in a t-shirt with a “check engine” logo?

Every trip to and from downtown was a winding tour of Siri workarounds to Los Angeles traffic. Siri kindly even warned me of traffic cameras. The Spring Street Courthouse is snuggled among the Toy District, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Union Station, Grand Central Market, the Bradbury Building of “Bladerunner” movie renown, and more. Slogging along freeways to get there and back would have been unbearable without my beloved audiobooks.

It’s years since I’ve visited the area. Sadly, the number of people who live on the sidewalks has exploded. Flimsy domed homes shelter people along corners, alleys, freeway overpasses and underpasses. I don’t know an end-all remedy, only that “them” is “us.” Whenever I left my juror chair, I kept my little backpack near. How is anyone mobile enough to find a job, see a doctor, take a leak, do anything, when their worldly goods are housed within a nylon tent parked in the middle of a city?

The trial I worked on involved an RV park, privately run yet publicly owned, endeavoring to evict a couple.

On one hand, one of the two renters had recorded park employees, those not wearing mandated Covid19-preventative masks. They used the evidence to report them to the health department. On the other hand, staff accused the renters of impeding their work and bothering fellow tenants by failing to consistently leash their dog.

Sculpture of "Young Lincoln" by James Hansen, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.
Sculpture of “Young Lincoln” by James Hansen, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.

Management had a slicker lawyer and employees willing to smooth over their sloppy record keeping. The tenants brought neighbors (via an extremely problematic videoconferencing setup) who stated they loved the dog and the couple.

Ah, the dog! Mike was old, pudgy, and wore a vest that suggested he was an emotional service provider (any dog is, no?). I first noticed him when he snored from the opposite end of the vast courtroom. Basically, he slept and sometimes slurped water.

Hearing testimonies is nothing akin to dynamic TV shows and high drama movies. Questions get reframed in endless ways so lawyers can reveal details otherwise not allowed. Did I say it was boring? Many jurors were there only because they heard rumors that not showing up can result in a $1,500 fine.

This case ran four days, not counting the Friday of jury selection. Monday was a holiday. Tuesday through Thursday were for evidence disclosure, a process rendered mind-numbingly. The last Friday morning was for the lawyers’s closing speeches. Here again, imagine what money buys in terms of lawyers.

Management’s was organized and smooth.

The residents’s insisted on using an overhead projector that blinked his pages onto the screen so annoyingly that I half-closed my eyes. To his credit, he opened with a salient point; each side had recorded, antagonized, and vilified each other. Amen.

Then it was time for a shortened lunch. Then deciding whether the tenants ought to be evicted.

Hand on any religious tome you prefer I swear on, I had every intention to review evidence and turn over every rock.

Sculpture of "Law" by Archibald Garner, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.
Sculpture of “Law” by Archibald Garner, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.

Twelve jurors: roughly fifteen questions to vote on. The list was one of those affairs of, “if you vote this, answer this or skip this…” Each question required only nine votes to pass.

Within some questions, the word “substantial” was used. Was the residents’s rule-breaking and annoying of neighbors “substantial”? Four months earlier, after they were served a seven-day notice to clean up their acts, did they? Substantially? Definitely, but fellow jurors noted that management had spied near-catatonic Mike off-leash once or twice.

A juror reminded us that the residents bothered neighbors over the past year when twice they called the cops. First, when one renter was assaulted by a stranger, then later when she spotted the assaulter lurking.

I asked the juror, “If a sick neighbor needed to summon an ambulance twice over the last year, would you evict them?”

She nodded her head.

Except for mine, the votes were unanimous. They voted so quickly, and with so little discussion and consideration of evidence, as if they’d made snap judgements, I wonder if justice was truly served.

So very many people in Los Angeles live in tents or in cardboard boxes.
So very many people in Los Angeles live in tents or in cardboard boxes.

I’m told the renters can appeal and it was their choice whether to have their trial judged by a judge or a jury. It was an honor to serve, and I learned a lot, though not what I’d expected.

Maybe in the end, like with the Menendez brothers, it boiled down to looking into faces and choosing whether they deserved another chance. TV’s Columbo only needed to solve crimes, not decide whether they were redeemable…

What do you think of our trial system? Would you choose a jury or a judge to decide your case? Do you think the Menendez brothers have served long enough?

Me, leaving the courthouse.
Me, leaving the courthouse.

Wait — a non-jury thing — I’ve already converted several blog posts into podcasts via the WordPress-to-Anchor function. Once Apple’s podcast app accepts them into its feed, you’ll be the first to know!

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

Justice… I’m in the middle of continuing writing, in between working on my novels, about doing jury duty. (Here’s Part 1 and here’s Part 2 and here’s Part 3). In the meantime, it’s triggered lots of thoughts about justice in general. (Btw, check out the podcast audio version of this post HERE.)

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
4TH RTBN OSCAR CO PLT 4041
BOX 16430
PARRIS ISLAND, SC 29905-6430

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?

Making Music Blind During Covid by Noé Socha: with videos

Musician Noé Socha.

“Even if my marriage is falling apart and my children are unhappy, there is still a part of me that says, ‘God, this is fascinating!’” — Ernest Hemingway

Noé Socha is a musician who’s life is by no means falling apart due to his being blind. Goddesses, though, his life is fascinating!

Got writing blues? The Covid blues? The “when will the world learn that fear and hate aren’t the answers” blues? A couple of minutes with Noé’s guitar and harmonica will color them into rainbows.

CBS New York news interviewed him a couple of weeks ago.

I first learned of Noé thanks to Kenya Greaves, a friend I met online through her work as an online writing tutor. She’s a great help with editing my novels. Watch Noé’s video below (one of many at his YouTube Blind Selfie channel) for Kenya’s appearance as a backup dancer.

Noé grew up in Carpi, Italy (a lovely place that, like my Los Angeles, knows earthquakes). Now he’s based out of Brooklyn, New York, the part of the United States that Covid hit first. As a result, it got walloped extra hard.

He’s released albums and garnered top awards from the Berklee College of Music and Billboard Magazine. In addition, he’s toured, performed, and recorded with artists including Nona Hendryx (Labelle), Vernon Reid (Living Color), and Grammy winners, Javier Limón and Paula Cole. Breedlove, an Oregon guitar manufacturer, just added him to their stellar lineup of signature artists. The oldest harmonica manufacturer, Seydel, a German company founded in 1847, invited him to collaborate; here Noé demonstrates one of their harmonica holders on his Facebook page.

Even Mastercard recognizes he’s “Something Priceless.”

Read on for his thoughts in his words about living creatively through Covid…

My Experience as a Blind Musician During Covid by Noé Socha

The beginning of Covid was very strange for me. I’m from Italy, so I saw all my friends going in full lockdown a couple of weeks before the states, but I still had performances every day until March 15. It was hard to stay focused, knowing how everything would have changed in a very short matter of time. I was questioning myself; I felt selfish taking all these chances, but I also felt like I couldn’t do any different.

I came back to NYC from PA on Monday, March 16, and I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing Times Square deserted at 9 PM. It didn’t seem real.

The next month or so was very challenging for me, I didn’t have any inspiration to play, people were dying and getting sick, it felt wrong to post music. All my musician friends were doing online streams, but nobody was making any money from them. Teaching guitar online was hard, I don’t feel I can help people very much without being able to touch their hands, and I can’t have close-up shots of myself. I also live alone, so I would go thirty plus days without seeing anyone. 

I decided to start posting again when I realized I was losing my chops on the instruments, I couldn’t let all the work I put into it go to waste, and I needed something to look forward to artistically. I take selfies with my phone. The shots may not be very good, but I thought it would be interesting and different to have a blind person videotaping himself. George Floyd’s homicide and all the people that spoke out and told their stories after that gave me even more motivation to use my artistry to stand in solidarity and support.

In the summer, the gigs came back, sort of. I was playing outside bars, on the sidewalks, for tips. It was very nice to see how eager people were for live music, but it was also stressful trying to respect social distancing. I found myself hesitating when I needed help getting places; I wasn’t sure how to get people’s attention without getting close to them, and I didn’t want to make anybody uncomfortable. I am fortunate to be able to use Access-A-Ride, so I didn’t have to take public transportation.

Now we’re back in lockdown, and it feels like we’re in March again. I keep posting my videos, hoping to increase my followers and inspire people. I’ve realized that it’s important to have something to keep us motivated, even if we don’t see many results. Persistence is key. If I get somewhere with the videos, I want to show that all the work and struggle we’re going through will be rewarded someday, in ways we didn’t necessarily predict.

Has Covid impacted your creativity?

A Dog Day of a Pandemic Summer in 12 Steps and a Cool Video by da-AL

What’s a novelist, writer, creative, any kind of person, to do amid COVID-19? Preface: I know I’m super lucky that to date, and fingers crossed that it stays that way,  my circle has been relatively unscathed by any coronavirus. That said, I invite you to join me in whining…

There’s only so much writing and reading I can do during this pandemic sheltering-in-place without feeling stir-crazy… lonely… and just plain hot. We’re into the dog days, the part of summer when there’s no evading stickiness and the persistent “fragrance” of each other……

Khashayar and K-D dog stroll the beach.
1. K-D likes the seashore, um, sorta…

These days, masking up, talking to people from afar through the muffling, and daring the germs feels like endeavoring a safari, albeit not a blood-letting one. (Dear reader, my condolences if you’re plagued by maskne.)

Nevertheless, we decided to make a foray — to the shore — dog beach, to be exact. Mid-week and mid-morning, we calculated, would be sparse. Once we got there, no lifeguards shooed us away, so the three of us were tight.

Khashayar and K-D doggie wet their feet at the beach.
2. …but K-D’s not so certain about liking water.

Masks on… it was time for our dear little K-D doggie to learn to swim!

After all, my lovely girl has water-loving labrador-ish-ness twined into her DNA. Unfortunately, her older lab-ish sibs taught her to be suspicious of water. The sorely missed Lola and Pierre would tremble through warm showers. Their hearts, nonetheless, were huge, their love of their hu-Man great. That water-fearing duo steeled themselves to wade into a shallow lake when they thought their hu-Man was drowning, never suspecting that he was play-acting.

Khashayar and K-D doggie look at a stick floating in the water.
3. K-D spotted a toy! Alas, it’s in the water…

K-D is defined by two loves: playing and eating, in that order.

Khashayar and K-D doggie look at stick in water some more.
4. Khashayar assures her there’s nothing to fear.

Joy! She found something to play with; a stick.

Khashayar shows K-D a stick at the beach.
5. My bigger sweetheart wades into the water to show my littler honey how refreshing it is.

With gentle persistence, my dear Khashayar enticed her deeper.

Khashayar walks into water as K-D doggie looks on.
6. K-D worries when one of her fave people is getting wet…

It took time for play-mode to kick in — that plus her aversion to getting left behind by her fave hu-Man.

K-D runs along beach with Khashayar in tow.
7. K-D is perfectly aware of doggie on the far right and has already told all roving canines to ‘stay offa my stuff’…

At some point, she set down her toy to pursue other activities — but when another critter showed interest in it, she told ’em off. Three sessions of that, and she’d had enough. Dang it, she was going to play with it with her hu-Man… maybe…

Khashayar continues to coax K-D doggie into water.
8. K-D waits to be super-duper sure that water is ok…

Khashayar had confidence enough for both of them!…

Khashayar coaxing K-D doggie into water some more.
9. K-D subscribes to “better safe than sorry” no matter how awesome that stick looks…

… and Khashayar has patience…

Khashayar looks on as K-D doggie doggie paddles back to shore.
10. K-D wants me to tell you that they don’t call it “dog-paddling” for nuthin’. Note: she’s sheltering by watching Emergency!, wherein TV Californians talk lakka Chicagoans…

O-m-g!!! We should’ve brought a surfboard for her to hang ten!

K-D doggie swims past a wave as Khashayar looks on.
11. K-D also wants me to tell you that she never was scared…

Patience and love work well in all situations, no?

Khashayar looks on as K-D reaches dry land.
12. K-D, a natural water sprite!

Turn up your speakers and sit back for a cooling video of one of her many subsequent swims that day. Bliss out to wet ears flapping against a happy dog’s face, one who’s fresh from a doggie paddle frolic and free of the day’s worries…

Read more posts I’ve written to uplift you during the pandemic here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

How’s it in your part of the globe? How’re you personally weathering all this?

Financial Woes? 3 Steps to Vanquish Debt by Mr. Nahas

Happiness Between Tails embraces joy — of writing tales… reading tales in books… cohabiting peacefully with our fellow creatures, some who have tails…

… arts… including music.. dance… cooking…

… and happiness — that includes living debt-worry free!

Here to address money is blogger Mr. Nahas. Down-to-earth and compassionate, he offers uncomplicated financial advice…

Awash in money problems? Mr. Nahas has your back. Here he visits a bathtub in Tampa, Florida.
Awash in money problems? Mr. Nahas has your back. Here he visits a bathtub in Tampa, Florida.

Hello Friends,

I hope all is well with you! My name is Justin Nahas, aka Mr. Nahas on my blog about economic freedom.

I was born, raised, and still live in sunny Florida. I graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.A. in Economics.

I have a passion for personal finance and economics — I just find the subjects so fascinating. I love how they can be applied to real life, and that there is always something new to learn about them. On my blog, I try to help people become financially literate, to take control of their finances.

Money is a problem in every part of the world and in many households. It’s important that those like me who enjoy personal finance and economics share their knowledge with others. One day I hope that I can blog full-time and continue to teach others through my failures, mistakes — and successes.

Today, I’ll discuss debt — but not how you might expect. I’m going to go over the emotional struggles that come with owing money and how to overcome those challenges.

Debt has a significant impact how we think, talk, and behave. I believe that getting over the psychological effects of debt is the crucial first step to living debt-free!

So, grab that cup of coffee that you made at home because you enjoy saving money, and let’s get started!

Have you ever thought about your debts and immediately began to stress out or have anxiety? Does the thought of your burdens make you feel like you can’t breathe? Do you constantly wonder if you are going to be able to repay the money owe?

Whether we want to realize it or not, debt impacts our well being. It can lead to stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, and even depression; that’s not something you should live with.

A study conducted by Elizabeth Sweet, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, suggested that “higher debt is associated with worse health in a national cohort.” It proved that, “reporting high financial debt relative to available assets is associated with higher perceived stress and depression, worse self-reported general health, and higher diastolic blood pressure.” Sweet’s is only one study of many that link debt to well-being.

You aren’t alone in emotionally struggling with debt. Many are in the same boat as you. Many others feel stressed, depressed, anxious, worried, and worse.

That’s okay. It is normal to have that feeling, but you don’t have to accept it as the end-all. Together, we can tackle this emotional struggle.

By now, you’re probably asking, “But Mr. Nahas, how can I get over these feelings?”

That is a fantastic question. Read on for steps you can take.

Mr. Nahas visits Byblos, Lebanon.
Globetrotting Mr. Nahas visits Byblos, Lebanon. People everywhere experience money probs.

1. Feelings Validation

I want you to know that it’s okay to have feelings about your debt; there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s essential that you know that your feelings are normal, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed. That said, you can’t live in your feelings; you can’t let them get in the way of your goals and overwhelm you to the point where you shutdown.

At the same time, just because you feel anxious doesn’t mean that you should just sit down and do nothing; you need to do the opposite. Instead of saying, “I am feeling stressed. I am ashamed of feeling stressed; I don’t want to do anything,” tell yourself, “I feel stressed, and that is okay. I need to let this stress motivate me to get out of debt.”

You have the biggest asset known to man – your mind. The beautiful thing about your mind is that you can control all of your thoughts and actions. Use your thinking to your advantage; tackle these feelings.

One way to do that is to accept that it’s okay to feel sad, anxious, stressed, etc. Another is to know that you don’t have to continually live with these feelings. Be proactive. What I mean by this is that when you get these feelings, tell youself, “It’s okay,” and then say, “I don’t have to live with this debt; it’s possible to get rid of it, and I will get rid of it.”

Always remind yourself that debt can be managed and that it’s totally possible to get rid of it entirely. Keep affirming to yourself that what you owe doesn’t define you and that it’s only temporary. This journey starts with your attitude and thoughts. Think, and it can be achieved!

Now you might ask, “Mr. Nahas, can I take a run or workout whenever I feel stressed or have these feelings?” Absolutely! Physical exercise can help tremendously with those feelings, but don’t forget to tell yourself what I mentioned above!

Validation: It’s okay to feel the way you feel. Don’t be ashamed. Use your feelings to make you stronger.

2. Acceptance and Realization

You need to accept that you have debt; it may seem trivial, but it’s an important step.

“Mr. Nahas, why would I need to do this?” Good question!

You can’t shy away from this problem; you need to tackle it head-on. It’s not one of those things where you can say, “Out of sight, out of mind.” It’s actually really dangerous to say that because you will then let compound growth take effect and wreak havoc.

To be in control of your debt, you must take control of it. Make a list of all the debts that you have and accept that you have them — and then realize that you don’t have to live with them.

You can pay them off and be free, but it’s going to take some work. It’s totally possible to dig yourself out from them, even if you are at the bottom. There are so many people who have then climbed out; they will tell you it’s hard work, but they will also say that it’s completely possible and worth it.

Mr. Nahas visits a city near Beirut, Lebanon.
Debt can take all the joy out of life. Mr. Nahas admires a beautiful city near Beirut, Lebanon.

3. Be Proactive

Before you move on to this step, you must understand and practice the two previous ones. You need to know it’s okay to have bad feelings about your debt, but you shouldn’t accept that you have to live with them. You need to accept that you have the debt — then realize that it’s possible to pay it off.

But Mr. Nahas, where do I start?” you ask?

It’s important to have financial philosophies you’ll live by. They will help you see what’s important in your life and what isn’t. Once you realize that, you can create a budget and stick to it.

This may be hard for the first couple of months, but sacrifice now is worth living debt-free later. Once you stick to your financial philosophies and budget, you will see progress. Your mood, attitude, and feelings will change for the better. How long it takes to get rid of debt only depends on how much you owe. You got this!

I hope that I was able to help you with the emotional struggles of owing money. It’s totally possible to resolve all your bills; you just need to believe in yourself and master your mind. There will be struggles and days ahead where you feel like you “just can’t” — but you need to be strong and move forward. Keep being proactive.

If you have any questions or need me to clarify something, post a comment and I will reach out to you as soon as I can.

Thank you, friends, for stopping by! Take care and see you soon!

Peace Out,

Mr. Nahas

P.S. Don’t forget to visit my site, where my goal is to help as many people as possible!

What are your tips for feeling happier about your money?

Squatting Whole Body Health Benefits and Politics plus Video by da-AL

Picture me sitting on my haunches atop a conference table, assigned to perform an entertaining Toastmasters speech titled, “The benefits and the Politics of Squatting”…

Can you do this and smile? Image by edwindoms610 from Pixabay.

The subject first piqued my interest years ago, when my mom moved in with us. To make things extra comfy for all, we had some construction done on our snug home.

Each morning, a crew of men assembled under our backyard gazebo. Aged from early twenties to eighties, each hailed from Cambodia.

What intrigued me was the way they waited for each other to show up. In totally relaxed full-squats, the gentlemen sipped coffees, munched pastries, chatted, and smoked. Once all were there, they stood — not a one groaned or complained of creaky bones.

Lunch involved more of the same. They full-squatted as they passed around freshly steamed rice with fragrant grilled meat and veggies. Afterward, still squatting, they finished with smokes and maybe a sweet.

Squatting was still on my mind when, a couple of years later, I broke my knee twice in the same year. Torn cartilage, fractured bone, stretched tendon, blah, blah, blah. Ouch!!!! and Ohno!!! don’t begin to cover it.

Enter, Francisco Rufino, a gifted yoga instructor who pointed out that squatting keeps people in India free of knee and back problems.

Voila! Thanks to his suggestion that I squat five times a day, for thirty seconds each time, as I watched TV, my knee is so great that I never needed the surgery that two doctors prescribed! Yesterday I went for a terrific jog, no problemo!

By aligning muscles and organs from toes to neck, squatting aids in…

  • Getting rid of hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, and hernias.
  • Preventing heart attacks caused by straining on European-style toilets.
  • Alleviating incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
  • Making pregnancy easier.
  • Guarding reproductive organs, including protecting against prostate cancer.

So why don’t we do it more? When I gave the speech, at least one audience member expressed disgust. My h-a-unch is that we think we’re too good for it — and that includes politically. This Korean woman, married to an Anglo man, explains his chagrin when she and her family socialize while squatting.

Would your family be embarrassed if you performed full squats?

Keep calm and dance! plus Guest Blog Post by RoiJoyeux

How are you faring during this challenging time? I mean individually in your slice of the globe? Let’s all help each other — tell us — how do you keep your spirits high?

Screenshot from The Weeknd – Blinding Lights – Vintage Dance Choreography – Roberto F

“I do everything the man does, only backward and in high heels!” — Ginger Rogers

Here in Los Angeles, weeks ago, cleaning supplies were nowhere to be seen. Still, it wasn’t until I grocery shopped a couple of days ago that the sight of ravaged shelves was genuinely arresting. And then yesterday — things reached a tipping point. Long lines of heaped grocery carts, jammed parking lots… a friend canceled a much-planned birthday party, Iranian-American family shelved Persian New Year’s festivities…

Connecting with loved ones in any way I can, keeping fit — and having fun!! — are what keeps me afloat. Fortunately, everyone I know has their toilet paper and we’re all okay. That includes my family in worst-afflicted Iran, Italy, and Spain, along with Australia, Argentina, England, and Canada.

It also helps when my husband reminds me that people elsewhere have endured far worse for much longer. Another thing that lifts my spirits is when I visit blogs like RoiJoyeux’s. His is filled with kisses, interesting biographies of non-straight people, the treats he bakes for his loved ones, and dancing!…

“Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.” — Truman Capote (read, don’t watching his phenom “Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories.”)

Roijoyeux

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Guest Post: Alone on Valentine’s Day: I Promise, It’s OK by R.K.B.

Blogger/poet/writer/daydreamer R.K.B.

Is there a certain day that you least enjoy spending alone? Valentine’s Day is meant to be about love — let’s start with ourselves! It’s only a day — only one day — as are all days — wise reminders from guest blogger/ poet/ daydreamer/ writer R.K.B. …

Take a Shot -Facing Bipolar, Depression, Anxiety and Suicide

Lonely-WomanYou won’t die. It’s not the end of the world, but I know it feels like it.

I get it. This day might even cause you to become depressed every year.

This year, let’s change that.

You are still worthy. 

You are not worthless. 

You have love, because you love yourself.

I know, it sucks because you might want to know what it feels like to be spoiled on this day. Or maybe, you just would like to know what it feels like to be acknowledged and told that you are beautiful. Sure, you can take yourself on a date and get all dressed up, but you’d want to know the feeling of having someone else to appreciate it and share it with.

I get that, too.

This isn’t your typical, feel-good post about how “loving yourself will cure all wounds,” because even though that is true, nobody really wants…

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Guest Blog Post: Lynn Love’s Lessons in Novel Writing Rejection

How do you deal with rejection? Whether you’re a fellow novelist — or you adore reading fiction as much as I do — or simply you too are human — at some point we all experience disappointment and frustration.

Here, while I take time off to complete my upcoming novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” Lynn Love opens her heart to us. This is how she keeps rejection from getting the better of her novel writing…

Word Shamble

Image: Pixabay

Writing novels is a strange way to spend your life.

You take months (in my case, years) working alone on a project then there comes a point – if you want your baby to develop, to grow and not remain swaddled to your over-protective breast forever – when you must push what you’ve made into the world and watch from a safe distance to see if it will fall on its face or walk, perhaps even run.

But what if it manages to both face plant and saunter cockily round the block on the same day?

A few weeks ago, I learned I’d come second in a Writing Magazine competition (more on that nearer publication day). My prize was either a modest amount of cash or a critique of 9,000 words.

Now, as I’m a writer with heaps of artistic integrity and a yearning to polish my craft…

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Does Your Light Frighten You? by da-AL

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson, activist/author of, “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES,”

Marianne Williamson, activist/author of “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES”– Photo by Supearnesh – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

This famous quote — which surely Williamson is proud of however zillion times it’s attributed to Nelson Mandela — reminds me of how sneaky my fear of success can be. As a kid, I worried that setting myself apart would invite criticism, jealousy, and ostracism. My ultimate goal, I was firmly instructed when my imagination soared, was predetermined. Girls must be cute and sweet so they’d be attractive to boys. Women, I was told, were born to be wives and mothers.

Fears continue to gnaw at me. Now they’re sophisticated, requiring constant vigilance to upend them. Art begs an audience. When art is personal, it’s difficult to not give a damn what others might think, not to mention how wicked my own self-doubt can be. An hour after I was awarded an Emmy, a stranger asked me how the honor felt. My reply was blather. He reminded me that I had indeed won it…

Williamson is correct to point that that being our best benefits everyone. When I’m upset about my goals, I remind myself of her wise words.

Do you ever hold yourself back?