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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover of "Earthlings" by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings: A Novel by Sayaka Murata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you reading or writing lately?

Missing Dear Mooshie Cat by da-AL

The world is better for having had Mooshie Cat in it.

Dear, dear Mooshie, you are sorely missed. Time with one’s loved ones is never long enough, but how very much I wish I’d had just one more time with you to say goodbye, to thank you for being such an incredible little mate.

You were the spiritual mother of my husband. I know this because you took your self-appointed role quite seriously. That first meeting, you signaled to my soul-mate that he was yours. You reached your arm clear to your armpit, past the shelter cage bars, to swat at him. Repeatedly. Moreover, you sent your angel/employee (who also worked for Southeast Area Animal Control Authority (SEAACA), to urge us that your days were numbered.

You arrived home cuddled in my honey’s arms. You lay in his lap for hours, your locomotive purring tireless. As soon as you made it clear that you were family, you’d stand on your hind legs to slam a hefty (albeit with claws sheathed) kangaroo one-two punch at your sister, whenever your human son would pet her for even a second.

Now your spirit, whether in heaven or reincarnated, must be playing soccer. You’d command your ‘son” (you considered me a lousy player) to lob crumpled paper balls your way, for you to whack-whack-whack them across the room and back to him.

Eventually, you graduated to batting crickets — then mice — then small birds. I doubt our local tiny critters mourns your loss as we do. Your later choice to retire to my mother’s bed must have cause them to celebrate. Not so for my mother’s gentleman cat who you evicted from his formerly cozy stead.

Until all but the last few weeks of your seventeen-ish years, despite your loss of all but one tooth, your appetite was vigorous. From Cheerios and crackers to olives and cucumbers, you enjoyed everything so long as your beloved people dined on it too.

Your long-departed sister, for whom you had neither patience nor fondness,  allowed anyone to pet her. You, unlike her, saved your affection for just your intimates.

You made us feel truly special, dear Mooshie. You, our lovely girl, were the most special of cats. Rest in peace, beautiful soul.

Mooshie the Wonder Cat.

Dear reader, here and here and here is more about Mooshie. Do you have a non-human friend you miss a lot?

Guest Blog Post: Who is Family? by K E Garland

Photo of author/blogger K E Garland
Photo of author/blogger K E Garland.

Holidays and New Year celebrations are when messages about what family should and shouldn’t make me want to gag. They generalize everyone into one big homogenous lump.

That’s when I step back and take stock of the people I know. It does my heart good to see that we’re individuals — and that includes our families, the ones we make, or our lack thereof.

What are your thoughts on family?

Here blogger and author of books, K E Garland, describes how being adopted shapes her concept of family…

K E Garland

Being adopted has shaped the way I view who is family and who is not. When I found out I was adopted over thirty years ago, I saw the people around me in a different light. I saw them as strangers, yet I still accepted them as family because they had taught me to do so. I instantly realized that any combination of people could make a family.

img_8185In this way, I accepted my mother and father as my family unit. These were the people who’d decided to raise me from infancy as their own. They loved me, and I them. But when my mother died and my father gave up his parental rights, I began to question the definition. Was my adopted father not my father anymore simply because the Court said he wasn’t? I mean the Court deemed him my father in 1974, and so he was. Was…

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Happy Un-Holidays by da-AL

Still from John Water's film, "Female Trouble"

Not feeling holiday cheerful? Don’t despair — holidays are merely dates on the calendar. Before you know it, they’ll be over and done with.

Here’s confirmation that Xmas isn’t always merry — but life can still be funny or at least interesting. The Davenport family holidays, as realized by John Waters, the king cult film-making, with the help of Devine who departed from us far too soon…

Are you feeling holiday-ish?

Guest Blog Post: Tips for Sleuthing the Past by Margaret Lossi

Who'll your search turn up? Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com
Who will your search turn up? Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com

Writers and readers alike, for times we’d like to look into our histories, author Margaret Lossi offers tips for how to get started. My two novels are works-in-progresses! Lossi says that when it comes to looking up one’s family background, be prepared for surprises…

M.A. Lossl

The Family Tree

Warning: family history can lead to emotional discoveries.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but you begin at the end! That is, you begin with you.

Check your birth certificate, verify your parents. It may seem like a given, but just sometimes people find they are adopted, or their mum is really their grandma. It pays to check.

Check your parents birth certificates, to verify your grandparents. Then work your way back through the generations, verifying birth certificates.

These first steps build the strong foundation of your family tree, so worth doing well.

It is not a case of how far back you can go, but the quality of your data

You may wish to answer a family question. I knew my parents were second cousins, so wanted to find out about this link. Set yourself a goal to work towards. Whatever your motivation, make sure you verify each…

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Now We Are 2 (only): Sweet Lola is Sorely Missed by da-AL

Lola our black Labrador mix dog at the beach.
Lola our black Labrador mix dog at the beach.

Our home is too quiet, too empty without our dear Lola. Last Wednesday, she joined her twin brother, Pierre.

Lola our black Labrador mix dog when she was only a few months old.
Lola our black Labrador mix dog when she was only a few months old.

We were privileged to have her. Like Pierre, she was loyal in every way to the end. The two were trusting, kind, obedient, and fun loving.

Lola our black Labrador mix dog, to the right of her brother, Pierre.
Lola our black Labrador mix dog, to the right of her brother, Pierre.

Second in her heart only to her human family was her adored brother who passed away a few months ago. Hopefully, now they’re together, forever safe and happy.

Lola, our black Labrador mix dog, is sorely missed.
Lola, our black Labrador mix dog, is sorely missed.

A kind fellow blogger said that losing a dear pet never gets easier. Indeed it doesn’t…

Part 3: What Has Your Pet Taught You? by da-AL

Newborn Black Labrador Dog
Image courtesy of nixxphotography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Life with dogs…

The twin puppies we adopted ate and ate and ate. And pooed and pooed and pooed. Six months later, they’d grown to 50 and 50 pounds!

Plus, I’d learned nothing about training them.

One day…

As usual, for 10 deafening minutes, they barked at the mailman across the street. Later that day, they destroyed yet another throw rug.

“Bad dogs,” I snapped.

They were too busy chewing to hear me.

“Bad, bad, bad dogs!” I hollered, my voice shrill, my throat raw.

They sat. Four watery eyes gazed up at me.

Then…

Fear made them urinate on the carpet.

My thoughts reeled back. That was me! When I was only four years old!

Back then, I tried ever so hard to be good, yet I didn’t always succeed. My father would yell at me.

One time, he sounded as angry as I had when I’d hollered at my dogs. Same as with my two puppies, the big person’s anger blotted out my ability to think and hear. All I was able to do was to feel — that my father was furious at me — and that I was terrified.

All I knew was that he seemed angry enough to kill me. Out of terror, just like the dogs had, urine streamed down my legs.

Looking into my dogs’ upturned faces…

I saw how they trembled. The little dogs blinked their moist eyes hard.

Puppy Dog Eyes
Image courtesy of Tina Phillips at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tears…

Sobbing, I sank to my knees and hugged them. It had taken six long months for me to learn that, all along, they had been trying their best to please me. Despite my ineptitude as a trainer, they had refused to give up on me. They had given me the benefit of the doubt that like them, I was trying my best.

They never gave up hope on me…

They knew I would learn to love them. Through the example of my pets, I’ve learned that the more I gaze upon everyone in my life with the benefit of a doubt, the happier we all are. We’re all doing our best, even when we could do better.

Do dogs forgive?

Here’s part 1 of this and here’s part 2.

Do you have an interesting animal experience?…

Guest Blog Post: The Little Guy Who Stole Our Hearts by Debbie Centeno

Live long enough, and we’re bound to encounter challenges. With the help of a friend, Debbie Centeno (who runs this blog and this blog) uses her grief to help others…

Chewy

I never knew how much a person could grow to love their pet. I wasn’t raised with pets, other than fish in a tank. And, there’s no way you can take them out of the tank to play, pet or cuddle. I just loved my aquarium but in a materialistic way. As an adult, I didn’t think about getting a pet since I was quite busy with three children. But, after my oldest son passed away, and my two other children were no longer small kids, my daughter convinced me to get a dog. So we opted for a rescue.

Chewy as a puppy

I made a few calls to see what dogs were available to adopt. We found a place that had a mama dog who had recently given birth to seven puppies – six female and one male. The male was the runt and was rejected by his mama, but I wanted a female. That was until we met the little guy, of course. All puppies were side by side sleeping on their tummies, except the little runt who was sleeping on his back almost on top of his sisters. He was much smaller than the others. When I saw him – well, I don’t know what I felt, but I just had to have him, so the volunteer picked him up and placed him in my arms, and that was it. I was in love. I handed him to my husband, and he felt the same way. So off we were with a 5-week old 2-pound Chihuahua/Dachshund mix. We named him Chewy, and it suits him well.

Chewy buckled up in a car

Chewy is now 6-years old and 20 lbs. I can’t imagine life without him and don’t regret having followed my daughter’s advice. He is the most loving, spoiled brat ever who stole our hearts. I know he’s not human, but for me, he’s my baby.

Debbie Centaro

Debbie Centeno is a wife, a grieving mom, an accountant, and a travel blogger. Learn more about her here and here.

Guest Blog Post: “How Pets Help Raise Kids” in Emily Parker’s exact words

Emily Parker and Gus
Emily Parker and Gus

Blogger Emily Parker describes herself as, “A proud cat parent of two black cats, Gus and Louis (even though Gus only has one eye!). I help cat parents love their cats better by providing helpful articles on my website.”

Click here for her “How Pets Help Raise Kids” infographic.

Have pets helped raise kids you know?

Now We Are 3 (only) by da-AL

Pierre, da-AL, Lola, K-D
Pierre a few months ago, at about 14 years old.

This morning I stayed in bed till late. I was awake, but I didn’t want to get up to a house without Pierre in it.

Yesterday I had to put my dog down. Such a gentle euphemism for murder. To put one to sleep. My dear, dear dog-man trusted me, yet I tricked him. First by lulling him into thinking it was a normal day by asking my husband to roast a chicken at home that delighted his nose and soothed his belly. But afterward a vet arrived. She knotted a tourniquet at his rear thigh, shaved an area below it, and injected a sedative. His fitful gasping evened, his pain-blinded stare softened. Amid caresses and loving murmurs, the vet administered a second shot to finish him off.

My dear Pierre at 9 months old.

But Pierre lingered within his peaceful half-sleep. So another shave. Then a third shot to a different leg. That one finally killed him.

Nicer ways exist to frame this, but my heart won’t listen to the many fine arguments for how, whether, and when.

No, I don’t know of a better way to have done it. When his kidneys began to fail, and arthritis increasingly ravaged his days and nights, I promised us two things; he’d never take another trembling ride to a vet, and he’d never be wet again (he was a Labrador mix one-of-a-kind who hated water).

Fortunately, we could afford to have a vet to visit our home for those final injections. Fortunately, I could be with Pierre, my sweetest, most uncomplicated of friendships and loves. Fortunately, he’d lived a good long life, as dog lives go.

Pierre at 8 weeks old.

All the same, this was the awfullest decision I hope ever to make.

Life is beautiful, merciless, humbling.

Pierre (right) with his twin sister.

As much as our recent time together — these months of arranging throw rugs, moving furniture, closing doors so he wouldn’t get tangled among legs or be locked into rooms or slip and not be able to get back up, all which upset him to no end — these months of his hobbled struggle to follow me everywhere and to share walks with his sisters even though he’d fall within a few steps from home — this stoic period when, despite his waning appetite, he’d eat all that my family hand fed him while I experimented with healing remedies and weight gaining foods — this era when we set ramps and nudged him up and I learned the trick to gathering his 55 pounds into my arms to navigate down — these weeks of carrying him outside to pee in the middle of the night because the shame of soiling his diapers showed naked in his eyes (debilitated kidneys need volumes more water to compensate)…

Pierre (right) in better times.

and even though yesterday was the worst, today not a whole lot better…

I am thankful for every moment we shared. Hopefully, he knew he was loved…