Cancer’s 3 Blessings by da-AL


Holidays and increased pandemic restrictions got you down? Hopefully, this tale of hardwon positivity will give you a boost to “keep calm and carry on.”

Cancer's 3 Blessings by da-AL

I’ve always been a writer, but before I became a novelist, I was a journalist. Years ago, a non-profit agency that helps people deal emotionally with cancer hired my business partner and me to produce a video. The afternoon we were to tape a talk-therapy group, I braced myself.

Turns out, these were no mere survivors. They were warriors committed to squeezing all the wonderfulness from every moment they had left. Those people, sick as they were, regarded cancer as a blessing.

To my mind, they were kidding either themselves or me. Nonetheless, the tears I shed behind my camera lens gave way to smiles by the session’s end. Their stories, to my amazement, had uplifted me. I left certain they were made of far sterner stuff than me.

Forward to some years later… In 2007, I was diagnosed with cancer.

To put it mildly, I was scared shi…er…witless. So freaked that I couldn’t sleep for a month. Fighting with insurance and doctors added extra hell to the nightmare.

It took me time… a long while… to understand what those people spoke of. Eventually, though, same as for them, cancer has enhanced my life.

These are only three of the many blessings that cancer imparted to me:

1. Staying focused and positive leads me to my highest self.

Round the clock, I obsessed while I waited for my illness to be categorized and quantified.

How did I get this? How to rid myself of it? How do I ensure it never touches my life again? How will my illness hurt my loved ones? How much longer until I die?

In desperation, I thought a detox could be the answer. If the lump could be sweated out, then hot yoga might do that. Insane with fear as I was, suddenly the prospect of exercising in 105-plus-degrees sounded worth trying.

It took conventional medicine (which I complimented with many alternative therapies) to resolve my cancer — but hot yoga healed me in other ways. The laser focus needed to survive those initial classes renewed my spirit. The full-length mirrors taught me as much as the instructors did.

For one thing, when I thought only of how miserable I felt, I couldn’t do any of the poses. For another, if I did them while truly experiencing a positive word such as “healthy,” “happy,” “joy,” or “love,” I fared way better. My reflection confirmed it.

2. All of us deserve to live.

You might’ve already guessed from the above, I was raised (like, I suspect, too many other little girls and children in general) to doubt and re-doubt myself…

At the height of my frustration, I decided that because I had never accomplished anything extraordinary and probably never would, I did not deserve to live.

That rocked me — clear into the second wisdom that cancer imparted. Deciding I was no better than a cockroach or a flea made me realize if they deserve to live, so do I! My ordinary mortal best is enough.

3. Sometimes happiness comes effortlessly. Sometimes I have to fight for it, but it’s worth it. Life is meant to be joyful.

Perpetual dread that the worst was near eclipsed my life. Then I had the good luck to meet a volunteer for The American Cancer Society. She’d had cancer twenty years earlier and listened patiently to what I was going through.

Then she relayed the story of someone she knew. After ten years of being cancer-free, her friend still continually waited for cancer to hit again, and this time worse. In the meantime, several of that friend’s loved ones had passed away from accidents and natural causes. The volunteer reasoned, “No one can predict the future, not when we’re going to die or from what.”

I’ve never forgotten her words, how lucky each of us is lucky for every breath we take.

What has a seemingly overwhelming challenge taught you?

8 Tips 2 Better Customer Service & Better Health Care by da-AL


Happy
blakeverdoornphoto.com for unsplash.com

Are you a creative person, writer, novelist, or anyone who feels like our precious time is being wasted ironing out issues with companies? I firmly believe when one consumer fights for fairness, they help all of us. With that in mind, here’s some of what works for me, especially when I’ve experienced horribly challenging times with health insurance such as the time I dealt with going through the terribleness of cancer and also when I injured my knee.

What are your tips for how to get decent service from big companies?

If your health coverage is through your employer, chances are the personnel department mediates things for you.

The rest of us like me must slug it out on our own. Before listing some of the tactics I’ve gathered which can be used anywhere and with any type of business, I owe great thanks to Obamacare.

Here in California it’s implemented as Covered California (Obamacare’s official name is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for short.) Thanks to ObamaCare, it is illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against gender and pre-existing conditions other than tobacco use. Moreover, it ensures everyone is covered.

Note to Californians: Most know Covered California subsidizes health insurance for individuals with low incomes. (Medi-Cal helps those with zero income.) Few are aware it can broker for anyone. They’re a formidable mediator with excellent customer service! Thanks to them, it was a heck of a lot easier to work out my insurance problems.

 

  1. Above all else, stay solution-oriented and tenacious.
  2. Be emphatic about what you need and why. Make sure they know how important this is to you. Don’t settle for their doing what’s easiest for them, not you.
  3. Telephoning in addition to emailing can give more immediate and thorough results. Phone when they’re least busy: early on weekdays. Barring that, after 7pm. Forget about weekends. Even if they’re open, they’re likely super busy and their decision-makers are off-duty.
  4. Don’t waste time. Again, telephoning and not leaving things to all to email is the most effective. When using the phone, the moment they start to give you the runaround, ask to speak to their supervisor. If they’re totally obtuse, hang up and redial so you might encournter someone different to speak with. Later, be sure to fill out an online grievance form.
  5. If a grievance is not rectified within 30 days, it’s easy to file a lawsuit with the state. To find out how to do this without having to pay a private lawyer, google “how to file a consumer lawsuit.” In the case of health insurance, your broker can advise you.
  6. Don’t take things personally. Stay focused. For everyone but you, it’s just business.
  7. Refuse “No.”
  8. Keep notes regarding: A) who you spoke with, B) number you dialed, date, and time of day, C) a transaction case ID number or whatever identifier they might use, i.e., a “ticket number.”

Good luck! I’m rooting for you for all our sakes! Please add your tips below…

unsplash.com blakeverdoorn.com
Thank you unsplash.com blakeverdoorn.com

Edinburgh Art: U.S. + Notorious Lesbian Book + U.K. Landform by da-AL


Tourists 1970, by Duane Hanson 1925-1996, constructed of polyester resin, fiberglass, and mixed media.

“A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome.” (Believed by some to have been penned by Alain de Lille in 1175.)

Bunches writers of stacks novels borrow and twist that proverb. The way it relates to this dilemma is — have you ever returned home from a trip and waited so long to sort your photos that you no longer remember where you saw what? Worse, did a pandemic come along and toss your blog posting plans to the winds? Those, my friend, are my excuses for this post.

Do you, like me, find yourself measuring time as ‘pre-pandemic,’ ‘early pandemic,’ etc.?

Not all that very long ago, in pre-pandemic Scotland, I was pleasantly reacquainted with a couple of fellow Americans, both of them artists. Remember Cabbage Patch Kids (o-m-g!!! I just Googled them — they’re still manufactured!?)? The dolls, IMHO vomitous as they are, remind me of Duane Hanson’s art, who respect tremendously. He started as overtly political. Later he segued into depictions of sorely neglects folks and subjects, this way and this way. His life-casts here are portrayed as a couple, yet in real life they never met. Incorrigibly Floridian, they stand out in Edinburgh…

Tourists 1970, by Duane Hanson 1925-1996, constructed of polyester resin, fiberglass, and mixed media.
Tourists 1970, by Duane Hanson 1925-1996, constructed of polyester resin, fiberglass, and mixed media.

“The subject matter that I like best deals with the familiar lower and middle-class American types of today. To me, the resignation, emptiness, and loneliness of their existence capture the true reality of life.” (Artist Duane Hanson)

Rain and more rain; that’s what we got in Scotland. Wetness and all, it was marvelous! The people were kind and down-to-earth, the food was good… a welcome change from the So Cal droughts! There was so much to see that I’m forced to must split Scotland into more than one post. We’d landed in London and had fun at the British Museum here and here and here. Then we drove to Bath, then admired Avebury and a bit of Wales on the route to Stokesay Castle. Later, the Kelpies of Scotland were amazing! Scotland alone had so much wonderfulness that I’m forced to split it into more than one post!

Now this same Edinburgh gallery (or maybe it was at another place, perhaps in Glasgow?) also featured work by my fave modern artist, he of the Campbell’s soup cans and he who may or may not have said that thing about everyone getting fifteen minutes of fame, Andy Warhol

Shoe and Handbag, 1960, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Graphite and gouache on paper. In the 1950s, before Andy became a pop art icon, he was a mega-successful commercial artist. By the note on the bottom right, even he had probs with picky bosses like this one who hated this purse.
Shoe and Handbag, 1960, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Graphite and gouache on paper. In the 1950s, before Andy became a pop art icon, he was a mega-successful commercial artist. By the note on the bottom right, even he had probs with picky bosses like this one who hated this purse.

 

A Field of Blue Children, 1951-52, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink and dye on paper. Andy and I agree that Truman Capote was an amazing writer. This is the only surviving piece from Andy's solo exhibition of fifteen drawings based on Truman's work.
A Field of Blue Children, 1951-52, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink and dye on paper. Andy and I agree that Truman Capote was an amazing writer. This is the only surviving piece from Andy’s solo exhibition of fifteen drawings based on Truman’s work.

 

Here Lies the Heart, 1957, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink and graphite (a.k.a. pencil) on paper. Only later was this used for the autobiography of Mercedes de Acosta (1893-1968). Of Spanish/Cuban descent, she was known for her poems, plays, and novels. And also for romancing the likes of Great Garbo, Isadora Duncan, and Marlene Dietrich, to name but a few!
Here Lies the Heart, 1957, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink and graphite (a.k.a. pencil) on paper. Only later was this used for the autobiography of Mercedes de Acosta (1893-1968). Of Spanish/Cuban descent, she was known for her poems, plays, and novels. And also for romancing the likes of Great Garbo, Isadora Duncan, and Marlene Dietrich, to name but a few!

 

Foot with Cat, 1955-57, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink on paper. A page from one of many books Andy made, some for himself, some to showcase his talent to clients.
Foot with Cat, 1955-57, by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Ink on paper. A page from one of many books Andy made, some for himself, some to showcase his talent to clients.

Here’s Landform by Charles Jencks beyond rainy windows (rain-less view here) of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh…

Landform, 2002, by Charles Jencks (b. 1939)
Landform, 2002, by Charles Jencks (b. 1939)

Have you ever mixed up vacation pix? Or completely lost them? Ulp, I have… And do you, like me, find yourself measuring time as ‘pre-pandemic,’ ‘early pandemic,’ etc.?

To Dance Argentine Tango is a Miracle: 2 videos by da-AL


Some time ago, I messed up my left knee big time in a skiing accident. This is a revival of an older post, one that I wish brings hope to anyone who’s feeling frustrated — about anything. My recovery from that mishap was horrendous, as was dealing with insurance. It wasn’t till six months later that I had healed enough to schedule the surgery I was informed that I needed. A few weeks before the big day, however, I slipped and broke more parts of the same knee. That second fall meant postponing surgery.

A blessing! As I waited anew for the surgery, I met a wonderful orthopedist who suggested that I might not need cutting after all! Lo and behold, within a year and a half later, my knee was — and remains almost perfect! I can dance!

Here are a couple of short clips of my husband and me at the very start of our learning new Tango Elegante steps taught to us by the best Argentine Tango teachers ever! Btw, if you’d like to learn how to edit video, I found this youtube video on how to use iMovie very helpful.

 

Want to try learning? Here are excellent teachers online…

Did you know that dogs like to dance too? Ours does!

Pandemic Anxiety by da-AL & Panic Attack Rescue by Caz


For some of us who prefer people to keep a generous distance, which may or may not include fellow novelists, I imagine this whole sheltering-in-place aspect of COVID-19 — the 6’ apart as well as the masks, the zoom meetings — maybe it’s easier for you? Of course, some of us are genuinely fortunate; my dear ones are well, including dear little K-D-doggie who takes quite seriously her officially unofficial job as furry emotional support.

Video exercise helps me, especially with my friend by my side to break up the surrealism. So does acquiring new blogger gadgets like a selfie stick — gawd! it took COVID for me to succumb to the very thing I was too snooty to try.
Video exercise helps me, especially with my friend by my side to break up the surrealism. So does acquiring new blogger gadgets like a selfie stick — gawd! it took COVID for me to succumb to the very thing I was too snooty to try.

Social or not though, who among us isn’t at least somewhat phased that our world is turned upside down? As I said, I’m doing well.

Those zoom meeting backgrounds, however, are starting to creep me out for how they squiggle the outlines of otherwise human-appearing folks. Speaking of human likenesses, in the way that some fear red-nosed clowns, these days I can barely handle the increasingly detailed emoji avatars (though apparently they’re invaluable to virtual teaching and after the video at this site, and also at this site, I’m rethinking them, plus did you know that they’re total cash cows?). Add in the photo filters that give people preternaturally big eyes, bunny noses and ears… What do you think of them?

Here’s another question: moments — do you, like me, find that life is basically great (barring doomsday thoughts about politics) — and then bang! Uneasiness slithers into everything, and I don’t mean the cute Halloween “boo!” type.

Meet Caz, a London blogger with kindness so immense that she converts her experience into wisdom to heal us. She’s learned a lot, now and when she worked in mental health. Here she shares about anxiety and how we can calm it…

How to manage panic attacks by Caz

As someone who’s experienced severe panic attacks, I understand just how frightening and debilitating they are. I never want to experience another one and if this is you too, let’s look at how to prevent them. First tho’, in order to overcome panic attacks, you’ll need to understand what they are.

What is a panic attack or panic disorder?

We’ve all had feelings of anxiety – it’s our body’s natural response to stress, and it’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. For example, you may feel anxious about a job interview. During times like this, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal but some people find it harder to control their anxieties. The most severe form of anxiety can trigger panic attacks.

We have panic attacks and panic disorder; one episode is a panic attack, which might occur following the death of someone close or another stressful situation. Panic disorder is when you experience regular and subsequent attacks. It’s a common yet very misunderstood illness and lots of people with this disorder won’t ever seek help due to fear and stigma.

The attacks can occur often and at any time, seemingly for no apparent reason. It feels like a sudden, unexpected rush of intense fear and anxiety along with a flood of frightening thoughts and physical sensations – so, panic attacks are not merely psychological.

What you should know about panic disorder

  • Many of the symptoms of panic attack are similar to some physical illnesses i.e. heart attack or over-active thyroid.
  • It’s a chronic condition and can lead to changes in behaviour like avoiding situations or events.
  • People dread the onset of another attack, and the fear of having one is just as debilitating as the attacks themselves.
  • Panic disorder knows no boundaries as it affects people of all socio-economic groups and races. It’s more common in women than men. It can also affect children and the elderly.
  • Although the exact causes are unclear, panic disorders can run in families.
  • While many attacks are be triggered by stressful life events, they can also occur ‘out of the blue’.
  • Be aware – anti-malaria medication, cold and flu medications, appetite suppressants and even too much caffeine can trigger panic attacks in some people.

If you experience panic attacks, you might then begin to avoid events or situations because you’re afraid of another attack. However, avoidance can create a cycle of living in “fear of the fear”, which adds to your sense of panic. This can cause you to have more panic attacks, leading to diagnosis of panic disorder

What are the symptoms of Panic?

If we encounter a situation that threatens our safety, we’ll experience a series of reactions known as the ‘fight or flight’ response – triggered by the release of chemicals that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to flee to safety.

During a panic attack, we’ll experience similar symptoms, even when there’s no real threat involved. A panic attack might happen in response to situations that others find harmless. Symptoms include physical and physiological symptoms:

  • Racing heartbeat, palpitations
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or nausea
  • Difficulty breathing, like you can’t get enough air
  • Dry mouth and unable to swallow – if you do need fluids, just take smalls sips to avoid choking
  • Shaking, trembling
  • Sweating and hot flushes or sudden chills
  • Sudden need to go to the toilet, the body needs to lighten to fight or flee
  • Numbness or tingling sensations, initially in your fingers and toes
  • Your face, feet and hands might go white (as with the tingling, this is the blood leaving your extremities to rush to where it’s needed most i.e. heart and muscles)
  • Chest pains – you might think you’re having a heart attack – one way to tell is – if your fingers and toes are tingling, you’re more likely to be having a panic attack. However, if you’re afraid always dial 999 to check

You might experience negative thoughts

  • I’m so embarrassed, everyone can see me panicking
  • “I feel like I’m dying” or “I’m dying”, or “I’m having a heart attack.”
  • I can’t cope with this!

and feelings of:

  • You’re going mad or crazy.
  • Being out of physical or emotional control.
  • Unreality/detachment from yourself or your surroundings.
  • Heightened sound and visual awareness, and hypervigilance (for flight or flee you need to hear and see clearly and be vigilant).

A panic attack generally lasts between 4 – 20 minutes, although it often feels a lot longer. However, they have been known to last an hour. I had them one after another, and all night for around three months and it felt like torture.

What to do if you’re having a panic attack

  • Breathe as slowly and deeply as possible, exhaling firstly through your mouth – slowly for a count of 8-10 seconds, then in through your nose slowly and so on.
  • Recognise that this is a panic attack and tell yourself that it will pass, because it will.
  • Try to get to a quiet space and sit down if necessary and continue with the breathing.
  • If you’re at work or outside, ask for help, I know this might feel a little embarrassing, but do ask if you need to.
  • Count backwards slowly from 100 or
  • Look around for 5 things that you can see and name them out loud i.e. “I can see a truck,” etc. You can go onto things you can hear, smell, taste, or touch in the same way – until the panic subsides. This technique will help you stay in the present and grounded by using your five senses.
  • Use muscle relaxation techniques – try slumping your shoulders, letting them drop down from your ears, give your jaw a little wiggle then let it relax, uncross your legs, unclench your fists and lay the palms of your hands lightly on your thighs (remind yourself that your body cannot be relaxed and tense at the same time).
  • Put a few drops of lavender (known to ease anxiety) on a tissue, exhale then breathe it in slowly.
  • Dial 999 if the symptoms continue or get worse.

What to do if someone else is having a panic attack

  • Ask the person if they’ve had a panic attack before, and what they think might help them or has helped them in the past.
  • Encourage them (or tell them quite firmly if they’re confused and unable to follow directions) to breathe (as above). Do this with them if necessary, as often they think they can’t breathe and won’t be able to do this alone.
  • Follow the above steps and call 999 if necessary.

Self-help to combat panic attacks

  • Listen (regularly) to free mental wellbeing audio guides online.
  • Search and download relaxation and mindfulness apps or online community apps.
  • Learn other skills like visualisation to help you relax and practice them often.
  • Notice when your body is tense i.e. when your shoulders are up round your ears or your fists are clenched and let them relax. When your body is constantly tensed up, it’s effectively telling your brain you’re on alert, tensed and ready to fight or flee.
  • Ask your close friends or family members to support you by gently pointing out when you’re all hunched up and tense. Even better, perhaps they’ll give you a light head massage, or lightly rub your arms and hands in a soothing way.
  • Practice the breathing exercises often so that you’ll be able to use them easily when needed.
  • Try mixing lavender oil with other aromatherapy oils like geranium to produce your own stress reliever.

I can’t stress enough the need to practice the coping techniques. You know you wouldn’t be able to drive say on a motorway after having just one lesson. It takes practice!

Treatment for Panic attacks

Treatment aims to reduce the number of panic attacks you have and ease your symptoms.

  • Psychological (talking) therapies and medicine are the main treatments for panic disorder
  • Depending on your symptoms, you may need either of these treatments, or a combination of both

When to get help

  • If you’re having suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help. Or talk to someone close.
  • See a GP if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of panic disorder. Regardless of how long you’ve had the symptoms, if panic attacks are interfering with your life, work, or relationships you should seek professional help.
  • Although panic disorder is a medical condition in its own right, there can sometimes be a physical reason for your symptoms – and treating it can bring the anxious feelings to an end. See your GP to rule out any other causes and don’t self-diagnose.

Over to you

The above lists are not exhaustive, and you may other tips for readers which you can leave in the comment section. Please feel free to make any other comments and ask any questions.

Dear readers, I hope you’re well and happy — share your tips in the comments — whining whiners (and wine?) welcome too!

Gandhi, Hitler, a Book, & Dog/God by da-AL plus Cheryl Batavia’s poem


“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” — supposedly Mahatma Gandhi said that. (Isn’t this picture of him great? He’s drafting a document at Birla House, Mumbai, August 1942. My novel-writer side can’t help but wonder if he knew that writing longhand enhances creativity — and I bet intelligence!) First off, he didn’t….

Gandhi drafting a document at Birla House, Mumbai, August 1942.
By Kanu Gandhi – gandhiserve.org, Public Domain.

Second off, if anyone said it, is it true? I love animals and have followed a vegetarian diet for years. All the same, I’m definitely nowhere near a saint, particularly given my now-and-again deviations into the hypocracy of eating fish. My father was wicked to his family, yet tears rolled down his cheeks when he heard that local geese were slaughtered. Hitler and was a vegetarian for the last part of his life. And he adored his dog, Blondi

Photo of Hitler with a dog.
Hitler & dog. Photo by Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051673-0059 / CC-BY-SA, CC BY-SA 3.0 de

What I know for sure is that when I see someone acting kindly toward an animal, it makes me feel like there’s a soul somewhere within their despicableness…

Scratch the last paragraph — that was just my lazy brain leaning on clichés to please you with niceties, gentle reader. It was my typing falling into well-worn grooves of platitudes. Really, if someone is mean and shows neither remorse nor interest in reforming themselves, if people around them erect the scaffolding to sustain their meanness… well… Delving into morality is too lengthy to weave into this post.Cover of "Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey," by Kathleen Rooney

Here, look! My fingers have switched gears to copy this for you: a paragraph from wise and poetic Kathleen Rooney’s latest novel. She was a Happiness Between Tails guest to tell about her amazing Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, and then to tell us about her newest tale, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. Her Cher Ami book is written in the style of first-person characterizations of various humans and Cher Ami, a true-life heroic pigeon who saved many World War I soldiers’ lives.

The most dazzling chapters are those through Cher Ami’s eyes. I’m about halfway through the book and am most recently awed by this bit of feathered philosophizing. Cher Ami thinks this about the soldiers:

“Sometimes they renamed animals as different animals. They called the canned corned beef in their rations “monkey meat” and referred to their body lice as “shirt rabbis.” They’d pick the insects off one another, comparing themselves to apes grooming in some great gray zoo. I could tell that many of the men felt terribly lonely, helpless and estranged from their fellow soldiers, but they were never alone and never powerless thanks to all the life that depended on them, the lice and the rats and the mice. Each man was the miserable monarch of a kingdom that squirmed with vermin, one that consisted of the dirt and the bit of sky each one could see from the dirt of their feet in their boots, of their boots in the mud — a kingdom all but indistinguishable from a grave.” An excerpt from Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney, who also wrote marvelous Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

About dogs…

So okay, I’m not one to dwell on whether ”God,” the kind with a capital “G,” exists. But the fact that Dog spells God backwards in English — isn’t that an interesting metaphor for how even the worst dirtbags among us can experience the love of a dog? (Here’s a post where I dip another toe into that conversation.)

Dogs… their lives are far far too short!!!! They get better and better with age, more perceptive of our needs, more adoring of us, and ready to kiss us for our slightest kindness. Just the other night, my husband mistakenly called our current dear doggie by the name of one of our two dogs who passed away — when? yesterday? two years ago? — either feels not much different at times (a bit about that here and more on it here). My heart goes out to a good friend who sweet Bambi-faced furry girl passed away recently… In these times of the COVID pandemic especially, our pets do so much for us. It’s no wonder that more folks are adopting furry family lately.

Now here’s Cheryl Batavia, a.k.a. The Gulf Coast Poet, to put smiles on our faces. A nature-lover, she blogs from Florida and has published books for all ages. She can also be reached via email.

Photo of Cheryl Batavia at Manasota Beach, FL, Gulf of Mexico, by Stephanie Snow Photography.
Photo of Cheryl Batavia at Manasota Beach, FL, Gulf of Mexico, by Stephanie Snow Photography.

Tribute to a Family Dog; In loving memory of Clifford, 2001-2015

Copyright© 2020 by Cheryl Batavia, a.k.a. The Gulf Coast Poet

Enthusiasm

Your spirit is enthusiasm!

When you wag your tail,

your entire body shimmies.

You leap high into the air

to catch popcorn in your mouth,

drool at the dairy drive-thru,

anticipating your ice cream cone.

You swim far out into the lake,

to fetch a stick…

and swim back to fetch again.

You run alongside a wheelchair

that travels eight miles an hour,

keep pace with kids

on rollerblades and bicycles.

When I come home from work,

you greet me at the door,

all four feet in the air!

Clifford at age fourteen. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Clifford at age fourteen. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Friendliness

Friendliness is your persona!

You show open-hearted affection

for family, friends, neighbors…

and kindly strangers.

Grandmothers are your favorites…

The feeling is mutual!

The vet, when you are boarded,

locates you in a run where you can

greet all those who come and go…

You are overjoyed!

Katey Batavia and Clifford at Miami Beach, FL. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Katey Batavia and Clifford at Miami Beach, FL. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Love

Your aura is love!

Love radiates from your eyes,

shimmers from your wagging tail.

Love is you resting near us,

ignoring the sassy new cat,

not snatching the Thanksgiving

turkey cooling on the countertop.

Somehow, you know we’ll share.

Love is barking at things

that go “bump” in the night.

Love is wet kisses, warm cuddles,

and sharing group hugs.

Joe and Katey Batavia joined Clifford in his crate. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Joe and Katey Batavia joined Clifford in his crate. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Empathy

Empathy is in your soul!

You have a silly smile,

know family members by name,

understand most of what we say.

You talk to us with

unintelligible vocalizations…

We try really hard to understand!

You are happy when we are happy.

You comfort us when we are sad.

When we are injured,

you lick our wounds.

Petted and praised,

you know you are loved!

Tell us — what are your thoughts about the bonds between humans and the rest of the creature world? Or about anything else you want to discuss?…

27 Blog Tips, Word Fun, & More by da-AL


Are you sprouting something new under your mask?

Are you sprouting something new under your mask?
Are you sprouting something new under your mask?
  1. Grooming or the lack of it under our anti-COVID masks.
  2. Words so special to a country that we borrow theirs, such as “Schadenfreude.”
  3. Blogging tips.

What do they have in common? They’re among the activities that have unexpectedly cropped up since we’ve been sheltering-in-place.

  • Hair: Some friends are letting theirs grow. Others have shaved their scalps. A bunch are letting their color and texture go natural.
This friend's working-from-home mustache looks so cool! I had to grow one my own!
This friend’s working-from-home mustache looks so cool! I had to grow one my own!
  • Authors are digging into writing and stats show that readers are reading for fun again. That’s how I discovered “Schadenfreude.” It’s an English noun borrowed from two German words, Schaden ‘harm’ and Freude ‘joy.’ Combined, they refer to pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

On my Facebook page, I invited friends to riff on “Schadenfreude”…

Pam Christmas: I enjoy singing it to the tune of Danke Schoen. Schadenfreude, darling, schadenfreude. A favorite word and feeling.

Angela L Brown: Holy crap! Did that dude who keeps yelling about my dogs just get bit by his own?! Schadenfreude, sucka!

Stella B. Katz: Here’s a GREAT example of what Yuman is feeling. My Yuman will be experiencing Schadenfreude when Drumpf loses in November.

Chrys Mumma: I hope when I experience schadenfreude, that I recognize it as hateful.

Robb Fulcher: Carl Jung surpassing his former mentor gave me Sigmund Schadenfreude.

Tao Walker: I cannot help but have this feeling of schadenfreude over the Jerry Falwell Jr. scandal.

Bonnie Noble Pacego: Lily felt schadenfreude when she secretly found the loot the robber dropped as he fled the bank!

Beth Pottiger Gorman: The schadenfreude on Johnny’s face was obvious when he found the baseball someone else left lay.

Corky Anderson: Rump = Schadenfreude “joy at the misfortune of another.”

John Saffery’s link here.

Carol Snyder Jarvela: I prefer the southern belle term “mean bitch thrill.” It’s easier to spell and is self-explanatory.

Peter Basson: Me and my friend, Sigmund, were very hot so we stood in the schadenfreude.

Susan Sobon: Trump is a master of schadenfreude.

  • Lastly, people are doing more blogging, vlogging, and podcasting!

I listed some of what I’ve learned about blogging in a prior post. In no particular order, here are more tips I’ve gathered while working on my own blog and visiting other sites. Feel free to add your own insights in the comments section.

  1. Nothing detracts from a post as much as poor writing. The software that comes with a word processor isn’t enough. Fortunately, lots of useful apps like Grammarly have decent free versions.
  2. Reading aloud helps tremendously. Sometimes I even have my word processor read to me. That way, I can hear how my writing sounds without my own inflections.
  3. Finding an empty ‘about’ page feels like maybe there isn’t a real person managing the site. And when there’s no photo, I hope the blogger isn’t worried that their looks will frighten people.
  4. It doesn’t take much to keep a site’s background theme from looking cookie-cutter by adding photos and changing colors.
  5. Composing a post: sometimes WordPress leaves important messages in the right column.
  6. Ideas are precious. I capture mine by texting myself or jotting them into the notes section of my smartphone.
  7. Before publishing a post, I check how it looks on a smartphone, desktop, and tablet. Sometimes I need to replace a photo and break up my text more.
  8. Dimensions for photos: this is a fabulous link.
  9. Featured photos: a) make sure to select one, and b) lately, I’ve noticed that people who’re successful on social media add text to their main pictures. Canva’s free version does an adequate job.
  10. My workspace: desk clutter saps my creativity and efficiency. I try to keep only what I’m working on in front of me, and every night I tidy up.
  11. Sound: A fan, such as the one inside my compact space heater, is impressive at muting noise pollution.
  12. SEO, a.k.a. “search engine optimization”: to help get at the top of internet searches, use keywords in post headings and first sentences.
  13. Heading: again for SEO, keep them 70 characters or shorter.
  14. Categories: select less than ten.
  15. Tags: five is plenty.
  16. Visitors enjoy interacting with their fave bloggers. Ask readers to subscribe and share. End posts with something they can comment on.
  17. Invite visitors to look around your site by linking posts to other posts.
  18. Images: only use ones you have legal rights for (royalty-free is fab) and always credit where you got them from.
  19. Befriend other sites like yours — visit, comment, link, and meet their fans.
  20. Reblogs are lovely—and even nicer when introduced with comments of your own. Add your thoughts when you click “reblog” or later within your site’s editor.
  21. Composing Posts: Begin them with a sense of where you’re going, and conclude them with a quick review.
  22. It takes time and care (a.k.a. love) to compose a blog post that’s worth reading.
  23. Good writing is all about rewriting. Let a post sit, then review it a couple of hours later or the next day.
  24. Continually study how to use social media more effectively.
  25. Hosting: Self-hosting works for some. In my case, I use WordPress dot com and find that having them host my site is inexpensive and easy. Also, most of my followers come to me via the WordPress Reader, which I don’t think is available on self-hosted.
  26. It’s never too early to start collecting an email list — ugh! — in my case, I’m learning this far too late, so I’m now researching how best to start mine.
  27. WordPress Editor: Frustrated by WordPress’ block editor? I still mostly use Classic and here I explain how.

Let me know how you like my first attempt at adding a poll…

 

What tips have you learned? If you’re using self-hosted WordPress dot org, do you have a way to get your posts listed on the WordPress Reader?

WordPress Classic vs. Block Editor Blog How-To by da-AL


Photo of da-AL asking whether you prefer WordPress Classic or Block Editor.

Readers and writers alike, happy blogging! If you publish your blog from your phone, I hold you in the highest esteem — you’re one heck of a dedicated blogger!

As for me, I have the luxury of blogging from a desktop computer, a 2013 iMac. Which is to say that it’s super easy for me to stick with WordPress Classic editor because yes, I most definitely prefer it. In a recent blogging class I attended, even the teacher recommended a workaround for students to use Classic! Given how many folks read blogs from their phones, Guttenberg’s block-fanciness is worse than useless. When I read anything on my 5s iPhone, the simpler the layout, the better.

This is how I use WordPress Classic Editor on my desktop: in the admin page, I pull up a list of my posts. Then I hover my mouse pointer over a post title. Below that, a selection appears, which includes the choice to use Classic Editor.

See how on the bottom left is the option to use Classic Editor? Using a desktop computer, just hover your mouse under your blog post title on your admin page. See how on the bottom left is the option to use Classic Editor? Using a desktop computer, just hover your mouse under your blog post title on your admin page.

If I wanted to write a post from my iPad, WordPress offers an abbreviated version Classic. To switch over to it, tap on the three dots in the screen’s upper right corner.

Clicking on the 3 dots in the upper right corner of your tablet gives you the option to use Classic. Clicking on the 3 dots in the upper right corner of your tablet gives you the option to use Classic.

Using an iPhone works similar to an iPad.

Here's when I clicked on the 3 dots in the upper right corner of my phone. Here’s when I clicked on the 3 dots in the upper right corner of my phone.

For a more detailed explanation, but that doesn’t include the way I described that I do it from my desktop computer, WordPress has this link.

In another post with blogging tips (and here’s more of my blogging tips), the mention of WordPress’ newer editing system got people talking, so here I’m offering you a chance to comment below. Vent? Praise? Either way, when I let WordPress know about this post with your comments on it, maybe they’ll actually listen to us.

Again wishing you joy — and ease — whether you’re blogging, reading, writing — or are you traveling online?

How do you deal with computer annoyances?

Amazingly Tasty Easy Healthy Eats Recipe: Khashayar Parsi’s Herb Salad


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)…

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?

Astrology in Novels: Nina Romano’s Inspo


In high school, a classmate who was as passionate about reading as I was sat near me. Best friendship was in our stars!

The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka (mirror image, to have animals in the correct order). Photo By Jakub Hałun - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64844306 The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka (mirror image, to have animals in the correct order). Photo By Jakub Hałun – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Her preferred reading was historical fiction, the ancient sort with mythology and astrology mixed in. Thanks to her, I read a bunch by Mary Renault, an English author who lived much of her life in South Africa. Those books depicted lots of buff gay guys from olden days. Ironically, a) in South Africa Renault could live more peacefully than in the U.K. with her life partner who was also a woman, b) she often portrayed women harshly, and c) she criticized the gay rights movement.

My friend also introduced me to “Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs.” (Here’s a rare video interview with Goodman.) For me, Goodman was worthy of extra esteem as she was Aries, the same as me. When it came to Aries, all compliments were correct and unflattering attributes were incorrect. Until, that is, at some point in my so-called maturity when I tossed astrology into the same bundle as my Catholic upbringing. Both harbored too many confounding and disturbing aspects, so best not to fret about either.

Not so much later, though, a new friend entered who was into astrology. Charts, she explained, are how astrology becomes scientific. She introduced me to Angela Louise Gallo, a master at charting the stars. Gallo read and taught from her home in Van Nuys, which is just above Hollywood, hence she garnered a sizable entertainment biz crowd of followers.

Gallo’s monthly talks culminated with “hororary” readings, as in “hour-related” since those forecasts tied her psychic powers to the time of night when she would take questions. From slips of paper handed to her, she’d give quickie predictions. I’d parted ways with my parents as soon as I graduated high school with no plan other than survival. By the time I met Gallo those few years later, I’d collected myself enough to realize that I needed to do better. I asked Gallo whether I should sign up for college. She answered, “Wait a couple of semesters. Soon you’ll be taking a long trip.”

That month my grandmother sent me an airplane-paid invitation to visit her in Argentina! During childhood, my grandmothers and I exchanged many letters. They were fantastic in all the ways that mattered to me: they didn’t sugar-coat life, they wanted the best for me, and they helped foster the writer in me who will eventually publish Flamenco & the Sitting Cat and Tango & the Sitting Cat. I loved them dearly, sight unseen. The one in Spain I first met when I was nine. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I got to hug my Abuela in Buenos Aires.

After that trip, I hired Gallo to do a detailed chart, yet I can’t remember anything about it, including what happened to it. These days, I’d rather not presuppose anyone based on their birthday, and I prefer to bumble along as best I can when it comes to my future.

Yet I still adore stories about astrology!

In this admittedly roundabout way, I present to you, dear reader, today’s poet/novelist guest, Nina Romano, who writes from Florida and Utah. Originally from New York, she’s a world traveler who’s earned degrees and writing awards galore, plus she’s published a slew of books.

Here she generously recounts the way that Chinese astrology figured into her The Secret Language of Women, the first of her Wayfarer Trilogy. Read to the end for an excerpt from it in addition to links for Nina and her writings.

Writer Nina Romano. Writer Nina Romano.

How Chinese Horoscopes Helped Me Develop a Realistic Protagonist by Nina Romano

For The Secret Language of Women, the first book of my Wayfarer Trilogy, I decided my main character Lian’s horoscope would be the Year of the Dog. Knowing her horoscope facilitated my understanding of the protagonist’s psyche for this novel. Since the book is set in China, I used Lian’s Chinese Zodiac sign to learn about her qualities and personality traits intimately so that she appeared genuine yet flawed. She is a warm and caring being, a healer, courageous and intelligent. When a person born under this sign falls in love, they do not ever change.

Loyalty and honesty are two of this horoscope sign’s characteristics. Lian falls in love with Giacomo, an Italian sailor, and remains faithful to that love, despite the fact that she is forced into a loveless marriage. Her quest is a difficult one, but she chooses to follow her path despite menaces, oppositions, troubles, risks, and dangers. She is fierce in her love and faithful to everything she believes concerning it.

Having visited China several times afforded me unique experiences that enabled me to see in person Hong Kong, Beijing, and its fabulous Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and Lian’s enchanting city of Guilin. I was able to envision Lian’s travels and travails in war-torn China, an era suffused in superstition, intrigue, culture, and history. I incorporated the themes and things I care about, such as love, family, food and recipes, art, dragons and horses. Why? Simply because it’s straightforward to write what I know and have feelings for, and all of these ideas translated well even to a novel set in China during the Boxer Rebellion. My own horoscope is the Year of the Horse, so I made sure I had an important role for a horse in this novel, and I’m positive that my horoscope had an incredible influence on my stars being aligned because I signed a contract for a three-book deal for my Wayfarer Trilogy with Turner Publishing during the Year of the Horse.

While writing this novel, I pictured what happens during the Chinese New Year: careful cleaning of the house, the distributing of red envelopes, Lian cooking on a wok, and serving rice to her beloved.

Since this story takes place in China where live fish, most especially carp, are good Fengshui, which according to Wikipedia, is a “philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment.” For this reason, I describe a pool with carp in the Summer Palace in Chapter 1, where Lian meets the love of her life. Do I believe in the influence of horoscopes and how they can help round out a character? Of that, there is little doubt.

Cover of

Excerpt from The Secret Language of Women by Nina Romano

The things that test you and are vanquished bring everlasting joy. The differences between traditional written Chinese and Nüshu, the secret language of women, made it difficult for me to learn it. My mother and grandmother could not write Chinese and learned Nüshu when they were young and wanted me to grasp it too. I cannot say they harped on me or were tyrannical, but I will say they were insistent, and for this I am eternally indebted.

My mother said it challenged me because I wrote like a man and didn’t have to rely solely on Nüshu, the way they did to communicate with other women. The ideograms of Chinese correspond to a word or part of one, whereas each of the seven hundred characters of Nüshu represent a syllable— women’s language is phonetic, in Chéngguān dialect 城关土话, adaptable and pliant for singing, poetry and writing with such delicate strokes they appear as lines of feathers.

Though learning was problematical, I mastered it, like I do all things I set my mind to

conquer. At the time, I resented the study of it, yet I knew innately one day I would be grateful to possess the knowledge and skill of this secret language, which would offer me strength and solace for a lifetime. And although I was writing in Nüshu, for some reason, I signed with flourish in Chinese: Wǒ Lián. I am Lian. 

Amazon Author — hardcover, softcover print, and Kindle: The Secret Language of Women & Lemon Blossoms & In America — softcover print and Kindle: The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley.

Goodreads & Twitter & @ninsthewriter & Facebook & BookBub

Has astrology helped you with storytelling and anything else?