Thursday, August 4, 2022

Chase that Smile by Harold Cabrera

 


We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less without that missing drop.”

Mother Teresa

 I love books that inspire us to work toward our goals with enthusiasm and determination; they are reminders to keep our purpose and intention at the forefront of the mind.

  Harold Cabrera is a husband, father and full-time software developer and data scientist. He works full-time from home, but he is also an athlete. He has a passion for running, swimming and biking. In 2017, a few months before turning forty years old, he decided that he would run the Paris marathon, complete an Ironman and climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

  After losing loved ones to cancer, he thought it would be a good idea to raise funds for cancer research as part of his athletic commitment.

 


 As a child, Harold had not done sports. He only biked on weekends, with his friends. He did not even have the opportunity to learn how to swim during his childhood years because he lived in a place where there were no swimming-pools nearby. Harold was an adult when he decided to participate in his first triathlon in the year 2008—and he did not even know how to swim. He managed to learn how to swim in time for that specific event.


CHASE THAT SMILE
 shares the path that led him to complete his goals for his fortieth birthday.  The book has a friendly, entertaining style that entrances the spirit and makes you smile. You can’t put it down. 

 


 I love what he said when he compared the art of swimming with Ikebana art. The Japanese art of putting flowers in a vase is in fact an art steeped in the philosophy of developing closeness with nature.

 An ikebana master described himself as being on a journey where the path has no end and the main purpose is to learn and improve his art continuously.”  

 Harold applies this idea to the art of swimming. It is an ongoing process. Every day we can endeavor to tweak our skills on whatever we choose to do, accepting the learning process as an endless path.

 Harold has lived in three different countries: he was born in the Philippines and lived there until age 13, when he and his family moved to Canada. Later in life, he moved to London. I appreciate the way he threads into the narrative gripping anecdotes and experiences about his past, adding words of wisdom about facing setbacks and dealing with hurdles, and he does so with a sense of humor. By the end of the book, you will feel that you have made a new friend.

 


The climb of Mount Kilimanjaro with his wife and a group of people is another fascinating aspect of Chase that Smile. During that trip, in that intimate connection with nature, the members of the group bonded like family; I know the sense of camaraderie and friendship that thrives in that kind of setting, and Harold makes it vivid and interesting, reminiscing over the details of this unique trip filled with laughter, dance, songs and human connections.

   Harold Cabrera has travelled the world, and his experiences in different places add a unique touch to the read, opening up our eyes to broader perspectives and encouraging us to pursue our goals with optimism.  

 Perhaps, there are many treasures hidden within ourselves, and sometimes it takes challenges to unearth these personal riches. Taking myself out of my comfort zone forces me to dig deep within myself and allows me to discover my hidden gems. I’ve done this by doing sports, travelling, being in a relationship, being a father, or just by trying to fully experience life. Seeking these treasures makes life one big adventure.”


His love for his kids and his wife Tania is the essential foundation of his journey, and I feel thankful that he shared his book to inspire this post for My Writing Life.

  I hope Chase that Smile will buoy up your spirit and brighten your days with the energy of your own goals, supporting you to keep your intention strong.

  Like the Ikebana Artist, we can all choose to embrace the endless path of learning with gratitude, as we do our best in each moment.

 


Each challenge can be approached with a curious mind.

Each challenge can be viewed as an invitation to become stronger.

 No goal is too small when we follow our path with love, motivation and optimism, and, like Harold, we can share the sparkles of this energy with others.

 You can visit the author’s website here:

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to read my writing on the following books:


Running for Good by Fiona Oakes

Marathon Man by Alan Corcoran

 

Till next time.



Sunday, July 24, 2022

Gabe's Christmas Wish by Katrina Doucet

  


 A heartwarming story, endearing characters and cozy scenes make this children’s book a unique read.

 Gabe lost his loving parents. This is his first Christmas Eve without them. He misses them and makes a wish as he contemplates his snow globe, the last gift from his parents.

 The mysterious snow globe will carry him into an intriguing adventure.

Gabe’s Christmas Wish creates a safe space to acknowledge and accept the emotions and feelings of grief, while empowering children to stay hopeful.

 I marveled at the illustrations by Natasha Pelley-Smith, for they transport our minds to imaginary places of peace and solace.



 With so many lives lost to war, COVID, extreme weather events across the world, shootings and other social ailments, we need resources to support children through their grief.

 Exquisite words, delicate illustrations and a message of hope will help children to allay their stress. The book will remind them they are not alone in their plight.

Gabe’s Christmas Wish is a warm refuge for kids, an invitation to travel with the imagination and dream; it will be comforting to people of all ages who lost loved ones. It may help children to come to terms with the emptiness that cannot be erased or ignored, but can only be filled with love.

 I thank Katrina Doucet for kindly sending me a copy of her precious book, which will be released in August 2022.

You can visit her website here.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Unlikely Heroes by Jennifer Holland

 


“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all.”

Emily Dickinson

 If you hear a person using the word “parrot” in a negative way, be prepared to share the story of Willie, the parrot who helped save a toddler’s life. Meagan, her babysitter, had been in the bathroom for only thirty seconds when she heard Willie’s frantic calls:

 “Mama!  Baby!”

 


 He kept repeating the same words. Meagan dashed out of the bathroom immediately and found Hannah choking on her favorite treat. Her face and lips were blue. Meagan performed the Heimlich maneuver on Hannah and saved her life. 



Willie had never used those two words together, but in this specific situation he did and made an unforgettable difference in many peoples’ lives.

 Unlikely Heroes by Jennifer Holland shares true stories of animals who saved both human and non-human lives with no expectation of rewards. They just do it because saving somebody’s life feels right, and in doing so, they demonstrate that being kind and caring has nothing to do with wearing any sort of badge.

 There are also cases of animals able to sense a cancer diagnosis or some other ominous medical condition that had been overlooked. There are animals rescuing other animals. For example, an elk saved a marmot from drowning; a seal did the same for a dog drowning in a river. No rewards were given for those deeds.

 


 These true stories flooded me with smiles and tears. It is the kind of book I love to read before going to bed at night because it brightens my mood and paves the way to a wonderful night sleep.


The heroes and heroines are various animals, including several dogs, cats, rats, horses, cows, dolphins, goats, a hippo, gorillas, a camel, a llama and many others. Dive into this wonderful read and surprise yourself.

 


Another positive aspect of Unlikely Heroes is that I learned a lot. With every anecdote Jennifer Holland adds curious facts about the animals involved. It awakens our interest in the natural world and has the potential to inspire us to become more mindful of our actions and the impact they have.

 


 There is a chapter about cranes. Did you know that cranes enjoy dancing? It is true that dancing plays a role in mating, but they also dance for fun. Dancing has several benefits; it relieves stress and supports communication and cognition, to mention just a few.

  The Whooping Crane is the tallest North American bird. It is an endangered keystone species due to habitat loss and hunting. 

 Some states in the United States of America still allow the hunting of cranes. If you don’t know the meaning of “keystone” species I invite you to look it up, and hopefully, you will be encouraged to spread the word on the need to protect them.

 The International Crane Foundation is doing an incredible job of protecting and supporting the survival of Whooping Cranes with the help of the Sandhill Cranes. If you visit Wisconsin, don’t miss the chance to visit their site. It teems with prairies and wildflowers, and there are glorious trails to soothe your mind and recharge your spirit.


 This delightful place is ideal to spend time with family and friends.

 





The educational material is engaging and fascinating, and you will create special memories that will last a lifetime.



  Artworks at this exhibition will uplift you and boost your zest for life. This painting is by Melanie Hava, an Australian Aboriginal artist.

 


 Hunters in Wisconsin are not allowed to kill Whooping Cranes, but they sometimes slaughter them by accident. The fact is that hunting causes stress and suffering in all the animals of a community.

 If somebody started shooting your neighborhood, you would be terrified. The same happens to animals when hunters attack. Hunting causes stress and suffering in ALL the animals, not just the ones that are targeted.

  It takes empathy to understand it, and empathy is a kind of intelligence.


 It is strange to me that so much is spent on seeking life in other planets, when we cannot come together to understand,  respect and protect life in our own planet.







The only thing I do not like about Unlikely Heroes is the title.

 Who are we to determine who is an “unlikely” hero?

As you know, words play a role in perpetuating biases, misconceptions and prejudices.

I think the book should have a fair honest title instead:

      “Heroes and Heroines”

        We can do better.

 

 

 

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Airy Nothing by Clarissa Pattern

 


“To unpathed waters, undreamed shores.”

-William Shakespeare

 After enduring hate, bullying and abuse, John headed to London, seeking a life of peace. However, London was not the place he had expected. The city was ravaged by violence, disease, and poor sanitary conditions. Set in the 1600s, Airy Nothing  is a magical fictional story that narrates the experiences of John in his quest for peace and a trade that would enable him to make a living.

  John was gentle, na├»ve and honest.  After losing his mother and sister, he was confused and sad; he had been falsely accused of being responsible for their death in his small village, where rumors spread like wildfire. John had always found relief and reassurance in his only friend, an imaginary being: a hobglobin.

John left his village behind in search of safety, scrambling to extricate himself from the trauma of being abused and bullied for so long.

 With every step he took, this new world grew, and his old village seemed to shrink away, until soon it would be no more than a tiny speck. Would it vanish altogether? Could it?”

  In London he met Black Jack, a streetwise guy who endeavored to protect him and help him settle; they both found strength in each other’s company.

 John had strived to mold his own identity in a world that had always made him feel like an outcast.

 When he came across Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, he was mesmerized. Confidence in his possible role as an actor flickered in his soul as he considered the possibility of having a vocation that would lead him to a new path. Black Jack would support him through every ordeal.  They became inseparable.

Every second they’d lived, all their dreams remembered and forgotten, every thought they’d ever had, entwined into a tapestry that only faerie eyes could see. John’s fears disappeared under the weaving of Jack’s confidence; the darkest of Jack’s thoughts were decorated with sparkles from John’s magic.”

 Clarissa Pattern’s unique style of writing captures the imagination. The scenes are charged with engaging conflicts, vivid imagery and intriguing characters, and I appreciate the insights and gems of wisdom I came across in their conversations. After the story, the author provides references related to the sources of the quotes used in Airy Nothing.

 This magical YA historical fiction novel also reveals various aspects of gender discrimination, an issue that continues to exist today.

  The author takes us on a journey to Shakespearean London with the grit of somebody who wants to follow a dream.

  Would the theatre encourage John to unleash his authentic self?

 Airy Nothing is a story of friendship, love and perseverance through hard times. I highly recommend it. It is the kind of unconventional book that deserves a second read. I thank the author for kindly sending me a copy of Airy Nothing.

 Clarissa Pattern studied English language and literature at the University of Oxford and has lived in the Oxfordshire area ever since. She has been writing ever since she could hold crayons and scribble across the wallpaper. Aside from writing, she spends as much time with her kids as they’ll put up with, ignores almost all the housework, and has an ever increasing list of books she’s frantic to read. Her stories have been published in various anthologies over the years, and in August 2021 she released Airy Nothing. This is her first novel.

 

 

 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Ecological Gardener

 


To garden is to foster a bond between ourselves and the natural world.” Matt Rees-Warren

 A garden is a place of joy, wonder and constant learning. It is a dynamic sanctuary that inspires and elates us; it kindles a sense of hope and replenishes us.  When we garden, we have the opportunity to create a space in harmony with Mother Nature. As a result of this, the garden nourishes our bodies and minds, and provides a refuge for meditation and reflection.


  

   Each day in the garden unfolds like a unique gift of Mother Nature, sharing the mysteries, intelligence and beauty of her restorative soul.

   At the library I came across Matt Rees-Warren's book: The Ecological Gardener: how to create beauty and biodiversity from the soil up.  I was instantly attracted to its cover, and once I started reading the book, I could not put it down.

 As gardeners we have choices. We can choose to support our health and the planet’s ecosystems, or we can choose to work against Mother Nature.

  Ecological Gardeners cherish the experience of cooperating with Mother Nature. We give back to the earth and are overwhelmed by the rewards we receive in return. As ecological gardeners, we create a healthy path to a sustainable future, fostering the development of healthy ecosystems and people.

 


With extreme weather events becoming more frequent everywhere, ecological gardens are the ones that are prepared to face the challenges with resilience.





 The Ecological Gardener offers helpful suggestions and recommendations to help your garden flourish.

 

With eloquence and creativity the author shares information on how ecological gardening makes a difference. He provides ideas to nourish and protect the soil. He delves into different methods of composting to help you pick the one that is right for you.

 The presence of earthworms in the soil is an indicator of soil health, and this is the foundation of a healthy garden. Relevant research has been emerging on the importance of Micorrhizae, the fungal network that connects the roots of the plants and trees, providing them with minerals and nutrients while obtaining food from them in return. The symbiosis is crucial to foster sustainable agricultural practices. Regenerating the soil is essential to agriculture.

 Supporting regenerative agriculture is vital to our present and future.

 Take your time to watch this video and share it with others:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPkXAi_IKwQ&t=6s

 Matt Rees-Warren stresses the need to create a suitable environment for pollinators, and explains the consequences of their decline. Pollinators should count on our gardens to find food and shelter. Gardening without the use of herbicides and pesticides is paramount to a healthy environment and to our own health.

 


When we examine the ways through which everything interacts in nature, we are inspired to promote biodiversity instead of fighting against it.

 Encouraging the growth of native plants is an important aspect of gardening.

The author explains how to use water wisely. There is advice on how to harvest rainwater, and he guides us to improve the management of water in gardens.

Last but not least, he provides clever ideas and recommendations to reuse and recycle material.


 The photography in The Ecological Gardener captures the reader’s attention and enhances the understanding of the concepts, ideas and information on ecological gardening.

 Ecological gardening is an adventure of exploration. We can integrate the production of food into this endeavor, promoting health and supporting our communities. Today more than ever, with inflation hitting every country of the world, growing food is not just an option but a necessity.


 Community gardens can also be places of inspiration to a lot of people, and they can provide creative solutions to various social challenges. Applying basic ecological principles is necessary and vital to these undertakings. This does not mean that setbacks can’t happen, but ecological gardening bolsters the life support systems that create resilience for a sustainable future.


 Our gardens are a full expression of who we are and how connected we are to wildlife and the environment. We are part of Nature and Nature is part of us. To ignore the wisdom of this precious relationship is reckless.

The Ecological Gardener was published by Chelsea Green Publishing.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in my writing on the following books:

 

Entangled Life

Finding the Mother Tree

I will publish my next post in two weeks.

 

 


My heart is with the Ukrainian people and with those who are fighting to support them in every way they can. Thank you for everything you do. The consequences of this horrifying war go beyond the borders of Ukraine.

We hope that the world learns how dangerous it is to empower an authoritarian man like Putin, who has no respect for life. Beware of Putin supporters and apologists.

Till next time.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Hyphened Nation: Don't check the box

 


Do not allow yourself to be hyphenated. Do not stay in a box by checking the box.” Nicole Draffen

 In 2009 Nicole Draffen decided to run a marathon in Wales, and then she would visit London. Her stay in England, however, turned out to be a life-transforming experience.

 “Little did I suspect that trip would turn into a one- year-long stay; or that my desire to discover another culture would lead me to discover myself within the context of my own country.”

 It is refreshing to discover a writer who illuminates matters that are normally neglected and overlooked. An independent thinker is not afraid to face the truth and to inspire others to think outside of the box.  This is what Nicole Draffen does. She combines her experiences, her examination of US history and her wisdom to offer thought-provoking reflections and suggestions for social change.

   Born and raised in California, Nicole had the carefree attitude of every child belonging to a loving family. Children are not encased in the prejudices and stereotypes that society has in store for them. Nicole Draffen points it out well when she refers to her own childhood:

 “We smile and talk to everyone, wholeheartedly enjoying ourselves and never contemplating that others may be scrutinizing us as something different than what we know we are: ourselves…”

  As a child, Nicole Draffen was bombarded with social messages that tried to convince her that she belonged to a group for which society has preconceived notions and ideas. “I had already noticed the cartoons I loved on Saturday mornings, mostly ‘the Looney Tunes’ cast of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, usually portrayed any brown character as an illiterate imbecile. Or they were streetwise hustlers, talking in jive, otherwise known as ‘negro slang,’ such as the black crows in Disney’s ‘Dumbo’ as well as King Luis in ‘The Jungle Book.’  Even at that age, it wasn’t hard to pick up on the less-than-subtle message that brown and black either meant dumb or token, superficial characters meant to be ridiculed.”

  The characters that people of color had to represent in American sitcoms did not reflect who she was. Nicole never allowed the negative stereotypes imposed by American television to influence her life, but she soon became aware of the ways in which the biases and stereotypes promoted by the American entertainment industry and ads played a role in how other people judged her and treated her. Without knowing it, however, she created a mantle of awareness, humor and resilience to protect herself and to adapt to the reality of being labeled as African-American, a term that does not even define the complexity of her roots: African, Scottish, French, and Native American.

  During her trip to England, there was no hyphen to define her. She was considered fully American. She was astonished and happy to see that British television did not show the stereotypes that American television ingrains in the American psyche. Also, interracial couples were a normal part of the social landscape, not an exotic element to be seen with distrust.

 I loved to read about her experiences abroad and how these experiences awakened her to her reality in America. She threads various situations, reflections and experiences into a compelling read. Furthermore, with every chapter of the book, she builds up motivation and enthusiasm to endeavor to work toward a better future together.

 Dissolving “the mantle” of defense she had developed throughout her life, her authentic self felt liberated, because in England she was viewed as fully American, not as a version of her identity that had been fabricated by the use of a hyphen. This enabled her to “engage in experiences with a clean slate free of preconceived notions and expectations.” The word “diversity” acquired a different meaning, one that felt more genuine to her.

  If you think that the negative stereotyping of minorities promoted by the American entertainment industry has no consequences, let me introduce you to the words of Dr. Paul Bloom, one of her Yale professors:

 “The problem is that there is a lot of evidence that even when we don’t want to rely on stereotypes, even when we consciously believe that we are not biased, nonetheless we are influenced by them and fall back upon them. In an interesting way, we are at war with ourselves.”

 Nicole Draffen explains that American president Theodore Roosevelt loathed the hyphen, which he felt was an international division of the races that undermined America. He made clear that one did not have to be born in American soil to love and respect the country.

 The use of the hyphen to classify Americans according to race and ethnicity is a way of dividing people and putting them into boxes.

 We should all dig deep into our consciousness and ask ourselves about the way we are conditioned to influence our judgments of a person by the use of a hyphen. It is imperative then to examine the effects of prejudices attached to race and ethnicity.

 After reading her book, I also feel compelled to highlight how an accent can pervade assessments about a person.  I encourage you to read the BBC article on this specific issue here.

  Hyphened Nation explores the roots of the US Constitution and emphasizes the need to get rid of the hyphen. It proposes steps to embrace our differences and to live up to the promises of equality, justice and freedom for all.

 Hyphened Nation is an excellent resource for teachers and scholars, a thought-provoking book to open up discussions on the need to treat everybody with equal respect.

Nicole Draffen does not believe in the pride in one’s skin color.

 “Pride in one’s skin color is one of the most divisive concepts in American history. This applies to all ethnicities. You should be proud of the person you are inside your skin.” Self-respect is what matters.

 Hyphened Nation is a refreshing read with deep insights, history exploration and an invitation to build a future of justice and equality for all.

Our differences are what make us stronger when we come together, for we each bring something of our own to the metaphorical table, and to the project that I am calling ‘Don’t check the Box.

 Hyphenating people limits our economic, educational, societal and cultural growth.

  I highly recommend Hyphened Nation. The book is a seed of transformation and hope to build a future in which each person is valued for their complexity and their own unique contributions to American society, irrespective of their ethnic and racial backgrounds.

 Honoree of three prestigious Literary Awards, The Independent Authors Network (IAN) Book of the Year Award 2021, the IndieBRAG B.R.A.G. Medallion and the Wishing Shelf Book Awards. The book has been translated to French, and you can also get the version in French.

 I thank the author for kindly sending me a copy of Hyphened Nation to write a review in My Writing Life.

 

 

  

 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Butterflies: Their Natural History and Diversity

 


 Butterfly lovers will be enchanted by this coffee table book by Ronald Orenstein and Thomas Marent (photographer). The exquisite photography showcases the images of butterflies from all over the world along with interesting facts about them.

 The symbolism of butterflies is as rich as the imagination of passionate artists. Different cultures attach various meanings to them. In Japan and Mexico, for example, butterfly life cycles represent birth, death and rebirth. Mexicans associate the arrival of Monarch butterflies on their wintering grounds with the souls of their ancestors; it coincides with the Day of the Dead.

 Different Native American cultures view butterflies as symbols of transformation, change, comfort and hope.

 Butterflies captivate the interest of scientists, artists and engineers. The study of these mesmerizing insects relates to aspects of technology and design. Butterflies offers several amazing facts about these intriguing creatures.

 You will probably be surprised to learn that Monarchs are not the only migratory butterflies. For example, whites, sulphurs and swallowtails are accomplished long-distance migrants.  

 Another remarkable example are the Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui). Their route is much longer than that of the Monarchs. It involves a round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic; as they cross the Mediterranean they are propelled by the tailwinds from North Africa.

  Adult Painted butterflies live only for a few weeks, so it takes six generations to complete the migratory cycle.

 Tropical butterflies migrate too. Butterflies from the forests of the northwest of Costa Rica migrate during the dry season toward humid areas.

 You may already be familiar with the migration of Monarch butterflies.

 


 Northern Monarch butterflies fly southward to their wintering grounds in central Mexico, although a few of them stay in Florida and Cuba. The following spring they migrate north again, but only one-tenth of them live long enough to return to the north. Most lay their eggs on southern milkweeds and die. Their offspring  head north in less than a month.

 Monarchs do not tolerate freezing temperatures, so they are well adapted to migration. Their wings are equipped for this purpose, and they have a structure in the brain that reacts to the position of the sun and the patterns of polarized light in the sky. There is also a so-called clock in the antenna that detects the sun’s position changes. The combined information from the clock and the compass in the brain keeps the butterflies on track toward their destination. Painted ladies, however, lack the antennal clock.

The variety of colorful butterflies and the incredible facts included in the book make the read fantastic; it sparks a sense of wonder to get to know butterflies in places we may never get to visit.


Meet the Panacea prola in Ecuador. They land on animals - humans included - to drink their sweat. They also drink from puddles, rotting wood or wet leaves.






The dazzling Dryas iulia can be found in the southern United States, Central America, the Caribbean and parts of South America (Brazil and Peru, for example). Males spend much of the day searching for females. They sip liquid and minerals from the eye secretions of caimans in Brazil and from the eyes of turtles in Peru. I had to find a photo to believe it. You can check it here:

https://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com/Amazon%20-%20Dryas%20iulia.htm

 For Monarch butterflies the presence of milkweed is essential for the survival of their caterpillars. Without milkweed, Monarch butterflies will go extinct.

 


 In the American Midwest, vast fields of genetically modified herbicide - and - pesticide resistant- crops (corn, soybean and cotton) are sprayed with chemicals that destroy milkweed and kill off butterflies.

  Butterflies are disappearing in many parts of the world due to chemical pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.

The more we learn, the more we can support their survival.

Avoid spraying herbicides and pesticides in your yard; let wildflowers thrive. Plant milkweed to support Monarch butterflies

 There are various Citizen science projects in North America that study and protect butterflies: The Monarch Watch, The Western Monarch Count, The Vanessa Migration Project, and the Los Angeles Butterfly Survey are some examples.

  In Britain you can search for the United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and the New Millenium Project. Do your research where you live and learn what is going on there. You may come across opportunities to cooperate with projects.


 Find out what wildflowers in your area are beneficial to butterflies and plant something to support them. Whether you have a garden, a patio, a balcony or just a window sill, planting something can brighten up your space, support your mental health and attract butterflies.

Butterflies was published by Firefly Books.


 If you liked this post, feel free to read my writing on Bicycling with Butterflies.

Bicycling with Butterflies has a special place in my heart because it is the book that inspired me to come back to write book reviews.

Enjoy My Writing Life ride, and go plant some flowers.