Be Like Pooh

At the start of every new year, I always have a goal to be more spiritual. More introspective. More Zen.  I vow to do more yoga, more meditation than the previous year. The yoga is easy, but the sitting still in one place is hard. I do it, but at times it can be a struggle, and it really shouldn’t be. You are literally just sitting. But you are sitting without thoughts. Without the day’s frustrations or what didn’t get checked off the to-do list weighing on your mind.

You just be. You sit with a clear head. Maybe there’s a chant you say to yourself that helps to calm you and find your center. If I’m having a hard time settling into my meditation and letting go of invasive thoughts, I have a go-to chant that helps to reel in my wandering mind. I say with a steady inner voice, “At this moment all is well.” I repeat the mantra as many times as I need to bring me back to the present moment, where my mind is calm enough to just be. 

I always start the year with a book about spirituality. This year that book is the same book I started last year off. It was worth a second read.  The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff. (Tao pronounced DAO) I bought the book at an estate sale. The title grabbed my attention because though I’ve read many books about Buddhism, I was only faintly familiar with Taosim. And also, I was a big fan of Pooh as a little girl. Who wasn’t? He was such a cute and cuddly little bear, and apparently, he knew the secret to staying “happy and calm under all circumstances.”

In this book, the author explains “the principles of Taoism through Winnie-the-Pooh…” He concentrates on the basic sentiment of Taosim that centers around “a particular way of appreciating, learning from, and working with whatever happens in everyday life.” With a simple-mind and not over-analyzing every aspect of his every day, Pooh has no expectations. He simply lives, without interference or fight, but rather by “working in harmony with life’s circumstances…”

Pooh lived by what is known as “the most characteristic element of Taoism-in-action”– Wu Wei.  Wu Wei means “without doing, causing, or making.” Living life without interfering, or being contentious, or arrogant. It means “no going against the nature of things…”  Like water flowing over rocks. The water just goes where the path takes it. There is no “mechanical, straight-line approach…” 

We only begin to reach the state of Wu Wei “when we learn to work with our own Inner Nature, and with the natural laws operating around us…” The person who thinks too much is bound to interfere with the natural laws by trying too hard. Wu Wei is effortless. “No stress, no struggle.” The round peg goes in the round hole and the square peg goes in the square hole. Don’t make life harder than it needs to be.  Sometimes highly educated minds try to find ways to force the pegs in holes they don’t belong because they want to seem cleverer than the average mind. This is not Wu Wei.

 While the brainiacs spend their days struggling, while trying to be smarter than everyone else, and their frustration growing, Pooh, having simply put the round peg in the round hole, sits under the shade of a tree and happily eats a bowl of honey. 

Pooh knows Wu Wei.

“Wu Wei doesn’t try. It doesn’t think about it. It just does. And when it does, it doesn’t appear to do much of anything. But Things Get Done.”

Be like Pooh. 

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What Do We Have If We Don’t Have Hope?

I try to end each year with hope. Being hopeful. With Gratitude. Being grateful. I have much to be thankful for as the year winds to an end. My health is much improved from where it was nine months ago. My life finally shows some semblance of what it used to be. I’m grateful for that. A couple months ago I found a home for a book I had spent over two years writing, a book I wasn’t very optimistic I’d ever get contracted, but I did.  I’m grateful for that, too.

The year is ending on two personal high notes for me.  I should be running into the new year cheerful and exuberant, feeling like nothing can stop me now! But then I turn on the news.  

Just like last year, we are ending the year with rising cases of Covid. Hospitals in some states are at capacity and staffed with nurses and doctors who are tired. They’re tired of coming to the rescue of people who are too ignorant, too selfish, too politically brainwashed to get a vaccine.

So we head into 2022 unsure how much worse things are going to get. How much farther north the Covid deaths will tick above the 806,000 people who have already died. It’s a daunting prospect. 

But I’m going to be hopeful. I am going to end this year hopeful that this coming year will be better than the last. Maybe for no other reason that it simply just has to. Please???

I wish for all people who had health setbacks this year that they, too, are seeing progress and will be ringing in the new year hopeful. Because what do we have if we don’t have hope?

Author Stella May’s Childhood and New Year’s Celebration in the USSR

from Stella May When I was a child, December 31st was the happiest and most anticipated day of the year. You see, in my old country, we didn’t celebrate Christmas. As a matter of fact, we didn’t even know what Christmas was. Instead, we celebrated New Year. How come? Well, I was born in the former USSR, the communist country, where Christmas as a religious holiday was banned since 1928. (I think they reinstated it in 1991, but I am not positive.) But, back to my story. As sad as it may seem to you, our New Years were festive, and happy. We decorated our flats with an abandon. A fresh pine tree was a must. I still remember how it smelled—fresh and green like hope. And, oh God, the decorations! Hand-made, or store bought, and the garlands… We had our own version of Santa Claus—Ded Moroz, who had his lovely granddaughter, Snegurochka. Oh, the New Years of my childhood! It was pure joy, and expectation of something wonderful, and magic rolled into one. The smell of tangerines permeated the air. Those little orange delights were an absolute necessary attribute of any New Year’s celebration–- even more than champagne. My mom slaved in the kitchen for days to put the biggest and most scrumptious meal on the table. And the most favorite dish of all? Olivier Salad, of course. (Look for the recipe in December on this blog.) It was, and still is, a synonym of New Year. Then, on the big day, we would put our best china and gather around the table for dinner. For children, it was the biggest thrill, because only on New Year’s Eve we were allowed to stay up all night, eat sweets, and watch TV until we dropped. And only the children received presents. Mostly, it was sweets, fruit, books, and an occasional toy— nothing the modern children would consider a ‘present’, especially a Christmas present. But we were waiting for those special presents all year and treasured them immensely. To us, they were precious. They represented something special–New Year. No one wrapped our presents simply because we didn’t have any wrapping paper. I remember my mom used cellophane and some ribbons to make our presents a little more festive. I remember how she would hide these funny-looking bundles from us, and how happy she was when she’d manage to transfer them in the middle of the night under the tree, and then looked surprised when we find them in the morning. But most of all, I remember the feeling of absolute and total happiness. Oh, what a joy it was, that magical New Year’s night! The exhilaration, anticipation, celebration! I remember everything so vividly like it was yesterday, and my heart breaks a little each and every time. In my family we keep the tradition and celebrate New Year’s in a big way. Now I am slaving in the kitchen, using my mother’s recipes to put on a celebratory dinner. And every year, there are tangerines, champagne, and Olivier Salad. And presents? There will be plenty of presents for everyone— not only for children. And they will be wrapped in a pretty paper, and adorned with festive ribbons and bows. Just in a little over a month, we will sit around the table, and raise our glasses to toast 2022, wishing for health and happiness, peace and prosperity. May this coming year be kind to everybody. Stay safe and healthy, love each other, care for your loved ones, and always keep a positive attitude. Happy New Year, or as we said in Russia, с Новым Годом! Stella Stella May is the penname for Marina Sardarova who has a fascinating history you should read on her website. Stella writes fantasy romance as well as time travel romance. She is the author of ‘Till Time Do Us Part, Book 1 in her Upon a Time series, and the stand-alone book Rhapsody in Dreams. Love and family are two cornerstones of her stories and life. Stella’s books are available in e-book and paperback through all major vendors. When not writing, Stella enjoys classical music, reading, and long walks along the ocean with her husband. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband Leo of 25 years and their son George. They are her two best friends and are all partners in their family business. Follow Stella on her website and blog. Stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Moving On

When I was in college, back in 1998, I took a Creative Writing course where I wrote two horribly-written short stories and some really bad poems. The stories were called The Hideout and The Attic. Apparently, I wasn’t very creative with titles back then.

To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t toss those papers in the trash the moment the semester ended. But not only did those pages make the trip back home with me, they managed to survive a couple decades in a bin with so many of my other failed writing attempts. 

About eight years ago, (damn time flies) I pulled out that dusty bin and went through those old writings. It had been a while since I’d written at that time and I wanted to get back into it. After all, being a writer was always my dream. Life, with all of its distractions, had pulled me off course for a little while, but I found my way back to it, and I thought past writings was a good place to start. 

Turns out, I was right. 

Even though those old stories were really bad, as I read through them I found a storyline in each I could build on. I turned The Hideout into a novel called A Penny on the Tracks that was published in 2017. It’s an LGBTQ coming-of-age story about friendship, loyalty, and the struggles of coming out.  The story revolves around two best friends, Lyssa and Abbey, who discover a hideout near some train tracks and spend the summer before sixth grade hanging out and finding freedom from issues at home. But their innocence shatters when the hideout becomes the scene of a tragic death. 

As for the other story, The Attic. Well, that one went through many rewrites with two major plot changes, taking me two extra years to write. It was frustrating and many times I wanted to give up, move on to another story, but I kept writing until I got the story right. Not only have I finally finished the story, but I got it contracted. The name of the book is Annabel and the Boy in the Window. I’m unable to put into words the relief I feel in finally being able to put that story to rest.

I am now in the process of revising what was my first attempt at writing a full-length novel that I wrote shortly after I graduated from college. I ended up finishing it, but as with the short stories, the writing was horrible. 

So in the bin those pages went. Then a couple years back, I fished the pages out of the bin and just like with the short stories, I’d found a storyline I could work with. I’m hoping to be finished with the story by next summer. After that, I have two more previous attempts at novels I need to take a look at and see if there’s a storyline in them I can work with. 

Despite having a drawer full of new story ideas, I can’t leave my old stories behind. They’re taking up too much space in my head and I need them gone before I can fully concentrate on anything new. 

If you’re a writer, do you keep old stories? How do you decide which ones can be salvaged and which ones to let go? I’ve realized it’s not just old stories I have a hard time letting go.  Past relationships, old friendships, cherished memories from a time that can never be lived again, all have a hold on me.

It’s hard to move on, isn’t it? 

How to Make a Zombie by Sharon Ledwith

HOW TO MAKE A ZOMBIE from Sharon Ledwith Much has been written about the walking dead we’ve come to know as ‘zombies’. Immortalized in movies, television shows, books, comics, and music videos (remember Thriller?), zombies have become so much a part of our culture that people can’t get enough of these brain-eating horror icons. When researching for The Last Timekeepers and the Noble Slave, the third installment of my young adult time travel adventure series, I wanted to incorporate a Voodoo ceremony that included creating a zombie. Oh, where to start, I asked myself, as there was so much information out there to glean, and only a chapter to fit it in.
Buried Zombie Rising Out Of Ground In Misty Cemetery
So do zombies exist? The people of Haiti certainly think so. Here they are considered to be more than spooky stories, but rather very real entities. Stories of zombies persist in Haiti right up to the modern day, with sightings of the poor, haggard creatures fairly common in many rural areas. In fact, cases are so prevalent that there have been wild estimates claiming that there are as many as up to one thousand new cases of zombies a year. Wow, that’s a lot of the undead roaming around a small island! Zombification is even a crime under the Haitian Penal Code (Article 246), in which it is considered to be on par with murder despite the fact that the zombified individual is technically still alive. Bet you’re dying to know how to make a zombie? Read on… The zombies of Haiti were said to be corpses that were reanimated through black magic by powerful Voodoo sorcerers or priests known as bokors, for manual labor on farms and sugarcane plantations. Zombies can allegedly be made from those who are still living if the bokor is powerful enough to wrest the victim’s soul from their body. The process of turning a living person into a zombie is said to follow certain steps. First, the bokor will place a hex on the target of the ritual, who will subsequently fall mysteriously ill and die soon after. The exact methods and concoctions used vary among the bokors, but many use a powerful neurotoxin derived from pufferfish. Some zombification processes use blood and hair from their victims in addition to using Voodoo dolls. Ohers involve a carefully prepared mixture called ‘coup de poudre’ (powder strike) made of mystical herbs, human remains, and animal parts. Administrating this mixture can also vary from ingestion, injection, or even a blow dart. Once the family of the victim pronounces the victim dead, he or she is buried in the family tomb (usually above ground), where the responsible bokor will steal the body from its grave and set about reanimating it through dark sorcery. Next, the bokor performs an ancient Voodoo rite where he or she captures the victim’s ti bon ange (the part of the soul connected to an individual) within seven days following the death of corps cadaver, while it is still hovering over the corpse. This effects a split in the spiritual parts of the victim and produces two complementary types of zombies: the spirit zombie and the zombie of the flesh. The bokor then traps the spirit zombie in a small clay jar or container, and replaces it with the loa (Voodoo spirit) that the bokor controls. The container is hidden in a secret place and is wrapped in a piece of the victim’s clothing or some other personal possession. After a day or two, the bokor then administers a hallucinogenic mixture called the ‘zombie cucumber,’ (made from the plant Datura stramonium) that revives the victim and is used to keep the zombie in a state of submissive confusion. In this brainwashed condition, the zombie cannot speak, has no memory, and no longer resembles its past human personality. Now easy to control, the zombie is completely under the control of the bokor who created them until the bokor dies. Once released from bondage, the zombies can finally return to their home village or place of burial, and die. There seems reason to believe from work and research done in the past that there may possibly be a concrete, scientific basis for stories of zombies, so perhaps time will tell. For now, these mysterious creatures lurk along the fringes of Haitian villages and our imaginations. Whether drug addled slaves or corpses reanimated through dark sorcery, the enigma of real zombies beckons us. Perhaps one day we will bring them out into the light and have the answers we seek. With that, I’ll leave you with this line in the song Thriller, by Michael Jackson: It’s close to midnight! Something evil’s lurking in the dark! Hopefully, it’s not a blood-thirsty corpse. Stay safe, my zombie-loving readers! Here’s a glimpse at my latest time travel mystery.

True freedom happens only when you choose to be free.

Eleven-year-old Drake Bailey is an analytical thinker and the genius of the Timekeeper crew. However, no logic or mathematical acumen can change the color of his skin, or prepare him for this third Timekeeper mission in antebellum Georgia. To survive, Drake must learn to play the role of a plantation slave and when confronted with the brutality, hatred, and racism of the deep south, he’ll have to strategically keep one move ahead of his sadistic captors to ensure his lineage continues.

In a dark world of Voodoo, zombies, and ritualistic sacrifice, the Timekeepers must ensure a royal bloodline survives. Can Drake remove both literal and figurative chains to save both himself and a devout slave girl from a terrible fate? If he can’t summon the necessary courage, humanity could stand to lose one of its greatest leaders.

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Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/YA time travel series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, and the teen psychic mystery series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercising, anything arcane, and an occasional dram of scotch. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a southern tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.

Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her website and blog. Stay connected on Facebook and Twitter, and Smashwords. Look up her Amazon Author page for a list of current books. Be sure to check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.

I Feel You, Tom

If you’re a baseball fan, or just a general sports fan, you’re probably watching the baseball Playoffs right now. As a fan of baseball, I watch the Playoffs regardless of what team’s playing, but being that the team I grew up cheering for is in the hunt for a championship, I’m much more vested. Although, as I write this, my beloved White Sox are losing 6-1 in an elimination game. But I’m not giving up hope.  They can definitely make a comeback. Right?

Pretty please?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. 

A couple nights ago, social media lit up as Tom Cruise made an appearance at the Dodgers – Giants playoff game. Cruise was captured on camera, sitting in the stands amongst other fans, looking a bit…. different.  Cruise probably has one of the most recognizable faces in the world, so when something in his appearance seems a little off, people notice.

And social media makes sure everyone knows about it.

I wasn’t watching the game, but when I jumped on my Twitter account, I saw the explosion of tweets asking what the heck happened to Tom Cruise’s face. I saw the camera shots of a smiling Tom Cruise, enjoying a night at a ballgame with his son, and immediately thought…prednisone. 

Yes, Tom looked different. He had, what I unfortunately have come to know very well, “Prednisone Face”. His face was looking quite puffy – a common side effect of taking prednisone – a steroid used to decrease inflammation in one’s body.

Obviously I don’t know what medications Tom Cruise is or isn’t taking. Most people on social media jumped to conclusions that his swelled face was the cause of some botched cosmetic procedure.  But me? I looked at the pictures of Cruise littered all over social media and thought, “I feel you, Tom. I got the puffy face, too.”

I’ve written a little here about the flare-up in my health I’ve been dealing with for some months now. In August, when I wasn’t showing signs of improvement, my doctor put me on my most dreaded drug, prednisone.

Fourteen years ago, I was put on that drug and had spent about five years on it, at adjusting doses, but gaining over 70 pounds, dealing with mood changes, insomnia, and anxiety and constant shakiness. Finally by 2013, my doctor put me a new treatment plan and I was completely off prednisone…until now. 

What I remember most about finally being off the preds was enjoying taking pictures again with friends and family. I finally looked like myself again. My smile was my familiar smile again. My hair was no longer thin, and dry and frizzy (yes prednisone messes with your hair too). I looked healthy again, and I loved that. I missed me, and I swore that I would never be on that drug again…but here we are. 

Though it’s only been about two and half months, and we are already tapering, which I’m grateful for, I’m feeling the effects of this hell of a drug. Yes, it has helped ease some of my ailments, but it has done so while also destroying me at the same time. 

Almost from the start of taking the drug in August, I experienced muscle wasting in my legs, so walking, even up a flight of stairs, was exhausting. Then the insomnia and shakiness came, and of course, the puffiness. 

But I did make the conscious decision to change my diet. If you follow my blog, you know I’ve been eating a more plant-based diet. When I started the steroids, I decided my diet had to be especially clean. Prednisone raises your glucose levels, so I eliminated sugar from my diet, as well as most processed foods. And I drank a lot….a hell of a lot… of water. Water helps with fluid retention. 

Luckily, I learned a lot from my first stint with prednisone, and with my cleaner eating I’ve been able to stave off the usual prednisone weight gain, but I can’t seem to control the puff in my face. My smile is not my smile. And I think that’s what people noticed about Tom Cruise. The world knows a Tom Cruise smile. Is there a more perfect smile in Hollywood? But just a little puff in the cheeks changes everything. 

The good thing is, it’s only temporary. That’s what I keep telling myself. As we taper and I get off this drug, I will be myself again, and it’s not just about looking like myself. It’s about feeling like myself again. 

Here are some of the plant-based meals I’ve been eating to not only keep the calories low, but to also help feed my immune system.  I’m hoping that in the future, if I’m eating a plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet, that will give my immune system the boost it needs to get through flare-ups without needing prednisone. That’s my hope. And what do we have if we don’t have hope?

On the Mend

It’s been over two months since I last wrote. Health issues had put my life on hold for a little while, but after some hard months, I am finally on the mend. It’s a slow, snail-paced mend, but it’s something. And when you’re knocked down, you cling to any help to get you back up.

Unfortunately for me, that help comes in the form of medications, and lots of it. I know I’m lucky to be living in a time that modern medicine and technology keep me alive with a disease that has ‘gravis’ in its name, derived from ‘grave’, but side effects are a real bitch.

Because I have an autoimmune disease, I know my immune system attacks itself. I became a vegetarian about eight years ago after my neurologist at the time told me about a book by Dr. Joel Fuhrman called Eat to Live.  She said her sister-in-law has lupus but had been able to get off most of her medication after following the book’s diet. This was in late 2012. I bought the book. It recommended a plant-based diet.

At the time, I was not at all familiar with plant-based anything. I was eating the standard American diet consisting of mostly meat, dairy, and some vegetables and salads. I didn’t know what inflammatory foods were, but I would come to learn that animal protein is a huge culprit in inflaming our immune system. And for people like me who are already battling a compromised immune system, we don’t need any help wrecking the part of our body that is integral in fighting off viruses and infections, and keeping us healthy.

So I gave up meat. I wish I could say I did it cold turkey, but I am by nature a gradual person. I phased out red meat and pork, but ate chicken and fish. It took about five months to completely be off meat. I also ditched dairy milk for almond milk. That was an easy transition because almond milk is delicious.

Eliminating animal protein completely from my diet was hard. I hate that it was so hard for me. I hate that I didn’t read Dr. Furhman’s books and immediately change my diet, especially after what my doctor had told me. But diets are hard to change, but I eventually made the change. I went vegan, but would eventually eat cheese again. This back and forth happened three or four times. It was a vicious cycle.

About a year ago I again went vegan, with an emphasis on eating a more plant-based diet. For a little while there I was consuming way too much vegan junk food. With the rise of more people ditching meat or just eating less of it, companies have taken notice and grocery story shelves are filled with vegan pizzas, vegan burgers and sausages, vegan chicken nuggets and patties, vegan mac and cheese, and vegan ice cream and doughnuts.  I indulged in all of them and I loved them all — a bit too much.

I’m not saying I’ll never eat those foods anymore, but they are no longer stocked in my fridge the way they used to be. It is definitely a ‘once-in-a-while’ thing. All that processed food is not the optimal diet in fighting inflammation. I admit, before this flare-up happened and when I was feeling good, I got lax, and I ditched some veggies for  vegan corn dogs and fries and other tasty and convenient vegan products.

Earlier this year around March, something triggered my immune system to get all wacky and now, in September, I’m still trying to make it right. Things are getting better, but it’s been a journey I never want to be on again. I do wonder if I were eating a more anti-inflammatory diet would my immune system have responded better? Had I stuck to my plan of eating mostly plants and whole foods would I been able to beat this flareup? Maybe. I don’t know, but my diet now is based around whole foods, as close to its natural state as possible.

It’s easy to eat extra healthy when you’re not feeling well, but making it your lifestyle even on days where you’re feeling great and just want to splurge a little, nd then it turns into a lot. That’s the challenge. But if I ever get tempted to go back to my old ways, I have about six months worth of reasons not to.

Thanks to the Vaccinated

 I’m not vaccinated. It’s not a political statement. It’s doctor’s orders. In 2006, I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis. I’ve written a couple blogs about it. I’ve had my ups and downs with the disease, but with medication and various treatments, I’ve been living relatively well with the disease in recent years, and it’d been a somewhat quiet seven years or so. But like all good things, that had to end too.

In mid-March my brother had an appointment to get the vaccine and could get me one, too. At that time it was still difficult to secure appointments for the vaccine. Despite really wanting it since I am one of the immune-compromised vulnerable ones, I listened to my body and it was telling me that something wasn’t right. I won’t go into details, but I suspected it wasn’t a good time for my body to take on a vaccine.

Two weeks would prove me right as I was in the midst of a full-blown flareup. Emails to my doctor put me on more medication and orders to stay away from the vaccine until things got better. This was the last week of March and as we head into mid-July, I am doing better, but not well enough to get vaccinated yet. 

I’m hoping a few more weeks changes that, but I’ve been hoping that for months now. I’m not writing about this to get sympathy. I don’t need that. We all have our health issues. I’m writing this to thank the people who have gotten vaccinated.  Because of you, people like me are safer. I know some people are unvaccinated by choice, but I am sure I can’t be the only one unvaccinated for health reasons. 

It is frustrating that politics have played such an integral role in the attitude to this virus, as well as to its vaccine. If the former idiot in the Oval Office would have just worn a mask at its inception, without complaint or political divide, and did not take his own vaccine in secret, maybe over 600,000 Americans wouldn’t have died and today more people would be vaccinated, thus helping to put a stop to this mutating deadly virus. But we’ll never know if that would have happened because, like I said, we had a dangerous idiot in the White House.  

So this blog is to simply thank those who had the good sense to get vaccinated, because while you did it to protect yourselves, you are also protecting vulnerable people like me by slowing the spread of this virus. I read an article a couple weeks ago (I’m sorry but I forgot where) that showed statistics that the more Republican a county is, the less vaccinated they are. The unvaccinated would be at a high risk in those counties, and as I read about the more contagious Delta variant, I am grateful I don’t live in those counties. 

Thank you to everyone who got the shot. 

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Sharon Ledwith Shares Her Chocolate Cherry Chunk Loaf

Please welcome author, Sharon Ledwith to my blog as she shares a delicious sweet treat that I am excited to try, but with vegan ingredients, of course. 

from Sharon Ledwith A real crowd pleaser at small gatherings such as book clubs or intimate bridal and baby showers, this chocolatey, sweet treat will tempt even the most disciplined of us. If cherry is your go-to fruit that makes your mouth think you’ve swallowed a piece of heaven, then read on if you dare to concoct this sinful chunk of bliss. CHOCOLATE CHERRY CHUNK LOAF A bit of butter for greasing the loaf pan 1¼ cups + 1 tsp. all-purpose plain flour ¼ cup cocoa 2 tsp. baking powder ¼ tsp. salt ¾ cup granulated or caster sugar 1 cup cherry yogurt 3 large eggs lightly beaten 1 tsp. vanilla ½ cup mild vegetable oil 1 cup cherries ¼ cup sweet chocolate chips 1 cup walnuts, chopped, use less if you prefer Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C or 165° for fan ovens, Gas Mark 4). Grease a 2 lb. (8 ½ x 4 ¼ x 2 ½ inch) loaf pan. Remove the pits from the cherries and cut each one in half. Place cherries in a small bowl, sprinkle the 1 teaspoon flour over top and toss gently. Sift 1¼ cups flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Stir in sugar, chocolate chips, and walnuts. Set dry ingredients aside. In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and oil. Add yogurt mixture to dry ingredients. Beat with a wooden spoon until all the flour is mixed in and the batter is smooth. Gently fold in the flour-coated cherries. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then remove cake and place it on a wire rack to cool completely. THE GLAZE 1 cup icing sugar, confectioner’s sugar 2 tbsp. maraschino cherry juice 1 tbsp. water Drop of pink food coloring, optional Pour icing sugar into a bowl. Whisk in maraschino cherry juice. Gradually whisk in water, a drop or two at a time, until a smooth, drizzle-able consistency is reached. Whisk in the food coloring, if using. While you’re waiting on your loaf to bake and cool, how about taking a break by delving into one of my books? May I suggest a visit to Fairy Falls, or if you’re feeling really adventurous, a trip back in time with The Last Timekeepers? Whichever you choose, either series will entertain and engage, pulling you into another time and a different place. Here’s a glimpse of the premises of both my young adult series: Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls Teen Psychic Mysteries… Imagine a teenager possessing a psychic ability and struggling to cope with this freakish power while trying to have a normal life. Now, imagine being uprooted and forced to live in a small tourist town where nothing much ever happens. It’s bores-ville from the get-go. Welcome to Fairy Falls. Expect the unexpected. The Last Timekeepers Time Travel Adventures… Chosen by an Atlantean Magus to be Timekeepers—legendary time travelers sworn to keep history safe from the evil Belial—five classmates are sent into the past to restore balance, and bring order back into the world, one mission at a time. Children are the keys to our future. And now, children are the only hope for our past. The Last Timekeepers Time Travel Adventure Series: The Last Timekeepers and the Dark Secret, Book #2 Buy Links: MIRROR WORLD PUBLISHING ׀ AMAZON ׀ BARNES & NOBLE ׀ The Last Timekeepers and the Arch of Atlantis, Book #1 Buy Links: MIRROR WORLD PUBLISHING ׀ AMAZON ׀ BARNES & NOBLE ׀ Legend of the Timekeepers, prequel Buy Links: MIRROR WORLD PUBLISHING ׀ AMAZON ׀ BARNES & NOBLE ׀ Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls Teen Psychic Mystery Series: Lost and Found, Book One Buy Links: MIRROR WORLD PUBLISHING ׀ AMAZON ׀ BARNES & NOBLE ׀ Blackflies and Blueberries, Book Two Buy Links: MIRROR WORLD PUBLISHING ׀ AMAZON ׀ BARNES & NOBLE Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/YA time travel series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, and the teen psychic mystery series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercising, anything arcane, and an occasional dram of scotch. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a southern tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.

Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her website and blog. Stay connected on Facebook and Twitter, and Smashwords. Look up her Amazon Author page for a list of current books. Be sure to check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.

My Failed Plant-Based for Thirty Days Challenge

My plan to eat completely plant-based for thirty days lasted about seventeen days. Though I’ve failed to eat 100 hundred percent plant-based, doesn’t mean I completely gorged myself on junk vegan processed foods, although I did over-indulge a little. A couple weeks ago, a local Chicago-based fast food restaurant, Buona Beef, that specializes in Italian beef, debuted its Italian “beefless” sandwich.

It tasted just what I remember an Italian beef tasting like. Even my omnivore neighbor couldn’t taste a difference. It’d been awhile since I’d had one. Italian beefs were one of my faves. For me, an Italian beef sandwich is more “Chicago” than hotdogs and deep dish pizza. But Veganwise, there was nothing comparable to the real thing…until now.

In the last few weeks I’ve had three of them. Don’t judge. I’m making up for lost time. At least I’d found the will to steer clear of my favorite vegan ice creams — and there are many. Still, despite my affinity for all things Beyond Burgers and Daiya pizzas, I do have my limits to the amount of delicious vegan processed junk I consume on a regular basis. I enjoy many simple vegan meals too, based around foods that were grown in the ground and not in a lab, but if those lab-grown foods replace animals from being torturously slaughtered, then I’m all for it…with some consumption limitations.

Although I failed the challenge I made to myself, one habit I’m going to make permanent is not filling my freezer with all of my favorite vegan junkfoods – pizzas, burgers, sausages, corn dogs, and ice cream. If it’s not in my house, I can’t eat it.