Connections: An Unexpected Treasure (With Frosting)

I am so happy to have Anne Belov of The Panda Chronicles and the recently released picture book Pandamorphosis as a guest blogger. Last week I talked about my love of pandas and Anne is one of the wonderful people I met on this journey! We are also collaborating on a book together 🙂

I’ll let Anne introduce herself and talk a bit about her work and our upcoming project!!


Connections: An Unexpected Treasure (With Frosting)

Generally speaking, I’m not known for playing well with others.

At least, not in my creative pursuits. I spent my art school years learning to be a painter, and as everyone knows, painters paint alone in their garret, living an isolated, tortured existence. Cutting off your ear is considered optional.

But then a funny thing happened a few years back: pandas entered my life and I became…um…obsessed with them. (For more about that, read my post on Cordelia’s Mom, Still: Where did all these pandas come from?)

Visual art was my thing, no illustrating, no cartooning, no printmaking, nothing but all painting, all the time, and stay out of my very private studio, thank you very much. I had absolutely no intention of becoming a writer.

The pandas made me do it.

Their voices invaded my brain, and I had no choice but to write down their words and the stories they told, and draw pictures of them, as they popped into my head. The Panda Chronicles blog, which features Your Brain on Pandas comics, sprang forth from my playtime with pandas. This eventually led me to write Pandamorphosis, my wordless picture book. Pandamorphosis brought my fine art training to bear (pun intended) and merged it with the comical nature of my …um…comic pandas.

pandamorphosis cover copy

So, while adrift on the internet, looking for readers who just might be looking for panda satire, something very unexpected began to happen: I started making connections.

In art, as well as music and in publishing, the game has changed. No more can the creative introvert sit in their tower, far above the clamor down below. The internet makes it possible, no, make that mandatory, that the writer connects with the crowds. Assuming, of course that the crowds have come calling.

I discovered something magical: the conversations and connections with my readers (OMG! I have readers!!!!!) help to feed and inspire me. My readers have embraced my bears with genuine enthusiasm. After all, who wouldn’t want to hug a panda? The more my readers cheer me on, the more I want to write new adventures for my cast of pandas (and one very annoyed cat.)

It is this cyberspace connection that makes these interactions easy, not to mention possible. And now, through this world-of-the-future marvel, I am about to embark on a collaborative project with my hostess here at VSomethingSpeaks.

Sometime towards the end of last year, Vicky approached me with the idea of writing a cookbook, based on the characters of Your Brain on Pandas. At first, I was a little skeptical.  After all, these are my pandas. But then she began to share some of the character sketches and recipes, with photos, (because of course if you are going to write a cookbook, you must test the recipes exhaustively,) and I began to see that she had a feel for my pandas, and would treat them with respect. We began to talk of a collaborative project, combining her recipes and writing, with my comics and illustrations.

Literary scandal copy

Did I forget to mention that this is a cupcake, make that a cuppycake cookbook?

If you follow Your Brain on Pandas, you will be well aware that all the pandas are especially fond of cuppycakes, to the point of cuppycake obsession. So, you are hearing it here first: The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook (favorite recipes from the panda kindergarten) is moving forward. Now that Pandamorphosis is out in the world, it’s full speed ahead as we develop our proposal and send out queries to agents. (What? You don’t have a copy of Pandamorphosis? It’s available on Amazon along with all the Panda Chronicles collections)

We hope you will follow along on our frosting filled journey. We’ll keep you updated on our progress here and over at The Panda Chronicles.

Vicky might even share a recipe or two.


Anne Belov is a visual artist, cartoonist and writer living on an island in the Pacific Northwest. You can find her paintings at The Rob Schouten Gallery in Greenbank, WA, her cartoons on her blog The Panda Chronicles, and read her guest posts on Whidbey Life Magazine, an on-line journal of arts, food, and culture on Whidbey Island. Her book Pandamorphosis was funded by her third successful Kickstarter project. Her only regret in life is that there is no MacArthur Grant awarded for panda satire.


Make sure you visit Anne’s links!!

Thank you Anne for your wonderful words. You are so right about making connections!! Meeting people like you online continues to be one of the more rewarding experiences of being a writer, as is getting feedback and comments from the lovely people who stop by and visit.

I think a Cuppycake recipe may be in order next time 🙂


A Personality Of Pandas

1988 was a pivotal year for me; I started university, met my long term partner Paul and the Giant Pandas Fei Fei and Xiao Xiao toured Australia. We went to see them at Melbourne Zoo because they are Paul’s favourite animal. The one stuffed toy that Paul has kept since childhood is a bedraggled panda. He has always loved this very special black and white bear. I would also come to love them but in a most unusual way.

panda ball

panda ball

Into The Darkness 2000 was another pivotal year for me. I graduated from university and promptly caught a flu that would plague me for years and would almost destroy my mind, body and soul. After years of antibiotics and no respite from the flu I contracted Post Viral Syndrome – PVS (a form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Not much is known about PVS, in fact doctors didn’t diagnose me, a naturopath did! But it took me a while to get to a naturopath. First I sank into a deep mental and physical depression. I was semi bedridden for over two years. Those years are still painful to remember. Weeks would go by in a blur. I rarely left the house and exercise was a thing of the past. Being intensely private I didn’t want anyone to know how sick I was so when I was invited places I would drag myself out of bed, get dressed and go. I would have a good time and then spend about three weeks in bed to recover. This went on and on. I couldn’t see an end to the misery or the pain. And then an amazing thing happened. A television show changed my life!

happy dance!

happy dance!

onwards and upwards

onwards and upwards

Through the Bamboo Forest I remember Paul asking me if I would like to watch a documentary on giant pandas. Since it required nothing more of me than to lie on a couch and keep my eyes open I said okay. One hour later I was a changed person. What happened? Those damn pandas broke my heart. I watched as mother pandas groomed their fragile and precious cubs; cubs fighting for their survival and the survival of their species. I watched as the world fought to stop this precious creature from becoming extinct. Panda reserves and panda breeding programs had been established in China and with co-operation and participation from the rest of the world, the fight to save the panda was in full swing. I wanted to be part of that fight! The documentary ended with a cub making its first climb into a tree. As the dainty little cub struggled, I saw my own struggle reflected. There are plenty of humans on the planet but only one me – I was nearly extinct and I wanted to survive. When the documentary finished I started sobbing, for the pandas but also for myself. Like Scarlett O’Hara I vowed I would never be brought down so low again. Taking that image of the triumphant baby panda with me I began the slow process of getting healthy. Walking With Pandas I wasn’t alone on my journey. I had always had the support of my partner and I was lucky enough to find a naturopath who could diagnose and treat me. Through a combination of homeopathic medicine, meditation, diet and exercise I slowly regained the ability to live. I wanted to make something of myself but mostly I wanted to be able to give something to the animal welfare movement. So each day I would get up, get dressed and put one foot in front of the other. I began daily walking, some days I could only walk past two houses other days I travelled further. I began walking around the block and was soon walking 20 minutes to the local shops and 20 minutes back – with a coffee break in between! One day, after coming back from my now routine 60 minute walk, a neighbour called me over and told me how proud she was of me. I never knew that she had been watching me from those early days. She had watched me go from hobbling wreck to a – well not a power walker – but a walker with a surprising turn of speed! What she hadn’t seen was that I wasn’t alone on those walks. I had company – and what strange company they were.

a special scrunch

a special scrunch

The companions on my journey were pandas. You see the pandas came with me after that documentary. I was surprised, and slightly disturbed to find I had a cast of panda characters in my head. They had names, personalities and different voices. Some were old, some were young, most were female. They inspired me when I thought I couldn’t go any further. I even had an inner critic panda who would mock my valiant efforts! I’m a writer so I’m no stranger to insanity but this didn’t feel like I had gone crazy. Bizarrely it felt like I had evolved. Ancient Pagan Deities were often pictured with animals and some were depicted as animal or half animal themselves. That’s how I felt: part human, part panda and for the first time in a long time, all me. Not long after the panda invasion Paul and I saw a stuffed panda that had a scrunched face with a grumpy expression. He laughed and said it reminded him of me. And then he bought her for me – my first stuffed panda!! She’s my favourite and runs my pack of stuffed pandas with an iron paw. Unlike real pandas my stuffed pandas have bred – a lot! And I never leave home without a panda. I used to take a stuffed one with me but now I have panda tattoos – no chance of forgetting them when I go out!

miaow miaow & me

miao miao & me

Full Circle 25 years after Fei Fei and Xiao Xiao delighted us in Melbourne, Paul and I celebrated 25 years of not being married in the most symbolic way – we went to China to cuddle a panda! As I waited in line at the Chengdu Panda Base a few thoughts crossed my mind. Excitement was one! A few years earlier we had done the VIP tour in Adelaide to meet the pandas Wang Wang and Funi. We got to pat their heads but that was through bars. Now I was about to sit next to a baby panda! My inner critic panda popped up and suggested it was exploitive to pimp pandas out for pats. But then one year old Miao Miao was carried out and all legible thought was erased. All I could think was – baby panda!! When my turn came I eagerly sat next to the little panda princess who seemed to delight in greeting her fawning subjects. I patted her and held back the tears. I wanted to thank her and all the pandas for what they had done for me. I promised the little cub that I would continue to fight for the survival of all animals, especially pandas. If I had any doubts about the process they were allayed by the staff at the panda reserve. They graciously and enthusiastically thanked everyone who had paid for the privilege of patting a panda. They assured us the money would be used to keep the panda dream alive. And I know it will.



Our guide was waiting for us and he too thanked us for our support of the panda. He took us around the reserve and his love and knowledge were breathtaking. He knew the names of all the pandas and kept track of their progress. We couldn’t believe it when we saw a group of baby pandas laid out sunbaking on a plank of wood. That is the photo on my banner. Later we saw the same baby pandas asleep in their crib. Everywhere we looked we saw adorable pandas doing what they do best – eating, playing and sleeping. We ended the day walking with red pandas. Chengdu Panda Reserve was a great day out but we wanted more!

don't! wipe! my! face!!

don’t! wipe! my! face!!

The next day we went with our guide to the Bifengxia Panda Reserve. He was delighted at our reaction when he showed us Tai Shan!! We squealed – Tai Shan Butterstick! He was nicknamed Butterstick after a zookeeper at the National Zoo in Washington said that he was the size of a stick of butter when he was born. Next we were treated to some amazing baby panda antics. We were just in time to see two baby pandas about to be fed milk in metal bowls. They were so cheeky. One panda didn’t want to have its mouth wiped so it rolled on the ground and then rolled in spilt milk! We saw other baby pandas playing on plastic toys. These were images we had often seen on Pandas International and now we were seeing them live. We ended our day watching a group of five young pandas eating, playing and then chasing each other up trees. One panda climbed up a tree all on its own and put on quite a show. I was reminded of a little baby panda climbing a tree in a documentary; a baby panda that had given me the courage to get up and climb my own trees. Meeting the pandas in their homeland was a life changing experience. They gave me the courage to continue my journey in a new and wonderful way. This journey would involve an American artist, cartoonist and writer. It is a journey that has only just begun. And it is no surprise that the stars of this journey are pandas.

panda kindergarten playing UP!

panda kindergarten playing UP!

The Anne Belov Connection I first came across Anne Belov and The Panda Chronicles through Pandas International, a fantastic organisation dedicated to the giant panda cause. One day I noticed a panda cartoon from Pandas International on my Facebook feed. Intrigued, I clicked to see what it was. That’s when I met Bob T. Panda! If you love quirky and witty cartoons you must go and visit him. Needless to say I was hooked. I quickly bought the Panda Chronicle Books and followed The Panda Chronicles blog. Through this blog I met their delightful creator Anne Belov. We began interacting and I found her to be funny and generous AND she was as crazy about pandas as I was! I loved her pandas so much and I dearly wanted to become more a part of the Panda Chronicles. I noticed that her pandas, especially the endearing panda kindergarten, had a fondness for cupcakes, or as they call them – cuppycakes 🙂 I hatched a plan! Emboldened by my visit to China, I threw caution to the winds and emailed Anne with an idea for a collaboration. Luckily she said yes!! Anne has happily agreed to be my guest blogger so you can read all about her, the pandas and our planned book next time. Not Everything Is Black & White My beloved pug Wolfy passed away nearly a year ago. He was my Chinese panda dog and I miss him dearly. I was too devastated after his death to buy him his own memory box so I stuffed all his mementoes and condolence cards in mine. For Southern Hemisphere Halloween (April 30th) I finally got him his own red memory box. I started going through my box and pulling out his things. I cried as I re-read his cards and remembered his life. But then I stopped crying. There at the bottom of my box of memories was an article I had cut out. It was about the giant pandas visiting Melbourne in 1988. Way back then those peculiar black and white creatures had cast a spell on me and when I needed them most they came out of the bamboo forest and offered their help. My childhood search for a favourite animal has finally ended. I can think of no better animal than one that wasn’t chosen by me but that reached out with its own furry paw to touch and heal me mind, body and soul.

nap time

nap time

not a panda suit

not a panda suit

      I’ve always talked to the animals,

     but the giant pandas are the first ones who talked back

and they’re still talking!

ACHOO! The sneeze heard across the world

It started on my Facebook feed with a friend liking the post of someone I didn’t know. The post was about a viral youtube clip being made into a movie. The clip – Sneezing Baby Panda. The film – Sneezing Baby Panda: The Movie. So thanks to this Facebook like I got to see a movie I may never have known about otherwise.

The movie, made by the two Australian documentary filmmakers who shot the original footage, is an unusual blend of documentary and fiction. The film is about an Australian zoologist and her struggling zoo. When she sees the footage of the sneezing baby panda on youtube, she decides to travel to China and bring back Chi Chi, the grown up sneezing baby panda. She hopes this will encourage more visitors to come to her zoo. The grown up Chi Chi is played by the famous American born panda Tai Shan.

Tai Shan

Tai Shan: The Movie Star

While it was fun it was also jolting. In between the fiction fun there was documentary information about pandas. The hardest bit to sit through was the footage of the devastating earthquake that hit the Sichuan Province in May, 2008. The damage wrought by the earthquake was immense. One of the many places destroyed was the Woolong Panda Research Centre. Sadly one of the pandas, Mao Mao, was crushed to death in her enclosure. In the film Mao Mao is supposed to be the mother in the Sneezing Baby Panda clip. I’m not sure if this is true or simply a way to bring Mao Mao into the film. That is one of the issues with melding documentary with fiction – you are not quite sure what is real information and what isn’t. But, I am pretty sure that the panda surfing and jumping a shark is not based on fact! So while the film is mostly funny, those of us who remember Mao Mao will be saddened by the reminder of her tragic death. Australia’s Adelaide Zoo panda Wang Wang is Mao Mao’s son. I can’t help but remember his mother whenever I see him.

Wang Wang

Mao Mao’s son Wang Wang

Today is Mother’s Day and I thought I would pay tribute to all the mothers in the wild and in captivity who are doing their job and making sure our beloved animals continue roaming our beautiful planet – our Mother Earth.


hitching a ride koala style


icelandic horse cuddle


hippopotamus snuggles


peccary kiss


watchful tree kangaroo mum


time for a turkey talk



hungry baby fur seal


something better than bamboo – panda milk!