Pomegranates, bittersweet moments

Demeter, goddess of agriculture,harvest and fertility, is a reminder of seasonal changes, human bounty, and potential loss. As the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece mirrored human nature, one may say as a mother she surely felt a great emptiness when her daughter Persephone was lured by Hades into the underworld disappearing from beloved earth grounds. Hades, a dark figure (may be something like a modern Darth Vader) convinces the kind-hearted Persephone to fall for him offering her a pomegranate. By eating a few seeds she consummates this relationship so that even the great leader-god Zeus could not intervene, thus Persephone travels to Hades part of the year, and as she re-emerges her mother, Demeter brings flowers and the budding of Spring —  a beautiful myth! Writers talk about the necessity of change, darkness being a necessary part of our healing (Thomas Moore “Dark Nights of the Soul”).

The continued pagan tradition of the pomegranate, a bittersweet food of seeds or squeezed into juice, rich in vitamin C and anti-inflammatory properties, is added with barley / bulgar wheat, to commemorate death of loved ones as part of the memorial services of several Eastern Orthodox traditions (called “kolyva” κόλλυβα). There’s a great list of benefits including helping weight loss indicated in a popular fitness magazine, Shape (pomegranate info).

Late this past August through September we experienced several losses — mainly through accidents —filling us with shock, sadness and grief. Perhaps due to fate, some incidents may have been preventable. One great loss was of a couple, namely Dr. Chris and Ms. Claudia Lolas, also promoters of Greek Culture and history in bridging cultures (Ancient Persia – Iran & Ancient Greece … book written in Greek and edition in Farsi and in English forthcoming). These were great friends or family to some as their losses were amidst many other tragedies happening around the globe during those weeks. Prevention is key and such an intricate part of building health literacy.

As all good researchers do, and after an “unfair” speeding ticket I realized that we CAN do something to helping individuals and communities learn about safer driving and advocacy for better roads. In a small but winding distance from one town to another town in Southern Peloponnese (Greece) we counted 39 small memorial “churches” (10 were in straight others on curved road) clearly speeding, two-way traffic, bad weather conditions, malfunction of vehicle or motorbike, inadequate visual cues doesn’t help. GIS mapping can help track possible driving areas that need more attention.

Schools need to promote health literacy via health education, promotion of community health goals. Police can offer special trainings in conjunction with municipalities on good driving, but they must also be consistent in ticketing (speed traps, alcohol testing) and their police cars manned with appropriate equipment.

As individuals we should model good driver behavior for our younger citizens soon-to-be drivers! Here are some ways:

  • Mind our speeding (great articles such as prevent speeding or one by mechanics).
  • Wear seatbelts and ensure passengers are secure (children with safety car seats, etc,).
  • Follow Road Rules and demand clearer road signs as well as some helpful solar powered signs that “show” our speed.
  • Mind the drinking  cup !
  • Remember even if it’s not obvious, pedestrians DO and should have the right of way.

After my speeding fine and finally getting my license back (rules are very strict in this part of the world) I’m definitely checking my speedometer more often. Last night an expensive car went whizzing past me, only to be caught in a police speed trap further down and this time it was justified…as for me, a safe and guilt free ride home, in thinking of my lost friends, truly a bittersweet moment.

 

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“Seasonal” and all that Falls…

Four seasons, all with their special blessings. Every Fall as school and academic year starts we always start with reminders of what the words “seasonal” can mean, depending on your interest or conditions…move to enhance our own and others’  health literacy!

    • seasonal reminders like “World Mental Health Day” (Tuesday October 11th) or focusing on eye exams through campaigns line “World Sight Day” (2nd Thursday monthly —  this year October 12th)  are good ways to brush up our skills and increase our health education  and social marketing approaches
    • seasonal allergies — most happen in spring and Fall so good for us to remind families or school of warning signs and think of allergy tests for awareness and prevention
    • seasonal eating — farmer’s market, choice of vegetables or fruit, thinking of compotes and other goodies to last us through the winter months ahead.

A day of reminders of seasonal fruit like quince (κιδώνι), pomegranates,  olives (the ones we eat, and the ones later made into olive oil…so many varieties!)

We visited a wonderful place that is open to the public offering an escape for families, all ages, sizes as there are plenty of physical and cultural activities to do and the best part? Getting in our 10,000 steps daily walking. The Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center in Attica, Greece is one of many similar places around the globe that are accessible and free to the community.  Today was particularly good as the smell of petroleum has subsided from last month’s disaster oil spill in the nearby Saronic Gulf. The bounty of vegetables and fruits that have been creatively and strategically planted was evident — more on Fall to winter seasonal  fruit later!

Survive the heat wave!

This last week seems many major cities, in several countries have been having unbearable heat waves. One can take some advantage of vacation/ holiday time and spend your day next to the actual beach waves, lakes, ponds, rivers, trying to gather as much moisture, drinking much water and steering clear from most alcohol (see last post), all the while minding your sun intake and wearing sunscreen under an umbrella with preferably a scarf or hat. Stop by a trendy or well-known ice cream parlor in the popular range of Haagen Daz or Ben and Jerry’s to area local business like Cape Cod Creamery — support local economies. I particularly like the CCC’s Truro Turtle, their classic French vanilla, and the Dennis Double Chocolate ice cream (enjoyed separately with mindfulness eating of course). I then played some mini golf and did some extra walking to burn those extra yet amazingly tasting calories!

Typical advice. Stay cool, protect, replenish.

Listening to favorite tunes? Into reading? We are visual creatures of fantasy so many of you can think of great summer tunes to take you to that “Isla Bonita” as you imagine drinking that non-alcoholic pina colada right? My latest was to read a novel part of a book series called “Deep Blue” by Jennifer Donnelly (soon to be made into a Disney film I’m sure as we haven’t had any mermaid sequels since Ariel!). Even though this book was in the category of “Young Adult Reader” the cover was enough to draw me in to forgotten worlds like Atlantis, while introducing language including English, Romanian, Greek, and Gaelic. Adventure books may lead some to sweat but it had enough “cool” water scenes to keep me refreshed, and I learned something to increase my own literacy!

Anyone denying we have climate change and it is getting both hotter and colder? Hmm. Well then Mr. U.S. President we beg to differ…..when you have power outages due to overuse of air conditioning and cannot access clean beaches since the plastics and various garbage has affected large ecosystems let’s chat again shall we?

Take care, mind the cup!

As summer sets in at full swing, remember the quote “take care, mind the cup!” when it comes to alcohol… this blogger’s alternative suggestion to the British Tube slogan “take care, mind the gap.”

Enjoying the summer sun, swimming, and enjoying cool refreshing drinks are “musts” for most of us who have been working hard and mostly indoors this past year. Some may not drink alcohol, due to taste or not being legal drinking age (in U.S. 21 years, Europe 18 years) and indeed this is a controversial issue. Others may enjoy a wine cooler, a cold beer, tropical pina coladas or other similar cocktails,  among other great alcoholic beverages. My all time fave summer drink is the “Cape Codder” as these ‘light’ drinks when taken in moderation is fine, however many people may take it too far and in essence lose control of their head!

IMG_9647Take a hard look at yourself and your friends and family…some may have a healthy relationship with alcohol and know your limit, while others wind up putting themselves and others in uncomfortable situations or even in danger.

  • We never drink and drive, or drink and dive! Though the group M.A.D.D. has done quite a bit in raising awareness in the U.S. there need to be more community interventions and sharing of stories much early on about “responsible drinking”.
  • We avoid binge drinking as we know it contributes to the above, as well as other intentional or unintentional injury, long-term drinking damages our liver, increases (for women) chances of some cancers (see CDC Fact Sheet on binge drinking)
  • Recall the song by UB40 “Red Red Wine” … which certainly highlights the ‘fun’ aspects, but if you need to drink to ‘forget’ on a continual basis, perhaps some counseling and support would help in the short and long term, there are plenty of free or reduced counseling services around.
    • drink plenty of water! My favorite grandmother wisdom quote was “when the month doesn’t have an ‘r’ the wine takes water”  (“μήνας που δεν έχει ‘ρ’ πέρνει το κρασί νερό”) think about it — May, June, July, August are months we get dehydrated so drinking more than 10 glasses of water a day should be the usual and every time you drink alcohol accompany with water (and something to eat). Have healthy habits throughout the year!
  • Aware of genetics and potential addiction — regardless of the family history (see NIAAA info) it is cultural messages that mainly contribute to reinforcing alcohol use and even abuse of it! If every street corner has a bar or pub, if College is about “partying” drunk and alcohol advertising  shows it as seductive can we avoid falling into traps? Yet in cultures where you drink slowly while you enjoy food and company there are healthier “relationships” with alcohol!
  • A friend of mine is so sensitive to alcohol because indeed they recognize the ugly face of alcoholism which affects both their work and family life, so that everyone he/she comes into contact with needs to be careful not to “trigger” their symptoms by being offered cool drinks and even those delicious for most of us Grand Marnier chocolates.

This summer along with all the recommendations don’t forget your sunscreen, staying cool, wearing a hat and sticking in the shade. There are some great community ideas out there, so be safe, keep your head on straight and enjoy summer. Cheers!

April showers bring May flowers and..?

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We all know the quote “April showers bring May flowers” and indeed we are happy when all the rain subsides into beautiful rainbows and the blossoms of Spring.  I particularly liked this woman’s creation of Alice in Wonderland in MyFairyGardens.com. Alongside all the birds chirping their mating songs, our little insect friends (lady bugs, bees, ants) and perhaps “foes” (mosquitoes etc.) many people suffer from seasonal allergies that have some symptoms similar to colds do you know the difference?

How many are health literate about how insects pollinate and know that many are useful and needed for a healthy ecosystem? As a matter of fact big companies like Bayer-Monsanto may be taking insect reppellent “killer” chemicals too far ….some accusations of altering the genetic mix of mosquito and thus creating dangerous illness like the Zika virus.  I’ve been thinking of all those years of preparing for summer nights with harsh mosquito repellents only to find that there are more natural ways to help us and our children — as a matter of fact do people know we can easily plant both lavender and citronella plants to both attract bees and to repel unwelcome mosquitoes?

Many of us are educated about allergies but do we know to consult with professionals who can help us determine what we suffer from most and how over years this may change? Understanding how our immune system works and the basics of allergies like hay fever which may “look like a cold” is important health information, as also understanding and recognizing potential allergens (common food allergens are peanuts or shellfish, many people are allergic to bee stings), accessing necessary servies.  The last part is critical as we can potentially have life threatening reactions, some may need to always carry with them an Epi-pen or syrups/medicine like anti-histamines. Terms that enrich our fundamental literacy such as ‘allergen’ ‘intolerance’ or ‘sensitivity’ can help us better communicate with our healthcare providers or find relevant information on the internet, there is so much for us to know…. Mayo Clinic has a good basic description of the difference between a food allergy vs. food intolerance and generally good reputable sites are ones to look up in enhancing our own health literacy.

Come into May with a good healthy Spring attitude… you owe it to yourelf, your family, community to:

  • learn more about how to attract good insects and repel those not-so-friendly or good for our health ones
  • understand allergies (seasonal, food) and potential allergens to avoid
  • advocate for healthier ecosystems and responsible corporate practices

Spring, Fasting & left-over health messages

Lent, Spring, and The “ides of March”?!

This year the tradition of Lent has started for many traditional Christians around the globe and every 4 years the Eastern and Western Calendars “meet” so this year Lent has started together (https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/roman-calendar.html) Carnival marks the last time of “letting loose” with food, drink, dress/costumes and for many a continuing of winter-Spring traditions extending back to the ancient times; whether you are  celebrating “Clean Monday” (Καθαρή Δευτέρα) with kite-flying and a vegetable and fish “diet” or preparing for a 40-day “fast” we focus on getting rid of our negative “habits” temporarily (leaning away from “temptation”)  and perhaps reflecting on being better people as well as preparing for Spring! And since we’re thinking of those left-overs last month was also Dental Care Awareness for kids  month, maybe it’s the chocolate binge and from Valentine’s Day or thinking of those marshmallow sugarcoated “peeps” for Easter …who doesn’t love Easter candy?! Whatever one does reminding ourselves to visit the dentist at least 1-2 times a year is vitally important and brushing teeth, flossing, sugarless gum after meals also helps! Ironically even the more health-literate Greece, due to the economic crisis not only has the dental profession been affected negatively among other health ‘tragedies’  described in an article in the reputable medical journal The Lancet appropriately called “Omens of a Health Tragedy” by Kentikelenis et al. (2011 article).  Indeed, children in Greece now have some of the worst teeth in all of Europe — The latest sign of Greece’s decay: Children’s teeth (identified Reuters article) since not going to the dentist often,   more than just ‘a pain’ in one’s month as teeth indeed affect and even reflect a person’s overall health.

In Spring, Pagan and Neo-Christian traditions come to light…

  • Persephone comes up from Hades after she was lured to the underworld by a pomegranate and her mother Artemis (Demeter) decides she will allow the bloom of Spring and summer hearth before Persephone goes down again into Fall and Winter scarcities.
  • We await for the Groundhog to see his shadow
  • The bracelet of Spring “Martis” (Ο Μάρτης) — Greece and the  general Balkans one will see the unisex wearing tradition of a red and white bracelet supposedly to prevent a sunburn, and we are called to  hang the bracelet on a fruit tree to “grow” the end of the month…remember some superstitious  stuff is ok but don’t obsess…
  • The famous reference about “The Ides of March” which refers to the full moon which corresponds to the 13th of March, May, July, October.  However most of us identify this with March 15th (starting in 44 B.C.) when the Roman ruler Julius Caesar was killed specifically due to his dictatorship rule many of us recall his supposed famous last line at his assassination ‘et tu, Brute’ (Latin for “and you, Brutus” or “even you, Brutus”… said at the time to his ‘friend’)

This special season think of the various messages that can help you integrate actions for better health:

  1. If you feel like a breath of fresh air away from the troubles of everyday life, plus a bit of exercise running in the wind, ‘go fly a kite’ (not just for controlling your anger any more!)
  2. Eat less, remember your 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a dayUnknown-1 for better health. Fast wisely.
  3. Love that candy, but remember to brush your teeth and seek dental care!
  4. Allergies may be around the corner in the new bloom, be aware of side effects and take precaution (not just the ‘ides of March’).
  5. The kids may be waiting anxiously for the Easter bunny, but personally love this quote by a famous late comedian-actor, Robin Williams (1951-2014):