A rose in winter

If a rose is full of thorns, it does not mean it’s not full of beauty……Roses do not bloom hurriedly; for beauty, like any masterpiece, takes time to blossom.

Quotes by Matshona Dhliwayo

One of my favorite books turned Disney success was “Beauty and the Beast.” The original French Fairy tale titled La Belle et la Bête, was written by French novelist GabrielleSuzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, a time of great tumult and revolution in Northern Europe, and the beginning of what some termed the “great awakening” for the colonial North Americans who eventually rebel 30+ years later…

Perhaps we like the story because of the ideal of love and kindness of the heroine Belle turning over the well educated yet harsh beast into a handsome, well-mannered prince (what many women may fantasize about with a crude partner, in addition to monogamy and other similar more positive traits….). More than this, her relationship with her kind father who in the middle of cold winter stopped to pluck the one beautiful red rose, I imagine similar to this one found on a post-snow day.

We don’t live in a castle, even though the temperature stood at 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7• Celsius), this fuchsia colored rose wanted to survive growing tall, wanting to reach the warmth of the winter sun. Standing alone, beautiful, bundled up in its petals as if saying, “take me into the warmth of your home.” Well, we all know the rest of the Fairytale story and we all love those winter holiday tales… and here is the health “twist”…

Are you caring for yourself and others who need you? Can you rethink monthly about your new year’s resolutions and take practical healthy steps towards this?

“Every rose has it’s thorn” was sung in that cowboy drawn accent by Guns-n-Roses and this last week has caused a lot of ‘thorny‘ subjects to come up. Range from the US – Middle East, all the way to the ecological disaster in Australia and all those helpless animals down under…. with every difficulty we grow stronger and there are always people (we know or foreign to us) who help, like the volunteer firefighter pictured here…

You make us proud

I don’t know who you are Sir, but THANK YOU for showing humanity, as many other people have risking their lives, while most of us sit in the comfort of our homes perhaps wondering what can we do? There are many agencies to donate to and of course we should be selecting those whom we think are honorable in their cause as well as reputable.

  • Maybe your parents are aging — this is a fact of life and so you need to adjust your own life as they will theirs — this indeed was one of the main reasons I wrote my Chapter on health literacy (Across the Lifespan Handbook). As the rose, we whither and pass on but our “scent” still remains, this is what we have contributed to the world of ‘beauty‘.
  • Maybe you are tired of always giving and “fixing” others. One comment I saw posted recently was that it is not “our job” to fix people or take them on as “projects”…. but I’d ask is it enough to TRY to show them the way? I recall one someone telling me about relationships to keep in mind — we all have baggage, but then it depends whether it’s carry-on or check-in.

Be realistic people, not just individualistic, we are supposed to work towards the collective good are we not? Move away from the anger of the ‘beast’; things can be prevented and helped if we care about people, our environment, our community, please ‘call a Spade ♠️ a spade‘ — say it like it is, don’t use empty or irrelevant words. Move beyond simple “likes” on FB , do something about it, and yes social media is helpful to brainstorm ideas and raise funds.

Natural disasters are one thing, man made crises are another. People become displaced in life and love, but people also learn to prevent based on lessons learned (example of one family & the Rafina 2018 fires, or the Boston Strong movements). ‘Thorns’ can be removed.

You may be called on intentionally or by accident to help others and your actions may be like the ONE beautiful rose of winter…. an unforgettable smell reminding you of the “hope” of Spring just a few months away. Don’t get stuck in darkness, heal your body and your spirit with good “food” (books and fairytales included) it only makes you stronger. Sweet and fragrant dreams….

Beyond A New Year’s Resolution

A new year, a new you. Should the emphasis be on “new” or “renew”?

New Year’s Fireworks in Prater Park – Vienna


New Years Resolutions are very much a western idea, measurable goals if you will. The concept of “reflection” however, transcends many religious and spiritual traditions. What would you reflect on for the past year? Basic questions can include:

  • Did I learn from my successes and mistakes?
  • Have I changed at least one thing about my consumption habits that will lead to a better health outcome? (Diet, exercise, use of substances, financial spending)
  • Do I ask for help when I need it? (Social support, counseling, etc.)
  • Am I learning more about myself and others? Accepting those things I cannot change….
  • Do I better understand love, friendship, family, and society?
  • How often have I given thanks for what I have?
  • Have I visualized at least one goal that I managed to succeed at?

The above help one gain “insight” and it could be a habit each year to reflect using a journal about what we accomplished during the previous year, and what we hope to accomplish or strive for in the next.

Some common goals like “exercise more” seem unattainable in the strict sense (e.g. join a gym, run a marathon) either for physical or monetary reasons or life circumstances. If you focus on what you’ve done and congratulate yourself for persistence and alternative course of action it’s more effective than being unreasonably hard on yourself.  Work toward “renewing” your outlook. Even Forbes Magazine had a set of New Year’s Resolutions to focus more on the ‘we’ and less on the ‘me’… what our overly narcissistic culture needs to be reminded of!

Examining patterns of behaviors will help you recognize them faster. We often think that we will remember everything but our memory deludes us, think “false memories.” It is most useful to write things down as your pattern may become more obvious — that “aha!” moment. Think about these issues:

Financial health — do you continuously spend more than you earn? We’re not saying starve here, or not “treat” yourself to something nice like a good bottle of wine, a fancy dinner, a new shirt or dress. BUT, do you really need to buy caviar and champagne, or the most expensive shoes for that night out? The basic rules most financially responsible families pass on to their children are:

  • track what you spend your money on
  • pay for necessities (for your health, food, insurance)
  • don’t rely on credit (pay off debts)
  • invest (start with your time, create ideas, start small think bigger) and reinvest (training and education).
  • teaching children at each stage (7 Smart ways parents teach kids about money; Parents.com even has a set of age-by-age list of money teaching recommendations).

Physical health – Can you modify some things? Take public transport and walk longer distances as this will help you get more in shape and notice things you would otherwise miss if you were driving! I often observe architecture and stores, take photos!

One night I walked 2 miles in the cold from the metro/subway in the middle of the Moonlit night….crisp January nights can offer one the most amazing ‘star’ features, you just need to be aware of your surroundings (and any stray dogs).

Rococo architecture (photo as roadside observer)!

Relationship health — Do your relationships fulfill most of your needs? This includes friendships as well as romantic relationships (are these ‘needs’ realistic…. not narcissistic?). The key here is, do these people enhance you overall? are these people  well-intended or do they drain you? (if they are toxic to your health think about setting some limits) Are you able to forgive and put your ego aside and apologize when it is needed?

People come into your life to offer something, teach you something, share something. The Eurythmics song “Sweet Dreams” says it best — some of them want to use you, some of them want to get used by you, some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused… keep your head up!

There are many articles about healthy relationships which includes

  • supporting each other, open or improving communication, reducing our expectations (too many romance novels or unrealistic movie experiences of ‘romance’ or ‘love’ may add to unrealistic expectations — do you really think you will fall in love with someone you meet at a bar? rarely happens…),
  • keeping our bodies safe (no abuse/violence – check out the Duluth Model “Power and Equality Wheels”, preventing STDs/STIs/HIV by using condoms every time you have sex, getting annual check-ups like pap smears).
  • Long-term support and commitment may be better for our health — marriage may not be such a ‘bad’ thing! Are you a commitment phobic? seems to be a trend according to experts, reinforced by our fast-paced societies. 
  • Many people afraid to even take one basic step into the sea of a more fulfilling ‘relationship’ often let their lives pass them by… they are so afraid of being ‘hurt’ again, they simply shut down and close off any chances of love.

A very useful book about this was written by a Rabbi,  “Why Can’t I Fall in Love? A Twelve-Step Program” to get you to think about your patterns — do you often pick the ‘wrong’ people, do you sabotage your relationships, do you think everyone is not perfect or you’re too picky? have you closed yourself off to love?

A great movie (the book is better) on the reality of our self, potential limitations, and sometimes luck in finding love is “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The emphasis for me on mindfulness, and especially allowing yourself indulgences like food without guilt, dressing for yourself and not others, are very important in a society obsessed with perfection… and no, you don’t need to travel to Indonesia, India, or hike the Himalayan mountains to find peace. Then again the experience of seeing truth ‘in front of us’ sounds a bit like Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist.

Spiritual health — Do you feel you have a place in the world?  Do you feel you have a healthy relationship with God? (even agnostics or atheists in times of trouble may question if there is something ‘more’, and we know from research that those with a spiritual foundation fare better long-term in terms of their health outcomes).  The turning point for me was meeting renowned cosmologists and physicists who in essence are scientists, they also understand there is something greater, we are all interconnected, we simply need to ‘notice’ more and work together.  For counselors and for self-improvement I recommend Scott Peck and Thomas Moore books.  My favorites are: “The Road Less Traveled” by Psychiatrist Scott Peck, M.D. and “Care of the Soul” by a former monk turned psychologist, Thomas Moore. For healing trauma, see Edward Tick, Ph.D. books based on ancient rituals of healing such as “The Practice of Dream Healing: Bringing Ancient Greek Mysteries Into Modern Medicine.”

“Disappointments in love, even betrayals and losses, serve the soul at the very moment they seem in life to be tragedies. The soul is partly in time and partly in eternity. We might remember the part that resides in eternity when we feel despair over the part that is in life.” ― Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

2natures

Bringing storytelling to the holidays

We are natural storytellers. Whether it’s a folk tale, a fairy tale or your own “tale” the importance of the written and oral word are vitally important for building traditions and maintaining relationships. This includes family and even your healthcare provider as sharing of stories helps build empathy and health literacy.

During the cold season it has been a tradition for hundreds of years to gather around the fire 🔥 share stories, drinking hot beverages, that bring generations together. What better then to start your own tradition now?

Belonging to a self-improvement group like Toastmasters allows those advanced speakers to formally plan and be evaluated on their oral speaking skills includes establishing eye contact and rapport with your audience with the help of props and vocal variety. This year for the annual Christmas 🎄 and Holiday party I had the chance to retell the classic Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Match Girl” with the goal of reminding our audience about the less fortunate and why we all need to maintain hope and be mindful of others.
Friend and compatriot Toastmaster Sylvia, gave a great tale of “Sophie” the working girl who just wanted to stay home with her alcohol “friends” ….and how a few “elves” brought her back to her senses reminding her of the basics!

Yes Sophie please mind the cup, and remember Santa is good for our health, and please drink plenty of clean water!

No one is perfect in the oral tradition, it’s the small steps that matter ….speaking of which I appreciated Queen Elizabeth’s recent holiday speech of the generations coming together and how often small steps like thinking of climate change, the spirit of good faith, bring reconciliation and positive change.

Whether it’s hot chocolate or peppermint dreams do take time with those you care about, and share some good stories. As always be good to your body, mind, and spirit for better health! Happy holidays and best for the upcoming new year!

Great storytelling!

Santa 🎅 is good for our health!

He’s a jolly old Good-fella you might say, and we love the myth of Santa Claus 🎅 !

Along the lines of Camelot and King Arthur legend, there are parts of the myth of “Santa Claus” (really St. Nicholas) based on truth, and it turns out a little bit of “fib” might be good on our own and children’s health.

One article indicates that “Santa mythology for children may be important for executive functions like attention skills, which provides parents with good evidence that they should not be discouraged from stimulating their children’s imagination.”

Marketing the Santa myth

On the other hand it is quite a money-making venture and Coca Cola figured it out years ago with their initial red and white clothing to match their brand name, starting in 1933 to be exact.

Well it turns out marketing the North Pole has also been good for countries like Finland who take marketing Santa Claus pretty seriously and has increased their local business with booming locales like Rovaniemi.

However the original Saint was a Greek Bishop living during Roman times in a place in Asia Minor (now Modern Turkey) in about 280 A.D. And as usual despite his good deeds was eventually persecuted. Even his remains were fought over as this National Geographic article by Brian Handwerk indicates.

Listen to those winter tales “Twas the Night Before Christmas…” with the Good company of family and friends keeping warm with healthy soup and drink, cheers!!

Water water everywhere so let’s preserve it to drink

Do you have the water running while you brush your teeth ? What about when you wash your dishes or your car? Every single product you have and need for your life contain water 💦 are you health literate about your local and global needs?
Do you keep up with the costs of fixing broken pipes and bad infrastructure (Physical or Communication) never mind the overuse of pesticides that run into our drinking water! Most governments are not even following the law for Safety Standards !

Dr. Angelina-Kallia Antoniou, European Environmental Law Expert

We should all be concerned about the quality and quantity of our water supplies in the world which includes the threats like bioterrorism and even the opportunities of therapy with water — there are entire Web pages dedicated to this (eg. Livpure). We learned about hydrotherapies like Ποσιθεραπεία (Water we drink), Πυλοθεραπεία (water with minerals we put on our bodies). We were informed about biodiversity and the fact that 30% of the land in Greece is part of Natura 2000. All this with water-related art, water filter display and networking opportunities at the 1st International Forum on Water held December 10th and 11th in Zappeion, near Syndagma square Athens.

Dr. Vantarakis speaks about the interplay of individual and community behaviors as well as the government importance of maintaining the public’s health !

Do you understand that disease is “cyclical” and waterborne diseases come and go ? Remember Cholera (think John Snow’s water pump) or experiences of gastroenteritis? Painful and deadly. We often have only a few days to “move” in protecting our public’s health epidemiologically but not enough time for lab results …while news spreads like wildfire through media! Sometimes accurately sometimes not, as Dr. Emmanuel Vantarakis, Professor of School of Medicine of Patras University indicates.

There was talk about dealing with public health disasters that reflect what we had posted on this blog a couple of years ago and no, you cannot just hide a problem of potential epidemic proportions where countries in the future won’t even have clean water to drink due to climate changes and geopolitical games.

Congratulations to the Woman of the Year Time magazine 2019, Greta Thunberg, and we love the magazine cover ! She’s keeping our heart and mind on protecting our environment and taking recycling and minimizing plastics seriously ! Our congratulations to local groups like this beach cleaning community who have been attempting to clean up beaches and be more civically engaged with young people. Let’s go global citizens you know who you are!

We can live without food for up to 14 days, without water for only a couple of days, and our earth 🌍 needs to be maintained else humans will be extinct like dinosaurs! Great initiatives …let’s keep talking water!

Chestnuts in the Forest

Fall in the village of chestnuts «Καστάνιτσα»

In search of those little brown delicacies in the wood? Chestnuts are the perfect Fall food, a low calorie “nut”, a great source of dietary fiber, with Vitamin C among other vitamins (B1, B2, B6, folic acid, manganese, molybdenum, and copper as well as a good source of magnesium. Wow!

This is the month of gathering chestnuts in several villages in the mountains of Arcadia as we visited “Kastanitsa” and their great Fall festival complete with roasted chestnuts, hot food (yes with chestnuts!), local honey, Arts and crafts as well as folk music.

🌰 Chestnuts, chestnuts 🌰 everywhere and what great treats to eat! Roasted or boiled they taste great with white meat like chicken or pork. As a matter of fact we tasted roasted chestnuts, some chestnut soup and “creamed chestnut” on crackers, and a hot meal made with pork, quince, chestnuts, tomato, pressed garlic and wine …delicious and perfectly nutritious as part of seasonal eating. An alternate delicious version #2 includes prunes with quince. And some say when you eat the appropriate seasonal foods you can even lose weight!

A tasty Fall meal

Local artists added their special ‘note’ to the event as it was well organized they even had a “Kastagram” with receptacles for trash and recycling! There were activities for kids, dancing, food sections, and local vendors. There were buses coming from everywhere — granted too many for my taste — to enjoy the special tastes and sounds.

Afterwards we took a walk in the wood to pick our own chestnuts as our family outdoor activity. I would do it again, and yes it felt a bit like Heidi of the mountains…..

When a pet passes away, helping children

Why do we hurt so? Growing pains and losses….They were truly “out of this world” — “Astroid”, Pet #1, was along the lines of Ratatouille the little mouse 🐁 . Well not exactly, ours was a hamster and likely more smelly than a cartoon, he didn’t know how to cook nor French speaking, but we thought he was the cutest!

“Comet”, Pet #2, was a beautiful array of blue hues fish 🐟 and he lived happily in his fish bowl until we came home to find him floating on the surface… the cycle of life from birth to death are an inevitable part of our being, and building health literacy.

Thus why having guidelines for different ages such as that provided by the International Handbook of Health Literacy published this year is so necessary for training professionals.

Astroid you came and went like a flash! R.I.P.

Pets who have short lifespans (1-3 years) are likely to die sooner than others, some pets die in accidents or wander off (like our cat “Lucky” featured in this past post) and we need to be prepared for this loss. Fall season seems to be common time for pets to “go” as if they want their carcass to become part of the earth’s organic material again.

When we have young children dealing with this issue their experience of loss can be quite extreme, and difficult for us to handle. This is normal for most …. as we are all sad, and a bit of self-care for adults is vitally important! If intense grief lasts more than a couple of months, consider a grief counselor or contact a group that deals with this and puts us in contact with the right specialists.

For almost all, special therapy is not necessarily needed as over-ruminations may cause more problems in the end. This post is about pet loss and not meant to address all kinds of loss which may need special approaches like play therapy or family therapy.

First, inevitably a lot of crying or anger and even denial it has happened, the need for physical comfort (hugs, kisses), holding stuffed animals that remind us of our pets. Then, accepting, reminiscing, and beginning to understand the larger concept of loss. Using books to process especially since very young children think “he’ll just wake up” whereas finally as they get older their cognitive process changes and they better understand irreversibility which means it is not coming back.

Helping kids by keeping them hydrated and giving them Chewable vitamins during a time they might under or overeat things not very healthy or not enough for sustained nutrition, should be emphasized during this grieving process, which is most intense the first weeks.

Finally, some type of memorial which can include a “Goodbye” letter to the departed pet or a flower memorial in the place where the pet was. We even gathered field stalks or “stubble” to our flower vase gathered from outside areas after taking a healthy walk. This helped a lot, as he commented, “that looks better than the empty space, much better now.”

Books are always a great way to process feelings …. these were particularly helpful:

  • A Dog Like Jack by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, a story about a boy who loses his dog.
  • The other part of a series The Way I Feel Books relating to different emotions like sadness or anger (for younger kids who especially are first learning how to identify their feelings.
“Bibliotherapy” is useful for all ages as is art or music therapeutic techniques.

Finally after a week my child wrote a goodbye letter on his own to his dear departed friend “Astroid” that I kept for memory’s sake and for closure. It speaks for itself….

Dear Astroid….