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

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…..

Favorite Fall Comfort Food?

What is your Fall Season “comfort food”?
One of my breakfast comfort foods is oatmeal (boiled with water, bit of milk). Even better in times of “low energy“ adding some extra vitamins with pumpkin seeds, cranberries, some goji berries and a bit of maple syrup …yummy!

Breakfast, start your day with energy

Wikipedia defines comfort food as something of nostalgic nature from our childhood usually that makes us feel “cared for” and indeed a hot breakfast around cold Fall and winter days makes us feel better. A reminder that “all that falls” could be your mood and a bit of seasonal depression so do something, be active, put on that warm cuddly sweater and make something good for yourself !

I absolutely love this “Autumn Sonata” by Igor Krutoy (Fall music compilation)

What is your comfort food ?

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” Albert Camus, French philosopher, journalist and Nobel winning Author of The Plague a novel of poignant questions of the human condition.

Dark Moon, Black Cats, Evil Eye: Superstitions & Health

The children of U.K., U.S., and Ireland say “trick or treat” on October 31st for Halloween 🎃 while many parts of the world celebrate “all souls day” on November 1st. Images of dancing skeletons, ghosts and the candlelit jack-o-lantern add an air of mystery against the moonlit sky.

“Dark moon” may have been a movie thriller (year 2009) and the Black Moon back in 2016  — a phenomenon of approximately every three years and supposedly precursor to the “end of the world” got me thinking of all the superstitions that we are exposed to in our lifetime from our family circle or cultural traditions. More importantly how these can affect our thinking and ultimately our health and those around us!

I’m impressed by fellow bloggers’ images and information like this one by a man with an appropriate last name “Wolfe”…what would a full or dark moon be without?!   Supposedly some of us have urges of creativity, hatred and envy (anyone have any of these issues today?) but we can learn to hone it into more healthy behaviors as the first step is awareness.

During a black 🌚 moon,  the sun perfectly illuminates  the back side of the moon, hence giving it the eerie glow while it appears like the “apocalyptic night.”  In societies whom we may consider low health literate by our standards, people often have perfectly thought out alternative approaches to what we may consider crazy or out of this world!

We love mystery, as musical hits like the Dark Side of the Moon, Shakespeare’s line “my mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” (Sonnet 130) later copied into one of Sting’s greatest hits “Sister Moon” (1987), reminded me of a question I asked years ago of a serious scientist — “do you believe that planets affect us?” — in my attempt to better understand my own fascination with astrology and astronomy. I was surprised and secretly thrilled with his answer: “if the moon affects the tides and our body is hugely made up of fluids, why can’t planets affect us?” Perhaps the answer is the interplay of our biology (thinking, chemical balance or imbalance, genetic predispositions to anxiety or our amygdala giving us the wrong signals leading to fear) with our experiences… do you like ghost stories?

Those of you who believe in the evil eye (mati) will understand when I say, if a talisman makes you feel more secure wear it or hang it outside your home…. this allows you some form of ‘control’ which may reduce your anxiety use it! BUT if this becomes an obsession (e.g. “I can’t function because I have the evil eye”) or we blame natural phenomena such as fatigue on the evil eye (e.g. “the baby is crying, must be the evil eye”), you may need some good old fashioned counseling.

There is hope!  In an article written in the Huffington Post “How to Get Rid of the Evil Eye” the author reminds us that we all have cultural quirks, and though the evil eye is a tradition of Eastern Europe, the middle east, what I discovered in my past cross-cultural learning is that some beliefs may have permeated to other cultures like in Haiti when my friend spat three times (to supposedly ward off the evil eye), or to my great surprise appeared in more nature-oriented traditions such as the native Americans (or American Indians) who believe in the “eye of timg_7363he lake” or the “eye of Providence” as affecting all mankind.

Lastly, this thing in the west about black cats bringing bad luck — unless you find yourself not seeing the cat in the late night because your eye’s rods aren’t firing fast enough in low light and you wind up stepping on its tail or worse falling over the cat into the trash receptacle, well, don’t blame the cat! They are truly beautiful creatures, in ancient Egypt the black cat was revered and there was even a cult of the cat well until several hundred years A.D.

During the summer of 2016 we had the opportunity to rescue a kitten stuck in the fender of our car (don’t ask how or why, he was very scared from something…. now I better understand the phrase “don’t be such a scaredy cat“) who with a lot of care and love is one of the sweetest creatures I have known, and very lucky to be alive, hence why we named him “Lucky.”

Reframe it to “Black Cats bring me love and good luck, especially if we treat them with love and respect!” You may be a dog person, but any pet contact on a very ‘down’ day or dealing with chronic illness, or with those with whom communicating is difficult (autistic children, elders with dementia) is truly healing and why so many people are learning more about pet therapy.

I may not, in contrast to Sting, wanting to “howl at the moon the whole night through” but I am drifting off to sleep before the witching hour (yes I did read the famed New Orlean native Anne Rice’s novel “The Witching Hour“) thinking of Selene, the moon goddess drifting across the skies…

Do it yourself …Hufflepuffs!

What inspires you to CHANGE how you see things?

Color your life, with change!

Do you make positive change, clean your neighborhood, or wait for (and hope) others to do so ? Is it nature or nurture?

The question always raised by fields like applied psychology (developmental, social, environmental …research is similar), socio-linguistics (“language creates culture” versus the typical Chomsky nativist view of the “language acquisition device” or LAD). 

Our nature is influenced by our environment and so this interaction creates change, for better or worse.

Speaking of language, a recent blog post about “Shiny, Happy People…” by Fractured-Faith resolved that there is a certain ‘insincerity’ and even ‘fakeness’ of some people who appear happy and ‘perfect’ all the time. This might be true, as it is likely cultural (or ‘sub-cultural’ not just ethnicity). There is reason why the rest of the world refers to the U.S. ‘happy’ and there is a popular song by Pharell Williams …. “cause I’m Happy!”

Why are we not happy? Why should we not be happy? And do we want more misery and unhappiness which we see a lot? Is it true that misery loves company? Is this why some people don’t make even the simplest changes in the way they live? Is it a choice

We cannot deny what we see “Beauty and the Trash,”  “Transformers,” “respite and public spaces” many cities are making choices for positive change and this includes working with local artists. Making even the smallest change to our environments adds more positivity and hope to all who live or work there. A book written in 1992 about Care of the Soul by Psychologist Dr. Thomas Moore for me was pivotal about this issue. He emphasizes changing our attitude, maintaining our friendships and our surroundings, our home “no matter how big or small,” to help us in the short and long-term. 

We see that even in several low-income neighborhoods with poor homeowners (family inheritance) or just plain poor, when one maintains what they have and doesn’t  focus only on how much “money they don’t have“ —  the financial component — places where people look out for each other and take care of their surroundings, it creates a sense of trust, fulfillment, and often change. Lately in most cities, due to high crime and globalization we see entire sections of uncared for “overly-tagged,” full of trash neighborhoods and municipalities. We know that when communities make the decision to change, they can. One great example is a once down-trodden neighborhood near Boston, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) that continues to make change for residents through today.

8fe93496-d38a-4589-9f80-3025d2a3893bCreating murals that beautify, a simple act of painting over an otherwise ugly metal object add beauty, meaning, and value to a community.

Some say these acts can help to reduce crime (think “broken window syndrome”) as more local businesses open to attract visitors thus increasing local income.

Young people off the street with more jobs, happier people… domino effect.  Maybe some of us would rather have some ‘fake’ happiness through these small but important changes, than all the misery (and jealousy) that we experience on a daily basis?

Over the years, having visited countless neighborhoods including villages, towns, cities, in Europe and the Americas as well as parts of the Middle East, I realize it’s a matter of community choice and more importantly individual efforts. As a matter of fact, universities like MIT even are studying this on a larger scale —  a friend first told me about environmental re-engineering (in the 1990s, wow!) that included work spaces — from the ergonomic cubicles to the broad table placed strategically as a meeting area for people to gather — and being serious about studying change in public spaces .“Build it and they will come,” “no man is an island unto himself,” “Just DO it” are all well-known quotes that apply well here. This month, we did it. Working hard to plan for some research and community collaborations. And on an individual level what did I do? 

♥ Made the change for ourselves, and  painted the common space that was soiled from mold and mildew because ‘no one bothered’ all these months… and the outcome was worth it.

Unknowned503f04-2a78-42e8-b73d-d36977f98dbf

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9826b99f-635d-428f-9961-758e8c6226b8.jpegAccording to the world of Harry Potter, one can discover what personality type they are. For example, the hard-working  Hufflepuffs (answer the questions via the Sorting Hat in “Pottermore” to discover your ‘House’).  

These individuals are the supposed honest ”worker-bees” and the related color is yellow. Are they ‘as good as gold’? In Don Lowry’s “True Colors” this person would be a “gold”,  going back to Ancient Greek philosophy or medicine  — Plato’s sensible type or Hippocrates’ black bile humor. All individuals are of course one part of the balance of life, as there are various personality types, but we need more community builders!

Speaking of bees, a recent scientific debate declared that bees are the most important ‘beings’ on our planet as they are in danger of becoming extinct ….they both contribute to our healthy ecosystems through pollination as well as by the healing power of their honey (see scienceandinfoblogpost).

We need to know and communicate about these issues to increase our community health literacy. We need to ‘spread the word’ that simple acts like adding more potted flowers attracts more bees (they have done in Denmark), and adds beauty and value to any neighborhood. And who knows, once one person starts, then another, and another….

One house, repainted, with the love of flowers…. in a lower income neighborhood.

Individual and community efforts, in often down-trodden and neglected communities make our daily life more beautiful and create hope.