Lent, The “ides of March” and Spring

Lent, The “ides of March”, and forthcoming Spring

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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 day for better health. Fast wisely. There are many good supplements, and a great line for all ages is Nutrilite brand.
  3. If you are not eating certain foods during this time or eating later in the day you need to consult a doctor and fast wisely. Children, the aged, those with serious chronic diseases should not fast, minimally reducing protein and as always less carbohydrates.
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    Pan, mythical god figure of the wild in Arcadia

    Pan might lure you to his mountain path, just don’t fall prey to things that are bad for your health!

  4. Love that candy, but remember to brush your teeth and seek dental care!
  5. Allergies may be around the corner in the new bloom, be aware of side effects and take precaution (not just the ‘ides of March’).
  6. The kids may be waiting anxiously for the Easter bunny, keeping up with Peter Cottontail, but personally love this quote by a famous late comedian-actor, Robin Williams (1951-2014):

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Valentine Health Messages

One of my favorite romance movies is Chocolat, not only because of all-star actors like Depp, Binoche and Dench, but the priceless moment is when the town’s Mayor gorges himself full of chocolate which his overly Catholic moral self would not allow, and gets caught…  Dark chocolate in particular has always had medicinal properties, a surprising antioxidant super food according to Paleohacks!   Anyone who savors chocolate everything would appreciate being invited to a chocolate-tea party or in the spirit of the season an “anti-Valentine’s party,” but really why not focus on positivity of social support rather than the lonely hearts club?

Another great romance and true-to-life story of Elizabeth Gilbert in her book and later Hollywood movie Eat, Pray, Love speaks true of overcoming one’s fear of healthy relationships (commitment phobics you need to work on it!), enjoying the moment with terrific food, praying (cultivating spirituality and mindfulness), and of course having an openness to love. Perhaps fun messages on candy (or cinnamon hearts, one of my favorites), cool cards, heart shaped chocolate boxes, an overrated pressure of getting it ‘right’ on Valentine’s day… leaves a lot to be desired. Having a truly healthy mind, healthy body, healthy spirit, are true achievements of an overall healthy life including building and maintaining health literacy.  Gilbert got it, Snoopy got it, do we all get it?

Do you love the names “Valentina” or “Valentino” (female and male versions) perhaps because they are polysyllabic, or that they conjure up visions of kissing the silent movie actor, Rudolph Valentino, near an Italian stream as in the dream of the mid 80’s band The Bangles?  Then there is the truth of the ever-popular 3rd century Saint Valentine, becoming popular among many cultures around the world, supporting the practice of marrying lovers despite the decree of the then Catholic Church, and ultimately for his practices being beheaded in punishment. A gruesome reality of those times.

Happily we went to a cafe-restaurant (Dtale cafe) that maintains a smoke-free environment, which in this part of the world is always a positive and needed to prevent second-hand or passive smoking. In addition to their fabulous dishes, coffee and desserts, they have a great addition of objects with fun messages…. regardless of what you do this V-day, enjoy the food and your company, you deserve it!

Winter Solstice, The old and new

It’s bleak in the winter, cold, we often just want to snuggle up with a hot chocolate a blanket, a book, near a good warm fire, some alone, others with special people, pets, in the comfort of “home”. In  thinking of our physical, mental, and spiritual need of “balance” it is important to remind ourselves about some of the old to new world traditions, and how we may benefit from better understanding towards an improved life.

Celebrating the winter and summer solstice goes back to ancient times in places like Syria where it seems we only hear negative press these days. These traditions were more often linked to astronomy, once linked to the ancient gods of Greece and Rome (the sun-God Apollo); the Celts and places like Stonehenge were thought to keep track of these solstice related equinoxes, and we can learn much from even the Farmer’s Almanac!

Even more interesting this year after about 150 years we witnessed the “Super” Blue Blood Full Moon a rare phenomenon. Indeed it makes Ancient Greek Temples like the Parthenon aglow! Notably our more traditional customs and celebrations are simply, ways to bridge the pagan with the modern religious and cultural world, hence we can learn more about commonality,  tolerance and respect.

d3f76162-02db-474d-8105-c416d523deeb.jpegCelebrate in your own way, and think of adapting the following:

1) Warm drinks  — whether cinnamon spice in warm apple cider, or mulled wine are good “heating” drinks for the body. There are many great recipes.

2) Red red wine — those who live to enjoy wine might like more reds accompanied by heavier foods — and yes you’re allowed more fat this time of year, it is necessary as it burns more easily ! Remember winter fruits like quince and pomegranates (check out more on the latter tradition, here). Enjoying with friends or other special people does wonders for your mental health.

 

3) Keep body covered — take care of keeping warm with hat, scarves, gloves and mittens. I’m a big fan of checking out interesting ideas on Etsy! Wool or wool-blend pants, sweaters, socks are better heat conductors. Though fur is glamorous and warm let’s not overdo it and think of those animals…is it necessary?

4) Keep active — take care when shoveling snow for the back and the heart. Try some winter sports like skiing, ice skating, hockey, or simply making angels in the snow and snowmen, have fun regardless!

5) Embrace the light — you can reflect on yesteryear by adding light in your home (or workplace if allowed) via a fireplace, candles (careful of too many paraffins not good for you to breathe in too many toxins), a favorite brand is Yankee Candles.

Speaking of entrepreneurs, has anyone checked out the story of how this young teen “Yankee” from Massachusetts made his first scented candle from melted crayons for his mom which turned into a worldwide success? Candles indeed make our senses both calming and excitable — not referring necessarily to scenes from the movies “Nine and a Half Weeks” or “Fifty Shades of Grey” though some say the former movie was more interesting and “healthier” than the latter in terms of women’s relationship limits.  Hmmm. It certainly gives a different meaning to physical and mental exercise (!)

Reflecting on yesteryear

 

Ring in the new year in joy, sail to new destinations and deal with the “rough seas” of life.

This past year was quite difficult for many with losses (financial, personal), past months we captured some of the tragic news happening in the US, in Greece, Spain see Keeping Afloat Seemingly Chaos even some “bad luck” like 20+ people dead in a flash flood, a ceiling caving in on the main entertainment DJ and another case of a snow avalanche killing one snowboarding tourist  — granted the news never emphasizing that homes were allowed to be built illegally in the valley, or that the snowboarder went to a closed ski resort, where were the safety precautions? Others dying in shootings or intentional terror type acts in the name of their “identity”, or losing their homes in hurricanes throughout Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

You might say “life happens”, indeed. Some things could be preventable. As some are building beachside sandcastles in Southern Hemispheres others are awakened in early morning hours with our beds shaking — no it wasn’t Santa’s sleigh landing on our rooftop — indeed experiencing a small earthquake enough to get our hearts active again. When it comes to man versus nature, the latter will always win.

The morning of the last day of December, a favorite uncle beloved by all family, colleagues, friends for his kind and creative nature, lost a painful fight with liver cancer, just short of his 70th birthday. For me he was one of the great life philosophers and taught us about overseeing negativity and being humane. Coincidentally my recent writing about aging and the end of life and how being or building health literacy can help us all adjust to life’s ups and downs, helps to reflect on the sweet memories of yesteryear. Last year’s New Years post was plenty full with thinking of resolutions, and today’s CNN article really summed up what many of us health educators, counselors, teachers have been saying for years including mindfulness, balanced eating with plenty fruits and vegetables, and the vitality of drinking plenty of water!  Some other intentional resolutions to make it simple and real:

1) clean up your home and your environment, keeping in mind the 3 “R”s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle ♻️

2) be light of heart and kind in spirit …forgive and move on, remember doing good goes a long way!

3) daydream, dream small and big, this is what gives us hope. Yes the reason we had a tinker bell in Peter Pan or find “hope” in Pandora’s box is really the gift of “light”. This is necessary for our taking steps forward and believing in ourselves. So where is your dream catcher?304f034f-bf59-43bc-ad30-2b19a27e0f0c.jpeg

4) Accept both sides of joy and sadness — the movie “Inside Out” made this simple, plausible, that even children can understand the necessity of melancholy; it is OK to talk about the darker sides of human nature (even stubbornness, stupidity, and narcissism) but learn to work on yourself and either accept small faults in others or realize life is short no one is perfect. Do not dwell in inner darkness very long and if it gets too bleak seek support!

There is more reflecting to do, Leider and Shapiro’s book “Repacking Your Bags” will   help you do just that so consider it for one of this year’s “must reads” and we’ll get into that later in another posting….so much to say!

Enjoy each moment, and have a wonderfully brilliant new year!

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.

 

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!