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 (!)

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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!

When systems don’t work…daily hassles and political mishaps

Long lines and standing for hours, elderly people fainting, headaches, confusion of what and how a new system works for a new electronic train ticket-card system, even the most literate of us can’t figure out the process….the current Greek Transport Minister unjustifiably focusing on blaming a businessman of “cheating the government” who started a company amidst the Greek crisis in 2011 (Taxibeat) the latter it turns out has paid legal fees as his company headquarters are in U.K. Yet, the aforementioned Minister tries to offset the REAL issues of the transport procedural mess. What a political mishap!

Daily hassles and constant policy and legal changes add to burden of mental and physical health of populations. If Holmes and Rahe who created the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) in 1967 indicating that our increased levels of stress due to multitudes of hassles can cause serious illness,  wanted a real-world lab they would have great field research! As a matter of fact the Greek people could write the book of “The Hassles of Our Everyday Lives!” But why? Why can’t governments teach their own the PDSA cycles — Plan, Do, Study, Act? Adequate hassle-less procedures to easier access are part of building our community’s health literacy. We can pilot test the system, fix the kinks and run again, to ensure a more flawless implementation…. and not to constantly reinvent the wheel, too logical? I know…

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.

 

“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!

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