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….

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….

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…