What is there to Fear?

As above so below, pink flowers

The acronym for fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. I learned this a few years ago and I think of it sometimes when I am tempted to be afraid of or afraid for what appears dire. Life presents plenty of scenarios that could give us the shivers if we let it. Right now, the bogeyman is the Coronavirus. Please understand, I am not downplaying the importance of avoiding this virus, what I am concerned about is the climate of fear that surrounds something we are told is not more dangerous than a bad cold to most, though it can kill vulnerable people. Unfortunately, so can many germs, easy to encounter at all times. It is also said that using sanitizers is not helpful and might even make you more vulnerable. Soap and water are always effective.

However, in order to maintain your good health you need to take all the measures you have been told to take ever since you were old enough to care for yourself. Number one, of course is to get enough sleep. I can’t emphasize this enough. Do what it takes for you to get to bed for a restful eight or nine hours of slumber. If you have problems sleeping, check out the effective homeopathic non-addictive, no-side-effects aids to sleep. Your local health food store has them, and they are not expensive. Some mild stretching before bed sends me gently off to slumber, as does alternate nostril breathing. Google this for more information. It works well for me. I learned it, then taught it in my yoga classes some years ago. And of course, wash your hands frequently, especially when out in public.

I wish I had known about this breathing technique when I was between eight and ten, or perhaps even earlier when I suffered what might be called Night Terrors. I would lie in my bed quaking with fear about an imagined tragedy I believed would take my parents from me. One of these waking nightmares stemmed from a radio program I heard when I was in the second grade and home from school with a cold. I still remember the room I was in and the radio that told what was probably a tale of some kind, about the building of a tunnel that collapsed and drowned people. If I had called out to my parents, I would have been scolded, so I just coped as best I could. Perhaps this is how I learned to be courageous later in life.

When my children were small there was plenty that I might have feared, however, I had confidence in their behavior and their choices. I continue to do so. As I grow older, much could cause me to be afraid. Any ache or twinge could turn into a crisis if I let it, but I don’t allow myself to tie into that negative thinking. It’s also true that when I face what seems fearful, it dwindles and becomes much less threatening. When I say to myself, “I am safe now in this moment,” I can realize the truth of that and do whatever is necessary to stay that way. Taking sensible precautions is one thing, hiding under the bed is another. Keeping your immune system strong works best to help you avoid catching any germs. Negative thinking is counter-intuitive to that. I refuse to take fear into my heart or into my thoughts.

 

Herbs can be Used for More than Cooking

Pictures downloaded from my camera 2. 128Many years ago a wonderful little book fell into my hands. A small paperback by Claire Loewenfeld and Phillippa Back, it was called Herbs, Health and Cookery. At the time I was home caring for my five children and eager to find things to do there to make good use of my limited leisure time. Always interested in health and healing, I was fascinated to learn that the simple herbs I used to flavor my cooking could be made into teas to help in healing physical ailments. Recently I was happy to acquire a hard bound copy from the internet to replace my ancient paperback.

I read avidly and experimented. Following my advice, someone studying for her bar exam tried Rosemary tea for brain stimulation and passed with flying colors. That encouraged me to continue learning and trying different herbs for the uses described in the book. It was wonderful too that all the herbs I needed could be purchased at the grocery store and used for food preparation as well. I went on to study herbs in a variety of books and eventually even to lecture on them. This book launched me into a whole new mini career.

It occurred to me there might be synchronicity between certain herbs and the stories involving them. In the days before most people could read or write, information was passed on orally. One way to get people to remember something was to put it into a song or disguise it in a tale or a myth. Garlic, for instance is an excellent blood cleanser. It has antiseptic and antibiotic qualities. Once upon a time people would wear a clove of it on a string to ward off germs. It was also said to be effective against blood sucking vampires. Interesting that it can heal the germs that “bite” and infect the body.

I am also a folk singer and one of my favorite songs has always been “Scarborough Fair.” This song goes back many hundreds of years. I began thinking that it too might be conveying information, so I tried combining dried Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Mixed in equal parts, the herbs proved to make a wonderful healing tea for a variety of ills, including flu and colds. One friend said she stopped taking aspirin for her aches and pains and drank this tea instead. Now, remembering this I have been making this tea for myself and it really does work well for my arthritis. Herbs are fun to explore, and common kitchen herbs can be effective healing agents as well as tasty flavorings.

There is a saying to the effect that the person who has Sage in her garden will live to a ripe old age. Thyme is an excellent herb to assist in immunity and oil of Thyme or Thymol is used in many mouthwashes. Rosemary is a brain stimulant and helps with circulation and Parsley has a number of benefits including vitamins, minerals, and action as a mild diuretic. We had a guest once who came down with a flu on a visit to us. Two days of Scarborough Fair and he was healed. I have relied on herbs for many years, and find their gentle effective healing properties to be perfect for me.

Simple Recipes for Good Health and Good Taste

          Many of us probably ate too much over the holidays. It’s easy to do when party potluck invitations bring out people’s desire to celebrate with good food.  There is a temptation to try “just a little” of every dish and that includes the usual array of desserts and tasty treats special to this time of the year. Salads don’t tempt most appetites and hearty soups do, however, what really makes the tongue sit up and take notice are sauces and condiments that can enliven jaded appetites.

          This simple recipe using cilantro is a staple in our ‘fridge. Ingredients are few: Cilantro, garlic, mayonnaise, yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon or lime. Put a bunch of cilantro into the food processor. (You probably could use a blender but I don’t advise it.) Add a clove of chopped garlic, ½ cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup plain yoghurt, and a a squeeze of lemon or lime. Process until well blended and smooth. I keep a plastic lemon in the ‘fridge to help with this. Serve on any vegetable, chicken, fish, eggs, or whatever you can think of. It is tasty and healthy. I have heard that to some, cilantro tastes like soap. Apparently this is genetic. Check with your family before serving.

          Here is another sauce or pesto I think of as “medicine on the hoof”. It’s extremely good for you. This is especially true during this season of colds and viruses. The raw garlic, the onion and the uncooked parsley all have vitamins, minerals, anti-viral, antibacterial  and anti cancer components. I named it Garlic Whammo. It could also be called Garlic Pesto. A pesto is a thick sauce you can spread on pizza, bread or crackers, or mix with pasta to enliven what you are serving. It is usually uncooked and contains herbs and some kind of oil, preferably olive. It keeps well precisely because of the oil, and may include optional nuts or seeds as well.

          My Garlic Whammo has four main ingredients: Garlic, Parsley, a small onion or half a medium one, and olive oil. You can add other things—grated cheese and/or nuts or seeds, however you don’t have to. You do not need to remove any but the largest stems, and those only if you wish. However to make it you do need a food processor as a blender would not do a good job without your adding too much oil. It is wonderful on anything you want to serve it on: pasta and it is excellent on scrambled eggs, fish, chicken or any vegetable.

          Take a good sized bunch of fresh parsley and place it in the bowl of the food processor. Add anywhere from four to eight  roughly chopped cloves of garlic, to taste. Add 1 small or ½ medium onion, cut into chunks. Add ½ cup olive oil. You may wish to start with half of this amount and then more as it processes. Process until smooth and creamy without any mouth feel of the individual parsley flakes. This keeps well though I would eat it within a few days or so to get the greatest benefit from the fresh ingredients. The parsley keeps the garlic from overwhelming taste buds or anyone with whom you speak.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Pay attention to the Message

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I well remember trips as a young child to the A&P. The smells of the small supermarket in our town intrigued me. The fresh food in bins from which my mother would carefully select her vegetables and fruits gleamed with an allure that reflected my curiosity. In addition, the workings of the body have always interested me. As a child I used to mix up the medicines in my parents’ bathroom cabinet and feed them to my teddy bears. Beginning with my childhood I have had a lifelong fascination with food in general, our needs for it, and how we nourish ourselves or don’t, depending on what we eat and how.

So many of the ads I see on TV are for medicine, both prescription and over the counter. It makes me wonder if we are all really that ill or in need of fixing? Perhaps we are, yet I wonder too whether if instead of trying to alleviate symptoms with medicine, we might do better were we to pay more attention to how and why the symptoms have arisen we might do better were we to pay more attention to how and why they have arisen. I am speaking about digestive issues in particular, though others are equally as important.

Of course there are serious illnesses that require intervention and the use of various prescribed medicines. However there are other conditions that will respond well to changes in lifestyle and most especially to changes in dietary habits. I well remember how when I was only in my forties, someone a decade older told me how important it had been for her to reduce food intake as she aged. She told me she got by on two meals a day. Different people will do better with different plans, however reducing intake is key to helping us be healthier.

The symptoms of the acid reflux so many experience are often a result of overeating, eating foods we do not digest well, or eating poor food combinations. As we age, the production of our digestive enzymes diminishes. Many comfort foods we once enjoyed become at best indigestible or at worst dangerous to our health. Yet many of us continue to eat as though we were in our twenties and still growing. While trends in eating come and go, for instance (carbohydrates good, fats bad now reversed), one truth remains: what and how we eat are irrevocably connected to our physical, mental and emotional health and well-being, not to mention our weight.

What can we do? Chewing is vital. Busy with our lives and impatient of meals perceived as mere interruptions in our busy lives, many of us swallow food half chewed, washing it down with liquid. This does not allow for the incorporation of digestive enzymes, not to mention roiling the stomach with acid from feelings of haste. Instead we could slow down and taste the food as we chew. TV ads counsel taking this or that medicine. By so doing we are effectively killing the messenger: the symptoms that tell us we are doing something harmful to ourselves. When we pay attention to the message we can learn how better to treat our bodies and prolong our good health.

Intentions, Resolutions and Reminders

Dead Branches and reflections 2

Growing up I was somewhat clumsy and awkward. I was always tall for my age—I stopped growing at the age of twelve and was even taller than most of the boys in my class, who soon outgrew me. My parents also thought I was careless. I wasn’t really, just lacking in experience. I also had poor proprioception. That word defines an actual sense: awareness of where one is in space and how much effort is being put out. I once embarrassed myself dreadfully when my best friend’s mother asked me to help her set the table, by pulling it completely out of the sideboard and dumping its contents on the floor.

While I outgrew the awkwardness and with the aid of yoga even became quite graceful, I still struggle with the proprioception. However I found that mindfulness helps greatly with that. Centering myself, slowing down, and practicing deliberate awareness when I am moving around or even pouring water from a pitcher into a glass, is a must. Over the years I have tried to make this a habit, like washing my hands with frequency, especially lately.

The flu season has made it vital to remember to wash my hands each time I return home, especially when I’ve been touching things like Grocery cart handles, restroom doorknobs and even counters or tabletops. The other day in a restaurant a woman near us was coughing with frequency into her hand as well as into the air around her. We are told that washing hands well is more effective than using sanitizers and better for our health.

I learned this the hard way. Last week I picked up a germ that invaded my sinuses and hit my right eye causing me great pain and rendering me unable to read for any length of time. As a result I have strongly resolved to wash my hands carefully not only when using any restroom but especially immediately upon arriving home. I hope to avoid not only the flu, but any other germs.

Resolutions are better kept when we have a reminder to do so, and a deliberate intention is well bolstered by any negative experience that happens when we haven’t. Hand washing is now an imperative for me, and while I regret the suffering and pain of my illness, I am grateful for the positive reinforcement of my intentions. Powerful reminders are not always pleasant, however they certainly are useful. Making lists helps too. Without a list my intentions, let alone whatever I have resolved to do may be forgotten.

Getting older has its good and its bad aspects. Becoming wiser by virtue of experience is helpful. Becoming more mindful as a result of that experience helps greatly also. On the other hand, becoming forgetful is a nuisance. However, my lists do help considerably. The trick is to remember to write things down and then also to look at the list. When I was a young parent in order to stay on top of things I had to outwit my children. Now instead in order to stay awake and aware I have to outwit myself.

Smiles and Frowns can Grow on You

My first husband was in the ROTC in college. After his graduation we went to El Paso to live while he attended officers’ school. My little girl took her first steps there. We lived in a small housing complex with other young families. I became friend with another of the mothers in her twenties. She was from Oklahoma. One of the first things I noticed about her was that living in that hot, dry climate had scored deep frown and squint wrinkles in her youthful skin. Seeing them I determined right then that if I was going to have wrinkles at least they would be pleasant ones, and so I trained myself to notice whenever I started to squint or frown. Then as I caught myself, I would stop.

Some research on the Internet revealed that it takes more muscles for a genuine smile than it does for a frown. Furthermore, the act of smiling exercises the facial muscles and brings more blood to nourish the cells of the face. This I turn helps make us look younger and prettier. More important, so far as I m concerned is that the act of smiling releases endorphins in the brain. These are feel good hormones that makes us feel happier. So as we do so, we smile more and so forth. This is called a positive feedback loop.

One does not always feel like smiling. Some days it seems like the whole world is conspiring to create problems for you. Now certainly you do not feel like smiling. However, you can take heart. Even a pretend smile releases he feel good endorphins. I learned this from Thicht Nhat Hahn, the well-known teacher of meditation. If you make even a small smile it will release some of those feel good endorphins and make you feel better and more like really smiling.

The subject of this column was sparked by the visit of an old and dear friend who came over recently for lunch. He told us that a little while ago when he was interviewing for a job his interviewer asked him, “Do your cheeks hurt?” He said they didn’t and asked why. “Because you never seem to stop smiling,” came the reply. He does indeed smile a lot, and he is a very happy person. I expect there is a connection there. For myself ever since I can remember I have always enjoyed smiling at people. It does make me feel good and sometimes I get a smile in return.

Years ago I did find that it was unwise to smile at strangers on the subway because they might get the wrong idea and try to follow me home. It is also true that in some societies, smiles are considered bad form and indicate something less than friendliness. An article in Wikepedia suggests that smiles may have evolved from a grimace of fear. However, perhaps this worked to make people less fearful and happier, who knows. It has been said that in our youth we have the face God gave us, and in our elder years we have the face we have given ourselves. This is a good enough reason to smile as often as possible.

Tasha Halpert

The Importance of Self Care

Teddy Bear 2

As children we are often told to be kind, to be sharing and giving, and to show our love to others by how we treat them. We are seldom told to care for or to love ourselves. I remember as a child sending for a nurse kit from Quaker Oats. It was advertised on a radio program I listened to every weekday. I liked the idea of being a nurse. It was a way to care for others, as I was told to do. After my little kit came I bandaged up my teddy bear and treated him to a hospital stay as I played nurse in my little white cap and apron.

As young people we feel invulnerable; we can go for a night without sleep and hardly notice. Unless we have allergies or some medical condition, eating whatever we like is the rule rather than the exception. We seldom need to sit and rest after exertion but can continue on as if we were made of steel. I was in my late forties when I began to realize I could no longer treat my body as if it were some kind of machine that could go on and on.

I began to notice that if I didn’t pace myself I would need to slow down or even stop in the middle of my efforts to get everything done. This bothered, even annoyed me. I didn’t like to stop. I wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Then I had a real wake-up call: I got an excruciating pain in my neck and shoulder that wouldn’t go away. It took a number of chiropractic treatments and a lot of rest before I was able to move without hurting. The experience was extremely unpleasant. I finally got the message: I had been treating my body badly, and I needed to change my attitude.

First and foremost I realized I heeded to stop and rest between efforts. I also began to notice that when I ate certain foods I was uncomfortable; when I didn’t get enough sleep I was dragging. While this annoyed me, I had to admit it was important information. I realized that while it was strong and able my body needed a different kind of attention. Rather than treat it offhandedly as a machine that just needed fuel and occasional maintenance, I needed to treat it kindly, as if it were a faithful animal that was carrying me where I needed to go. I also had to accept its messages as needs and wants rather as impediments to what I wished to do when I wished to do it.

The importance of my self care grows with each passing year. Movement I used to take for granted has become an effort. There are even things I can’t easily do at all any more. But what is more important is that I remember to do what I need to do for my comfort as well as my health: Rest between efforts, meditate, take time to sit with my feet up, put in my eye drops, drink enough water, eat enough fiber, avoid what I can no longer comfortably digest. My list could go on and on, however I’ve made my point. Self care matters. More importantly, remembering to care for myself means I can continue to care for others, and that most of all is a good reason to do so.

Tasha Halpert