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News from My Summer Reading Pile

August 2, 2012

Tags: order, food, herbs, water, Alone in Berlin, Atkinson - Kate (born 1951), Aufklärung aus dem Geist der Experimentalphysik: Lichtenbergsche Konjunktive, Bayer – John (born 1947), Bode - Thilo (born 1947), books, Boston, Chinese, classics, cook book, cult book, democracy, Die Essensfälscher: Was uns die Lebensmittelkonzerne auf die Teller lügen, Die Nacht des Schierlings, Dutch, Einstein – Albert (1879-1955), Einstein: A Biography, enlightenment, Enzensberger - Hans Magnus (born 1929), Europe, Every Man Dies Alone, experimental physics, Fallada – Hans (1893 - 1947), Fatelessness, food forgers, food industry, Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer's Market, French, garden bounty, German, Greene - Graham, Jin - Ha (born 1956), Hamburg/Germany, Heimat ist das, was gesprochen wird, hemlock, historical mystery, Hogg - James (1777 - 1835), Hungarian, I.M. Ischa Meyer In Margine In Memoriam, Japanese Invasion of China, Jen - Gish (born 1955), Je länger ein Blinder lebt - desto mehr sieht er, Yiddish Sayings, Lanzmann – Claude (born 1925), Leroux - Eddy, Lichtenberg - Georg Christoph (1742-1799), linguistics, Kertész – Imre (born 1929), Maine, Markson - David (1927 - 2010), medicine, memoirs, Mendelssohn - Moses (1729 - 1786), Müller – Herta (born 1953), murderer, Nanjing Requiem, Nazi Germany, Neffe - Jürgen (born 1956), Netherlands, New England history, News from My Summer Reading Pile, Nobel Prize, novel, Oelker - Petra (born 1847), Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman, Palmen - Connie (born 1955), philosophy, physicist, presents, reading pile, Relativity, Schöne - Albrecht (born 1925), shaman, Shields - Carol (1935 - 2003), Somé - Patrice Malidoma (born 1956), Started Early - Took My Dog, The Heart of the Matter, The Lazarus Project, The Patagonian Hare, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, The Silences of Hammerstein, The Stones Diaries, The Wordy Shipmates, United States, Vowell - Sarah (born 1969), Wallace - David Foster (1962 - 2008), Waste Books, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Wong - Tama Matsuoka, World and Town

Four days of Maine made me a different person, even more alive than usual, quieter. Already I have finished two of the books on my reading pile – the Einstein I had already started in Boston.

1. Jürgen Neffe, Einstein: A Biography, 2009 (English) – a wonderful book – makes one think one really understand Relativity now …

2. Carol Shields, The Stones Diaries, 1995 (I know, I know – EVERYBODY has read it already! Somehow I was behind)

3. Claude Lanzmann, The Patagonian Hare: Memoirs (I am reading a German translation; if you can, read the French original, from 2009). A difficult book. An important book – how Man is murderer to Man.

4. Tama Matsuoka Wong, Eddy Leroux, Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer's Market, 2012. I usually find cooking books boring. But this was given to me because it mirrors my philosophy: Thy garden bounty be your food and medicine!

5. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s Waste Books, 2000 (first printed in 18th century) (I read it in German). Lichtenberg is the perfect companion to my other philosopher friend, Moses Mendelssohn

6. Connie Palmen, I.M. Ischa Meyer In Margine In Memoriam, 2001 (German). Another present (originally Dutch). I am always eager to hear from new shores – and I know next to nothing about the Netherlands – the little stout democratic European country

7. Malidoma Somé, Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman, 1995. Another present – I was not aware how many books just trundle into my house because somebody thinks it is perfect for me. Of course, I devour everything about water. Don’t know about shamans, though. I like the herbal aspect. But am highly suspicious of the shaman side – that playing with power. As people do everywhere in politics and religion – only here more primitive, I fear.

8. Imre Kertész, Fatelessness, Novel, 2004. (From Hungarian). Kertész won a Nobel in 2002.

9. Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin (also translated from German under the title: Every Man Dies Alone), Novel, 2010 (originally published in 1947). The reviews are raving about this old-new novel about the life of Everyman in Nazi Germany.

10. Herta Müller, Heimat ist das was gesprochen wird (translated by me: Home Is Where They Speak My Language, a very slim volume, but I am not sure this has been translated officially). Another Nobel recipient, in 2009.

11. James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, 1824. Allegedly a wonderful classic – I have to find out for myself

12. John Bayer, The Lazarus Project, Novel, 1999. Not sure I can stomach the philosophy – but someone recommended it to me, and I will try

13. Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter, Novel, 1948. Gathering dust on my shelves for many years – now I want to tackle this classic, to find out for myself what made Greene so great

14. Jiddish Sayings (Je länger ein Blinder lebt, desto mehr sieht er – the longer a blind man lives, the more he sees), in German, 1965

15. Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates, 2008. New England history from a new perspective – funny and scathing, it seems

16. Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog, 2010. This mystery caught my eye – it sounded like a good summer read.

17. David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, 1988. A weird novel, and something like a cult book – I wanted to read it when I heard that David Foster Wallace wrote the afterword

18. Gish Jen, World and Town, novel, 2010. Another present. People know that I am interested in everything Chinese – so, this book came leaping into my house

19. Albrecht Schöne, Aufklärung aus dem Geist der Experimentalphysik: Lichtenbergsche Konjunktive, 1982 (a book about the afore-mentioned Lichtenberg, who in real life was not a philosopher, but a physicist. Translated, this title would be something like: Enlightenment Grown Out Of Experimental Physics. It is very much a linguistic musing about how Lichtenberg used different forms of conjunctives in German to convey his sly critique of his time

20. Thilo Bode, Die Essensfälscher, Was uns die Lebensmittelkonzerne auf die Teller lügen, 2010. Translated, the title would be something like: The Food Forgers – How the Food Industry Heaps Our Plates With Lies. Of course, this is along the lines of what I am thinking and writing most of the time

21. Ha Jin, Nanjing Requiem, novel, 2011. A novel about the horrible Japanese invasion of China in 1937

22. Petra Oelker, Die Nacht des Schierlings, 2010. (The Hemlock Night) A historical mystery from my hometown Hamburg/Germany. This is a whole series, and my – still living in Hamburg - supplies me with them, knowing I will devour each new arrival. Don’t hold your breath for this ever being translated into English – there are not enough nostalgic ex-Hamburgers here in the States to make it worthwhile …

23. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, The Silences of Hammerstein, 2009. German history at its best, I have heard – people who lived through the Nazi times, and stayed decent

Compiling this list, I realize that I never can read all these books before we turn home to Boston! But it is a good feeling that I brought them all – I can find something for every mood, it seems.

However: Don’t send any more books! These will keep me busy until the winter holidays …

Bike Friday

March 24, 2012

Tags: movement, backpack, back rack, biking, bike shop people, bicycle, Bike Friday, Boston, car, exercise, folding bike, front basket, global warming, groceries, heat wave, helmet - biking, hilly terrain, knee pain, March, materials chemist, outdoors, pannier bag, plastic foam, Subaru, UV light

My car broke down – for good. A week before we wanted to give it away to a charity anyway. A still had the last car, my trusted sixteen-year old Subaru in the garage, but a had to go and register it. So, I reactivated my bike.

That’s not quite precise. I had never really used it because ten years ago, when it was brand-new, I worried it would be stolen. It is bright red, and folds to a rather neat parcel if needed. Because I am small and tend to topple with bigger bikes, this has small wheels; it fits me perfectly well. Now that it isn’t brand-new any longer, I dare leave it outside a store, locked of course, with an extra heavy lock.

Of course, this all happened when we had an eighty-five degree heat wave (in Boston, in mid-March! And there are still people who deny the reality of global warming …), and we live on a rather steep hill. Come to think about it: The hill was probably the other reason why I never quite took to biking regularly.

But now I am back into the swing. It is wonderful! I am getting exercise while I am outdoors. Within a day, I could feel the difference in toning my legs, and feeling more alive (not to mention PROUD!). I don’t take the fastest routes, but plan my way along beautiful streets. And not too steep hills, if possible. On a bike, you are closer to the street life than in a car: You see more, smell more, hear more, experience more! Other bikers smile at you because the recognize you as one of theirs: One of the people who want to make the world a better place.

The bike is called Bike Friday – that’s the brand name. Why I mention it? No, they don’t pay me. But there is also a movement called “Bike Friday(s)!” – meaning: On Fridays, instead of taking the car to work, bike to work – if possible. A brilliant idea – to give riding your bike a chance just once. After that, you might be hooked and will to want to ride your bike every Friday. Or every day. Think of the possibilities!

Same as with with running, I don’t do biking every day. Because of the really tough hill, I think I should not overtax my knees and give them a break. So, I bike only every other day. But if you live in flatter terrain, there is no reason to not bike daily. Unless it’s snowy.

Sure, I got a new helmet. I was not aware that the plastic foam of which helmets are made deteriorates rather soon in UV light, and that they should therefore be renewed every three years. Sounds rather excessive and expensive to me, but I am not a materials chemist, so I have to take the bike shop people (who, by the way, were extremely nice and patient) by their word. After a really bad bang you have to get a new helmet, too – the material is made for absorbing a good hit – but not several. Sounds

The only problem that I haven’t solved: Since this is a folding bike, there is no place to put a back rack or a front basket or pannier bags on it. For the time being, I am carrying my groceries in a backpack. Which doesn’t make it any easier to negotiate the hill. Anybody has an idea?

Minimal Exercise Program

December 5, 2011

Tags: movement, anti-aging, arm exercise, back exercise, balance, ball – weighted, barefoot walking, bedridden, Black Beach, body pampering, bone mass, boredom, Boston, bowels - massaging, brushing teeth, cello, California, Chinese, constipation, daily exercise program, death, double chin, elderly, exercise program, exercises en-passant, falls in the elderly, family, fire, Five Tibetans, friends, garden, gentle exercise, German, gluten intolerance, gym machine, hip fracture, hypothermia, imbalance, immune-stimulating, immune system, injury, jogging, Kegel exercises, knee bends, leg strengthening, lower back pain, marathon, marriage, mindfulness, mindless exercise, minimal, Minimal Exercise Program, muscles, neck strengthening, osteopenia, osteoporosis, overexertion, painting, pelvic muscles, pinyin, pneumonia, pool, posture, reading, ruptured muscles, San Diego, sex, shadow boxing, soul pampering, spine, sports medicine, squeezing of shoulder blades, standing on one leg, swimming on dry, tai chi, tai ji, talking, tongue exercise, toning, traveling, triathlon, TV, upper back muscles, walking, warmth, writing, yoga

Reasons why I keep my exercise program as minimal as possible:

1. Exercise is boring.
2. Too much exercise may easily lead to injuries: We now have a medical specialty called “sports medicine”. If we didn’t overdo exercises, we would not need sports medicine. Using those modern gym machines while watching TV is a mindless enterprise. And as things go around, they come around – you could end up hurting yourself.
3. Definitely, there are more interesting things to do – playing cello, writing a book, reading tons of books, dabble with colors and brushes, being with family and friends, learning Chinese – to name a few.

On the other hand, I do have bad posture – inborn (many years of unrecognized gluten intolerance that weakened my muscles), and from years of being bedridden as a young person. Movement creates fire and warmth inside, without which we would not be alive. We need to move yes, but nowhere is it written that we need to jog or overexert ourselves in bad ways.

My exercise program changes all the time – I am always on the lookout for something faster and better. You might remember how much I liked the Five Tibetans – until I developed lower back pain. Recently I had to abandon my laps in the unheated Californian pool; the temperature got too low. I still jump in from time to time, just to get the immune-stimulating jolt of the cold water. But I can’t get my exercise that way anymore - danger of hypothermia and ruptured muscles.

Of course, back in Boston, I work in the garden and go to yoga classes, and have a house to tend to. Here, in this tiny apartment, I had nothing comparable – so far. Until last week , when I joined tai chi classes – or as it is called in proper pinyin Chinese: tai ji. In German, tai chi is called “shadow boxing” – and that describes well those flowing, artful movements I now try to learn. Emphasis on “try”: This is not my first time; in the past, I always had trouble remembering the sequence of movements. This time around, I will not even try to learn the sequence; I will just mimic my teacher and lose myself in the flow of gestures. Because, in the two more months we will stay in San Diego, how much can I really learn? Not much.

But in the first lesson, I already learned an important movement, which I now practice every time I pass by a mirror and notice how bent I have gotten up from my studies. Which makes two little exercises which I do in en-passant, not putting in extra time:

1. This squeezing of my shoulder blades that immediately makes me more upright. Firstly, it is a simple reminder; secondly, the squeezing loosens the muscles of the upper back and prevents that my head slowly vanishes between my shoulders like the head of a turtle in its shell.
2. Standing on one leg – especially while brushing my teeth, or waiting and whiling time away. This is good for balance, and for strengthening leg and pelvic muscles. Imbalance is what kills the elderly: Imbalance – fall – hip fracture – pneumonia – death; we physicians see it all the time. This exercise also increases bone mass in legs and spine, thus counteracting osteopenia and osteoporosis, thus preventing those nasty hip fractures. Standing on one leg is far more interesting and effective than Kegel exercises! Keeps your sex alive!

Not everything can be done on the go. So, I have this daily program – and don’t hold your breath! - each of these exercises takes less than a minute, and presently, I am doing six of them, each of them repeated 21 times. Twenty-one: That is the number of repetitions I have kept from the Five Tibetans. You can’t overdo much in twenty-one times, and twenty-one brings me just to the border of utter boredom.

1. Knee bends: Done wrongly, knee bends can hurt your knees. Therefore make sure that you are doing them right: Keep feet and knees together, keep knee caps over your toes, and don’t go deeper than you can easily do, but challenge yourself to go deeper with time. 21 times. Or, in the beginning, you might want to do this by holding on to something stable.
2. Arm exercise: Done with a small heavy ball. I have one of those weighted exercise balls – six pounds. When traveling, I am using my whale of a laptop – has nearly six pounds, too. Fill a plastic bottle with water (this is lighter), or find a heavy book. Slowly lift the ball (or whatever) with both hands and arms out-stretched, and bring it up above your head. Then bend your arms backward and down. Bring up your arms again, over your head and then down in front. Repeat this 21 times. It is good against arm flab, and strengthens the muscles of your upper back.
3. Back exercise: Stand tall. Take the ball in both hands behind you back and lift it upward 21 times. That will squeeze your shoulder blades and improves posture.
4. Swimming on dry: I started this after I had to leave the pool, because I missed the exercise that built up my upper back muscles. Come down on the floor on your belly, lift arms and legs slightly from the ground, and make swimming movements 21 times. A boon is that you are massaging your bowels in this position, which is good against constipation. Getting down on the floor daily acts also anti-aging.
5. Neck strengthening: This I do mornings and evenings in bed: Dig your heels and the lower part of your back head into the mattress. It feels like you arch your back in this position. Breathe in and out. It strengthens all back muscles, especially the upper back. It also works like a charm against a double chin.
6. Tongue exercise: This also helps to eliminate a double chin. Stretch out your tongue, 21 times.

One would think that a program this trifling would do nothing for the health of your body. On the contrary – I was never as toned and nimble as I am now, on this program. If however you are already doing triathlons or marathons: Stick with it, don’t listen to me … at least not until you come home injured. Then turn to my gentler method.

A big part of why this works is the mindfulness you practice all day: You stand on one leg while waiting for the bus. You get up from the computer and squeeze your shoulder blades. You are in the bathroom and stick out your tongue a few extra times. This program keeps you aware that you have a body, and your body needs attention and pampering, too. Moving your body gently pampers it. Lying down and doing nothing pampers your soul. There needs to be a balance between the two!

The other activity we do as often as we can, is walking. Here in San Diego, we have the beautiful Black Beach. If one removes shoes and socks and walks at the water line, in and out of the waves, it is great fun, and another great provocation to the immune system! And by walking and talking we keep our marriage afresh and alive.

Fall Chores

November 19, 2011

Tags: order, Boston, Carson – Rachel (1907-1964), chemistry, chore, climate change, fall, Fall Chores, future, garden, herbicides, Indian summer, insect damage, lawn, leaves - bagging, leaves - blowing, leaves - raking, organic, pesticides, plant, raking, San Diego, Silent Spring, snow, traveling, tree

Because we are in San Diego for the sabbatical, we had only two times in Boston this fall for the dreaded chore of raking leaves. I was worried because, usually, it takes weeks of raking to deal with the bounty. - As an aside, we never bag our leaves; we distribute them over the perennial beds. Makes for an untidy garden, and lush growth the next year. Originally, the neighbors complained. Now they are proud of my blooming wilderness. Second thought to the side: One couldn’t do it for dainty little plants, they would be smothered.

Three weeks ago, I had raked for the first time this year. The weather was pure Indian summer, balmy and rewarding, and the chore was done in four hours of hard work – with a blower. I try to avoid the blower, as much for my neighbors’ sake as for my own. But with two days between traveling, I could not have done it by raking.

This time, I had four days, and I raked by hand. Because the weather had stayed beautiful so long, there were astonishingly few leaves on the ground; my task was easy. But it made me worry: Since we won’t be back before deep snow will cover the lawn, the lawn might rot under the leaves’ burden!

But then I looked up in the trees – there are barely any leaves left that can come tumble down. With two sessions, my fall chore is done. Wonderful!


For at least fifteen years I have been observing (and complaining – but nobody listens, it seems) that in summer the crowns of the trees don’t look as full as in my youth. Now – that’s a sure sign of getting old, when nothing compares to your memories any more, isn’t it?

Only this time, I seem to be onto something real: Trees don’t have as many leaves anymore. Climate change. Insect damage. Whatever the cause is – one thing I know that in my garden it is not due to pesticides, herbicides or other bad chemistry – my garden is organic, and has been, ever since we moved in twenty years ago. But the future does not look pretty: Silent Spring.

Perhaps it is time to read Rachel Carson’s book again. And: Enjoy your fall chores – as long as we are lucky enough to have them!


October 23, 2011

Tags: food, Boston, coffins, dinner, San Diego, Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897), Washington, wisdom

Because presently we are traveling - San Diego - Washington - Boston, and my brain is scattered, I just give you some words of wisdom by Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897):

"Big dinners fill coffins."

We Fired Our Agent – And It Feels Wonderful

October 3, 2011

Tags: order, agent, author - powerless, book industry, books, bookstore, Boston, editing, literary agent, New York Times bestseller list, Olympic, publishing world, Salmon - Ben, self-publishing, skier, “Skiing and Natural Health”, We Fired Our Agent – And It Feels Wonderful

My last act before I left Boston was signing a letter that essential fired our literary agent. Few acts have felt so thoroughly good lately.

Truth be told, the agency had abandoned us before – they had not done anything for years to further us, and they vanished from the face of the Earth, meaning to say, their emails and websites are defunct.

We all hear constantly that the publishing world as we knew it is crumbling, and it certainly is. On the other hand, I have never seen as many wonderful books coming out as now – in the bookstore, I feel a child in the candy store (wish that saying would go: I feel like a child at a farmer’s apple stand …). It seems, if we put a computer into the hand of every person in the world, we will hear some amazing stories.

For a while now I have a book a bout “Skiing and Natural Health” in my drawer, and when I showed it to my agent I was told that it was soooo interesting – all we needed was a famous skier on board, so that the book would sell. That’s why the book still sits in my drawer. I wrote the book from my experiences as a not-so-stellar skier – which is more important and funnier as if a world-class Olympic had endorsed it. I think. The book industry thinks differently, obviously.

We had a wonderful first agent years ago, Ben Salmon - until he left for peddling kitchen ware because one can feed one’s family with selling pots, but not many agents can do this through their agenting thing. Editing is a hard, tedious job with long, long hours and not much reward.

What came after Ben, agent-wise, was disappointing. And now we are free again. I think that self-publishing for a moderate amount of money has changed the game. Now we can publish any book we deem worthy. And if we are not bothered by a big, inflated ego, it does not matter if the book shows up on the New York Times bestseller list. All that counts is that it is available for whoever wants to read it; I am a fan of the new technology. It turns us authors from a powerless entity at the receiving end to people who shape their own fates.

Flying Tiger - Umh! - Flying Cat

September 19, 2011

Tags: order, airline, altitude, Boston, cabin, cargo, carrier - air-line-approved, cat, Flying Tiger - Umh! - Flying Cat, harness, health certificate, Houston, leash, pressure, San Diego, sedating, stress, suffocation, traveling with pets, vaccination, vet

We will fly to San Diego in about ten days, for a four-months sabbatical. Although somebody will be at home, we decided to take Otto, the cat, with us - he might miss us otherwise. Or we him.

Traveling with a pet is a bit of a nightmare. And Boston - San Diego means a lay-over in Houston; there are no direct flights. My first inclination was to put Otto in the cargo hold so that I didn't have to see his suffering. A bit cowardly, I know. But Otto is the type of cat who nicely curls up beside you for hours and hours of traveling; we do it to Maine all the time. And then gets to be a growling, ripping fierce defender of his freedom if you confine him into a box.

Of course, the airlines don't allow the cat out of the carrier on your lap. What to do?? - Reading up on the Internet, cargo looked less and less like a good idea; animals seem to die there, being exposed to extremes of temperatures and pressures. Then I thought of taking him into the cabin, sedated. According to the Internet, sedation is another bad idea; the animal might suffocate when it is too drowsy to move after it toppled. The numbers seem small - but I love my cat.

Here is what emerged as my plan:

- Booking in advance (which I did today) as only one animal is allowed in the cabin at a time.

- Using a soft, air-line-approved carrier (we own one). Pad it with a familiar towel, etc. and have a dark cloth at hand to cover the carrier. Animals seem to endure the stress of being confined and pushed around better in the dark.

- Taking a leash and harness because the carrier needs to go through the x-ray machine.

- Get a certificate from your vet that the cat is free of communicable diseases and that vaccinations are current. Not all airlines ask for it, but it is better to have it handy.

- I still have not decided if I should get a sedative, at least, just in case. I will discuss it with the vet.

Do you have experience with bringing pets across the continent and want to share them?

Alternative Goes Mainstream - Or Does it?

June 11, 2011

Tags: order, movement, food, herbs, water, acupuncture, alternative-complementary medicine program, Alternative Goes Mainstream, Arzt für Naturheilkunde, Ayurvedic Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, BIDMC, biophysical medicine, board-certified, Boston, Cheng - Jill and Hung, Chinese food, chiropractic, conferences – medical, Continuing Education, diseases, Family Practice, Germany, healing foods, healing modalities, hydrotherapy, Internal Medicine, massage, medications, medicine – alternative, medicine – conventional, Natural Medicine, overweight, Primary Care, quackery, relaxation, research, subspecialty, subspecialty degree in Complementary Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, under-exercised, yoga

Have you ever not told your doctor you are using an herb or a massage for your problems? Have you ever had a physician yelling at you because you dared mention such modalities at all? I am looking for gentle healing forms for twenty five years now – and I am astonished that I am still hearing about such fossil physicians and incidents.

This week I attended a gathering to celebrate a generous gift Jill and Hung Cheng have given to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston toward an alternative-complementary medicine program.

We celebrated with speeches (of course!) and healthy Chinese fare, and had a ball, generally – celebrating that a farsighted couple tries to overcome the big divide between alternative and conventional medicine.

BUT: Why are we still talking about alternative?

There is nothing alternative in using healing foods and movement to help patients. Not astonishing, a new study showed that overweight, under-exercised physicians are utilizing less food and physical modalities to help their patients. Which means: Overweight, under-exercised physicians prescribe more medications. Scary?

In Germany, many modalities like herbal therapy, Natural Medicine, massage, acupuncture, yoga, relaxation, hydrotherapy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, chiropractic, biophysical medicine, and so on are mainstream. Which means that a physician can pass an examination in a subspecialty, in front of a board of peers to show his/her knowledge. I have done it (Arzt für Naturheilkunde).

Are there quacks in alternative medicine? Sure, there are. But so are in conventional medicine. Not talking to each other only perpetuates the shortcomings on both sides of the aisle.

This is what is needed:

• A subspecialty degree in Complementary Medicine that can be acquired by any physician who has passed the Internal Medicine, Family Practice or Primary Care Boards.
• Conferences and Continuing Education that automatically comprise ALL healing modalities that have been proven useful in certain diseases and conditions.
• More research in complementary modalities – of course!!

Mud Season in Maine

April 12, 2011

Tags: order, movement, anemone, Anna Karenina, Boston, cabin, cello, cemetery, Chinese brush painting, crocus, daffodil, death, exercise, funeral, liatris, Maine, mud season, Mud Season in Maine, ocean, reading, spring – early, Taunton Bay, Tolstoy – Leo, wood stove, writing

Wish I were a poet – to describe the beauty of Maine in early spring. They call this time “mud season” – with the implication that one better flee to warmer shores and leave Maine behind.

Usually, we don’t visit our cabin at this time of the year – nobody ever encouraged us. This year, I had to go up because a friend had died, and I wanted to go to her funeral.

The occasion was a sad one – yet how lovely it was! Yes, there was drizzle and fog, and the ruts of our dirt road seemed to say: Stay away! Stay away! But I didn’t stay away, and the ruts and potholes became a challenge of sorts – and at the end of the dirt road, there is the cabin and the ocean.

It was very, very early spring. Just a few crocuses were up. I looked at them and remembered that I planted them about twenty years ago. Contrary to what garden books say, they didn’t naturalize – they were just as spare as single bulbs stuck in the soil. Life is hard that far north. But those few crocuses – blue and white and yellow – cheered up the day. Daffodils were sending up green blades; no flowers yet.

I should know better but I planted again: a late pink anemone, and some liatris – planted them in the drizzle. They might come up in summer, or they might not. Important is the hope I planted (and the exercise!).

Outside, bare spring beckoned; inside, in the evenings, I had some logs blazing, making it cozy and warm. I played cello. It was a bit much to carry the cello with me for just three days, but I was glad I did. I did some Chinese brush painting. I wanted to write, but I am still reading Anna Karenina – it will keep me biting my nails for a while. Why would I even bite my nails? We all know it will end badly …

Of course, I attended the funeral, and it was heart-wrenching. But it also was good – to see the family and friends gathered to honor one good woman. She is now lying in a tiny cemetery, overlooking Tauton Bay.

This morning, when I got up to clean the house and leave for Boston, the sun was out and the sky showed Mediterranean blue. A strong wind had swept away rain and fog, and the world was as clear and beautiful as it can only be in Maine.

First Impressions of America

November 12, 2010

Tags: water, America, Boston, Europe, First Impressions of America, Haight Ashbury, hot tub, nakedness, nudity, Romans, Rome, sauna, San Francisco, Saturday night, women’s spa

This old story – nearly thirty years old - story has two parts. This is Part One:

My first visit ever to America, was with a boyfriend, in the very early eighties. He took me to friends in the Haight Ashbury area of San Francisco. They were a nice couple, with two little girls.

While we were politely chatting in the living room, over a tea, they asked the usual questions of a newcomer: How was your trip? How do you like America? How do you like San Francisco?

Then the husband asked: Do you want to try a hot tub?

Now, I didn’t even know what a hot tub was. I looked to my friend. He nodded. Sure, I said.

That very moment, the three of them got up and started stripping – right there in the living room. If in Rome, do as the Romans! So I undressed, too. We went out on the porch where I got to see my first hot tub, and got to sit in one, continuing our polite coversation.

As a European, of course, I was no stranger to public nakedness. But in the living room of people I had just met half an hour ago??

Part Two: About two years later, I visited Boston for the first time, interviewing for a job. Tired after a stressful day of traversing the city and encountering hospitals and Chiefs of Medicine, I wanted to take a sauna in the evening. At that time, I was boarding with a friend, but she was away for the weekend. So I tried on my own to find a reviving sauna. First thing I learned that there were no public saunas in Boston. I was desperate – in Germany, it was so much of the culture to go once a week and relax in dry heat. Nada here.

I called around. On a Saturday evening nearly nobody answered. Somebody suggested going to a women’s spa. I found one that had a sauna, but I needed to be a member. After a lot of cajoling and explaining my visiting status, I finally succeeded in convincing them to let me use their sauna once, for a fee.

On that Saturday night, the women’s health club was deserted (I learned later that on Saturday nights EVERYBODY here has a date). I had the whirlpool all for myself. By now, I had experience with hot tubs, of course, and happily dunked there first. A lone woman came by, looked down at me and said: My, are you white!

Now I am a redhead with very white skin, that’s true – but to comment on that I don’t tan like other people? I said nothing, not sure I really had heard what I had heard.

I retired into the empty sauna, feeling right a home – in spite that American saunas are not as hot as ours. But at least I had arrived where I wanted to be this Saturday evening.

The door opened and a very bulky woman moved in. I wiggled to the side and made room for her. Her breathing made funny noises and she gave me some sideward glances. Then she spoke up: I am not offended by your sight.

Number one, I found it a strange English sentence. Number two: What was so remarkable about me that everybody had to comment on me? I said nothing – especially did I say nothing about what she looked like to me.

Again she said: I am not offended by your sight. This time I looked her full in the face, asking what she meant??

She must have gotten that I was utterly baffled, and that I had an accent. Delicately, she pointed out that, in America, you wear a bathing suit in the sauna.

Yes, the huge woman was wearing a tiny-teeny bikini. And here I was, embarrassed and white-skinned, sitting naked in a public sauna! The little guest towel I had brought from my friend’s house, did not even wrap around me.

And wait a second, I wanted to scream. If there’s no nudity allowed in America - what was that in San Francisco then??

Sweating It

July 31, 2010

Tags: water, order, movement, food, herbs, air conditioning, amphetamines, anti-epilectic drugs, Boston, bowel, cold exposure, colds, colon cleansing, copper, Deep South, dehydration, detoxification, drinks - warm or cold, elimination, fruit, high blood pressure, kidneys, lead, lungs, medication, mercury, metals - heavy, methadone, New Orleans, nickel, peppermint tea, relaxation, salads, salt, sauna, skin, sleep - improved, studies - medical, summer, sweating, Sweating It, toxins, winter, yoga, zinc

Awful, this summer heat, isn’t it? One sits, barely wants to move, and sweat runs out of every pore.

Actually, no! Sweating takes out toxins from our bodies; the skin is one of four elimination organs (the other three are kidneys, bowels, lungs). Sweating is beneficial. Enjoy your wet armpits – without them, you would age faster and might get cancer earlier. Sorry that I am so graphic. But the advantages of sweating are widely underrated.

People sit in air-conditioned houses, and at the same time they are shelling out big dollars for “colon cleansing.” Colon cleansing is a health scam. Eating better and drinking water or herbal teas will do the trick; colon cleansing will not make you purer - just poorer.

In the winter, a sauna does the trick. Not by accident was sauna in vented in Finland and Russia - cold, northern states that do not allow for sweat naturally. - Exercise can make you sweat. But don’t try too hard: Individual people start sweating at different points, and one should not exercise for the sake of sweating. Move for fun and purpose!

In the summer, let nature work for you: Sweat it out!

Heavy metals like nickel, copper, zinc, lead have been found in sweat in higher numbers than in the blood – but I wish, we had better studies available! For instance, I am only aware of a single study that saw mercury levels falling during a sauna protocol. Most medical studies are funded by pharmaceutical firms (and I don’t see any wrong in there, as long as they adhere to scientific ethics). But this situation leaves out studies on water, sauna, yoga, healthy food, to name a few – because not much money can be made of them. The only way to improve the situation is to demand such studies.

Medications may be released into the sweat, notably anti-epileptic drugs, amphetamines, methadone (but don’t get your hopes too high that sauna will get you through a drug test easily - it won’t!).

Sauna also prevents frequent colds and promotes better sleep. In Europe, people use saunas widely. Mostly, of course, for relaxation and fun.

Except for the very elderly and frail who are in danger of severe dehydration in the summer, an air conditioner is unnecessary. In our house, we have a built-in central air-conditioning system. We never – never! – use it (but we also live in Boston, not in the Deep South - perhaps I would feel different in New Orleans...). If it gets really sweltering at night, we run a simple fan in the bedroom. Summer is for sweating – and winter is for cold exposure; both have their health merits.

If you sweat, you lose salt and water. So drink enough! And put a pinch more salt than usually in your food to replenish – unless you tend to high blood pressure. - And before I forget it: Warm drinks are healthy; cold drinks - especially ice-cold - hurt you.

Instead of suffering through the summer months, take them as what they are: A free-for-all detox program – every year! Eat fruit and salads and enjoy the heat with a peppermint tea ... lukewarm. In the shade.

Poison Ivy Story

July 1, 2010

Tags: aloe, Anacardiaceae, bedbugs, blisters, Boston, burning - of poison ivy, Calamine lotion, cashew, cortisone, diabetes type II, jewelweed, mango, osteoporosis, pets, poison ivy, Poison Ivy Story, poison oak, poison sumac, rash, tea tree oil, Toxicodendron radicans, urushiol, vine - reddish

When we first moved to Boston, we went on a walk into the woods. I found a little vine with reddish stems and three leaves. I never had seen anything so beautiful and modest. Therefore I unearthed it, roots and all, and planted it in a pot on our roof.

A few days later, my husband developed a palm-sized inflamed red patch on his right buttock. Then I got some bizarre formations with blisters on my arms – and from there, the rash went everywhere.

First we thought we had bedbugs. We pulled the bed apart and sprayed everything. We cleaned and vacuumed our place (was about time!). But the lesions became more.

At work, I showed my arms to colleagues, and drew a blank (!). Finally, an ER doc took one look and said (you guessed it): “Poison ivy.” Of course, I had never encountered poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) - there is none in all of Europe.

But despite all out efforts, our rashes and itches did not go away. Weeks later, I consulted the ER doc again. He quizzed me – but we seemed to have done all the right moves. Only, the lesions were still there. He looked at me hard and asked: “You are not eating cashews every day, are you?”

That was exactly what we were doing – every morning in our muesli. Cashews and poison ivy (and mangoes) are in the same botanical family, Anacardiaceae (I talked about that devious family already in connection with back pain), and eating cashews daily kept the poison ivy rash blooming. The rash-producing ingredient is urushiol. Most people are sensitive to urushiol.

Here is what one can do against poison ivy (and poison oak, poison sumac):

• Don’t touch your face and eyes!
• Stop eating cashews and mangoes until all lesions are well healed.
• Wash with soap or a commercial anti-poison-ivy product (they are petroleum-based) all exposed and affected areas twice daily initially, later once a day until no new lesions crop up anymore.
• One prescription suggested using only cold water because warm water might disperse the poisonous oil even more. As much as I am a fan of cold water, there are no studies about this, and I would think that the bodily warmth will spread the oil anyway. But cold water won’t hurt, and it will relieve the itch.
• For more itch relief try the inside jelly of an aloe plant (any aloe will do), or Calamine lotion. I use tea tree oil for about everything (ask my husband!), and I would probably dab it on the rash for itch relief – but I have no scientific proof that it works. Another unproven remedy is jewelweed – but if I were out in the woods and it grew nearby, I would break a stem and apply its juice. Can’t hurt.
• Wash all your clothing and, if you already slept in your bed, your sheets.
• If the rash spreads into your face or, worse, near your eyes, see a physician. You need cortisone immediately because poison ivy in the eyes can lead to blindness.
• Don’t ever burn poison ivy – it can lead to fatal lung reactions. Pull poison ivy with gloved hands and dispose of it in plastic bags. Wash gloves and tools. Often shoes and pets carry the sticky resin.

Poison ivy plants look very variable - it took me years to comfortably identify them. Better stay away from anything reddish and three-leaved!

The Doctor Is Sick

May 15, 2010

Tags: order, Barbery - Muriel (born 1969), Boston, cold, flu, Gauguin - Paul, mortality, Muriel Barbery, Paris, Paul Gauguin, renewal, soul-being, The Doctor Is Sick

I have a cold. A bad cold, not a flu. With humiliating running nose, headaches and general crabbiness.

You might think doctors should not get sick, especially not natural doctors. I couldn’t agree more. But here I am finding myself in bed, unkempt, headachy, sleeping, reading (“The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barberry – marvelous!), sleeping again – and suddenly I feel happy.

I needed this. I needed the quiet, the no-demand, the thinking break.

See, most of the time, we are social animals, defined by what we do with others, for others. But there is, deep down, this other part of ourselves: the unsocial part, the pure soul-being. The part that asks why we are here on Earth.

As a sick child, I was bedridden often. All I did was reading and dreaming.

Paul Gauguin’s most famous picture is a huge canvas, covering a wall, not of a home but fit for a railroad station. It is called: “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” It hangs here in Boston in the Fine Arts Museum and shows South Sea people in their natural state, in their natural habitat. It was this picture that Gauguin hurled into the face of well-heeled, fin-de-siècle Paris.

Those ultimate questions that cannot really be answered have to be asked, anyway. And it seems to me, I do that best in bed, alone, not quite fresh smelling, and confronted with my mortality – yes, even if it is just a banal cold that hit me. I know, in a day or two, I will re-emerge into real life full of energy, deep thoughts for writing and good intentions. I needed this renewal.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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