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Maine Tea

September 5, 2015

Tags: herbs, order, chemicals – beneficial, biochemical pathway, cell, Chinese novel, chives, dandelion, evolution, German, goldenrod, green goodness of plants, herb walk, interconnectedness, kitchen garden, Labor Day, lady’s mantle, Maine, oregano, parsley, plantain, peppermint, pine needles, plants – poisonous, polyphenol, red clover, rosehip, sarsaparilla, scented fern, steeple flower, tea - field, forest and meadow, tea - garden, tea - wild, usnea, walking, woods, workshop

For too long I haven’t written here, being deeply immersed in my new Chinese novel (which will take some years to finish writing). But this Labor Day weekend we returned to Maine, and I want to share that today I made a wild tea:

• Goldenrod
• Steeple flower
• Usnea
• Dandelion
• Oregano
• Sarsaparilla
• Red clover
• Pine needles
• Scented fern
• Peppermint
• Rosehip
• Chives
• Lady’s mantle
• Parsley
• Plantain

I usually call it a garden tea, but today the ingredients are from whatever I found on our walk – more of a field, forest and meadow tea, as we call it in German. Some came from my neighbor’s kitchen garden (I have their permission), some from the Maine meadows and wild woods. Everything is rather dry this year, but things are growing – and if you ask me – want to be eaten and drunk.

I wonder how many different polyphenols and other beneficial chemicals I ingested with the large cup of tea I just imbibed. Hundreds – if not thousands. They all work their magic without that I have to know all the chemical names or biochemical pathways because the wisdom of my body cells will sort out what is useful, and what is not. Mind, I don’t include plants that are poisonous. Just plants that have accompanied us through millenniums of evolution, and therefore will help my body healing whatever bothers it. Long before it bothers me.

You can make your own wild tea. Don’t look for my plants – look for what is growing around you. Some plants you probably know already – like dandelion. Never use a single plant that you don’t know one hundred percent! Enroll in a workshop or herb walk and be guided by some wise person who knows the land. Don’t go through life without really knowing the world you are living in. You will grow in unexpected ways, and you will be healthier for it! Not only because we are primed to ingest the green goodness of plants, but also because you have to walk to get them. And because you will experience the interconnectedness of all and everything.

Can This Be Healed With Herbs Alone?

September 29, 2013

Tags: herbs, food, water, alcohol, allergy, aloe vera, Andrographis paniculata, ankle, antibacterial, antibiotic, antibiotic resistance, anti-germ, bacteria, bathing, berberine, black seed oil, brain, calf, cannabinoid receptors, Can This Be Healed With Herbs Alone, capsule, cheek, cinnamon, clay, cleanliness, coconut oil, cow, craziness, culture - bacterial, day care, diet, donkey, dosage, endangered species, Europe, experimenting, forehead, fragrance, frankincense, Germany, gold, goldenseal, goldenthread, head, healing agent, honey, honey-colored crust, impetigo, infection, Infectious Disease, injury, Iran, itch, lanolin, life-threatening, limb, Maine, Manuka honey, mosquito bite, mud, myrrh, nape, neck, neem, Nigella, ocean, olive leaf extract, Oman, oregano, primary care provider, proof of principle, propolis, rash - infectious, Russia, salt water, salve, Sankt Petersburg, scientist, sheep fat, shlep-sh***, skin infection, stable, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, tea tree oil, thigh, Three Magi, tincture, traveling, trunk, turmeric

Early July, in Sankt Petersburg/Russia, I was bitten by a mosquito. Not paying attention, I must have scratched the bite, and when I looked next – about a week later – my right ankle showed the telltale sign of a honey-colored crust: Impetigo!

Impetigo is an infectious rash, usually caused by Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria. Since we were traveling, nobody did a culture, we never will know who the culprit is. For first aid, still in Russia, I dabbed tea tree oil on it – too late, as it turned out; I should have treated the mosquito bite thus!

At home, two weeks after the bite, for healing I added some herbs, taken by mouth: Olive leaf extract, oregano, Andrographis paniculata and neem. The rash got paler, but by then it had spread up my right calf, to both of my thighs, and to my forehead and right cheek. Tea tree oil immediately removed the itchy spots from my face, but the rest stalled – not getting better or worse. – It is interesting to note that impetigo usually spares the trunk; it prefers head and limbs. I conclude those bacteria don’t like it hot …

With all infections, it is a good idea to clean up one's diet - no sugars, dairy, and as few white starches as possible. Mine was already pretty good; not much I could do here.

We traveled to Maine. Bathing in the salt water every day was soothing, and accelerated the healing (careful if you try this at home: Some warmer oceans easily might carry offending bacteria!). But then it slowed down again. In my desperation, I applied mud from the edge of the ocean once a day – because in Europe muds and clays are thought of as healing agents. It sure didn’t look pretty – my legs were blackish, peeling and scattering dried mud wherever I walked and sat and lay – especially in my bed. But mud greatly helped: Every day the rash looked a bit paler, and felt less itchy.

In case you think I am a crazy doctor going off the cliff: All along I was in contact with my primary care provider, who happens to be specialized in Infectious Disease. Because I have many, many allergies to antibiotics, and because of the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, he thought it was worth to try alternatives. So, mud it was. I even took a jar full of mud home when we left Maine after the summer. But the jar soon was empty – and the rash blossomed again. I added propolis, black seed oil (Nigella) and to berberine (the yellow dye makes goldenseal and goldenthread antibacterial; but goldenseal is an endangered species, so I don’t use it) the mix of herbal capsules that I was taking by mouth; not all at once, but every three hours one of the herbs, while awake (dosage is found on the bottle).

An Iranian friend of mine wrote me that her grandmother would use a salve of turmeric and sheep fat (lanolin) on skin infections. So I made a salve with turmeric, adding cinnamon for fragrance, and Manuka honey for good measure (Manuka honey got excellent results in trials in killing bacteria). However, I used coconut oil instead of lanolin, because I had coconut oil in the house, it smells better than sheep fat, and it is known for having antibacterial properties itself.

Things healed nicely – until I noticed new lesions at the nape of my neck, where I must have scratched there – despite fussy cleanliness throughout. Presently, I am steeping myrrh in alcohol for a tincture; another friend recently had brought me myrrh and frankincense from Oman. Tonight, I will use this tincture for the first time. Mainly I am looking for replacing the turmeric with something less colorful – I am doubtful if I will ever be able to wash the yellow color out of my bed sheets … - And, yes, the Three Magi valued myrrh and frankincense as highly as gold! Why? Because of their anti-germ abilities, which was needed in ancient times when you lived with cow and donkey in a stable. Not to mention that frankincense binds to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

Against the intense itch, I am also using the jelly inside of a huge old aloe vera plant I grow on the windowsill. It soothes the itch, and seems to help to reduce the angry red.

Why going to this length (approaching three month) to treat an itchy – but luckily not painful – rash? Part is, of course, my many allergies. Another part is that the rash is not life-threatening – I have some room for experimenting. Also, I am not a kid in a day care situation who might spread the infection to other kids. And mainly I want to find out if curing this rash by herbs alone is even doable; finding proof of principle, as scientists say.

It’s not nice having an ugly rash. Adding ridicule to injury: In Germany, I was told, the slang word for this very unpleasant and persistent impetigo is “shlep-sh***!” - One could not have come up with a more suitable term!

Oh, and stay posted to find out if the herbs finally will work!

Time To Take Your Hat And Leave, Mister Fahrenheit!

August 19, 2012

Tags: order, water, allergy, Alone in Berlin, American, Andrographis paniculata, Bach - Johann Sebastian (1685 to 1750), basement flooding, bath, Belize, book, cabin, cat allergy, Celsius – Anders (1701 to 1744), children, clams, clay, cut, dairy, discussing, down-east, Earth, eating, echinacea, Europe, eye infection, Fahrenheit scale, Fahrenheit - Daniel Gabriel (1686 to 1736), Fallada - Hans (1893 to 1947), farming, forest, fungal infection, Gdansk, Germany, global warming, goldenseal, GSE (grapefruit seed extract), hordeolum, ice, inch, inflammation, kilogram, lobster, Maine, mathematics, math teacher, medical emergency, mercury intoxication, metric system, mucus production, mushroom poisoning, musings, mussels, mystery, Native American, naturalist, Nazi time, ocean, old growth, rain, rash, reading, redemption, rejuvenating, reverence, rock, saltwater, sauna, scallops, sheep farming, sleep, stimulating, sty, summering, summertime, Sweden, teabag, tea tree oil, temperature, thermometer, Time To Take Your Hat And Leave, Mister Fahrenheit!, trees, underarm rash, U.S.A., writing, wound

Last night in the sauna, our European friends asked again for an explanation of the Fahrenheit scale. It boggles their mind that we here in the United States still using the clumsy Fahrenheit thermometer readings, instead the easy Celsius version.

Celsius determined the freezing point of water as zero degree, and the boiling point of water as 100 degree. Fahrenheit, on the other hand, placed his zero point at the lowest temperature he personally ever measured (in an artificial cold mixture of ice and salts). He then determined the moment when ice forms on non-moving water as 32 degree. And a third fixed point was when he put the thermometer under his arm – which he called 96 degree. Things could not be more messy and arbitrary than that, methinks.

Not to take away from Mister Fahrenheit’s merits: He invented the thermometer. But his temperature scale outlived its usefulness. It is only used now in the U.S. and in Belize (does that tell us something about the political situation of Belize??). The Fahrenheit scale should go where also inches and feet and the American pound should go: On the garbage heap of history. It is time that we introduce the metric system. Mainly so that our children in school don’t spend an inordinate amount of time learning to work with one sixteenth of an inch, and something like that. To handle inches and feet make you fit for construction work, but not much more. The metric system is easier, makes more sense – and can take students to science and computer language and into the difficult future … if they didn’t have to learn inches and feet and Fahrenheit and miles and uneven pounds. As a former math teacher, mathematical prowess is important to me – and I don’t like at all that we are taking only place # 27 globally in math skills.

Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686 to 1736) died already at age fifty. I wonder if he died of mercury intoxication, because he also invented the mercury thermometer. He actually started his career as a naturalist, after his parents died of a mushroom poisoning when he was in his teens. He was born in Gdansk, not far away from where I was born, and is a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach. – And, no, Anders Celsius from Sweden did not die of mercury intoxication; he died so young of tuberculosis.

Meanwhile, and interrupting my writing, I took a bath in the ocean. The water is rejuvenating, stimulating and cooling. In former years I had to leave after five minutes because I was cold to the bones. For the last few years, we leave because it gets boring. Anybody here still refuting global warming? Here, in down-east coastal Maine, we feel the consequences. Also by increased rains: We had water in the basement - the cement is broken, water comes in from all sides. Which had a good side-effect: We finally had to clean up the basement; it was overdue for about twenty years ...

Of course, it is still gorgeous summertime in Maine. We sleep and eat, we read and discuss, we do sauna (and a dip in the ocean afterward), and go for hikes. The other day, we had a lobster bake, directly at the ocean with churning white water, on wooden benches. Life could not be better. That is what the Natives must have thought hundred of years ago: This was their summering area, and their spirit of reverence for this place is still in the air. They would come from afar and meet here, to indulge in clams and mussels, lobsters and scallops. Then for two hundred years this paradisal spot of the Earth, was used cutting down the old growth, then farming it, which turned out not too successful – this is mostly barren clay and rocks around here. Afterwards, sheep farming, and then, nearly a century of neglect again so that trees could cover the land. Not like old growths 0 no, that we will never get back again. But still beautiful. Now, a few summer cabins are tucked into the woods, barely visible during day time because Maine has an ordnance in place that constructions need to be away 100 feet (30,48m) the upper shore line. But at night you see lights shimmer and sparkle through the forests – more than one would guess during the day.

I have read the German mystery, and found it satisfyingly light fare. Now I am reading Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin – and that is not light fare. But a marvelous book. That there was one German who could write about what happened to the population during Nazi time – I feel it is kind of a redemption.

My musings from Maine can’t end without describing a few of the tiny medical emergencies we had so far – and hopefully, we will not experience worse: Cat allergy: Andrographis paniculata; leave out all dairy to reduce inflammation and mucus production. A cut foot from a stone: Saltwater; tea tree oil. A sty (hordeolum): lukewarm teabag on eye; Echinacea, goldenseal and GSE (grapefruit seed extract) from the inside. An underarm rash (likely fungal): tea tree oil. – Everybody is doing remarkably fine.

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 …

Back To School

September 6, 2011

Tags: order, food, acoustic bass, addiction, adult education catalog, alcohol, archeology, art, Back To School, birds, blueberries, calendar year, cello, Chinese, cleaning out the attic, cooking from scratch, Daoism, drawing from the nude, flowers, French, German, glass blowing, Gone With The Wind, herbalist, herbs, history, homeless shelter, Kneipp - Sebastian (1821-1897), knitting, learning something new, Maine, math teacher, mushrooms, music, New Year, novel, physician, posture, quilting, reading, resolution, rock climbing, school year, September, square dance, stars, tai chi, tax law, Trager bodywork, translating, trees, voice lessons, volunteering, writer

Even after so many years, September is my favorite time of the year – going back to school, that is. The magic of sitting there with a sharpened pencil, eager to learn new stuff, has never abated. In my life, I have done this and that – from math teacher to physician to writer – and I have come to appreciate that my best feature is my joy in learning something new. My father planted it in his children. A physician, too, he knew all the trees and the flowers and the birds and the stars, he loved history and art and music and archeology, and above all reading.

Sadly, alcohol destroyed his brilliant brain. These days, I am mulling how much I myself am prone to addiction: We just came home from Maine, and I wanted to get my daily fix of blueberries – and my grocer has run out of blueberries. Run out of blueberries! I am appalled. And I am mulling if this is my form of addiction – blueberries?

Well, it could be worse. My resolution for this fall and winter – yes: resolution, because the New Year really begins with the new school year, not with the new calendar year, if you ask me – is learning more Chinese, more cello and more translating my Sebastian Kneipp novel into German. And to find a grocer who still carries some blueberries …

What's your September resolution? Cleaning out the attic? Taking lessons on acoustic bass? Doing a course in tax law? Learning to cook from scratch? Joining a quilting bee? Tackling drawing from the nude? Find an herbalist to introduce you to local herbs and mushrooms? Trying rock climbing? Investing in voice lessons? Brushing up on your French? Exploring daoism? Volunteer at a homeless shelter? Retraining your square dance steps? Rereading "Gone With The Wind"? Working on your posture with Trager bodywork and tai chi? Blowing glass? Knitting a sweater?

Tell us! Only you can know what you are dreaming of doing. Go for it! The adult education catalogs are out.

Love Of A Mother

August 31, 2011

Tags: order, cat brain, cat - feral, dog, kitten, Love Of A Mother, Maine, Moses - the cat, runt of the litter, wildlife, woods

A few years ago, in September, my neighbor here in Maine looked out of her kitchen window and observed one of the feral cats that live in the woods here deposit something on her stairs. When she checked outside, she found a tiny kitten. It barely had its eyes open and looked like it might not live. They took it in, fed it by dipping a finger in milk and let the kitten lick it off.

Against all odds, the little one survived. They named him Moses. Moses always looks like the runt of the litter - he is so small even grown up. He is not feral anymore; he is a house cat, well loved.

The surprising thing was that the feral mother cat had brought her kitten to people, obviously well knowing that it would not survive fall and winter; it was born too late in the year. Feral cats avoid people like any other wildlife would do. We get a glimpse of them some nights in our headlights, but that is all.

As an aside: If mankind would die out and dogs and cats would be returned to the wild, experts think that cats would survive and thrive, and dogs would die out; dogs are too dependent on people.

Back to the mother cat: What is even more surprising: Months later, the neighbors found out that a second kitten had been left with people about a mile away as the crow flies. Obviously, the two were siblings: The sister has the same solid slate gray fur Moses has.

Now, here is a mother cat, with a brain of roughly 30 grams (less than two ounces) who can figure out what is best for her babies. She walked miles with her babies to bring them where they might be safest.

Summer Reading 2011

August 26, 2011

Tags: order, A Sentimental Education, art, Austria, Balzac - Honoré de (1799-1850), books, Comédie Humaine, Cousin Bette, Dickens - Charles (1821-1870), education, Flaubert - Gustave (1821-1880), gardening, Hard Times, idealsism, Indian Summer, Madame Bovary, Maine, minerals, music, Nachsommer, Nietzsche - Friedrich (1844-1900), nineteenth century, painting, realism, rocks, sculpture, Stifter - Adalbert (1805-1868), Summer Reading 2011, The Maine Woods, Thoreau - Henry David (1817-1862)

You are asking what I am reading this year in Maine.

As we are staying here much shorter than usual, I did not bring too many books. I wanted to read some French classics which mostly eluded me so far: Balzac and Flaubert.

But I had been "working" a German novel on and off for a year, in turn fascinated and repelled at the same time, and had difficulties making up my mind what to think about it. The novel wasn't translated into English until recently. Its English title is "Indian Summer", which is not totally getting the meaning of the German "Nachsommer", which means a summer after the summer. It was first published in 1857.

The author Adalbert Stifter hardly recommends himself - he slit his throat later, and seemed to have been a petty Austrian school superintendent, exactly the kind of guy young people would abhor, who thought that everything old is better than everything new, and that young people should learn from the older generation, without asking and without arguing - not exactly my ideal of education.

But then again, so much could be said for the fields he educates his young hero Heinrich in: gardening, rocks and minerals, art, music, sculpture and painting, and so on.

This is heavy fare, but worthwhile if you have time and want to think deeply about what matters. Friedrich Nietzsche counted it among the only four books he let stand of the nineteenth century.

I began reading "Cousin Bette" by Honoré de Balzac. For two nights it gave me nightmares - so I avoid now reading it at night. The people are so incredibly mean to each other! I haven't finished, and this is only a tiny puzzle piece of Balzac's huge oeuvre "Comédie Humaine" - I should defer judgement. But I was close to throwing it away. I expect books to show me the good in people, and like to think that the good will prevail in life - as idealistic that is. - Balzac and Flaubert are not called "realists" for no reason.

From that summer I was reading all Dickens, I still have left over "Hard Times". Not sure if I will not elope with Dickens soon ...

The two books by Gustave Flaubert I brought with me are "Madame Bovary" and "A Sentimental Education". - You will hear about them from me - probably later in the fall because there is no way that I finish reading them here.

And, I forgot: In the bathroom we always have lying open Henry David Thoreau's "The Maine Woods".

Tell me what you are reading!

Water And Energy

July 5, 2011

Tags: water, air conditioner, atomic energy, bacteria, cabin, cold water, detergent, detoxify, elderly, energy, fan, frail, highway, Japanese reactor accident, Maine, restrooms, rubbing action, sick, sweating, washing hands, Water And Energy, water - cold, water flow, water - hot, water wasting

Driving up to the cabin for the first time this year, in one of the Maine highway restrooms I encountered something new: plain cold water for washing my hands. Finally! I had always wondered why we waste so much hot water and energy for washing our hands. Of course, recently a study had come out that showed that hot water does not remove more bacteria than cold water – the whole effect depends on the detergent and the rubbing action plus the water flow.

So, somebody acted on this new insight. Just think if all the thousands of highway restrooms and all the restaurants would change to plain cold water! We would all be the better for it.

And since I am at it: If you are not elderly and not frail and not sick, please, shut off the air conditioner this year! The Japanese reactor accident has shown us that energy comes with a price – and I guess, not many of us would want to pay with our lives for limitless atomic energy.

When we moved into our house some long time ago, we found, it had a central air conditioner. We tried it one night – and couldn’t stand it.

In the worst of hot, hot summer nights we have a simple fan running in the bedroom. Otherwise: Summer is upon us, and we savor every minute of it by slowing down, relaxing, playing it easy. And sweating. Sweating is the natural, seasonal way to detoxify. I am no fanatic, so I think air conditioners at the workplace are fine. Not that I like them – but they help to concentrate on the work instead of idly looking out of the window. And we are not discussing here possible health disadvantages of air conditioners – I want you to give REDUCING a chance before we are talking COLD TURKEY NONE.

These are the two thoughts for today:
1. Wash you hands with cold water.
2. Do you really need the air conditioner?

And a last thought:
Drink enough water during the heat!

Keep A Cool Head!

June 16, 2011

Tags: water, air - fresh, brain temperature, Celsius, cool head - warm feet, cooling water tubes, Fahrenheit, feet - warm, head - cool, insomnia, Keep A Cool Head!, Maine, re-breathing stale air, sleep, Natural Medicine, water – recycled, wet socks, window open, winter

A study just out: Scientists built a cap with cooling water tubes to keep the brain temperature down. Turns out you sleep best when your head is at a little below 60 degrees Fahrenheit about 15 degrees Celsius.

What – they spent research funds on that?? Insane. Why invent a machine for something that is available easily in nature?

Then again: Natural Medicine tells us for more than a century now to sleep with the window open. For the reason that one doesn’t re-breathe ones stale reason. For a second reason: To keep a cool head.

The only other proven across-the-board condition that helps people go to sleep is having warm feet. Is this neat? Cool head, warm feet! You find the absurd prescription of Wet Socks in my water book (I don’t have the time to write about it now) – absurd, but it helps.

For today: Sleep with window open. Give it it try! Of course, we sleep with window open even in the coldest winter in Maine. You can start now - in summer weather. You don’t drink water that has once gone through your body and then been discarded. You shouldn’t re-breathe your used-up air either!

World Oceans Day 2011

June 8, 2011

Tags: water, August, congee, Earth, earthquakes, family, fires, floods, Gaia, Gaia hypothesis, grape leaves, Maine, morning ritual, ocean, plagues, rains - torrential, renewal, sauerkraut, sencha tea, summer, tea – green, tornados, tsunamis, vermin, whales, World Oceans Day 2011

Water is the most precious stuff of life. We drink it, we bathe in it, we revere it.

This morning I had a shower, then drank a sencha tea and ate a bowl of congee with sauerkraut and grape leaves. None of my morning ritual would work without water.

In August we will return to our cabin in Maine. It is small, but it is at the ocean, and so important for our family – most of our renewal starts there, every summer.

What is important today, on World Ocean Day 2011: That you tell at least one youngster to work on saving the waters, the whales, the life of our old Earth.

You know the Gaia hypothesis, don’t you? According to the Gaia hypothesis, our old Earth, Gaia, is an organism of her own – and we are just some lice in her hair. Isn’t that exactly the impression she gives us presently? She is shaking herself to get rid of the vermin on her surface by sending tsunamis, fires, tornados, earthquakes, torrential rains, floods, and plagues.

Regardless, if the Gaia hypothesis is right or wrong – it helps me to see my task better: To protect our old Earth as much as I can. Because she is the only home we have.

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.

The End of the Year in Maine

December 28, 2010

Tags: movement, food, order, artichokes, baking, balance, Beethoven - Ludwig van (1770-1827), Brendel - Adrian (born 1976), Brendel - Alfred (born 1931), cello, Christmas, cookies, cooking, cross-country skiing, Cutting For Stone, exercise, healing food, Maine, pesto, piano, red cabbage, sauerbraten, shoveling snow, skiing, The End of the Year in Maine, Verghese - Abraham (born 1955), writing

We are in the cabin, away from everything during the time we call between the years in German. Nowhere in the world do I sleep as deeply as here, nothing makes me so content than being here with my loved ones.

Not to sound too pollyannaish: The adjustment to being in such confined room is usually a loud affair for our family – we have to rearrange ourselves and our egos. But the result is good, and I think, lasting.

In the snowstorm, we got ten inches of snow (I just stuck a ruler into the snow on the porch). During the snow last night, we went for a walk along the beach, fighting the wind and swirling snowflakes on our way out, and having them nicely at our backs on returning.

In spite that I brought my equipment (the ancient three prongs- shoes), I haven’t been cross-country skiing yet because I get so much more satisfaction out of shoveling snow – a movement with purpose. Always change hands; for balance, one has to work both sides of the body, even if it feels a bit clumsier on one side.

Shopping is not celebrating the season - snow-shoveling is. And sitting in front of the wood stove, listening to Beethoven (my favorite at the moment: The complete Beethoven piano/cello music as played by the father/son team Alfred/Adrian Brendel), reading a book.

You think snow-shoveling is a chore, and you would rather go without? Imagine you couldn't do it because you were sick. You had to hire someone to do it, pay for it, and miss out on the exercise. How much you'd long for snow-shoveling then! What a desirable activity it would become!

During the holidays, the family didn’t mind eating my sauerbraten and red cabbage for three days in a row. They were actually looking forward to it – savoring it so much! I am a good cook but a lousy baker – don’t follow instructions well. But this year, my self-baked cookies came out right – the Florentines being the favorites of all times. Luckily, all cookies are nearly gone.

In the sauna, after three days of feasting (we celebrate on Christmas Eve), I noticed that I looked like a pink pig – and felt like one, too. But after one day with a light dinner (artichokes with pesto) and lots of outdoors activity, I am back to being my old self again. Artichokes are healing food for the liver - we all can use them after the holidays, I'd say.

All that is only the setting to tell you from where I am writing. What I really want is to share my present reading: Abraham Verghese’s Cutting For Stone. It is a medical novel, and surely I am biased as a physician, but I would award him the Nobel Prize for Literature – the book is that good! It spans three continents, giving us a flavor where we Americans come from – namely, the whole world. His observations of people and how they function (or not function) are deep and true. I wish I could write like that.

For a writer it is always upsetting to meet a book that is better than her own but I don’t care; I just care about that Abraham Verghese has written it - and that I am lucky enough to have found it. And I am not yet done: There will be a few days more of this exquisite pleasure!

September Blessings

September 4, 2010

Tags: order, water, back to school, beginning, cello, Chinese, friends, cold water, Kneipp - Sebastian, Li Shizhen, learning, Maine, novel, resolution, seasons, September, September Blessings, writing group

All seasons are my favorites, but September sticks out for me.

In the summer, I wither in the heat – that is why Maine is my refuge during the hot days. Maine’s cold water – I can’t understand that nobody advertises it! The Bahamas never tempt me. - We returned home to Boston tonight, into a sticky hot house. On our evening walk, however, the air was crisp – just as one expects of September.

Yet the main reason why I always look forward to September is that I love being back at school, so to speak, with sharpened pencil and a rested mind. As a child, I couldn’t wait for the new school year, the new subjects, and my old friends. Later, my enthusiasm lagged at times – but the start always beguiled me.

Much more than the New Year, September is my time for new beginnings, good intentions and resolutions. My Chinese course will restart this month, our writing group will reconvene, and I will take cello lessons again.

This year, September is even more special: On September 2nd, I finished my Sebastian Kneipp novel - or I think I finished it (thought that once before…). The quiet in Maine gave me all the concentration I needed. I might restart my “Chinese” novel about Li Shizhen (1518-1593) and/or finish the nonfiction book about skiing and health. Life is good.

Life is good as long as one still finds things to learn, to discover, to tackle. – What will you tackle this September?

Maine Time

August 29, 2010

Tags: Water, order, ablution, boat, cat – feral, chipmunk, cold water gush, deer, down-east, eagle, fox, heron, hummingbird, hummingbird moth, kayaking, Kneipp - Sebastian, lake, loons, Maigret - Commissaire, Maine, Maine Time, moon - full, ocean, ospreys, Paris, red squirrel, river, sauna, seal, Simenon – Georges, swimming, tern

For two weeks already, we are in Maine. The Internet works only sporadically, and my mind is not on blogging.

Maine, this summer, has taught me these points:

1. At least once a day, I dip into the ocean – either for a swim or after the sauna. The water down-east used to be so cold, I would freeze to the bones in minutes. But global warming is real: Now I can stay much longer.

2. The French Commissaire Maigret, Georges Simenon’s master detective, describes a morning in Paris thus: “Maigret always loved wandering the streets, while Paris made its morning ablutions.” Ablution, of course, is a fancy word for a cold water gush.

3. On my birthday, at full moon, we kayaked at night to the seals’ rock. It was something to remember – the smooth ocean, the bright moon, the sleepy calls of water birds. I saw the other boat only by the silvery run of drops from the oars.

4. If you dream of owning a boat, forget the expensive stuff – the stinkers with motor. Get a kayak, used, if possible! Put your kayak in a river, a lake, the ocean. Hear the silence of Nature speak to you when you paddle by.

5. I see herons, eagles, cormorants and terns – and the ubiquitous seagulls; I hear loons and ospreys. And, so far, I met a fox, deer, seals, feral cats and lots of chipmunks and red squirrels. The most exciting meeting was a with a hummingbird moth – because I had never before seen one. And we have real hummingbirds, too; it’s inconceivable how they can survive this far in the north. I understand they drink birch sap in the spring. In August, they suck nectar from my phlox.

6. I think I might be finished soon with my Kneipp novel. But I have thought that before …
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

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

Tags - see also the non-captalized entries below!