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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

On Writing

November 12, 2015

Tags: order, book, cleaning, decluttering, hands, heart, making the world a better place, mending, On Writing, rereading a book, shutting up, walking, writer’s block, writing

When you are stuck

• shut off all electronics – you cannot create an inside world while the outside world intrudes
• go for a walk
• write in long-hand
• do the mending, cleaning, decluttering, gardening you have been avoiding
• reread a book which you think is divine

If all this fails, shut up, go out and make the world a better place with your hands and your heart. Write only if you have something to say.

Lumosity, and Similar Brain-Enhancing Games

January 4, 2015

Tags: order, food, movement, arguing, book, brain-enhancing, computer wiz, cooking, daylight, family, friends, games, gardening, hobby, intelligence, IQ, knitting, learning, letter, life, Lumosity, Lumosity and Similar Brain-Enhancing Games, memory, playing the cello, railcar, reading, self, senility, talking, walking, work, writing

Somebody nudged me into trying Lumosity - I must have shown signs of senility, for those games are supposed to increase memory and, perhaps, IQ.

Those two games I played stirred up the following questions:

• Aren’t work and/or hobbies to be so interesting that they keep me on my toes, and learning?
• How come a game that a young computer wiz developed is going to teach me more than my life has taught me?
• Why would I want the kind of intelligence that can reroute a bunch of rail cars faster and faster, than the kind of slow and painful and difficult and limited intelligence that brought me to where I am now in my life?
• Do I want to think and function like anybody else? Or do I want to be myself?
• Can Lumosity do more for my brain than reading, gardening, knitting, cooking, playing the cello, writing letters and books, talking and arguing with my friends & family?
• Will those games increase my memory better than feeding myself right, and going for a long walk in daylight?

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.

Summer Heat

July 18, 2012

Tags: order, water, air conditioner, air pollution - indoors - outdoors, bass, birthright, cello, cherries, children, cold exposure, cold shower, cold water, creativity, dinner - light, fall, fish, garden, heat, heating - central, houseplants, immune system, indoor air, mint, music, nap, pruning, reading, salad, season, shade, sleeping with window open, string camp, summer, Summer Heat, summer reading list, sweating, thunderstorm, September, tea, viola, violin, weeding, writing, work

A tremendous lightning-and-thunder storm brought a huge downpour and a bit of cooling to our region. Not much so. It is nearly ten o’clock at night, and I am still sweating.
You hear me often talk of the benefits of a cold shower (after the hot one). The cold water mimics the exposure to cold we need for a functioning immune system. Since we live in rooms with central heating and are not working outside so much, we don’t get enough of our birthright: cold exposure.
We likewise don’t get enough of the summer heat because most of us live in air-conditioned rooms. Not we though. In twenty years, we have used our central air conditioner a single time. We didn’t like it. We prefer to sleep with window open to get cleaner air. Contrary what you might think, the indoor air pollution usually is much worse than the outdoors air pollution. Hint: Houseplants help cleaning up indoor air.
We sleep with window open even in winter, in severe minus grades. I lie under about five duvets then and stay snugly warm.
Now, in summer, I am sweating – I can’t remember a hot and humid summer like this one. But sweating: That is what summer is for. Summer is a season that gives you a sauna for free: You can sweat out toxins which otherwise are hard to eliminate. Now I am getting rid of waste and damaging agents about twenty hours a day. Of course, I make sure that I take in enough water and salt, to make up for the losses. And be reasonable about it: If you have a medical condition, switch on the air conditioner. Keeping a cold facecloth at hand or taking a short cold shower can keep you cool.
I feel uncomfortable now, sweating. But I know I good I will feel come September: Cool and ready to work hard again. In this heat, I admit, working and writing comes nearly to a standstill; the garden slowly turns into a jungle again as if the months of weeding and pruning never happened. This is the time for cold black tea with mints from the garden, reading in the shade, enjoying delicious music and light dinners – cold fish with a salad and some cherries afterwards. On the weekends, I am planning long afternoon naps, This is not my most effective time – but it is getting me ready for work and creativity in the fall.
Soon I will give you my summer reading list. But for now I am in the middle of the summer string camp with two hundred kids playing violin, viola, cello and bass – and I am one of them. The one who plays cello badly. But having fun.
In an air-conditioned room, actually.

Sebastian Kneipp’s Birthday

May 17, 2012

Tags: order, water, movement, food, herbs, Bavaria, birthday, cheer, flowers, fruit, friendship, green tea, Germany, Kneipp – Sebastian (1821 to 1897), My Water Cure, Sebastian Kneipp’s Birthday, writing

Sebastian Kneipp’s was born on May 17th 1821, in a tiny village in Bavaria/Germany. Why does it matter?

Her brought the world the Five Health Essentials: Water, movement, food, herbs, order. Not they didn’t exist before – but he opened, in his very gruff way, the world’s eyes to natural health, which is always there, up for the grabs.

For me Sebastian Kneipp has a special importance: When I opened his book “My Water Cure” in the original, many years ago and just out of curiosity, I suddenly burned bringing his insights to my patients here, to this country – and that is how Sebastian Kneipp made me write my first book. And, yes, you pronounce the “K” in his name. No, not “Ka-nipe”; it makes just one syllable with an audible “K”: “Knipe”.

Long after I had started writing about Sebastian Kneipp I realized that he shared his birthday with my father. Here’s to them!

I will celebrate Sebastian Kneipp’s birthday by riding my bike to a sick friend’s house, delivering some flowers, fruit and cheer. In this last sentence, I packed movement, food and order – already three of Kneipp’s principles. If I throw in a package of green tea to what I will bring my friend, that adds water and herbs.

All what we need: water, movement, food, herbs, order – to stay healthy.

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.

Why Haven’t You Heard Kangen Water Mentioned Here?

June 26, 2011

Tags: water, movement, food, herbs, order, alkalinizing, customers – gullible, dream – pipe-dream, Earth, health device, health myth, improving your life, Kangen Water, magic machine, miracle pill, money - saving, multi-level marketing scheme, positive thinking, reader, reality, resources – Earth’s, scientific study, seller, vegetable, water purity, Why Haven’t You Heard Kangen Water Mentioned Here?, writing

Water is our Earth’s precious resource; I spend my time writing about the importance of keeping water pure and how to use it for health. But Kangen water?

From time to time I get sucked into a discussion on the Internet – so this time again; over Kangen water.

What I tell them is that not a single scientific study validates Kangen water, that it is nothing but a multi-level marketing scheme, and that if you want to alkalinize your body you better eat vegetables. But do I have an impact? No, because there are mostly two kinds of readers: People who sell this product and are vested in its success. And gullible customers.

And those poor gullible customers should save their money instead of running after the age-old dream that a simple device can make you healthy. Exactly to dispel that myth I am here. Because, in reality, it is a gradual process of improving your life in so many ways – water, movement, food, herbs, order might be a concept you are familiar with by now. No miracle pill. No magic machine. No positive thinking.

Just doing a little bit better every day.

Mara Heinze-Hoferichter (1887 - 1958

June 21, 2011

Tags: order, Auschwitz, children’s book, Deutsche Schiller Stiftung, family, Friedel Starmatz, Germany, Heinze-Hoferichter - Mara (1887 - 1958), Holocaust, Jew, “Nesthäckchen” series, Thirties, Twenties, violin, Ury - Else (1877-1943), war, World War I, writing

When I was a child, the most important book I ever read was “Friedel Starmatz”, by Mara Heinze-Hoferichter. Mine was a used book - because my mother didn't have the money to buy me a book a day. That was the rate at which I was reading.

The story was about a little boy who is separated from his family during World War I. In the woods, he finds anther family, with whom he grows up. He learns to play the violin, and at a concert, many years later – but I won’t give the end away.

This is not a modern book, and I doubt that children nowadays would want to read it. We still have wars, and horrible things still happen to children (and grown-ups). I tried translating the book, but its sensibilities seem outdated. Perhaps I will put it on the Internet one day, so that it will be available to English-speaking children.

I tried to find out about the author, Mara Heinze-Hoferichter. It seems she was born in Eastern Germany. She wrote books for children in the Twenties and Thirties. And then her tracks fizzle out. 1938 to 1941 she seemed to have gotten a stipend from the Deutsche Schiller Stiftung. But there is no notice about her death. How did she die?

Perhaps she was just old and passed away. Or she shared the same fate a Else Ury (1877-1943), the most successful German children’s books author in the Twenties. As a Jew, she perished in Auschwitz. She wrote the most German of German girls’ books – the “Nesthäckchen” series – but in the end, she was not "German" enough and was killed in the Holocaust.

Writing Always – But In Which Language?

April 23, 2011

Tags: order, Americanized, Bavaria, China, cross stitching, English, European Natural Medicine, German, Hamburg, immigrant, language, mother tongue, Natural Medicine, novel, obsession, Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897), Sebastian Kneipp - Water Doctor, translation, writing, Writing Always – But In Which Language?

A few years ago I tried to translate my novel “Sebastian Kneipp, Water Doctor” into German – and I failed badly.

No surprise there: I have been living in the United States for so many years – sure, immigrants lose their mother tongue after a while!

That translation effort - I still remember it vividly: At that time I was probably at the 68th of the book. When I tried to translate it, it sounded awful: trite, shallow, stupid – you get the idea. I gave up on the translation with the feeling that I had lost my sense of “getting it” in German. Somebody else would have to do the job. I had become thoroughly Americanized, and was content with it – when I had decided to immigrate, that was what I expected, wasn’t it?

So, the problem was not that I had lost my mother tongue. The problem was that the 68th English version was not yet as good as the 83rd ...

Forward a few years: Last fall the novel was published - the 83rd version. Several German friends had read the English version of the novel and thought it would be a good idea to bring it out in German. I always said no, knowing I couldn’t do it. Then, recently, I had done a translation of a scientific text into German without difficulties.

Somehow, having successfully finished that translation must have worked inside me. As it happens so often with my projects that start on an unconscious level, one day I just sat down at my computer and began translating again. And this time, I liked the results – there was a voice, there was a language. Words came up from the past – I didn’t even know I knew them. As a youngster, I had had tuberculosis and spent a year in a sanatorium, in Bavaria (being from Hamburg originally) – you who have read the novel know that somehow my story made it into the book. Those old Bavarian words resurfaced when I needed them because Sebastian Kneipp (1821 to 1897) was a Bavarian – and he was the founder of modern Natural Medicine.

It will take me about half a year to translate the novel. But now I am hooked – I am working on it obsessively now. My husband claims I do everything obsessively, and it is true: I put the same obsession in when I had my cross stitch phase – stacks of hand towels and napkins at my friends’ houses still bear witness! I’d say that everything that is worth being done, is worth being done obsessively, immoderately, and well.

Of course, the translation takes me away from a few other projects I have cooking – like my next novel set in 16th century China. But it makes me very happy because I have not lost my mother tongue, after all.

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.

Thought For The Day

April 7, 2011

Tags: order, water, Thought For The Day, bank, river, ocean, Russell - Bertrand, sea, waterfall, water images, words, writing

Instead of a long blog, I want to share this beautiful life metaphor - which I found on A.Word.A.Day. I like its water images:

An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.

- Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)

January is Novel-Writing Month!

January 1, 2011

Tags: order, adventure story, children’s book, cookbook, family history, legacy, life story, film script, health book, holidays, January is Novel-Writing Month!, journal, learning a musical instrument, medical novel, memories, mystery, novel, painting, publishing, purpose, satisfaction, theater play, thriller, travel report, wonder, writing

No clue who invented it – but January is novel-writing month.

Don’t feel restricted to a novel. You can write a thriller, a mystery, a children’s book, an adventure story, a film script or a theater play, a book about health or letting kites fly, about travels and favorite dishes – there is no limit.

The easiest is starting by writing down your own story. If you write it in the first person, it will become part of the family story. If you the find it turning out embarrassing – change it to the third person, and make it a novel.

This January just write a first draft. The first month of the year is usually a quiet month. The evenings are long and dark. Holidays and vacations are over. This is the time to write something down that you always wanted to write – instead of sitting in front of TV or computer, passively, turn on the “active” mode and write! At the very minimum, start writing a journal. Jot down your thoughts, observations, feelings. Show how YOU see the world.

You think you can’t do it? At one point, I had no desire to ever write – it just wasn’t on my agenda. I was a happy doctor and terribly busy to juggle medicine and family. One day I got an idea for a health book and started writing. I published two non-fiction books. Even before I published those, the idea for a medical novel came to me – I will never forget the date because it was two days before Christmas - December 22nd, 1999. The holiday pressure was just at its meanest when the idea struck. And what did I do? Wait prudently until the holidays were over? No! Of course, I had never heard that January is novel-writing month, and the urge to write down my ideas was too great – I sat down then and there at the computer, and began writing the novel. That first day, amidst pressing holiday needs, I wrote nearly three hours.

Little did I know that it would take me eleven years and 82 versions before I had brought it into publishable form.

You don’t have to aspire to publishing. But if you do, be aware that it never will be done with a single draft that – miraculously! – a publisher will want to buy and which then will make you millions of dollars. It will be many, man, many revisions before you will be there. And truth is: There’s no money in writing, in all likelihood. But there is satisfaction, wonder and purpose in writing.

If you don’t aspire to publishing, you still should write down your story. A friend of ours did it. He had been a career army man and a (responsible!!) father at sixteen, and he told his fascinating life story, interspersed with newspaper clips from the times – a wonderful legacy he one day will leave to his children and children’s children.

The only thing you have to do is: begin. January is the right (write!) month to begin.

Okay, okay, I hear you – you can’t write, you don’t want to write, und you will never learn to write. Suggestion: Paint a picture! Or learn to play an instrument!

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!

Inward-Bound

November 11, 2010

Tags: order, food, autumn, bones, Chinese literature, fall, fat, fire, gift-giving, holidays, immune system, Inward-Bound, Li Shizhen, mind, Oxford Chinese Dictionary, plant compounds, seasons, raking the leaves in the yard, TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine, vegetables, writing

You might have noticed that I am not writing blog as much lately as I did before.

Nothing wrong with me. I am just going inward.

Firstly, I am between two books. After finishing “Sebastian”, I felt in limbo for a while. Now I am back into writing the story of Li Shizhen (1518-1593). I am learning Chinese, in my fourth semester – and I barely can speak a single sentence. But I am starting to recognize characters – and it is totally engrossing! Yesterday, my new Chinese dictionary (Oxford) arrived. I was happy like a clam all day, looking up words that I hadn’t been able to find in my old pocket dictionary. The language is opening a culture to me. I am reading the classical Chinese literature, in English. And I am thinking about little Li, four years old. The people in his life have begun talking in my head, and I am jotting down what they are talking about.

Secondly, we are in the middle of autumn. This is the time of year to go inside, make a warm in the wood stove and think about your life. Also, it is a time for eating heartier food – my braised ox tails with cabbages from the garden was exactly the nourishing food we need right now: A bit more fat, a bit more substance, and tons of vegetables to supply us with the plant compounds feeding our immune system, mind and bones.

This seasonal inward motion is counterbalanced by the pull of the world: Talking with friends, using the Internet, going for my daily walk – all this tries to get me back into the fray. At Thanksgiving we will celebrate with friends again, like every year, and then it will be holiday parties and gift-buying and gift-giving – I will not stay this inward-bound for a long time.

But for the time I am. I cherish it, hoping for growth.

On a Rainy Summer Day: Read!

July 29, 2010

Tags: order, African-American, Austen - Jane (1775-1817), Barbery - Muriel (born 1969), biography, books, Brontë sisters, cello, Chesterton - G.K (1874-1936), China, Chinese, Colbin - Annemarie, declutter, Dickens - Charles (1812-1870), Father Brown, gardening, Hill - Laurence (born 1957), Kleist - Heinrich von (1777-1811), Kuriyama - Shigehisa, lightning, Loti - Pierre Ebert (1850-1923), Maigret - Commissaire, Mantel - Hilary (born 1952), Mitchell - David (born 1969), Mittelmark - Howard, Mungello - David (1943), mysteries, Newman - Sandra, novel, philosophy, On a Rainy Summer Day: Read!, Oshinsky - David (born 1944), polio, rain, reading, Rowley - Hazel (1951-1911), Simenon - Georges (1903-1989), Stead - Christina (1902-1983), Stewart - Katherine Silberger, summer reading list, swimming, writing, yoga

What are you doing if it is raining? Do you let it ruin your day/your summer/your life?

This is what I do (not to mention that not everyone is on vacation, of course):

Declutter. I take one corner in my house, and start. I plan to do only ten minutes, but if I get carried away and stick with it longer, so be it. Yesterday, although it was not raining, I started in my study. Because it needed it sorely– and heat can be just as forbidding for the outdoors as rain is.

Play the cello. Still badly. But since my recent summer camp, with 120 adorable kids (I was one of them), I extended my repertoire to jazz and swing. Really fun!

Read. And this is what I want to write about today: my summer reading list. One summer, in Maine, I read one Dickens novel after the other; another summer, I tackled Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. This year’s is without rhyme and reason – just what tickles my fancy:

• This summer, I want to read as many of Georges Simenon’s mysteries as I can get my hands on. Superintendent Maigret is the hero. So far, I have read about six. A joy to rediscover him.
• G.K Chesterton’s Complete Father Brown Stories. Finished already. These mysteries did not age quite as well as Commissaire Maigret’s but if you like an old-fashioned, Catholic sleuth – this is for you.
• David Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story. If you grew up in the fifties, this one will touch you.
• Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall. Won the Booker Prize. A engrossing novel about Henry VIII, Anna Boleyn and the whole mess they created. Beautifully densely written – not for breezing through.
• Howard Mittelmark, Sandra Newman, How NOT to Write a Novel. This is a re-read for me. Easy to read, and instructive.
• Christina Stead, by Hazel Rowley. If you read Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children, you might want to learn more about the life of its Australian author.
• David Mungello, The Great Encounter of China and the West, 1500 to 1800. Is on my reading list because of the Chinese novel I am writing. Probably too scholarly for the average reader.
• David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Also a must-read for my Chinese project – but more fun.
• Another reread: Annemarie Colbin, Food and Healing. There are so many interesting details that once in a while I have to take it out again.
• Shigehisa Kuriyama, The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine. Very interesting, very philosophical. Kuriyama teaches at Harvard.
• The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. An intelligent delight – finished it already.
• Pierre Ebert Loti, An Iceland Fisherman. Warmly recommended by my friend Diana. This is an old book – from 1886. A different pace, a different voice than what we are used to now.
• Laurence Hill, Someone Knows My Name. A gripping tale about African slaves coming over the ocean to our shores, against their will.
• And an enjoyable little fluff: Yoga Mamas, by Katherine Silberger Stewart. Fluff - but taking yoga serious.
• And my old stand-by, perhaps the best story ever written in German: The Marquise of O, by Heinrich von Kleist.

I get my books either from the library or buy used – otherwise I could not sustain my reading addiction.

This is what I could do: Go for a swim in the rain. It’s exhilarating. Just make sure there is no danger of lightning. Every year, about one hundred people are killed in the US by lightning, mostly in the southeast. Worst state is Florida; Alaska is safe – you guessed it.

Or go deadheading the roses and dahlias in the rain. Might be adventurous too. Because, as I always say, Nature build me water-tight: No rain gets through my skin.

Before You Die

June 19, 2010

Tags: water, movement, food, herbs, order, Before You Die, biking, bungee jumping, cello, cleaning out the attic, cold shower, Dickens - Charles, fasting, forgiving, Great Wall, growing vegetables and herbs, Hugo - Victor, learning a new language, mountain climbing, musical instrument, painting, parachute jumping, Paris, pottery, publishing a book, reading, shower - cold, skydiving, soulmate, tai chi, Tolstoy - Leo, touch an iceberg, weaving, wood working, writing

If you find no new block entry here – does it mean your blogger is sitting idly around at the beach?

No. She is immersed in the novel she tries to finish before she dies. What is it you must finish before you die? Remember Miss Rumphius? Her grandfather had told her the three things one has to accomplish in life: To travel foreign lands; to live at the ocean (You might remember that “Miss Rumphius” is a Maine story); to leave the world a more beautiful place.

Husbands always feel one should clean out the attic before I die, or such – but we, who should do it, lack enthusiasm for the attic. Given one wouldn’t want to leave the mess to one’s children to sort out – but then again, who is going to die die THAT SOON??

There are tons of bucket lists on the Internet what to do before we die. Here is mine:

1. Finish your novel.

What are other people aspiring to do before they die? Skydiving, bungee jumping, parachute jumping. Too much jumping, it seems. Too short-lived and not along my alley. How about these:

2. Learn a musical instrument (or painting or wood working or weaving or pottery).
3. Grow your own vegetables and herbs. And perhaps blueberries.
4. Forgive that incredible jerk/bitch (we all have one in our lives).
5. Climb a mountain. Doesn’t need to be Mount Everest – but should be bigger than the Blue Mountains near Boston. Take part in a long bike ride. Or learn tai chi – anything that gets you moving out of your comfort zone.
6. Do a vegetable broth fast for a whole day. Once a week – until you have your ideal weight; then go to once a month.
7. Learn a new language.
8. Take a cold shower. Every day.
9. Read Les Misérables (or War and Peace, or Our Mutual Friend – or the other thousand-pages-plus tome you always wanted to read).
10. Sleep under the stars and watch a sunrise.

Others I liked: Walk the Great Wall of China, Visit Paris, Publish a book, Touch an Iceberg. Many of those traveling goals sound like fun – but they expand your carbon footprint enormously. Visiting Paris or leaning to play the cello? I have done both; nothing against Paris, but the instrument beats the town by miles.

Find Your Soul Mate would be a worthy goal, wouldn’t it be? But that is not in your hands. Strive for something attainable - you don’t want to build your life on Grace or Fate or Incredible Luck.
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!