Sunday, April 26, 2015

Who Reads Me?

I know you are out there, so who are you? My curiosity has gotten the better of me and I am addressing today’s blog to you. As a blogger, I have access to analytics on who views my blog. In recent weeks, I have noticed that I have a greater readership in Russia than in the U.S. Dear Russian Readers:  Who are you? Please comment (in English if you don’t mind) and tell me where you are, who you are, how you found my blog, and what keeps you reading. (Or email me at Your interest in my thoughts and your readership week after week delights me and also baffles me. I must tell you that I am part Russian; a small part, but it’s in my blood nonetheless (my dad’s mother was half Russian).

Another blog readership that baffles me is you Ukrainians. Again, who are you? Please comment. My ancestors lived in your part of the world. My grandfather emigrated to the U.S. in 1915. He came from Rzeszόw, in the Galicia region of Southeastern Poland, which is right across the border from the Ukraine. This fact makes me imagine that you Ukrainian readers are kindred spirits and perhaps we are connected by mysterious spiritual threads reaching down through the generations to re-entangle us in the new Global Village. My skin tingles when I see in my analytics that so many Ukrainians viewed my blog. I have a substantial blog readership in the Ukraine, and this has been going on for months, from long before the Russians appeared. I am not Ukrainian. I am definitely Polish. But I have heard members of my family say that we are “Galicianers,” and the border kept changing. Polish? Austrian? Ukrainian? Us Ashkenazi Jews from that region are of muddy descent, are we not? My grandmother’s spectacular kipfel dough recipe is probably the same as has been passed down in Galicianer Jewish homes that trace ancestors back to all these countries. We shall moan in pleasure together over kipfel pastries, comrades.

I feel as though I am reaching back and back to an old home in my heart when I see the analytics reveal that I have so many readers in Russia and the Ukraine. Perhaps by “outing” you I will motivate someone to speak to me, to tell me who you are and how and why we have connected. Without the internet and the global communications made possible through technology, I would not be having this conversation. The fact that people all over the world, that people in Russia and the Ukraine, are reading my weekly ruminations is magic. What extraordinary communications have been made possible in my lifetime; communications beyond my girlhood imaginings. On beyond the Jetsons cartoon with their video chat.

When I was a teenager, my family lived in Scotland for a year. My dearest friend that year was an Indian girl named Rajni. I and my brother were the only Jews in our school when I lived in Scotland, while she and her sisters were the only Hindus in our school. In 1999, Rajni became the first judge ever in Scotland (male or female) who came from any ethnic minority background. (In Scotland they call them sheriffs not judges.) At the time of her appointment, less than 12% of Scottish judges (sheriffs) were women. I felt extremely proud to be Rajni’s friend when she was appointed. Last year she retired from the bench. I am relating this because she now has more time for fun and so we have begun a monthly Skype call with each other. She is one of the more special people I have known in my life and I have often wished we lived closer together. Until we started Skyping this year, we had not seen each other since 1980. We are making up for lost time using Skype.

My ability to communicate with people all over the world from the quiet of my desk here in my study in my little rural community strikes me as a small miracle every time another extraordinary message blooms. I want to share three of my favorite recent communications.

Communication #1. A cousin of mine who lives in Tel Aviv posted something on Facebook in Hebrew a couple of months ago. Another cousin, who lives in NJ (and understands Hebrew), replied in English that he wished he could help but he had no plans to travel to Israel in the near future. I was curious. I clicked on “translation” to get the English version of the Israeli cousin’s post. Facebook translated. She was asking if anyone from the U.S. would be traveling to Israel in coming months as she needed to have something brought over to her from the U.S. As it happens, another relative of ours is planning to go to Israel in July and I know about it. So I responded to the Israeli cousin to get in touch with him. She did. He will help her out by bringing the goods.

Communication #2. I noticed that some friends of mine who live in Oakland posted pictures of Prague. I commented, “Wait, what? Are you in Prague?!” They responded that they were. As it happens, I have a friend who lives in Prague. He is an Englishman, a retired music teacher, who fell in love with Prague and bought a home there. He lives in Cheshire during part of the year and in Prague during most of the year. I asked my Oakland friends if they had any interest in hooking up with him, since he loves Prague and knows many lovely places to see there. They were enthusiastic about meeting him. I made introductions via Facebook and my English friend arranged to meet them at his favorite café. The next day I saw photos of my Oakland friends and my English friend posted on Facebook. They loved one another instantly and the meet-up was one of my Oakland friends’ favorite enents during their vacation.

Communication #3. Some of the characters and stories in my novel Memories from Cherry Harvest are based on relatives of mine and the stories of their lives. A couple of these relatives lived in France. They were from a generation before mine and were much older than I. When they passed away, I lost touch with their son and grandchildren. My father had been in communication with their son, who was closer in age to him, but he, too, lost touch. When my book came out, I couldn’t send a copy to the son of these people who figured so prominently in the novel because my father and I didn’t know how to find him. A couple of weeks ago, I went on the internet and began searching for him. After over an hour of sifting through search hits, I discovered that one of his sons is on LinkedIn. So am I. I sent a contact request to this cousin, who is now in his early forties. Once he accepted, I sent a message. He provided an email address. A flurry of lengthy emails followed and now my father and I are back in touch with these French relatives. Last week I finally sent a copy of my novel to the son of the relatives who were the models for two of the main characters. The book is dedicated to several of my ancestors, including his parents. He reads English. I am delighted that he will finally read my fictionalized version of his parents’ story.

For people with a more localized life, I suppose the internet and global communications are of less importance. For me, a person with friends and relatives all over the world, these technological tools offer a doorway through time and space that takes me deeper into cherished relationships. I traveled a great deal when I was young. I no longer have the wanderlust, and even if I did, I don’t have the means for globetrotting. My computer gives me the ability to continue my relationships with far-distant dear ones as I sit at home. Furthermore, global communication has apparently given me the ability to touch the lives of mysterious people in Russia and the Ukraine. I write to touch the lives of others with my words. It is my passion. So let me say, “Thank you Russia, with love.”

[And thank you to all of you who loyally read my words each week. I want to let you know that I will be out of town attending a family Bar Mitzvah on May 2 so I won’t be blogging as usual next weekend. I’ll be back the following week. Let’s continue our conversation then.]

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spring Planting

Every year it comes to this in the spring:  I plant with big dreams for my gardens. Then, as the summer unfolds, nature exercises her prerogative to do as she pleases. Sometimes nature brings phenomenal surprise gifts and sometimes she laughs at my delusions of grandeur. Last year my peach trees went crazy. I made pies and jam and shared with the neighbors. This year I practically drooled when the peach trees blossomed. I remembered standing in the yard in the June heat last year as I ate warm peaches straight off the tree, the juice drizzling down my arm. But this year the blossoms faded and to my chagrin the peach trees (one white peach and one yellow peach) produced almost no fruit. Meanwhile, my enormous old purple plum tree, which has not fruited for the past three years, is laden with fruit this year. Sweetest plums you could ever imagine. I can hardly wait for them to ripen. What gives?

I planted three cherry trees in my yard six years ago and none of them has ever borne fruit. They grow taller every year and look magnificent, but they produce nothing, no matter how I feed them and water them and tell them how much I care. They are matinee idols:  all glitter and no substance. One year the kiwis mysteriously produced a dozen perfect pieces of fruit. But it was apparently a one-night stand and now that I have been seduced and abandoned I have not been the beneficiary of any further kiwis. I moved my blueberries to a new location this winter and I am hoping to become a prolific blueberry farmer. We’ll see about that.

Last year I had three gorgeous cherry tomato plants well on their way on my deck. I had a Sungold, a yellow pear, and a red sweet 100s. I frequently admired their beauty, eagerly awaiting their fruit, until one morning when I noticed that the yellow pear had been almost entirely devoured by some horrible beastie overnight. By what? Upon closer inspection, I discovered an enormous green caterpillar perched on a stem picked clean of leaves. The caterpillar found itself catapulted into the yard as I screeched with frustration. I swiftly doused the two remaining cherry tomato plants in Neem Oil and they were saved. But one of nature’s children had made short work of my yellow pear tomatoes. C’est la vie, as they say.

Once, I planted a bed of basil and thought the seed was bad because it never came up, but I suspect that earwigs may have eaten up all the first tender shoots the instant they appeared because when I replanted and threw Sluggo (an organic deterrent to earwigs and other little green-eating critters) on the bed, the basil plants came up. By then I had lost a few weeks of the growing season, of course.

I have never been very good at growing peppers, but  I put in a few a couple of years ago and they did shockingly well. So last year I planted a whole bed of Marconi sweet red peppers. They came up beautifully; however, before they reached fruition, an over-zealous house-sitter over-watered them and killed them off. This is why I have trouble going on vacation in the summer. I worry about what is going on in my gardens while I’m gone. You just can’t trust a garden to behave for long without constant vigilance.

One year I started lemon cucumbers about three different times and none of them took off. The following year I only planted two plants and they went completely berserk. I couldn’t keep up, even though I would eat several like apples during the course of a day. I never thought I could burn out on lemon cucumbers, but I did. Talking to other gardeners that year, I learned that everyone had lemon cucumbers coming out their ears. It was just a good year for lemon cukes. In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver says that she lives in a quiet rural hamlet where she does not need to worry about locking her car; however, during July and August she always locks her car because otherwise people leave zucchini squash on the front seat. It’s easy to grow too much zucchini (in fact it’s hard not to), and in a gardening community people will give those excess zukes away at every opportunity, particularly the zukes that escape notice for too long and grow as big as bazookas. Last year I should have left lemon cukes on people’s doorsteps, rang the bell, and ran away.

In truth, I am not a master gardener. I know many other people who are much more knowledgeable than I; however, I do have a significant level of skill and I am committed to organic gardening. My gardens are not the magnificent orderly rows of perfect plants in rich dark soil that you see in photographs. I am not so orderly when it comes to gardening. I throw things together, mixing plants in the same bed, some here, some there. Let’s just say I don’t grow a showcase garden, but I harvest a lot of food from my yard. The absolute bottom line for me is tomatoes and basil. If I grow nothing else, I need these two longtime friends. Nothing compares to the taste of a tomato straight from the garden, and in our house we celebrate when the first Early Girl is ripe enough to eat. It is an unbearably long time from autumn, when the last of the garden tomatoes are picked, to that bright day in late June or early July when the first summer tomato is ready.

As spring wends its way into summer, I am always surprised, delighted, chagrined, and awed at the ongoing turn of events in my garden. Each spring, I plot out what I want to grow and where I will plant it. I imagine the meals I will cook and the harvest I will enjoy. Then nature takes over and I roll with the punches. Nature is ever a wise teacher. Gardening provides a good lesson about life and I appreciate the reminder that there are no guarantees. We make plans and life happens. Sometimes results exceed all our expectations and at other times our gardens, like life, throw us a curve ball.

In the next few weeks I will immerse myself in the excitement of spring planting. Then I will watch to see what happens. I will try to provide good stewardship and hope for bounty. By August, the gardens will be overgrown and rather out of control. I know I will give up on weeding certain areas and just let them go wild. I love to wonder what will appear, what will happen, what will go as planned, and what will astonish me with the most unexpected twist. (As I write these words I watch a magenta-throated hummingbird plunge into a red-bristled bottlebrush flower just outside my window.) Please do not take this as a smug comment when I say that I feel sorry for people who don’t grow a garden. I simply can’t imagine a life without the thrill of that summer adventure; a journey I love more with each passing year.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Imagining Healing: Suspension of Disbelief

Skepticism about the myriad paths to health and to recovery from illness is one of the most daunting obstacles to wellness. As a newly minted health professional (having just received my holistic nutritionist certification), I am shocked at how people become wedded to their disease and I am saddened by the ways in which they undermine their ability to heal by discounting health modalities that are alien to them. Effective treatments come in all varieties, often in surprising packages, some of them seeming unlikely. But let’s keep an open mind. Just saying.

Recently, a friend of mine posted a link to an article about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) on Facebook accompanied by a brief statement on the importance of recognizing this as a real physically disabling condition and not a psychological disorder, as most traditional doctors believe. I studied nutritional interventions for CFS while in college so I commented that this most certainly is a real physical illness (not just in someone’s head) and that someone suffering from CFS could benefit tremendously from working with a holistic nutritionist, and in many instances could be healed through nutrition therapy. A woman with CFS responded to my comment by saying that such statements as mine were not based in fact and were deeply hurtful to people with CFS. She basically told me that her disease is incurable and that when I said she could possibly be cured through a nutritional approach she felt it belittled the depth of her suffering. I was not prepared to go into details about holistic nutrition and CFS treatment on a Facebook thread, so I simply apologized to her and took down my comment. But I could not stop thinking about the fact that this woman was so wedded to her misery and her identity as a CFS-sufferer that she slammed the door on the possibility of a pathway to healing that she had not considered. She was invested in disbelieving. She had made up her mind to be sick.

Once a person has accepted that they have a debilitating medical condition and has invested effort in developing coping mechanisms and treatment regimens that allow that person to get on with his/her life at an acceptable level, then perhaps it’s too painful for that person to open that shining door of hope again and again, chasing that glimmer of possibility for significantly improved health. Perhaps that person must protect against disappointment. I remember a friend who had several miscarriages in a row, all occurring before the fetus reached eight weeks. She went to a specialist who claimed to have figured out the cause of her miscarriages. He told her that he could help her carry a baby to term. So she got pregnant again and followed his strict orders, which included bedrest for the first trimester. She held onto the baby for the whole trimester. The doctor told her she could then get out of bed and engage in mild activity. She followed all his instructions and was doing well until about eighteen weeks, when she miscarried. She and her husband were devastated and they decided not to ever try again. They refused to consider adoption (I don’t know why, such a shame). So they never had any children. I have always believed that her doctor really did figure out the problem and that he knew how to correct it and, that by some diabolically bad luck, the first baby she carried under this doctor’s care was one of those imperfect babies that the body rejects. I had two miscarriages in between having my three children and one of them occurred just shy of twenty weeks. I am convinced to this day that had that woman tried one more time she would have had an excellent chance of having a baby. But she had reached her limit. She could not muster another glimmer of hope. Thinking back to the CFS-lady, I imagine that for some people hope itself is too painful to tolerate. They have to shut that door and walk forward; and that is the best healing they can make for themselves.

Yesterday I attended an informational meeting at a new health center that will open soon. The health center is innovative in that it will integrate care provided by conventional medical practitioners with care offered by providers of what are referred to as “alternative therapies” or “unconventional treatment modalities.” These include more familiar alternative health treatments like acupuncture, massage, Chinese herbal medicine, and holistic nutrition. Plus, hang onto your hats folks, they also include aromatherapy, music therapy, body/mind therapies, somatic therapy, hypnotherapy, oxidative therapy, ozone therapy, and ultraviolet blood irradiation therapy. (Interesting sidebar:  the doctor practicing oxidative therapy has cured four patients of Ebola overnight, with research evidence; and he is screaming for recognition in the established medical community.) I admit that a lot of these treatment modalities sound like “voo-doo” even to someone like myself who has long been an advocate for alternative health treatments. This is where the ability to step out of one’s comfort zone and suspend disbelief could be transformational, could save lives.

Let’s take the hypnotherapist, for example. From the brief information he shared when he stood up and spoke, I understood that he works mainly with cancer patients. He uses hypnosis to help them control pain and tolerate chemotherapy. He also uses hypnosis in some cases to identify the source of the cancer and to help the cancer patient resolve the deep-seated issue that caused the cancer. He then helps the patient remove the blockage in the body/mind/spirit that is preventing the person’s energy from successfully defeating the cancer. This man, who has practiced for forty years, has no formal research study to corroborate his anecdotal evidence of his success with hypnosis. If I had cancer, would I seek treatment from him? For one thing, no health insurance would cover treatment from this man. For another, would I trust this odd fellow to hypnotize me? To have access to my subconscious and to have the power to change the way I think and feel? Could I suspend my disbelief and consider the possibility that this hypnotherapist has the ability to empower people to defeat cancer? Given what we know about how unprocessed trauma manifests in the body and can cause disease (such as cancer), his treatment modality makes perfect sense, actually. I have no logical basis for being skeptical. What do I know about his specialty? 

Skepticism could cost me my life. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith, to imagine new dimensions to health care in our future. Too bad the CFS-lady has closed her mind to the possibility that there is a treatment modality she has not considered that could cure her, or at least help her feel much better and have much more control over the effects of her disease. We need to give ourselves permission to be more hopeful. This is not about magic, this is about new sciences and new directions in healing. Let’s not be too quick to judge what is a legitimate treatment. Let’s imagine the mind-blowing future of the healing arts.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

State of Denial

A couple of weeks ago I was out in front of my house covering an invasive spiky grass with newspapers and plastic to kill it off when some of my neighbors walked by with their dog. The neighbors asked me what I was doing. I explained about the grass. I told them that I successfully killed all the other weeds in my yard by spraying them with straight white vinegar, but this one persistent grass did not seem to be affected by the vinegar. So I was taking sterner measures. My neighbor (the guy), trying to be helpful, suggested, “Try Round-up. That’s what I use and it works great.”

The poor man had pushed one of my buttons and I went off on a tirade about Round-up. The main ingredient in Roundup is a chemical called glyphosate. Many recent scientific studies provide insights into the effects of glyphosate on the human body. A peer-reviewed scientific study released in April 2013 confirms that glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and that they directly contribute to gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. (Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome, Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, 2013.) There is a great deal of research (diligently suppressed by Monsanto, which manufactures Round-up and makes a fortune from its sale) showing the catastrophic ill-effects of Round-up on people, other living things, and the environment. I told my neighbors that you couldn’t pay me to put Round-up in my yard and that it was especially dangerous for children, the elderly, people with compromised health, and pets – like dogs!

The woman-neighbor leaned over and patted her dog on the head and said, “We’ve been using Round-up for years and our dog seems to be just fine.” They then high-tailed it away from the crazy lady putting newspapers on her weeds and ranting and raving about Round-up. One week later I took the newspaper out of the box and read the headline, which was something like “New Research Proves Deadly Toxicity of Round-up.” The article was about an international panel of researchers that issued a report in April 2015 about the extreme toxic nature of glyphosate. They call for an immediate international ban on the use of Round-up. Many countries are acting swiftly to do this; but not the U.S., of course, since Monsanto owns the politicians here. Sheesh, it’s tough being right all the time. I wonder if my neighbors saw the article and if it made any impression on them.

Do I think this new study about glyphosate will inspire thousands of people to change their habits? To stop using Round-up? To eat foods that are clean and not sprayed with Round-up? Absolutely not. Because we live in a state of denial. We are so bombarded by frightening information predicting doom that we become immune to it. We keep doing what we were doing and seem to think somehow we are impervious.

In 1989, I took a job as the executive assistant to a woman who conducted evaluation on research projects that benefitted the disabled. It was the perfect job in many ways. I believed in the projects the company was evaluating. I met terrific disability rights activists. The office was only eight blocks from my house so I could walk to work; and it was in a beautiful new building. On the front door of the building there was a statement that said something to the effect that the materials that had been used to construct the building were new and were still off-gassing toxins at a low level and that the law required that those working in the building be warned that these toxins present inside the building could possibly cause allergies, health issues, and miscarriage. So what did I do after two months at the company? I got pregnant. This was after we already had two children. We wanted a third. I passed that notice on the front of the building every single day, and yet I intentionally got pregnant. I miscarried that baby at ten weeks. Why did I think that I was impervious to the toxins in that building that could cause miscarriage? Perhaps that was not the reason I miscarried at all. There is no way to know. But I keep thinking about the fact that I knowingly entered that building every day and seemed to think that warning didn’t apply to me. Fortunately, the following year, after I left that job and went to another one in a chemically benign building, I became pregnant with my third child and carried him to term.

We humans are endowed with the ability to select what information we wish to assimilate into our psyches, our lives, our modus operandi. Otherwise, we could not survive. We receive too much input. We really must choose what to act upon and what to release from our consciousness. I find it fascinating to reflect on how people make those selections. People smoke cigarettes despite the fact that their risk of death by cancer as a result of this is astronomically high. Plus they suffer so many other health issues that are so uncomfortable and challenging along the way. I wonder how they can live like that, knowing that they would feel so much better if they quit smoking. But then I remember that I walked into that building with the warning printed on the door. Denial. People with inflammatory diseases like arthritis and fibromyalgia continue to eat sugar and refined, processed flours despite the pain, discomfort, and lack of mobility that they suffer. I wonder why they don’t change their eating habits so they can feel better. But I have to remember that I walked into that building. People are well aware of the health recommendations and their poor choices. We know and we deny.

I’m not talking about the people who are simply ignorant, who need to learn the facts. I hope I will have the opportunity to transform the lives of people by teaching them my Eating for Health classes, by providing them with a toolkit of information that will help them make better choices. But right now, I’m not talking about the people who don’t know. I’m talking about the people who have the facts in front of them and ignore them. We all do it. Conservatives en masse ignore climate change because, as Gore says so eloquently, it’s an inconvenient truth. People keep watering their lawns here in Cali when we are in a state of emergency with drought. How much denial do we need for protection, as a buffer, to allow us to function and to remain positive and to continue to enter our days with delight, to go forth with that sense of wonder I have often spoken about; and how much denial is deeply dangerous and could ultimately result in human extinction? I think of that famous exchange from the movie “A Few Good Men” when the character says “I want the truth” and the other character replies “You can’t handle the truth.”

How much truth do I want? How much can I put to use? How much must I deny to survive? I’m thinking.

This much I know is true. If you wish to protect yourself against the ill-effects of Round-up (containing glyphosate) then buy all organic foods and nothing that could possibly have GMOs. Of particular concern, which you should absolutely buy organic, are corn, soy, wheat, sugar, and canola. Animals raised commercially in the U.S. are fed corn laced with glyphosate, so to avoid ingestion of this toxin you should buy organic meats and dairy products from pastured animals. Farm-raised fish are fed corn laced with glyphosate so buy only wild-caught. Your choice. Just saying.