First Aid from My Apothecary: Introduction

HomepthPantrySummer asserted herself today. She blasted inland California with triple digits and greeted us this morning with nasty bug bites on my son’s leg and arm, an augur of the mosquitoes on standby.  Ugh…here we go with the summer itching! To top it off, Tennyson was going ballistic over the red bumps that had swelled by late morning, when he suddenly held out a dark finger and started crying in the car. In less time than he could blink, he had paper-cut himself with a book he’d picked up. Blood oozed right along the edge of nail top and skin. The cut was deep. My boy sobbed and sobbed. Though I managed to stop the bleeding, it started up again when we got home. As I set about nursing the wounds, I decided to share with you a glimpse of my other life as Holistic Medicine Woman.

As you can see, my home apothecary carries herbs, homeopathics, and supplements. The photo caught just the top half; I couldn’t fit the length of the shelves into one shot. I have products in a kitchen cupboard and next to the bedrooms as well. Why I favor a holistic approach to health and healing is really another post entirely, one that’s been on the simmer the last few months. I will limit that discussion to its relevance to homeopathics. For now, I’d like to spotlight some natural first aid remedies, especially with pesky summer bites at hand. The following is not medical advice or even recommendation. I am only sharing what I use for my family and why. I get no kick-back from any of the companies and brands I’ll talk about. I am simply offering those who choose to read on a glimpse of some of the products I have settled on after – in some cases – years of studying the safety and effects on children, and examining fine-print inactive ingredients. The post would run too long if I described each product in full so please Google if you’d like more information on any of them.

SKIN PRODUCTS
As the largest organ of the body, the skin helps eliminate waste through sweat. The porosity that releases toxins also absorbs them. What we apply on our skin is food – or poison – for the body, which the liver ends up trying to spit out of the system. A great rule of thumb in assessing the quality of a skin product is to ask whether you’d be able to eat it, at least in different form. I know, 99% of the products on the market apparently fail this test. Just giving you the ideal. Take it or toss, or take it and try. If I can’t pronounce or duplicate it, I don’t buy it or slather it on my son.

HOMEOPATHIC PRODUCTS
To condense into a few sentences the subject of homeopathics that by nature will fill a book: homeopathy has its foundation in the law of Like Cures Like. The principle of vaccination actually springboards off the discovery of German physician Samuel Hahnemann from the late 1700s. He realized cinchona, the bark of a Peruvian tree, that incites symptoms of malaria could be used to cure those very symptoms in someone who already had the disease. This dynamic lies behind the now-popular encouragement of seasonal allergy sufferers to consume raw local honey. The honey that’s been pollinated can help cure sensitivity to pollen by repelling it out of the body. Western Medicine, which has influenced cultures beyond the West, views symptoms as something to battle, to silence. Hence the business of antibiotic, antihistamine drugs on the market. Holistic Medicine believes in listening to what the body is trying to express through the grievances we call symptoms. Manifestations are not the bad guys but the body’s attempt to rid what is toxic or cumbersome. A problem in one area actually has its roots in another since we are a unified composite. Which is why folks like me look at illness and even injury holistically, working to support the immune system to heal the body as a whole. Homeopathic products work with the body, not against. Medicinal drugs have their time and place. They have saved countless lives. But I feel they also are often used unnecessarily and their byproducts can render them counterproductive.

I will share in the next post what I did to ease my little guy along today.

East Meets West: A Literal Translation

NoStandingPeter asked that I tell this story from our dating days.

It begins in the laid-back land of Southern California where entire cities don’t push to cut their way through throngs of cars on impatient legs, daring drivers to run over them. Pedestrians actually keep to the crosswalk and – to the stupefaction of visiting New Yorkers – can be ticketed for jaywalking. Most parts of the west coast, in fact, don’t see people milling in masses – simply because they don’t walk. In the state formed out of freeways, your wheels are your feet. California streets also aren’t so talkative as crowded eastern cities are, with their slew of parking signs that dictate when and where vehicles may stop.

In love with the girl who had disavowed the fast pace of New York for the peace of the Pacific, California Boy flies out for her old stomping grounds to ask her father for her hand in marriage. She jump-starts her reunion with her parents and the love birds plan to meet in the City the morning he arrives.

It is Peter’s first taste of the Big Apple.

The first thing to overwhelm him at Grand Central is the moving multitude. Never has he seen so many…people. In such a hurry. Everywhere. Struggling with the luggage he realizes he doesn’t have the hands for in a place where most go on foot, Peter somehow drag-pushes it all out of the station to the sidewalk, hopeful for a taxi – when he notices the No Standing sign above his head.

I’m not supposed to stand here?
How…do I flag a cab, then?
But it says no standing. Anytime.
Oh, what if I get a ticket?

He looks to the left, looks to the right.

No cop.

California Boy shuffles the mountain of bags a few yards this way. Looks around. Some minutes later, a few yards that way. His heart quickens. He keeps up the goofy dance until he makes the connection between the light atop the cabs and the vacant backseat. That’s how you grab a tax. Relief.

He slumps in the car.

*  *  *   *

My friends and family were rolling, doubled over, when Peter shared his first nervous moments in the urban East. He’d had no idea the No Standing was a prohibition against vehicles looking to park there. If pedestrians were ticketed in New York, the city would transfigure into a ghost town. I’ve never given thought to the sign until this writing. Having grown up with it, it never occurred to me that someone could think it applied to anyone other than drivers. Do you have these signs where you live?

While we’re at it, here’s a glimpse of a fun memory from the trip. We had a blast swing dancing in the city, a night out on the town. You see, it was at a ballroom in California where we had met.

DCP03672a

The Writing Process: Your Final Word

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Put a touch of magic in your ending.

The last impression you leave of your writing rests on your closing thoughts, which will ring more loudly than the opening sentence that well may have gone forgotten halfway into your narrative. In my school years, I struggled not to copy my first paragraph in the last. With practice, I saw one way to dress the ending was to add a personal layer from my experiences. What is good writing? Fiction or not, it lives beyond its page. Relatable perspectives or stories will stay with the reader. And while an interesting plot or message serves as the architecture, paint it in dull, uniform colors and it won’t sell. So vivid pictures through to the end are another way to keep the words alive. The use of verbs I examined in The Writing Process, Part 3 becomes less an issue in the final sentence, a literal place that does not call for momentum. There, you want to bring your ideas to rest. Nouns and adjectives, then, can make the difference away from an insipid finish. How do you vivify nouns when they are often simply things, people, places? This is where metaphors and similes can shine.

Before we look at a model piece of writing by Abraham Lincoln, I’d like to share its cultural context. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman describes how political debates ran longer than the advent of television began to allow. Americans stood through hours of each of the seven famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates. I believe Lincoln’s oratory skills sharpened him in the written word in a culture that Postman shows was more literate and less visual than ours. Public speaking remains an invaluable asset to the practice of writing for the challenge it presents in sustaining an audience. When you remove even the image of text from your audience so that your words are no longer read but only heard, you pull any vestige of distraction. Your words must stand on the merit of their content and the ability to engage listeners’ senses. I realize why the great orators from the conflagrant days of slavery in the U.S. wrote so brilliantly. An excellent speech is the hardest paper to write. The enunciated conclusion is the last snapshot of the speech the audience remembers.

Back to the deliberate use of grammar in the stylistic craft of an ending to an essay, narrative, piece of fiction, poem, or post. Lincoln’s letter of condolences to a mother who lost five sons in the Civil War demonstrates the full art of the parts of speech used well. Though Lincoln’s aim in the body of the missive was not the effects of verbs I’ve discussed, he did carry emotion and pictures in those verbs that propelled each sentence to the next. I feel how fruitless…to beguile you from the grief…But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation…Now look out for the nouns in his concluding sentence: I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish…and leave you only…the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

In the final sentence of the letter, the lackluster verb to be that attributes the solemn pride to the woman is colored over by the descriptive nouns anguish and sacrifice, and the metaphor altar. Altar is where you give all. You see fire, death, blood, ashes. A talented writer put it well, “Because the right word can make even the most tepid feel hot or cold.” http://eternaldomnation.com/2013/05/27/hottubtimemachine/

So often all you need is a word or two in that final sentence to provide a picture or feeling that continues to resonate in the spirit of the reader. A poem gives you a lot of room for a resounding note of provocation or beauty. In prose,  you can also spin a unique, witty, funny, touching perspective. Employ a surprise or a pun. The blogger I quoted doubled back to his introductory assertion, “Ah, like life, water is a wonderful metaphor for writing” when he signed off by saying he needed to get in hot water as he pushes himself as a writer. The well-chosen noun or metaphor will not disappoint. In fact, subtle often beats anything amplified. One thing you don’t want to do in writing is overdo. Tacky. To return to our coloring analogy, a gentle stroke can bring your words to blush.

It’s Strawberry Season

strawberry_picture_slicedI’d completely forgotten that I did in fact write a poem since migrating to California. Bright little Joseph, who saw me for a few homeschool enrichment lessons in first grade, picked me some strawberries from an organic field about 10 years ago. As rusty as I felt with the last poem I’d written somewhere in another lifetime, I found myself writing him this thanks. It was, in fact, inspired by his poem Red.

No. You will find no philosophy of fruit, no meditation on the bounty of Providence behind this one. This piece of work must be the only one in my repertoire where I’m not investigating the metaphysical dimensions of the moment – but just being.

Your Strawberries

Your strawberries run
under the water. Piles of
green tops to the left,
ready reds to the right.
And the black-red ones
say they are ripe.
I’d never noticed all the yellow
seeds. I count over a hundred
on a baby berry.

I bite.

You’d think
strawberries were quiet.

The sweetness spurts enthusiasm
through my chews.

The soft ruby was an exemplary Valentine –
before the mar of teeth and the red lays
bare a white heart.

The Writing Process, Part 5: Keep Painting

In extension of The Writing Process: Sensory Details, Part 4, I share a handful of poems a few private students produced years back. The wording fell into place once the ideas came to life in the brainstorm of senses (explained in Part 4). Tip of the day: quotes wake up poems with the element of reality they provide.  I quieted the protest of the artist in me and convinced her to allow the first two works in excerpt. Yes, a poem should be read in its entirety. But I’d like to keep to my objective efficiently – to provide samples of sensory descriptions at work:

Red

Red is spicy.
Red is ketchup: “Oops! My favorite shirt!”

In a sunset, red pulls the moon.
Red gives us energy.

Red means it.

By Joseph, 1st grade homeschooler

Green

The shades that wrap a rain forest,
The feeling you have after a good night’s rest.

Outstretch of a palm tree,
Grudge of envy.

The life that awakens from a long winter snow,
Green is the fourth color of the promise rainbow.

By Kelsey, 4th grade

Cotton Candy

Powder Puff
Leaves sticky patch on little faces
By the merry-go-round

“Mommy, Mommy, Can I please…?”
Little girls and boys wave their
cotton candy stick triumphantly

Melts to their tongue
More fluffy bites
Leave sandy sweetness in their trail

By Kristen Chang, days before turning 13. Now all grown:
https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=88619557
Kristin and I were studying imagery – literary and poetic jargon for mental picture.

The Writing Process, Part 4: Sensory Details

hailstonesI was about 23, teaching 5th grade in a diverse Philadelphia public school. Hailstones and Halibut Bones, the beautiful book of color poetry that inspires kids out of mediocre writing, sparked lovely poems in my own students. (It is the most recent edition that offers vibrant pictures). The contagious delight the kids took playing with words that detailed everyday sensory experiences prompted a color poem out of their teacher too. It was a special experience for us to write together.

Once the brainstorm page filled up, the poems wrote themselves. We divided a sheet of paper into six rows, each representing a physical sense with the addition of one for emotions (Sight, Hearing, Touch, Taste, Smell, Feeling). Then simply named observations and experiences in their category.  White: cotton candy for taste, blank coloring page for touch, chocolate for taste. Writers young and old will hear “show, not tell” or “paint a picture,” but not quite know how to go about it. Sensory details paint clear verbal pictures, not unlike a 3-D presentation that seems to move toward the reader. They serve as a powerful writing tool for the grade school student as well as the blogger and the author on his fourth novel.

Here is the poem I wrote alongside my students that I’d completely forgotten about. I tried to keep it on the simple side, keep it relatable for them. Feeling sheepish. I’d love to revise but share it to offer a glimpse of something born in happy league with little writers. Note the progression of a lifetime within the poem:

Time

White is
baby powder,
cotton candy
from the “Candy!” shouter,
eager page of a coloring book,
a glob of frosting some finger took,
childhood paste,
little league socks,
the vanilla taste,
background of polka dots,
a special chocolate to crave,
ivory pearls that swim cream waves,
a careful prom dress,
marble sheet on a winter lake,
the bride in grace,
a queenly wedding cake.
A piano key, white
plays a note of simplicity.
White is romance heaven-blessed.
It is the color of promise
and rest.
A dependable soul,
behind every color hides
a white shadow.
White hair is
humanity’s confession –
in age less the color of a question –
“Strength is gossamer,
time but a loan,”
white is the color
of home.

Shine On Award: Double Nomination

So Jayde-Ashe of The Paperbook Blog nominated me and I encourage you to visit her. You’ll find substance and a clear, fun, intelligent voice on her blog.  She writes on the lives of famous writers. I am happy to support her also for her sweet kindness.

shineon1The rules for The Shine On Award are as follows:

1. Display the award logo on your blog.

2. Link back to the person who nominated you.

3. State seven things about yourself.

4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.

5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award requirements.

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Let me start with my fellow bloggers. I agree with Jayde-Ashe that 15’s a bit too much. I present my nominees whose thoughtful content brings to mind something once said of Eleanor Roosevelt; that she would rather light a candle than curse the darkness:

laroseedespetiteschoses

Musings in Montage

Cristian Mihai

Rae Brooks

Julia

Bold Conversations

Elena

As to the seven things about myself:

1. I am an avid student of holistic health and integrative nutrition, and a consultant licensed by friends.

2. I appreciate the simplicity, power, and beauty of yoga and taiji.

3. I birthed my son at home in water, to music.

4. My hearing has been poor since I blew out my ear drums with the Walkman ear phones in high school.

5. I loved to Swing dance in the premommy days but Latin Salsa came more naturally to me. The hips somehow just knew what to do.

6. I’m a GERMaphobe.

7. Fantasy life: when not holed up writing, I would croon and scat in a jazz lounge.  In a red dress.

June 11, 2013
I appreciate the second nomination from limseemin.