to protect and to scarve

My parents have both moved to a retirement community, leaving my sister and me to wade through the belongings from their house of 44 years. Amongst the 59 nail clippers, 27 boxes of Band-aids, and too-many-to-count coffee mugs, my mom left behind a large collection of scarves - most of which my dad brought her from long-ago business trips to Europe, Asia and South America. I remember the elegant gold silk scarf she wore to fancy events. Or the beach-inspired cotton scarf she took with her on trips to Hawaii. So many nice memories connected with such small swaths of cloth! My sister and I picked out a few for ourselves, but what should we do with the others?  A good deal of the “stuff” in the house will be given to charity - but the scarves? Each one tells a story. They feel too personal to pass on to an anonymous neck.

Which got me thinking: not only is a scarf a fashion statement, it is a beautiful addition to self-care. I’m always advising my patients to keep their necks covered, especially after a treatment, or when it is particularly windy outside.  Classical Chinese medical texts teach us that the area on the body most susceptible to catching cold is the neck. This is why you will see older, more traditional Chinese men and women protecting their necks, no matter the season, especially if there is any sort of wind. Think of the neck as a passageway between the head and the rest of the body. That passageway is best served when kept warm and protected from wind. I don’t know about you, but I’m not one for walking through a windy passageway. Even in the summer, my whole body feels disrupted.  

So, with my mom’s blessing, I have decided to give her scarves to my patients. They may choose from the gold silk, the oceanic cotton, or any of the others. For me, it’s a way of sharing something meaningful, and helping my patients to care for themselves at the same time.

When my patients leave my office, they may look more glamourous than when they arrived, but they can always say they’re wearing the scarf “for their health.”

the naturals

Most weekends, my family drives out to the Valley to visit my parents. Both in their 80’s and unable to drive, my parents don’t get out as much as they used to.

Last weekend, I was working, so my husband Jordan and my son Colin went out to visit them without me. “What should I do with them?” Jordan asked. I suggested he take them to the park and let them watch Colin and him play baseball. 

Two hours later, Jordan texted me a photo, not of him and Colin batting a ball around, but of all of them playing baseball. Apparently, my 81-year-old mother and 84-year-old father can still hit! And they had the time of their lives.

The thing is, I never would have even thought of putting a bat in either of my parent’s hands. I was looking at my folks through Western lenses: Old People Don’t Play Baseball. But Jordan was looking at them through Eastern lenses – Old People Represent Every Age They Have Lived. Therefore, for a short time, those two senior citizens were two kids, playing stickball in the street just as they had so many years before.

And they were moving. In Chinese Medicine, we talk about Qi, or life force. If we don’t move our Qi, it won’t move us. Stagnant Qi can lead to everything from fatigue, to constipation, to serious diseases like hypertension or congestive heart failure. Of course, we don’t want to push it - my folks are not ready for a little league game, let alone the World Series - but a nice walk around the block, some tai qi in the park, or even a few minutes in the batting cage will do the trick.

There is no such thing as anti-aging, but there is such a thing as healthful aging. Yes, genes play a strong part in our process, but much of how we age is up to us. The Chinese talk about “Jing” or essence. We come into this world with a certain amount of Jing, and, like our genes, we can’t barter for something different. So, we must take care of what we’ve got. And the more we enjoy the ride, the better.

To honor the elderly is to look at them along the complete timeline of their lives instead of only seeing them as they are now. Aging is inevitable, but it can also be beautiful. And sometimes, it can even be a ball.

 

Bone Marrow Broth, which my friend Millie calls a “Cup of Jing” is an amazingly restorative elixir for any age. Here’s a great recipe from Epicurious: http://www.epicurious.com//recipes/food/views/beef-bone-broth-51260700

 

 

prelude to a flu...

My nine-year-old son, Colin, went back to school today, thus concluding a lovely and full summer break. As always with the beginning of a new school year, my emotions run the gamut: excitement about his new teacher and classmates, relief that we made it through without a flaming sunburn or a bevy of mosquito bites, and a bit of sadness that another summer has swept by. Even though it’s still officially “summer” according to the Gregorian calendar, in my mind it’s something else: the prelude to flu season. 

Now is the time to strengthen our bodies so that they may battle the onslaught of germs that are about to come our way. Here are three simple basics for you and your family:

  • First and foremost, wash your hands, especially when you’ve touched anything that’s been touched by someone else.
  • Eat foods appropriate for the season. As the weather gets cooler (which can be almost imperceptible here in Southern California) think about making warmer foods - soups, stews, casseroles - and eating more foods that are grown in season. We may live in a modern world where we can purchase watermelon year-round, but our bodies are old fashioned creatures that always respond best to the natural order of things. So, come October, trade in that fruit salad for some rich, warm pumpkin soup.
  • Start strengthening your immune system now. Get enough sleep. Limit your sugar intake. Cook with immune-inspiring ingredients like ginger, garlic and onions. Boost your vitamin C intake, and add a cup of antioxidant-laden green tea to your day. I add a little local raw honey (which can strengthen those who have seasonal allergies) to Colin’s morning tea.

The start of a new school year is filled with many emotions and activities. May it also be filled with good health!