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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Spirit House

I’ve had some tests this week and bad news about my health. I have been aware of living on borrowed time since a heart bypass 14 years ago and though I am still hoping that the marvels of medical science can improve my quality of living and life expectancy, I anticipate the bad genes I’ve inherited will be winning out sooner than later.

We found an idyllic spot for a summer house that we built years ago and it’s a place where we have had many memorials for our friends, and relatives. It started with the weeping willow tree for my dearly loved older sister who died tragically at 19 – it's seen a little left of centre in the sunset picture. Other commemorative trees, flowering bushes, and perennial plants have followed, remembrances for close family and dear friends. I’m beginning to think of what I would like as a memorial for when my time comes.

When we visited Indonesia in 1992, we spent a few weeks in Ubud, the cultural centre of the island of Bali. Most Indonesians are now Muslims but when they were conquering the islands centuries ago, many of the Hindu population fled to Bali. The Balinese still practice that religion in their daily lives and in their own way in many small thoughtful things they do. We stayed in a little cottage in the middle of a rice paddy where we had to walk over simple wooden interconnecting boardwalks to reach other buildings. Every morning when we woke and ventured out onto our wide veranda there was a gift laid there for us - a freshly picked flower, or a small piece of fruit in an artistically interwoven leaf....

In Ubud there were frequent parades of women dressed in their best, carrying decorated trays of fruit and flowers balanced on their heads. They walked to the temple in a long line and left their offerings in thanks for the bountiful gifts from their Gods. They had other rituals, simple lovely things they did and the one I remember most was that many families had a miniature ‘spirit’ house on a post in the corner of their garden. This was where the spirits of their ancestors lived and they seemed to visit the house on occasion to commune or leave small offerings of a pretty pebble, or maybe a crust of bread so a bird would visit….

Their ancestors were a presence in their daily lives, a reminder of their own mortality and probably a comforting assurance their own spirits would not be forgotten when they died. In our popular American culture there is no tradition of respect for elders and too often youth and good looks are held up as models to be valued. I think that needs changing and an aging population will help. I'll do my bit by asking that a spirit house be my memorial. Rie

Sunday, July 24, 2011


It’s summer and we have visitors. Most of us over 70 and we are all health conscious.

I thought this morning that an outsider watching us around the breakfast table would be amused to see us all sorting out our vitamins and other supplements and then preparing our own bowls of fresh fruit, kefir, and cereals. As we chatted yesterday about the benefits of our choices, I learned about chia [also sold under the brand name Salba], a recently rediscovered small seed I am definitely going to add to my bowl.

Chia [or Salba] was a staple in the diet of the Aztecs, and was fed especially to their soldiers. When the Spaniards were invading and trying to conquer their armies, they learned that chia was the chief contributor to the strength and stamina of the Aztec soldiers and made the decision to completely wipe out all chia crops.

Intrigued, by what I was hearing about the health benefits of these small seeds, I naturally went on the Internet and found a number of sites that give all the information you would ever want to know about this recently discovered wonder food.

For instance:

- Two tablespoons of chia give you your total daily requirements of antioxidants.

- Chia can absorb over 12 times its weight in water and forms a gel. This means it improves digestion and body hydration and makes you feel full so it decreases your appetite, a benefit for weight watchers.

- With high levels of calcium and high quality protein, chia strengthens bones and muscles. It also regulates blood pressure, and lowers bad cholesterol levels.

- The seeds have the ability to regulate blood sugar levels and are being discovered by diabetics as an excellent addition to their diet

If you click on the highlighted site you can do your own research into the many benefits of chia seeds.

Can't resist including Mark Twain's quip: 'Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.' Rie

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Aging repeat

Ageing revisited

I have been denying it but proof positive I am becoming forgetful is that I forgot I had written a blog on aging that repeats a number of the observations I made in the April post on the same subject. Shocking! but there it is – irrefutable evidence – a common symptom of aging!

We have our first birthday after we have lived for a whole year so, since I had my am 86th in January, I am half way through my 87th year and feel qualified to add my two cents worth on the subject of ageing.

We have one unique body we are born with and, good or bad, we must live in it for our lifetime. We do however have a lot we can do about how it ages. If we were given a new car when we were driving age and told that it had to last us through our lifetime we would surely make it our business to take good card of it – have it checked up regularly, change the oil and have it seen to right away if there were any mechanical problems. Our bodies tend to be self-healing and are far more forgiving but to keep our health and feel fit as we age, we need to take care of it.

In the early 50’s I started taking an interest in nutrition and absorbed the very readable books by Adelle Davis. Nowadays our diet is often very different from our hunter-gatherer ancestors and we can easily have a deficiencies of some of the vitamins. I have been knowledgeably supplementing for most of my life. So rule number one for long life is take care of your body, eat well, exercise and all that good stuff and obviously don’t smoke. I did for 30 years when we didn’t know better and I still suffer with clogged arteries in my legs.

I expected there would be noticeable deterioration in vigour in my 60’s and 70’s but actually, I was constantly surprised at how great I felt and how much sustained energy I had through until I was 82. That's when I began to slow down a bit but was still active. At 85 the circulation problems began to really slow me down so I am being proactive and hope to have the trouble at least alleviated.

Someone once said 'Growing old is like being increasingly penalized
for a crime you have not committed' and unfortunately the aches and pains of moving have started to descend and my greatest pleasure for now is using my head – and hopefully my deterioration into forgetfulness will be slow. Rie

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Books & Travel

My spouse and I were married in Europe back in 1949 – he was a student in Paris, we had little money and a strong desire to see as much of Europe as we could while we were there. Transportation was a tandem bicycle that for long distances rode in the baggage car as we travelled third class on the train. To keep costs down, we’d shop at local markets, snack a lot and stay in the least expensive room in a good hotels so it was clean and had hot water. Economizing was a necessity and part of the fun.

Once the travel bug bites you never recover and even with careers and a family to raise, we’d be off whenever we could. After retirement, every winter we’d be away for 4 or 5 months - around the world 3 times, and spent whole winters in Africa, South America, and Asia a number of times and of course Europe – always on our own. I thought of writing a book but always was too involved in science projects one way or another so finally some travel experiences are finding their way into some blog posts like this one.

We always travelled light but still took two or three books with us – one was the latest travel book for the country to be visited – they are all informative but we prefer the ‘Lonely Planet’ series because of its excellent local maps. In a new place, it takes the first two or three days to plan things out so you can make the most of your visit. Renting a car gives freedom to poke into out of the way place. My advice is, if you haven’t much time, take a tour. You don’t get the same feel for a country or ever have enough time when you visit a site but all the planning is done for you and the guides are usually excellent.

Besides the Lonely Planet book, we take historical novels. One example - if traveling in Greece, Mary Renault’s books give such gripping portrayals one transported back in time and place so the whole experience is much enriched.

Our first time in Mexico, we read Bernal Díaz first-hand account of the Spaniard Cortés' incredible conquest of the Aztecs in 1521. Díaz served as a soldier under Cortés and was no writer but his chronicle of events is so real one gets caught up in reports of grizzly native worship and the adventure and intrigue. He describes how Cortés’ prevailed against all odds by using his ability to manipulate, flatter and persuade his enemies. One of the family expressions since then has been recognizing when someone is ‘doing a Cortés’.

Until next week… Rie

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Golden Mean

There are forces and consistencies in nature – we call them the Laws of Nature - that have shaped the evolutionary processes to produce everything that we see in our environment on Earth. The golden mean is a ratio [rounded off it is 1.618] that is one such consistency. It mysteriously defines the proportions of the branching in plants and the bones in an animal's skeleton as well as a myriad of other natural phenomena!
It appears we humans are predisposed by nature to be somehow attuned to the golden mean and using it ourselves seems to make our architectural and artistic creations more harmonius. If given a choice about what we see as the most pleasingly proportioned rectangle for instance, we choose the one whose ratio of length to width is closest to the golden mean. A simple example would be a rectangle whose length is 1.618 units and width is 1. Obviously dividing the length by the width gives the golden ratio. If you click on the word video, the first part particularly will you give a sense of the remarkable properties of this ratio.

It was the Greek mathematician Euclid who first geometrically defined the ‘golden mean’ or ratio and started the recognition of it as an all-pervasive, and recurring number in nature.

In 1202 an Italian mathematician, Fibonacci, when playing around with a simple series of numbers 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 … , happened on a connection to the golden mean. If you divide any two neighboring numbers in the series, the larger one by the smaller one, you will get the golden ratio and if the smaller number is divided by the larger one you get 0.618 which is the golden mean minus 1.

If you click on this site, you’ll see it is pretty amazing how Fabonacci's numbers play out so often in nature – but not always. On occasion another series is followed. As you watch the videos and search the internet, I hope you can appreciate how naturally scientists in studying their environment, come up with the beautiful mathematical relationships and and equations – some easy like the golden ratio and some comprehensible to only a few. Rie