Oso Strong

Oso 007I was at the Oso Fire Station today to be part of a group of volunteer acupuncturists working on people there in shifts every day—residents, search & rescue people, volunteers, anyone—to help calm the spirit and improve sleep, ease stress and anxiety, and aid coping with the trauma.

Oso 002The outpouring of love and support is so incredibly inspiring: vast quantities of donated food, supplies, clothing, money, and equipment; hundreds of people in a carefully orchestrated volunteer effort in addition to the work of agencies like FEMA and the Red Cross; lots of hugging and instant conversations.


So much more is needed, though, and will be for a long time. I was blown away by this one schematic especially (above), among many on the walls in the fire station, that shows the depth of the debris field—the dark pink and purple areas are 30 to 75 feet deep—and little green triangles representing homes swept away in the landslide.An article in today’s New York Times said that what started out as a “sprint” in the beginning effort to recover people alive has now become a “marathon.”


Jordan Van Voast of CommuniChi Acupuncture Clinic in Seattle, who started a Facebook page last week to organize volunteer acupuncturists, Acupuncture for Oso, said in a post tonight that volunteers would be needed every day through May or June: https://www.facebook.com/AcuForOso

Oso 006Recovery people came back this evening covered in smelly mud, exhausted, some of them having been out in the slide area since first light this morning … wet, cold, hungry. A group of young Army soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma said that they were helping one of their buddies, another soldier in the group, search for his aunt and uncle who had a cabin in Oso and were among the missing. One man said fewer search volunteers were being allowed out in the slide area as of today because of leaking sewage and because bigger, heavier equipment was being moved in, which made me wonder whether the effort to recover bodies may be about over—I think some people may be simply lost.

So much loss and trauma—but in the face of it, such a coming together of people both near the area and from far away, people from all walks of life, people who just want to help. One young man who sat down to get acupuncture said he’d driven 12 hours from Klamath Falls, Oregon, last Thursday after hearing about the landslide—currently unemployed and without much in the way of funds to stay in a motel near Oso but compelled to want to help the relief effort, regardless. He’d spent today helping to build many wooden shelf units to hold all the donated food and supplies at the fire station andOso 004 doing whatever odd jobs needed to be done. He said he’d been struggling some with finding direction and purpose for about a year, but now he thought he might get into an EMT training program when he went back to Oregon.

In the photo to the right are the wooden shelves the young man helped build–earlier in the day they were piled with food and supplies, but a truck came and all was removed to a storage area elsewhere, leaving room for tomorrow’s deliveries of donations.

I’ll make a plug here for a wonderful national group, Acupuncturists Without Borders, which formed in September 2005 in the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Volunteer acupuncturists have gone to numerous areas hit by disasters, including Haiti, the Philippines, and places destroyed by tornadoes in the Midwest, and AWB-based groups conduct free community-style acupuncture clinics for veterans in many communities across the country.

Oso 008The needling protocol used by AWB is five needles in each ear—people receiving acupuncture sit in chairs for 20 to 40 minutes and begin to feel calmer and quieter in spite of the destruction around them and report being able to sleep better, regain appetite, feel less anxious, and cope better with the upheaval in their lives. The organization can use donations to keep the work going:

See their website here:  http://www.acuwithoutborders.org/about_us.php

I was happy to spend time today getting to know the other acupuncturist on duty with me today, Kristan Rutski from Seattle. I was so heartened by the spirit of unity, cooperation, and community among my fellow humans in a time of great devastation. I know this happens repeatedly with disastrous events, I’ve read about it—people showing incredible strength and generosity—but this was one time I got to see it firsthand.


Foods to nourish the Kidney system

     Kid food escarole According to acupuncture theory, the storehouse of a person’s inner emotional and spiritual potential is the Kidneys. When our lives are closer to being in balance, we are able to bring this inner potential out into the world in a healthy, productive way—what is called “fulfilling destiny.”

Kid food turnipOn a physical level, the health of the endocrine system depends on the vitality of Kidney Qi, or energy. In Chinese medicine the Kidney system controls the brain, is responsible for bone health, helps regulate the thyroid, balances the digestive process, and strengthens the reproductive system.

The following information is from “Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition” by Paul Pitchford, a wonderful resource.

To benefit the Kidney system and build vitality in general:

  • Cook foods longer at this time of year, at lower temperatures, and with less water.
  • Salty and bitter are flavors for the winter, but use salt with care.SN390002
  • Chew food well; it creates warmth, plus salivary secretions in the mouth help break down the food and release nutritional value. Paul Pitchford recommends chewing each bite 30-50 times.
  • Have small, frequent meals.
  • Avoid microwaving.
  • Avoid overeating & eating late at night.
  • Avoid sudden, extreme diet changes.
  • Limit or avoid foods that weaken the Kidney system such as refined sugar, coffee, alcohol, too much salt, heavy meats, and highly processed foods.
  • Restrict cooling foods such as too many raw vegetables, fruits, and juices—use in moderation. kid food kelp
  • Add seaweeds such as kelp, kombu, and wakame to diet because they’re rich in organic minerals that slow aging of cells.
  • Focus on gratitude, which can be defined as the ability to accept and learn from circumstance.
  • Address sources of anxiety or ambiguity that might be contributing to an imbalance.

BITTER FOODS—which Pitchford says are usually not entirely bitter, but combinations of bitter and other flavors:Kid food watercress

  • Lettuce
  • Watercress
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Turnip
  • CeleryKid food celery
  • Asparagus
  • Oats
  • Quinoa

SALTY FOODS (in moderation)Kid food tamari

  • Miso
  • Tamari
  • Seaweeds
  • Millet


Symptoms can include low back pain or sciatica, hot flashes and/or night sweats, hair loss, insomnia, dizziness, anxiety and/or fear, ringing in ears, dry throat or mouth, weak legs, hair loss, brittle or cracked nails, easily broken bones, irritability, forgetfulness; sometimes moving from one problem, place, or relationship to the next without facing the root issues.

Foods that nourish Kidney Yin are those that are neutral or cooling:Kid food black bean

  • Tofu
  • Millet
  • String beans
  • Black beans and kidney beans
  • Melons, including watermelon
  • Blackberries and blueberries
  • Water chestnutKid food melon
  • Black sesame seed or oil*
  • Potato
  • Seaweeds
  • Sardine, crab, and clam
  • Eggs**
  • Pork**
  • Cheese**

*especially good for dry stools or constipation

**only in small amounts

Limit warming foods/substances such as coffee, alcohol, lamb, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and other hot spices; avoid tobacco.


Symptoms can include aversion or sensitivity to cold, cold extremities, irregular menses, weak knees and low back, bone spurs, arthritis, mental lethargy, dry mouth with thirst, reduced libido, frequent urination or inability to sustain urination, edema, asthma, lack of will power or productivity, indecision.

Foods that nourish Kidney Yang are those that are warming and improve “digestive fire”:

  • Onion family (garlic, onions, chives, scallions, leeks)Kid food cinnamon bark
  • Fenugreek, fennel, and anise seeds
  • Black peppercorn
  • Ginger
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon bark
  • Walnuts*
  • Black beanskid food quinoa
  • Quinoa
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Trout
  • Salmon

*a good remedy for chronic cough, wheezing, and other asthma symptoms (but too many can cause canker sores)

Limit cooling foods and fruits, raw foods, excessive salt; use seaweed cautiously.

And there you have it! 

Winter, water, and the Kidney system


Here we are in the new year, making our vows to do better, change our ways, get things done …

And I’m right there, vowing to write more blog posts in 2014, because there’s so much to say about Chinese medicine!

We’re in the middle of the cold and dark months, just now starting to come up out of it since the solstice but still facing a good long while before the sun starts feeling warm and the light lasts longer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWinter is the season of the Kidney system—the Zhi spirit—which rules the endocrine system, skeletal structure, reproductive organs, bodily fluids and temperature, and relates to the emotions of fear and anxiety. From the Kidney energetic system we find our instinctual power, will, courage, ambition, the desire to grow and change and thrive. This might be where New Year’s resolutions arise!

When the Kidney system is out of balance we might find ourselves experiencing insomnia, back pain, hyper- or hypothyroid conditions, memory problems, fatigue or adrenal exhaustion, high blood pressure, bladder symptoms, knee pain, addictive impulses and lack of will power, loss of motivation, depression, avoidance, procrastination, a decrease in libido, and/or cynicism about things ever changing.

Potential contributing factors to a Kidney imbalance are:

lack of sleep;

overwork and too much responsibility;

use of addictive substances or any addictive behavior, including too much sugar or carbs, alcohol, computer activity, caffeine, tobacco, other drugs, sexual activity, over-exercise;

chronic disease;

long-term fear or anxiety;

multiple births; and/or

simply getting older.

Some ways to nourish, tonify, and enhance the Kidney system are:

twig and iceeating slow-cooked, nourishing whole foods in a relaxed manner, not rushing or eating on the go;

avoiding obsessive/excessive thinking, working, and craving by maintaining a reasonable schedule and building in time each day to do nothing—meditate, rest, rejuvenate;

making space to do calming physical exercise such as simple stretching, yoga, tai chi, or qi gong, all of which can help posture, breathing, and general well-being;

massaging your feet once a day and paying special attention to the area at the center line of the foot just below the ball mound, where the bottom-most acupuncture point on the body is, Kidney 1, also known as “Bubbling Spring,” which is a very calming, grounding point that also stimulates Kidney Qi and revitalizes the entire Kidney system;

bringing water, the element of the Kidney system, into your daily life in the form of a bowl of water with essential oils, smooth river stones on a table, a simple clear vase with flowers, an image of water on your wall … or spending time near a river, the bay, the Sound, mountain lakes, ponds … plus drinking plenty of water;

getting acupuncture on a regular basis to move and boost Kidney Qi, and

setting aside time to meditate or do guided imagery.

Winter Light Sarah Klockars-ClauserThe benefits of focusing especially on strengthening the Kidney system can include less anxiety, better sleep, more exuberance for life, enhanced courage, trust, power, and serenity, and a renewed sense of motivation and follow-through.

In my next post I’ll list some foods that are especially good for boosting the Kidney system.

Hand in hand


“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh

What do you see in your palm? What stories do your hands tell—about you, about your lineage, about your experiences?

hands bakingIn my own hands I find reminders of my parents, both of whom were writers and artisans and good cooks when they were not at their regular jobs. My dad was a wood carver, furniture and clock maker, and all-round handy guy; my mom was a knitter, seamstress, and creative crafts person.

Hands sewing

Further back, I see the hands of my grandparents: my paternal grandfather was an amateur astronomer and photographer with a darkroom and a flair for tinting the many black and white photos he took, long before PhotoShop was even a dream; my paternal grandmother played and taught piano and was a dessert queen, with a specialty in baked Alaskas.
My maternal grandfather, who in his youth had a mule train guide company going down into the Grand Canyon, was also an amateur photographer, grew a lush vegetable and flower garden, and tinkered in his garage endlessly and inventively. My maternal grandmother hand-sewed the tiniest stitches imaginable, was a talented knitter-crafter, and cooked huge amounts for large family gatherings that went on for most of my childhood summers.

Hands planting

I got the fiber arts bug from those ancestors, plus the urge to write, cook, take photos, grow things, and make things. I have, in my lifetime, used my hands to do stone carving, chair caning, weaving, knitting, sewing, beading, embroidery, baby tending, housework, log splitting, water bucket carrying, gardening, canning, pickling, massage therapy, acupuncture, candle making, soap making, watercolor painting (kinda), and sketching (sorta). During the five years I worked at Gallaudet University in DC, the world’s only four-year university for hearing impaired people, I used my hands all day to communicate in American Sign Language.

So far I have not taken mules down into the Grand Canyon or gotten anywhere with the piano, but there’s still time. Sorta, kinda.

Hands abOur hands tell a lot about us. Depending, they can reveal age, occupation, introversion or extroversion, emotion, ease or restlessness, truth-telling or lying, and so much more. A second cousin of mine came to a family gathering and wasn’t sure who among the grown-up young women was my daughter the organic farmer until he saw her strong, rough hands stained green from picking basil. Studies have shown that hand gestures communicate a great deal to the observer, for example: no gestures = possible indifference to the audience; hands hidden = possibly untrustworthy; hands open and palms at a 45-degree angle = you are open and honest; hands open with the palms down = you are certain about your topic; palms facing each other with fingers together = you have expertise in the field you’re discussing; hands grasped in front of you or touching your face, hair or neck = you are nervous or tentative.

Hand laying stoneIn my acupuncture practice I see a good number of people having trouble with their hands because of osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis, overuse, repetitive motion, peripheral neuropathy, or injury. People come for acupuncture with symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger thumb or finger, de Quervain’s tendonitis (base of thumb), ganglion cysts, Raynaud’s syndrome (cold hands, or white, red, or blue fingers), Dupuytren’s syndrome (nodules and pits usually in palm), elbow tendonitis that radiates down to the wrist and hand, and wrist sprain or fracture from falls. Did you know that wrists are the most commonly fractured bones in the body for people under the age of 75?

Hands aaWhen I fell on stairs in 2009 and fractured my right wrist badly, requiring surgery and a plate and screws, I could not believe how hampered my life was, and for such a long time. I quickly learned to do a lot with my left hand that I never thought possible, being a strongly right-handed person. Even after I had the plate and screws removed, lingering nervy pain dogged me and got me down, and thank goodness for acupuncture, both what I was able to do on myself and what I received from Bellingham acupuncturist colleagues Jill Likkel and Paula Brown. Also very helpful was massage work from talented LMPs Rhys Webb, Cheryl Roberts, and Deirdre Morgan. Acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, moxibustion, applications of moist heat, massage therapy, and stretching-strengthening exercises all eventually restored my hand. Thank you, Jill, Paula, Rhys, Cheryl, and Deirdre!

Farmer holding grainDaily activities are so affected by hand/wrist pain or stiffness—we need our hands! The simplest tasks of life become challenges when a hand hurts: opening jars, wringing out a washcloth, shaking hands, communicating ideas with gestures, washing our hair, picking up a bag, caressing a loved one … and on and on. We don’t recognize how much our hands get us through until something goes wrong with one or both. Fortunately, limb pain and stiffness often respond very well to acupuncture; it’s typically very successful for all of the above-mentioned conditions.hands ac

What’s written in your hands? Who do you channel through your hands, from your parents to your grandparents to the larger family, and further back in time? What do your hands say about you? How are your hands revealing what’s inside?And what are your hands telling you?hands ae

Imagine all the people …

V 2I’ve always liked Valentine’s Day. I’ll admit it. The hearts, the bright color in the middle of gray and dreary winter, the opportunity to say “I love you”—what’s not to like?

Okay, sure: the gross consumerism; the emphasis on romantic love that excludes single and/or lonely people; flowers, chocolate, gold, and diamonds from countries that exploit child labor or slave labor and/or strip the land; the branding of Valentine cards by Disney or Dora or whoever; the “guilt tax” to send a card or buy a gift; the hurt feelings at school when no card comes from Joey or Christie; the phoniness of expressing love on one day out of the year; the unavoidable exposure to too much sugar …

Okay, okay, okay!

V 7Still … could it be simply a reminder about love, about the need for universal love, or a chance to say “I love you” when we have a hard time reaching out otherwise, including—no, especially—non-romantically? Could it be more about John Lennon’s vision than about couples going out to dinner or someone buying one person a tennis bracelet?


Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world… 

I saw a video recently about a man in India who radiates pure love. A story about him on CNN last year reported, “Narayanan Krishnan was an ambitious, award-winning chef with a five-star hotel group, short-listed for an elite job in Switzerland. One day, he saw an old man eating his own human waste for food by the roadside. Haunted by the image, Krishnan quit his job within the week and returned home for good, convinced of his new destiny. Now 29, he has served more than 1.2 million meals to India’s homeless.”

See this short video report on him:


V 9eI was so moved by the images of this young man hand-feeding others, wiping faces, hugging, cutting hair, and honoring others’ worth as humans. What a heart he has. He said, “Food in one part. Love is another part.” He said, “Everybody has 5.5 liters of blood.” In other words: we are the same; we are all lovable, deserving of love.

It’s not possible or practical for all of us to quit our jobs and feed the homeless, but we can reach out to others in small, do-able ways. Love can take many forms! Showing love doesn’t have to be dramatic or heroic or all-consuming. It can be a little gesture, greeting, smile, kindness, or thumbs-up.

And it should include loving self! Even if it’s only a heart drawn in the steam on the bathroom mirror, certain to disappear soon, we can temporarily quiet the critical inner voices or the anxiety and give ourselves a moment of love, a little Valentine.

V 9cI like the notion of big love, One Love, and can see Valentine’s Day as simply a marker of that notion, not simply about people pairing up and being complacent in an exclusive kind of love. I’m sure it’s pollyannish, naïve, but I don’t care. I still like that heart symbol, the word “love,” and the vibrant colors when the sun is hiding.


Sunshine on a cloudy day …

sun 1I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day …”

The Temptations’ song “My Girl” credited being in love with chasing away the clouds. Love certainly helps, but as the winter drags on and rain falls and heavy overcast holds steady for long periods here in the Pacific Northwest, some of us are fantasizing about a beach vacation in a warm place.

Light in My Hand Li SunResearchers have been looking at the brain’s response to darkness and light in order to understand Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The brain releases melatonin when our eyes detect darkness, and this regulates our sleep cycles. In response to light, melatonin production subsides and a happier hormone, serotonin, takes charge to make us feel more energized, awake, and cheerful. The word serotonin is rooted in serum + tonic, so it’s our body’s own natural feel-good medicine. The word melatonin stems from mel (black) tonic, for darkness.

A 2008 European study looked at the impact of six different daily weather factors—temperature, sunlight, wind, precipitation, air pressure, and length of day—on more than 1,200 subjects, most of them women. Contrary to many previous studies that correlated a low mood with limited exposure to sunshine and high humidity, this study concluded that the average effect of “good” weather on positive mood was minimal. That is, windy, cold, dark days appeared to have only a slight negative effect on mood, with fatigue and sluggishness being the main complaints.

That said, the researchers concluded finally that “people differ in their sensitivity to daily weather changes.” Some of us are simply more vulnerable to weather changes than others. It’s not a character flaw; it has more to do with our personal chemistry.

And that said, we have the power to take steps to change our reactions to the weather. Ani Kalayjian, Ed.D., R.N., a professor of psychology at Fordham University in New York, advises that we “can and should take proactive steps to strengthen the [brain’s] system against weather-driven mood changes.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe can’t change the weather, or order the sun to appear, but we can set the best possible stage for breaking through an emotional overcast when it happens. “Feelings are transient,” says Dr. Kalayjian. “We can change them, transform them into positive.”All the classic recommendations for combating the winter blues apply—getting regular exercise, eating good food, moderating alcohol intake, listening to up-tempo music, meditating, getting outside often—and there are other tricks as well:

Paring down belongings to stimulate a lighter, less burdened feeling.

Exercising your imagination and creativity: painting, drawing, doodling, photographing, sewing, knitting, writing, dancing, composing music, and so on. Better yet, do it with others.

–Investing in a “dawn simulator” light or alarm clock that gradually lightens your bedroom from dawn to full daylight (one study showed an 83% better response when compared with other bright light therapy).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADressing up. Yep, that’s right. Put on your fancy pants and your sparkly jewelry, even if it’s just to go out to the mailbox.

Making your bed with clean sheets, or if it’s in the budget, buy new ones in a bright color you’ve never tried before. Fluff the pillows, vacuum thoroughly, wipe down surfaces, get rid of clothes you don’t wear, even if you only find five things to give away. Make the bedroom a haven.

Looking at your own photographs of previous warm vacations or others’ photos of sunny places—Pinterest and Flickr are two sites that have lots of gorgeous images—and if you can afford it, plan a little getaway for yourself, even if it’s only a day away where there’s sun. Or if not sun, go to the Dale Chihuly Glass and Garden exhibit at the Seattle Center for a burst of color in a fantasy world.

Taking Vitamin D3. We in the upper latitudes are chronically short on D, which boosts the immune system (ever wonder why we get so sick in the winter?). Take at least 2,000 IU a day of D3 in the morning and see if it makes a difference!

Leaves and Branches Jasenka PetanjekLooking up! See what’s above you, up in those tree branches or at the tops of buildings in downtown Bellingham (lots of quirky architectural things!) or flying by in the sky. Think of the soaring ceilings in cathedrals, which direct our gaze upward and, in the process, lift our spirits. Lower ceilings improve performance in detail-oriented tasks, but high ceilings encourage abstract creative thought, and just the action of focusing our eyes upward has the effect of helping us think more positively. See this excellent article in Scientific American (April 22, 2009): http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=building-around-the-mind&sc=WR_20090428

Singing, humming, growling, or whistling. Or even screaming. That’s right. Let it out. You can do it in the car if you’re shy like me—I do my best therapeutic growling behind the wheel, and not directed at anyone, just because. I don’t know any particular studies that show how vocalizing helps mood (there are a number about helping with brain injury, like this one: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/singing-can-help-repair-brain-damage-1906130.html), but I feel sure it’s beneficial. Be loud and proud.

Getting acupuncture! There are Western biomedicine studies out there demonstrating the increasingly well known efficacy of acupuncture for mood disorders. I’m not a big fan of these studies because they force the acupuncture into certain protocols that are not in the spirit of Chinese medicine in general, but at least they address the skeptics and doubters. Most people, after an acupuncture session, report feeling relaxed, more comfortable, usually relieved of pain, and less anxious and/or depressed. Here’s one study: http://www.healthcmi.com/index.php/acupuncturist-news-online/572-acupunctureceudepressionmassachusettsdu20

Whatever tricks help, we also need to remember that we’re now well past the shortest, darkest time. Even if we have some bad weather in the next couple of months, the skies are still light past 5 p.m. now, and that’s a huge deal! Go sun! sun 2

Why we need acupuncture now more than ever

In October of 2009, Anand Giridharadas, author and “Currents” columnist for The New York Times, wrote the following column about why, especially now, we need to focus on prevention, and why acupuncture and other such wellness maintenance practices are essential. Three years later his advice is even more true, as people continue to struggle with ongoing high unemployment, diminishing financial security nets, and expensive health care challenges.

I haven’t posted on this blog in a long time, but with this excellent article—written by someone else—I hope to get back to more regular posts.

An Economy in Need of Holistic Medicine

By Anand Giridharadas, The New York Times, October 2009

The American economy is having what doctors call an acute episode.

Employment won’t throb. The circulation of capital remains weak. Industry is breathing, but barely. And if we can agree on anything one year into this mess, it is that there is little we can do when the patient arrives already this bad.

That is why the talk now is so often of prevention. Prevent the next crisis through health insurance and a green-energy sector, the American president says. Prevent it by cutting spending and nurturing personal responsibility, American conservatives retort.

But the truth is that politicians, and not just in the United States, are rarely willing to invest in a problem that hasn’t occurred. Consensus and action are easier to come by after a 9/11 or a Lehman Brothers than before. Problems in the embryonic, soluble phase don’t interest us; and those that do interest us are often too big to solve.

Which is where acupuncture comes in.

Western medical practices have attracted similar criticisms in recent years, for an emphasis on intervening in disease rather than preventing it beforehand and promoting quotidian well-being. But in health, unlike politics, an alternative approach called wellness has emerged, focused on investing in health before it breaks down.

What can wellness tell us about our present economic malady? As it moves from fringe to mainstream — with wellness programs in the health care reform proposals now in Congress, wellness manifestos on the best-seller lists and a U.S. Army wellness program that asks soldiers to introspect and meditate — I asked experts about the approach’s core tenets and how they might be applied to the body politic.

Nip it in the bud. Wellness argues for cultivating health a little every day, not just restoring it during calamities. We increasingly accept that it is better to monitor a diabetic’s blood sugar with regular clinic visits than to amputate her limbs. We accept that businesses can avoid costly cancer treatments by encouraging workers to stop smoking. But in our political life, we prefer to wait until things reach the emergency room.

We barely regulate financial markets for years, thinking regulation oppressive, until we are compelled to nationalize private firms. We avoid expensive investments and controversial new methods in public education, then pay the price in lower social mobility and vast prison populations. We neglect building roads and bridges and Internet highways, fearing the cost, and then reap the much greater costs of whole regions falling off the economic grid.

With a lot of social problems, we’re not sure how to prevent it, and therefore we don’t spend money on it, because we always have a lot of other priorities,” said David Cutler, a Harvard economist who has advised both the Clinton and Obama White Houses on health care.

Go to the roots. Western medicine tends to fight symptoms, whether suppressing coughs or flooding the brains of the depressed with serotonin. Wellness is interested in underlying causes. It is inclined to see an infertile woman, for example, as a stressed woman rather than a woman with defunct ovaries, and may suggest that she eat and work differently rather than take ovary-manipulating pills.

In public policy, a symptom bias rules. A housing crisis? Enact a tax credit! Bank failures? Bail them out!

There is nothing wrong with such steps — except for what they leave out, as most economists will tell you.

Even amid all this action, we have virtually ignored the complex weave of issues beneath the issues: meager savings, a debt addiction, a congenitally spendthrift political system, an almost pathological craving for stuff. And, with our topical cures, we should not be surprised to see new symptoms of the old maladies appearing: insurance again being packaged into derivatives, bonuses again soaring on Wall Street.

We treat symptoms, and we do not look at the causes of the symptoms,” Deepak Chopra, the famed alternative-medicine and wellness guru, said when asked to extend the wellness metaphor to the economy. “We are totally at this moment looking at it in a reductionist manner. The reductionist manner is a bailout. And somehow that’s supposed to solve the problem, whereas the problem occurred because we were thinking reductively.”

Look within. Wellness sees the causes of and remedies for ailments as lying within us. Avoid infection by building immunity. Defeat disease by eating foods that help the body heal itself.

With the economy, we look everywhere but within. It’s the fault of greedy Wall Street bankers. It’s Washington’s fault. Bush’s fault. Obama’s fault. Greenspan’s fault. Somebody fix it!

But what about us? Why can’t we acknowledge that it was us who bought all those unaffordable houses, us who listened to that zero-gravity financial “advice,” us who bought and bought and never kept a rainy-day fund? And why, in solving the problem, do we expect the state to create substitute dynamism instead of renewing the culture of decentralized dynamism that made the U.S. economy so vital to begin with?

Conventional medicine is very unbalanced in placing all its emphasis on external interventions rather than looking to advance that internal capacity to maintain healing,” said Andrew Weil, founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and the author of several books on wellness. Likewise with the economy, he said: “Instead of simply identifying external threats and developing weapons and strategies against them, we should instead identify and strengthen immunity and resistance.”

A politics of wellness would transcend party. It would emphasize the up-front investments that Democrats like in order to achieve the long-run fiscal solvency on which Republicans insist. It would fulfill the liberal belief in a positive role for government in maintaining well-being but would honor the conservative conviction that government’s chief role is to help the social organism heal itself. It would acknowledge, with the left, the complex lattice of cultural and institutional influences that govern a society’s well-being, while emphasizing, with the right, the limits of what any external healer can do.

Think wellness in these hard times. The most urgent problems, after all, may be the ones we haven’t had yet.

Rooting for farmers, and farmers’ markets

Crows peck down the length of a row of perfect, round, ripe melons, ruining each with a large hole and moving on to the next.

Cutworm caterpillars shear off tender transplants just under the soil line, leaving a dead, toppling plant behind.

Rust blight blows in on the wind and takes the garlic crop for three years running, no matter where the the beds are relocated.

Water lines have to be moved constantly in the heat, remay coverings need to be repositioned, weeds threaten to take over a patch of this or that. Long rows require thinning. The peppers suddenly look a little pooped. Why? What now?

And there’s always the weather: a late, cold, wet spring, a summer that’s too hot and dry, an early surprise freeze, stretches of relentless wind, or rain, or chill …

Once a month I get to see the enormous work, or parts of it, on my daughter’s three-acre farm. Rebecca and her farm partner, Carla Jo, and their crew work harder than pretty much anyone I know, and I’m sure it’s the same on every small farm in the country. The tasks are endless, glitches happen all the time, the labor is taxing on every part of their bodies, and the constant battle with the elements is daunting to watch, much less actually do.

Bellingham’s wonderful Farmers’ Market starts the 2012 season this Saturday, April 7. Farmers will probably be selling various kinds of kale, garlic greens, cauliflower, herbs, broccoli sprouts, green onions, collards, mustard greens, and lots of bedding plants for those of us who do gardens of our own. I want to say this: Support these local farmers! Attend our market on Saturdays, even if the weather is not ideal! When the Wednesday market starts up in Fairhaven (June 1 through September 28), go to that one too, behind Village Books. Get to know the people who grow this great food! Go to the market with friends, run into friends there, get lunch from one of the many vendors, make it an occasion. It’s celebration time!

Even if I don’t buy much on a particular market day I like to simply go to the market, take in the sights and sounds and smells, and witness the results of lots of hard work by our small farmers. Our market has grown by leaps and bounds since I moved to Bellingham in 2004. What a vibrant, colorful, joyous scene. How lucky we are! A friend visited here from Los Angeles, where she goes to the sprawling Hollywood farmers’ market and another in Pasadena, and she exclaimed over what a great market we have here, saying it was the best one she’d been to.

On my daughter’s farm I see the back story behind all the beautifully displayed produce at the market. I watch the crew lifting heavy buckets and boxes; standing for hours with hands submerged in cold water scrubbing vegetables before spinning, bagging, or boxing them; squatting and bending as they weed by hand, hoe, plant, and pick; working long days to fill restaurant and co-op orders, make up CSA boxes, or get produce ready for market. They work in all kinds of weather, weather that makes the rest of us schlumps (including me) complain because we have to drive across town or take the dog for a walk.

Small farmers do this kind of work because a) they love what they do, and b) they are proud of what they grow by hand. Plus c) they are independent cusses who, most of them, couldn’t take working for a boss in an office. There is great satisfaction in feeding others, helping the earth by using sane, sustainable farming practices, and feeling that they’re making a difference. And they do make a difference! Completely aside from providing us with flavorful, fresh food, our farmers are a vital part of our community in so many ways.

Many local farmers donate their surplus produce, or grow extra for the purpose of contributing. Volunteers of the Bellingham Food Bank’s Small Potatoes Gleaning Project annually gather more than 60 tons of fresh produce from local farms and deliver the fruits and vegetables to area food banks, soup kitchens, and feeding programs. The Food Bank has agreements with more than a dozen local farmers who want all the food they’ve grown to be put to use. Farmers call Small Potatoes after their fields have been harvested, and volunteers rescue produce for Whatcom County’s hungry.

Some farms offer educational/experiential opportunities for school groups or open their fields for visits from elder groups and others. The Whatcom Food-to-School program is exploring new ways of getting local food into the schools, including a Harvest of the Month effort to feature seasonal local food in all eight public schools in Whatcom County.

When we buy from our industrious local farmers we’re eating food grown right here in the soil of the Pacific Northwest and tended to carefully by people who live in this community, who have a vested interest in the freshness, flavor, and quality of their produce. Their hard work is not the reason to buy produce from them, because all produce sold everywhere results from the hard work of someone. But when you know the source and the someone, it makes a difference. I’m so proud of Rebecca, Carla Jo, and all the others who work on Blue Moon Farm, whose produce and flowers are sold at both the Friday Harbor and Eastsound farmers’ markets.

Having a farmer daughter has taught me a lot—including varieties of vegetables, the whims of the seasons, the vagaries and challenges of farming life, and the dedication it takes to keep it all going. I have a better appreciation for what goes into that bunch of spinach than I would otherwise, and all the farmers at the market have my admiration and gratitude. From that first cabbage toss by Mayor Kelli Linville this Saturday to launch the market season to the very end at Christmas time, I want to go to the market as often as possible—on both Saturdays and Wednesdays—to say thanks to our indomitable farmers.

I hope to see you there!


Spring greens!

Since my last post, “Stormy Weather,” I’ve gotten some requests for suggestions about bitter and pungent spring greens for Liver and Gallbladder health. I somehow failed to link to the guest post I did about this for Ali Segersten and Tom Malterre’s great blog, Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen: http://www.nourishingmeals.com/2012/03/detox-with-spring-greens.html

In that guest post there’s a list of greens (and reds!) that are especially good to be including in salads, soups, and stews these days. Yay for our livers and gallbladders!

Check out Tom and Ali’s other wonderful recipes.


Stormy weather


I like the title of this photo by Sarah Klockars-Clauser: “Storm Contained Therein.”

That’s how it feels sometimes, doesn’t it? Turbulent inner weather … cloudy thinking … moody squalls … emotional thunderheads …

Spring. We’re having the usual changeable weather outside, and some days changeable inside as well. Not just a few of us are tired of the gray and drip and chill, waiting impatiently for a prolonged stretch of sun and warmth. Which may not happen until July. 

Spring: the Wood phase in the Five Element cycle, the time of the Liver and Gallbladder systems in Chinese medicine. If it feels as if there’s a “storm contained therein,” it’s probably related to an imbalance in either of these two systems or both, because they are responsible for a good deal of our emotional health, and “storm” implies tumultuous emotions, related to Liver and Gallbladder.

The emotions associated with a Liver system imbalance are irritability, anger, frustration, stuffing things down, having an inflexible outlook, and/or feeling thwarted. Moody squalls. The physical manifestations of this can be PMS (cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, back ache, queasiness) or other menstrual symptoms, headaches, migraines, pain anywhere in the body, insomnia, palpitations, and digestive ailments.

In a Gallbladder imbalance, there might be a feeling of spinning your wheels, being indecisive, avoiding confrontation, lacking “color” in your life, or having no clear direction or purpose. Cloudy thinking. A Gallbladder disharmony could manifest physically as right ribcage pain or tenderness, pain in the upper back, uneasy or slow digestion, fatigue, headaches, or loose stools … or there could simply be the emotional manifestation of this disharmony.

Both the Liver and Gallbladder systems are connected strongly with the flow of Qi, or energy, through the body. Feeling frustrated, irritable, angry, or indecisive can block the free flow of Qi. When Qi is obstructed or stagnant, symptoms develop. Sometimes it’s hard to know what happens first in an imbalance: emotions causing physical symptoms, or the other way around. Sometimes an imbalance presents as one or the other, not both.

As plants emerge from the ground in spring, they grow strongly toward the light yet maintain their flexibility. Without that ability to bend in the rain and wind, plants will break. Likewise, when we aren’t emotionally flexible and able to handle life’s setbacks and frustrations, we can develop physical problems or a chronic kind of stormy inner weather—cyclic depressions, snappishness, critical voices in our heads, sensitivity to imagined slights, flying off the handle, strong judgments about others (or ourselves), needing to be in control of every little thing, and so on. It gets exhausting! And in being inflexible, we set ourselves up for more and more problems as time goes on.

We can help our Liver-Gallbladder systems by:

eating light, well-balanced meals, and especially in the company of loved ones

eating plenty of fresh chlorophyll-rich greens, both pungent and bitter

opening the mind to new ideas, experiences, and people

getting outside and moving

brainstorming new solutions to old problems

being willing to listen to others’ opinions

forgiving others, forgiving ourselves

welcoming opportunities for growth, no matter how uncomfortable at first

honoring our creative gifts, whatever they are

getting acupuncture for a “spring tune-up”

I humbly suggest (to you and to myself): Let loose the “storm contained within.” Find ways to resolve stuffed-down or pent-up emotions, and without blasting anyone out of the water in the process. See if the new life bursting forth all around us can restore faith in the goodness and wonder of life, and in the promise of brighter days to come.