Category Archives for "Living in the Tao of Seasons"

1 Are You Feeling All Dried Out Lately?

Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. And then hydrate again. And follow some of these simple tips below to help moisten and replenish this almost-post-winter condition.


Neti Pot

If you use a neti pot, take it out. If you do not, consider purchasing one at any local health food store.

Go to my website under Self Care – look for instructions on how to use a neti pot.

Be patient at first, and stick with it. This is an amazingly beneficial way to keep your sinuses hydrated and to protect your immune system from germs and viruses.


Take long, luxurious baths, adding in Epsom salts.


For an additional health benefit (physical, mental and spiritual), add in some essential oils to the salts before putting in the bath water. This slows down their evaporation. Thyme oil is perfect for strengthening the immune system, lavender is great to add in as well. They make a lovely combination.


If you have humidifiers, keep them running! If not, maybe it’s an end-of-season sale item to  purchase?


Drink it. A lot. Some people like the standard 8 glasses. Sometimes halving your weight in ounces is a marker. For instance, if you weigh 120 pounds, that’s 120 ounces, cut in half is 60 divide by 8 – that’s 7 1/2 cups. Another way is to look at the color of your urine when you pee – if it’s fairly clear, you’re on the right track. Of course, meds and supplements make alter the color, so keep that in mind.

Consider NOT using ice – the body is, normally, 98º – if you drink iced water, your body has to work hard at bringing the temperature from freezing back up to its norm of 98º. Why make it work? Also, it is not good for digestion. Oftentimes, drinking warm water can soothe digestive upset.

Just make sure you drink water pretty consistently throughout the day. Other fluids are great, but get in your plain old H20! It’s a great way to re-energize during an afternoon slump.


pearsHere’s a simple, excellent recipe to moisten your throat and provide yin support. Yin represents what we need to remain hydrated – yin is moistening, cooling, dark, introverted, quiescent, receiving, embracing. The energy of winter, the element of Water.

Yang, on the other hand, represents the energy that is light, heating, extroverted, active, forward-moving. The energy of spring, the element of Wood.

Pears are known in Chinese medicine dietary therapy to moisten the lungs – which we have dried out after much indoor forced air heat. It is not surprising that I see many people in my practice with a hacking cough they cannot quite shake. These dry conditions can also lead to dry skin and a dry, scratchy throat. Listening to people’s voices, here in the northeast, there is a low, sort of groaning quality to the sound in this moment. Pears will help all of that. Deliciously.


4 servings



4 pears – core and cut up in large pieces, unpeeled Anjou, Red, Asian pears are great. Bosc are fine as well, though not as moist a fruit as the others
cinnamon stick (or powdered)
fresh ginger – could use powdered, but I highly recommend fresh
cardamon seeds – if you like them – crush them a bit to release the seed from the pods


In a saucepan, place the pears and spices and some water to cover. Cook over low heat, til pears are soft.

Remove from heat. Add in a few tablespoons coconut oil, to taste.

1 A Pre-Spring Restoration

A llloooonnnngggg winter …. really long. Lots of snow, at least in the northern realms of the United States.

As an acupuncturist – this is what i’m seeing in my treatment room: People are tired, maybe exhausted. Health challenges are flaring up. A air of frustration, boredom and ennui seems to surround every aspect of people’s lives – whether it’s work, children, relationships. Most people are even bored with themselves!

So – what’s the fix? In a word …. nothing. This is a time to hold the space, hold the emptiness. Pause. Take a breath. As with that brief moment between the exhale and the inhalation, this climactic moment is in-between. Looking at nature, the sap, which has been descending since autumn and has remained underground in the roots, is starting to rise. The cold arrests that progress.
It stops. Waits. The weather warms up, it begins to rise again. A steady movement upwards, but not always so apparent. Especially on a day like today.

Go back in the Water element, the element of winter. Spring isn’t here yet (the Wood element). It’s Water still – dormancy, rest, rejuvenation. It’s the arena of the kidney and bladder and the bones. The kidney stores jing, our inherited energy that we either nurture or squander. The bones hold the depths of ancestry stored in our structure.

An easy and bone-nourishing recipe of roasted beef marrow bones is excellent to make. Right now. Keep the bones and after eating the marrow, you can also use them to make a beef bone stock. Both recipes are below. If you do not eat meat, then a seaweed broth would be a great restoration of energy for this still-in-winter (even if it’s not by choice!) moment.And like all moments, they pass. Spring is coming, and while you may be experiencing the frustration and impatience that it’s not heralded just yet, you can feel anticipation of its arrival.


Ask your butcher for center cut organic beef marrow bones. Grass-fed is really the best if you can get it. Depending on the length, 3-4 per person will work.

Rinse the bones. There may be meat and fat on the outside of the bone. You can scrape it off if you wish, but I usually leave it on because I use the bones later for broth (see below). Or if I’m in the mood, I’ll eat it right away.

BoneMarrowStand them up on end in a baking dish with a few inches of depth as they will ooze a bit from the bottom as they cook. I used a glass 8 x 8 sized bakepan, or a bread loaf pan – though cast iron would be great as well.

BoneMarrow2Put the wider end of the bones on the bottom, so they can remain securely upright as they cook. Roast at 450 degrees about 20 minutes, until the marrow is soft and bones are browned.

(pick whatever is best for you, don’t do them all!)

~ I prefer plain, perhaps with a crisp french bread to lap up the marrow, definitely a good salt – my favorite is a smoked         one, which just adds lusciousness to it
~ you could consider serving them with oven roasted garlic and a squeeze of lemon

~ parsley sprigs, chopped coarsely
~ cornichons
~ fermented vegetables are amazing with this as it balances the fatty deliciousness with a crisp tangy taste. And the probiotics help with digestion. Hawthorne Valley makes the best fermented vegetables but you can make your own really easily. I will do an upcoming post on this one!
~ I like a crisp french bread, but one time I used frozen potato puffs, cooked them at the same time (used the same container and didn’t mind any marrow fat the puffs soaked up). Then I dipped the potato puffs into the marrow to clean off my plate.

photo 4



photo 3You really want to use a slow cooker for this, as the lengthy simmering extracts the most of the nutrients and makes for a delicious broth. Also, I do not feel comfortable leaving a flame on my stove for 24-72 hours unless I’m up and about near the kitchen. Which I never am. Or will be.
If you are going to make the stock right away, after eating the bone marrow recipe, then when you roast the bones, put the carrots and onions in a pan and roast with the bones.

about 4 pounds beef marrow bones that you roasted and ate the marrow out of(sometimes I put aside one or two extra bones so that the marrow is cooked in the broth)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3 onions, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
(you can roast with bone marrow, as described above, or just put them in with the stock)
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
several sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together
1 teaspoon dried peppercorns, crushed
l bunch parsley

If you have time, soak the bones in the cooker before making the soup in the cider vinegar for an hour. If not, skip this step. (It takes more calcium out of the bones.)

In the cooker:
Put the bones, the roasted carrot and onions mix, (or raw, if you skipped this step), celery, thyme, parsley and peppercorns.Honey

Adjust the temperature on high. In about an hour, as it simmers, skim off the scum that has risen to the surface.

Turn down heat to low.

Cook 12- 72 hours (which is why i recommend a slow cooker as you can leave the house and not really pay attention to the broth as it cooks).

When finished, let cool and then strain. If there are some meat pieces, you can put them aside and either put them in casserole, or even later on in the finished broth. Or give them to your dog, who is eyeing you with those adorable puppy eyes, begging, begging …. oh all right, take it.

You can cool the pot in the fridge (or outdoors, if you make it animal-proof). Skim off the fat that will congeal on the top. Place the broth in freezable containers.

I just eat the broth plain. Sometimes I’ll cut up some veggies and make a soup, or even add barley.

But mostly, I just like the restorative, uplifting, delicious broth as is.

1 Still here … the stillness of Winter

The Stillness of Winter
is still with us, despite the hint of spring.

It may feel like spring, sometimes it looks like spring.  It’s not.  Yet.

It is the time to savor these last moments before new beginnings.

In Chinese medicine philosophy, winter is the element of Water. This element is unique in that its directionality is both downward and upward, yin and yang. Spring (Wood) bursts forth, summer (Fire) blazes up, late summer (Earth) holds the harvest, autumn (Metal) begins the downward phase of the seasonal cycle. Winter (Water) continues with that downward direction, the sap continuing to descend to the roots.

And then …. it rests, winter remains underground in hibernation.

And then … it starts to move upward, the sap rising until the energy of Spring bursts through the ground and the cycle continues.

And here we pause … underground, the hint of upward motion. But not yet.

Instead of running out to do Another Activity … consider staying in and taking a bath. Add in epsom salts and essential oils.

OR – take a nap. An 11-minute rest (set your timer, or phone) can replenish you in … 11 minutes.

OR – take a few moments to breathe. In. The stillness.

Drink water – lots of it, at least one-half your body weight (pounds) in ounces. Water is great medicine for sinuses, backaches, mental clarity.

We are water. The human body is comprised of a variance of 65-90% Water. Before birth, we spend 40 weeks embraced in a Water womb. Water is our connection, our lineage, our commonality. Water seeks its own level.

In preparation for spring, savoring these last moments, take time to immerse in Water. Seek out bodies of water in your area – a pond, a stream, a river, the sea. This is the time to reap the benefits of nature’s embrace, not just going with the flow, but being the flow.

Our ancestral lineage, our DNA, the reproductive systems, our bones are all held in this powerful element. Honor the ancestors (real and imagined) as you decide what of their legacy you will pass on to future generations and what you will transmute, an alchemical transformation.

Stillness, silence, inquiry into the mysteries. Who am I? Where do I come from? Where do I desire to go? What is my place in this vast eternity?

The questions will guide us. The answers are not necessary.

Lousy (but good!) news

Oh, the fear that arises when that little louse nit is discovered!  But before you rush out and purchase some over-the-counter chemical de-lousing treatments, consider a more effective, non-toxic approach.

The first time my children got lice, I panicked and used a drug store treatment, but it didn’t even kill the lice completely. After research, experience, checking in with other parents, I came up with this coconut oil treatment process which worked much better – and with no toxins. It definitely kills the lice.  NOTHING really kills the nits completely (and if you think of it, do you really want to put something that strong on your head??!). No matter what process you use, to get rid of nits, you have to pick them out, one by one, by one, by one, by ……

This is what the nits look like – but note this is an enlarged photo, so they are actually smaller.

Tiny eggs on the hair look like flakes of dandruff.  However, instead of flaking off the scalp, they seem to be glued on the hair shaft, and difficult to remove.

Head lice can live up to 30 days on a human. Their eggs can live for more than 2 weeks.

What you will need:
Shower caps with strong elastic
Neem oil (this can be purchased at most health food stores). If you cannot find it, then use more essential oils.
Tea tree oil (a lot, about 2 tsp per head)
Essential oils (lavendar, eucalyptus, tea tree oil, citronella – pick 2-3)
Rat tail comb

You’ll need one shower cap per head – the dollar store is a good resource. I have washed mine out after a treatment, when I ran out. Be careful to rinse well if you do that. Make sure the elastic is good, as you do not want the oil mixture dripping all over.

Gently heat the coconut oil in a saucepan, so it is softened enough to mix the Neem and the essential oils into – depending on the hair length, you could use 1/2 to 3/4 cup of coconut oil per head.  Take the saucepan off the heat.  Add in the Neem, a LOT of tea tree oil (at least 2 tsp per head).  Then add in your selection of essential oils. Citronella can be irritating, check and see your / your child’s reaction to it.

You want the mix to be STRONG SMELLING! Saturate the hair with the oil mix. Put on a shower cap (make sure it has good elastic, you don’t want it dripping all over). Hang out for a few hours and let the mixture do its work. Some people sleep overnight with this. I personally do not- it is way too messy and not necessary. The lice are dead, dead, dead after a few hours and then your job – nitpicking – starts.

When you take off the cap, you will see some dead lice. (see enlarged photo) Now – and this is why they call it nit-picking – you have to pick out each and every nit in the head. You cannot count on any treatment – natural or chemical – to kill the nits, it will only kill the lice.  You want to be attentive and thorough here – one nit/ egg can become one louse which can quickly lay lots of eggs pretty soon.

I use a rat-tail comb- the kind with the comb and a long handle, shaped like a stick – which makes it easier to part the hair.  In a pinch, I have used a pointy-edged chopstick.  Check EVERY PART of the head. If you see a nit (the size of grain of sugar sometimes), then slide it out with your thumb and first finger, like you’re squeezing the one strand of hair. Keep an eye out for the lice themselves – and kill them quickly. It helps to have a dampened paper towel nearby to rub the nit off your fingers and then a bowl of water to dip your hands in so the nit(s) are not still sticking to your fingers. It is best to cut your nails short and definitely pull your hair back from your face.

Best to do the checking and nitpicking in bright light, even going outdoors.  This takes time and patience and good close-up vision. Grab a patient teenager if you can. (Is that an oxymoron?!) Keep checking every day, even twice a day – chances are you will miss a nit or two and you don’t want them hatching. I would check for two weeks at least, which is the lifespan of the eggs.

Make sure you check everyone’s head in your family. Consider doing the treatment on family members as well. It won’t hurt and it’s a nice conditioner for the hair. An added benefit – coconut oil makes a great make-up remover as well! It’s also a nice moisturizer ! :) :)

In addition, you want to clean all bed clothes, shirts, hats, etc. Pack stuffed animals and pillows you cannot wash in plastic bags and store them away for a few weeks. Vacuum and wash surfaces that have been touched by their heads – you could mix tea tree oil and water and spray that on as well. Remember the car – and spray and vacuum there as well.

The most important thing is to pick the nits, pick the nits, pick the nits ….. I know this may sound ridiculous (but aren’t lice themselves ridiculous? and on human heads??) but if you just relax and be meditative with the tedium of nitpicking, it is not so bad. When I did it and felt rushed or annoyed, thinking that I have so many other things to do and I’m sitting here picking out insects from my child’s hair …. it just made it so much more difficult, for me, for my child, for  getting all the nits out.

So …. Relax, focus, breathe, check …..
GOOD LUCK!! (Check, check and re-check)

2 Cabin Fever & a Hot Water Bottle

The snow, the sleet, the icy winter cold seeping through our bones … it’s time to take out (or pick up) a hot water bottle. And since you’re possibly travel-restricted due to weather, consider this fun project: make a hot water bottle cover, using an old sweater and a little bit of time. I made several of them this winter for holiday gifts and it was quite easy. And yes, FUN!

First of all – the hot water bottle. Most people I see coming to my office have some degree of coldness in their lower back during these winter months. It may not be noticeable to them at first, but when shown the differences in temperature (warmer abdomen, cool back for example), it’s apparent. The kidneys and the bladder are the operative organ systems during Winter, the element of Water (see previous post).  The kidneys need to kept warm and protected from the elements.

So, if you’re sitting at a desk working, on a couch reading or watching TV, take out the hot water bottle and let it warm your back. It’s also perfect for warming the bed before retiring in the evening. If you use a cover, it extends the heating time and retain the warmth until morning, as well as providing a softer, more cushioned surface than the plastic / rubber material of the hot water bottle.

You can purchase a hot water bottle from any drugstore. It should be around $10, no more than $15.00. Some of them have lifetime warranties in case of leakage, so save the receipt (or whatever else they advise). I have taken advantage of this once or twice over the years using them for me and my family.

To make this easy, no-sew cover, you will need:
XL men’s sweater
2-3 buttons
Needle and thread for sewing buttons
Wool and large needle to sew designs on cover (optional)

The easiest way to make this is to get an XL men’s wool sweater – no cotton, no acrylics. Salvation Army, Goodwill are great resources for this, if you don’t have one stashed in a closet. The thicker the sweater, the more insulated the hot water bottle will be – it will extend the warmth time of the HW bottle, but won’t give you that immediate HOT heat. I’ve used cashmere for that, or a thinner weave sweater (all from Sal’s / Goodwill).

First, felt the sweater – by washing it in the hottest water cycle and then putting it in the dryer. It should shrink and felt up – you’ll recognize the look if you’ve ever destroyed a sweater accidentally. (Now you’ll have a way to turn that failure into fun!) I usually do the wash/dry at hot temperatures once, but sometimes I’ll repeat the cycle if I think the wool has not felted enough.

Once you have the felted sweater,cut off the sleeves at the armholes. The cuffed edge of the sweater arm will be for the top of the hot water bottle, and the open, cut-off side will be for the bottom.

Place the HW bottle in the sleeve, and decide which side looks better as the front and which looks better as the back (I prefer the seam to be in the back.)

On the back side, trim the edges so that it just meets the bottom of the HW bottle. Near the bottom edge, sew 2-3 buttons, spaced evenly apart. (see photos). Fold the front side, over the bottom of the HW bottle and over the buttons. Cut tiny lines to serve as buttonholes (very small, as the cuts will stretch), measuring the openings over the already-sewed on buttons.

If you want to get fancy, use some yarn and make a design, or cut out a shape of felted wool from another sweater and sew them on the cover.

Pregnant women should be careful not to place too extreme heat around the abdomen, but an application of gentle warmth  – the hot water bottle with a cover – is beneficial.  I have seen lots of cold lower backs with my pregnant clients, even if the moms themselves are feeling overheated – babies like warmth, so consider keeping your lower area warm, particularly in winter. If you’re close to labor time and want to move it along, the hotter bottle would be advantageous.

Keep warm!

The Silence of Snow

For many of us living in the northeast US, snow is presently covering the terrain. If you take a few moments and walk in a natural setting – a backyard, a park, the woods – you can breathe in the silence of snow. Hush and hear the soft sounds of feet traipsing on the ground, a few – very few – animals slowly moving about. There is no sound of insects – no crickets, grasshoppers – nor birds for the most part. Once in while, a flock of black crows dot the landscape. Standing in nature, you can experience the stillness, the dormancy, the energy of trees, plants, animals submerged below.

This is the essence of Water, the element of Winter in Chinese medicine. Water is the underlying, foundational energy and the most yin of all the elements – a restorative, renewing, moment of the seasonal cycle. In nature, this is occurring – but in our 24/7, growth-promoting, achieving world, we may be out of sync with our Tao.

As an acupuncturist, I see signs that this energy is working in humans as well, no matter what our personal relationship with Nature may be. People’s pulses are more submerged – not as readily palpable, they have gone “underground” like the sap of trees (sap being tree “blood”, it’s not just a poetic metaphor!). Speaking voices are lower, in response to this natural lowering, hunkering down energy.

The organs associated with Water are the kidneys, bladder and adrenal glands. Within the philosophy of Chinese medicine, the kidneys are the source of all energy or “Qi” within the body. This Qi is our life force and carries us through health and sickness. In winter, it is particularly necessary to nurture and nourish our kidney Qi. Most of us see a decrease in our daily energy during this season, (our natural inclination is to hibernate, like the animals). If we ignore that too long, chances are our immune systems will give out and colds, flus, other ailments take over.

Winter has a fearful nature- will my family have enough food stored? Will our house be warm enough? Will the heating bills be paid? It takes a degree of will to get up on a dark and cold morning, go outside and shovel off the driveway. Fear and its counterpart – will – are the emotions connected with Water. This will is not the force of Mind, but rather a knowing determination that certain events (surviving winter, overcoming obstacles) will happen. Forces around us converge to support us on our journey – “I’ve got your back”, the universe proclaims, an energetic embrace (think kidney area, lower back) carrying us through the challenges of life.

Chinese medicine holds that humans are given, at birth, a supply of jing (loosely described as energy) that will last us throughout our lifetime. While this jing is given to us in a finite amount, it can be tended wisely over our lifetime and supported by adding in energy – through nutrition, exercise, contemplative exercises, rest, etc. – to contribute to longevity. This jing is stored in the kidneys, the organ system of winter, the element of Water.

Right now, experience the silence of snow (if you live in a hotter climate, you can still tune into the silence of this season).  Look in your life for those pockets of quiet and restorative moments. We all have busy lives and yet if we look – and listen, we can tune into this yin, downward, quiet, dark, nurturing energy of Water.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting ideas – seeds to plant – on connecting with this powerful element of Water, helping you live in the Tao of the Seasons in all areas of your life.

The Details of Gratitude

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States. Giving thanks is intrinsic to this day, so much so that it can become automatic, or even rote or routine.  I have been trying to remember gratitude, while carrying out The Things To Do for Thanksgiving. The other night, shopping for Thursday’s meal, I placed some vegetables in the shopping cart.  Oh, yes, be thankful you have vegetables, I reminded myself.  I am thankful for the vegetables, Auto-Me replied, pondering what type of cranberry sauce to get (or should I make it fresh?). The Reminder Self persisted. Ok, now be grateful you have so many choices.   Yes, yes, I am really grateful, was the automatic response, as I read over my list to see what else was needed.  The dialogue ensued, aisle by aisle. There was a vague current of thankfulness pulsing in my veins … but it lacked aliveness, spark, dazzle.   Booooorrrrrriiiiiinnnnnnggggg.

This may be mixing metaphors, or as Joseph Campbell writes, embracing a Transcendent Reality, but this holiday I decided to take a Metal approach to my gratitude expressions.  (A Taoist Thanksgiving?)  As I’ve written in previous posts, Metal is about valuing inherent worth – gold, silver, diamonds, crystals being the material expressions of this element.   A diamond or a piece of gold may take up little space, yet it holds a compression of value.  Treasures to be appreciated,

A compression of value exists with each object we take into our lives. The bread I purchased for Thanksgiving stuffing – the wheat was grown, then milled, baked, wrapped up for sale, transported to the store, displayed, and finally purchased by me. Think of all the people involved – farmers, millers, factory workers, retailers who order products, store clerks who stock the shelves, cashiers who ring it up …. it may be simply a loaf of bread, but the bread did not simply appear.  Just saying, “I’m grateful for the bread”, without really engaging in its worth is empty.  But when my gratitude extends to each and very person involved, what fullness!.  It’s no wonder I felt a deadness in the grocery store, following my litany of rather superficial thank you’s.  Cursory gratitude holds little energetic resonance.

The people in our lives …. consider their worth.  We all have parents and if we take a moment and realize what they have done for us (perhaps more apparent if we are parents ourselves), the list is endless.  By focusing on the specifics, paying attention to as many acts of kindness you can recall, a wealth of love and care is revealed.

I remember reading a book on parenting a long time ago and this piece of counsel has stayed with me.   When you praise a child for his or her work – say a drawing – refrain from a generic “Oh it’s beautiful! Great! Love it!” compliment.  Pick a detail and describe what you see.   Whenever I take the time to do this, the child opens up – like a blossom – with the attention paid to some particular aspect of their work.   A statement such as: “That green square sitting on top of the purple oval really catches my attention.  What made you decide to do it that way?” would inspire an excited explanation. The value assigned to the one detail opens up the worth of the entire project.

Being grateful for the details is easier at some moments in our life than others.   Going through holidays following the loss of a loved one, or during extreme stress or dark nights of the soul, the details may seem trivial or even banal.   And yet, making the effort to find at least one light in the darkness can be life-saving.  I recall one event when I was with a group of friends and we were bringing our dear friend, Jim, in a wheelchair to the Emergency Room.  He had been a visitor there frequently the past months, each time more and more serious.   Gathered in the lobby, waiting to accompany him upstairs, we were all really sad, as this seemed – and later proved true – to be the beginning of the end.  All of a sudden, another friend, Mark, looked at the wheelchair and began moving several gears.  “Look, this is new,” he remarked, pointing out a particular mechanical improvement (I have no clue what that was) and how it allowed the chair to glide more smoothly around corners.  He was so delighted with the ease of the chair, that we all perked up and noticed it as well, Jim included.   No, the gears never restored Jim’s health, nor bypassed the grief that we eventually went through, but in that moment, our mood lightened and life became a tiny bit more bearable as we wheeled Jim upstairs to his hospital room.  I am grateful for that detail.

This Thanksgiving holiday, take a few minutes – even if you’re hosting a huge dinner to numerous family and friends – and note the details of your gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!