It Takes a Village (one person, THE MAYOR, and NYS DEC)

MPH on the Pier

As the pandemic raged and then retreated, then returned with Deadly Delta weaponry, I watched the numbers, social distanced, wore my masks, and thankfully extended my arm in the CVS in Valatie, New York, twice to receive the Moderna vaccine. I worked from home, covered for my direct reports when they took COVID leaves, checked in with and carefully visited my beloved family. And as a Public Health professional (New York Medical College, class of 2010, MPH, Maternal Child Health) I sought to have some even small involvement in the fight contacting my Alma Mater for any volunteer activities, supplying hand soap and bleach wipes for my colleagues in my workplace, and putting up signs in restrooms with the CDC hand washing Happy Birthday twice protocol. ( ) I had a contest with my staff challenging them to come up with other songs or rituals to accomplish the required soaping time (“Staying Alive,” “I Will Survive,” “The Final Countdown,” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”)

News, reports, statistics, graphs, and trends were constants: I had dreams about Anthony Fauci. One escape that was available was the Piermont Pier, an extension of land mass protruding for a mile into the Hudson River, the conduit for WW II troops embarking on ships to Europe, including the shores of France. The Pier had actually been closed for several months at the height of the pandemic, the local government fearful that even walkers, joggers, bikers wearing masks outdoors might be spreading the virus. On weekends the treelined promontory would fill with visitors, bus loads from neighboring towns, camps, and residents of New York City. An article in the local Patch on August 22, 2020, referred to our lovely Pier as a “social distancing nightmare;” shortly thereafter the police barriers went up across the entrance. We Piermonters were allowed access with permits and I could once again find refuge from the Corona.

One early spring day 2021, as I was running (electronic speed sign actually registered me at 4 MPH) I was encouraged by the signs of new life. My husband and I had just gotten our second shots, shops and restaurants in our little village were opening with tables and chairs on the sidewalks extending into the streets, I was dazzled by actual faces in Stop and Shop. On the Pier new sprouts were coming from the base of last year’s dead marsh grasses, the waterbirds, egrets and herons wading into the shallows eyeing little flashes of their breakfast beneath the surface, the loons and ducks and Canada Geese floating on the undulating waves surrounding me. (“Oh, Canada,” if only your border were open or I could fly in on the feathered wings of Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese “high in the clean blue air, heading home again,”
( )
This one slice of life seemed to have finally returned to normal. I breathed the estuarial fog directly into my maskless nostrils.

But there was one disturbing detail that entered into my experience. Amidst the other hopeful new growth; there were a few glossy leaflets emerging from the muddy earth against the trunks of trees that gave me an almost undetectable twinge of fear. I tried to avert my eyes, refocus on a red red robin that was bob bob bobbin along the path, but too late. I knew what was insidiously hovering just below the surface of the soil on the southside of the pier. I knew those lovely green trifoliate leaves with the glimmer of red: POISON IVY.

Toxicodendron radicans, commonly known as eastern poison ivy, is an allergenic Eastern North American plant in the genus Toxicodendron. It is well-known for causing urushiol-induced contact dermatitis, an itchy, irritating, and sometimes painful rash in most people who touch it. The rash is caused by urushiol, a clear liquid compound in the plant’s sap.

Even for those of us for whom the danger of urushiol is known for causing the painful rash, there were places on the Pier where it was almost unavoidable. I recalled the previous summer when vines of poison ivy dangled above the roadway, so that a cyclist or runner might literally run head first into the leaves, or someone retrieving a ball or hat blown into the marsh grass would stick their hands directly into the low growing vines, or a dog would wander into the treed (and previously pee-d) areas to use a trunk for doggy business and rub against leaves, then to be petted by it’s devoted owner.

But as I had often experienced, there were many visitors to the Pier who did not know that the pretty shiny red and green leaves were dangerous. I met a couple walking on the Pier who were picking the leaves to add to a bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace and Cornflowers. I asked them please to take the leaves out and go wash with soap and water asap. But why? These leaves are so beautiful! There was a group of children playing tag with a stump covered with ivy vines as home base. I talked to their parents. They thought I was a little crazy for interfering with their children’s fun. And, the death-defying gentleman who stepped off the path and into the almost private space among the vines to relieve himself. I struggled ethically with this existential predicament, but did not converse with him about his exposure and possible exposure to urushiol.

These and many other experiences seemed to define me as a kind of nutty nature cop. Really, I didn’t want to intrude in anyone’s botanical aesthetics, or fun or “relief,” but the thought of people so unaware of the dangers of poison ivy was terrifying. Yes, to some people there is a nasty rash and itch, a contact dermatitis, which can last two to three weeks, and can be treated at home:

The most important action is to thoroughly wash the affected area with soap and water as quickly as possible. Also make sure your hands, including under your nails, are cleaned of any sap. This will prevent the oil from spreading and from contaminating other parts of your body. Pat your skin dry gently; do not rub as this can irritate the skin. Wash your clothing and any tools or equipment you handled that may have been in contact with the plants.
Once your skin has been cleaned, you may find relief from the itching by trying these remedies:
• Cold compresses: Soak a clean washcloth with clean, cold water and wring it as dry as possible. Place the cloth on the rash for about 15 to 30 minutes. This can be repeated several times a day.
• Oatmeal baths: Add oatmeal or oatmeal bath treatment to a running bath and soak in the tub for about a half hour.
• Topical lotions and creams: Over-the-counter products, such as calamine lotion and hydrocortisone creams (applied lightly) can help reduce itching and swelling.
• Over-the-counter antihistamine medications, such as Benadryl
It is very important not to scratch the rash or pop any blisters, as this can cause an opening for infection.
Oh yeah……That’s the tough part; when your skin is crazy itching, not to scratch!!!!! Just think about when you have a regular little itch that is in some hard to navigate area of your body’s geography. Then think about whole continents of itching. DON’T SCRATCH!!!!!
But for some people it’s beyond the redness and itching and submerging in an ocean of calamine lotion. Poison ivy can cause severe reactions to people who are allergic to the sap and can experience the following, requiring medical treatment.
• Severe swelling
• Swelling of the lips and tongue
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Even those who aren’t allergic to poison ivy, may need to see a doctor if they develop complications or have a severe poison ivy reaction, such as:
• The rash covers the face (lips, eyes, mouth) or genitals.
• The rash covers more than a quarter of the body’s surface.
• Breathed in smoke from burning poison ivy.
• Treatment at home does not relieve the rash or itch.
Scratching poison ivy rash or blisters can cause breaks in the skin that can become infected. If any signs or symptoms of an infection develop, a doctor should be seen as soon as possible especially it there is Increasing pain around the wound and fever.
Perhaps my vigilance about poison ivy is a flashback to my childhood. Shortly after my parents bought a piece of beautiful wooded property where they were to have our family home built in Stony Brook, New York, my parents, two older sisters and I, spent a day raking and clearing leaves and vines, which my father piled up and yes, he built a fire. We thought this was great fun, and as we cooked hot dogs and toasted marshmallows, we threw more and more leaves into the fire. The more and more leaves included some red and green glossy trifoliates. For the next couple of weeks we itched and tried not to scratch, bathed in oatmeal and smeared on the calamine. We went to the doctor, but miraculously none of us had breathed in enough of the smoke to damage our lungs. So even if the fear of poison ivy isn’t actually embedded into my DNA, it is certainly etched into my early childhood psyche.
So there I was on the Pier, early spring 2021. I foresaw a summer of warning people, interfering with fun, ethically challenged by some very personal behaviors in a public place. What to do? And then it occurred to me: this was a Public Health issue. Yes, a serious threat not just to individuals, but to a whole population of Pier visitors. It was time for government intervention.
As a governmental agency, here’s what the United States’ Center for Disease Control has to say:

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. This work is achieved by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases. Overall, public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country or region of the world.


The government of Piermont consists of a Mayor, Trustees, Planning Board, Building Department, governmental employees like the Village Clerk, the Department of Public Works staff, Parks and Recreation, of course the Fire Department, and our Piermont Police Department (who have come to my rescue in various situations like when during the first week I lived in my house in Piermont, I locked myself out of my bedroom and they had a clever way of unlocking it, and when I was brought home by my daughter after my ankle surgery, they carried me down the 20 steps to my house.) I considered the level of governmental involvement the poison ivy invasion required and went with the Office of the Mayor.

The Mayor of Piermont is Bruce Tucker, is a retired businessman (former CEO of a multi-million dollar textile company) and a Democrat. I looked on the Piermont website and got this little bio and his email address:

Bruce Tucker has been Mayor of Piermont since 2018. He has been an active member of the Piermont community for the last 27 years. Prior to becoming Mayor, Bruce served as a board member at the Piermont Community Playgroup, the Dennis P. McHugh Piermont Library, the Piermont Historical Society, and the Rockland Center for the Arts, additionally serving as Treasurer for the latter three groups. Bruce is also a member of the Piermont Democratic Committee, and a former Alternate on the Village of Piermont Zoning Board

Mayor Tucker (as he signs his emails to me) is up for re-election, so I thought maybe he would want a crusade to stake his campaign to…..poison ivy on the Pier.

I sent a nice email, identifying myself as a Public Health professional by adding the MPH to my signature, and expressed my concern for the residents and visitors to our lovely little village

Good afternoon Mayor Tucker,
My husband and I live I Piermont and we said a quick hello to you after the parade on Memorial Day. I am very concerned about the poison ivy on the Pier. It is rampant, enveloping trees, hanging over the road and so well established it is bearing berries. Although many of us know to stay away, I have concerns about visitors especially children who may touch, rub against it, even possibly pick the leaves, eat the berries. I realize that removing the PI from the Pier would be very difficult and we certainly don’t want to use chemicals that would undoubtedly end up in our river. I am wondering if we can post some warning signs at the entrance to the Pier, and along the way, and if there are places where it can at least be cut back without risking the safety of our DPW staff.

Please let me know if there would be some way that (short of ripping it out with my bare hands) I could assist.
Thank you.
Best wishes,
Karel R. Amaranth, MPH, MA

Hi Karel,

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation owns the south side of the Pier, so we are not allowed to touch it. I did make them aware of the situation – this was their reply:

Thanks for passing this on. But the DEC does not normally eradicate a native species like that. Is the poison Ivy encroaching on the road? I am not sure it would ever be possible to eradicate Poison Ivy… and I would imagine it would require an herbicide.

As you point out, we certainly don’t want to use chemicals that would undoubtedly end up in our river.

Perhaps an email to the D.E.C. from a concerned resident as yourself may prompt them to take action. You can email Heather Gierloff at:

In the meantime, I will speak to Tom at the D.P.W. to see about posting warning signs.

Thank you,
Bruce Tucker, Mayor
Village of Piermont, NY 10968
478 Piermont Ave.
Piermont, NY 10968
(845) 359-1258 x304

Native species??????? Wtf????? We are talking about poison ivy here, not the Western Underground Orchid, Pitcher Plant or Jellyfish Tree. But ok….I’ll contact Heather Gierloff. Public Health knows no governmental barriers, and in fact I was pretty excited about moving up from the government of Piermont to the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation. (Note: In my email below I get right to being a Public Health professional!)

Dear Ms. Gierloff:
I am a resident of Piermont and I certainly enjoy our beautiful Pier. For the past few summers I have been concerned about the rampant and encroaching poison ivy. It envelops many of the trees on the south side of the Pier and is hanging over the road; some of the ivy is so strong that it is producing berries. As we all know, contact with poison ivy does not just produce itchy skin, it can be deadly, entering the respiratory system. I am deeply concerned about visitors to our Pier who may not know how dangerous this plant is: children who may rub up against the trees, adults who may pick the leaves and possibly think the berries are edible. Recently on a walk I had to ask a couple to please not gather the leaves which they were picking along with some other flowers and plants.

As a Public Health professional, I certainly understand that we do not want to endanger our river and river life with herbicides or chemicals to remove the poison ivy, but i am asking the Department of Environmental Conservation to find a way to control it, cut it back or use organic solutions (I use vinegar and salt on my own property.) I have contacted the Mayor of Piermont also requesting signage at the entrance to the pier and at certain points along the way to inform visitors about the dangers of poison ivy and how to identify it.
I would very much appreciate your response and attention to this danger to ensure safety for residents of Piermont and our visitors.
Best wishes,
Karel R. Amaranth, MPH, MA

Ms. Gierloff responded:


Thank you for reaching out about the Poison Ivy issue.
I will be meeting with Bruce Tucker next week to look at the area and discuss options.

Have a good day

Heather Gierloff
Regional Marine Habitat Manager, DEC Regions 3 and 4
Manager, Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Norrie Point Environmental Center, 256 Norrie Point Way, P.O. Box 315, Staatsburg, NY 12580
P: (845) 889-4745 x118 | | | |

I didn’t exactly get to have a passionate 1854 John Snow at the London water well moment, in fact I wasn’t even invited to the meeting between Mayor Tucker and Heather. It was kind of anti-climactic; I was probably working at my office or home feeding the cats or weeding the garden or something relatively mundane when The Meeting took place and strategies impacting on the health and well-being of the residents of Piermont and our guests were being determined by powerful governmental officials.

But a week or so later, as I resumed my runs on the Pier, I noticed some brown, dry curled vines dangling from trees as I approached the Pier Road from the parking lot. And there, right there at the entrance to the Pier was a sign saying, CAUTION Poison Ivy and a labeled drawing of the three-leaf design. There were more signs arranged along the road, more dead and dying vines, as I later found out, doused with a solution of salt, vinegar and dish soap. I stopped and gazed out at the Hudson River and when I turned to continue my run, a woman approaching me said, “Well, they finally did something about the poison ivy.” I smiled and continued to run.


Grateful for our beautiful Pier

MPH Cupid

Heart and Blade

My name is Karel and I am an Internet dating failure.   Yes, I have met a few nice men on OK Cupid for the requisite coffees, drinks or dinners and “nice meeting you, good-bye.”  There of course have been the fascinating respondents who live in “New York, New York” but only write back at 2:00 AM and have no idea where the George Washington Bridge is.  The men who live in suburban apartments who had very lavish life styles and were very financially successful, but “lost everything in the divorce.”  (I don’t know which planet these men are from since, having been divorced myself, I happen to know first hand that wives definitely do not “get everything” as these men claim was their judicial fate.)   There was the very attractive somewhat familiar looking man who was wearing an Eddie Bauer shirt with the logo prominently displayed in every photo; nicely scanned from the catalogue.

My profile remains on OK C and I check in from time to time approximately once a month because though not an enthusiast, I am sort of academically interested in the process, maybe even a little bit hopeful.  And recently to refresh my memory, I checked in few times before writing this blog.

Of course I have heard the various urban legends of a cousin of a friend of someone’s sister-in-law who found true love, got married and had five children and lived happily ever after with a man she met on eHarmony. Or the neighbor of a woman in yoga class who is engaged to a man she met on Match.  There was even an article in the New York Times “Weddings” about two people who met on OK Cupid.  Read it, Believe it!  If it is in the New York Times it must be true.

Alas, I have not even come close to this experience, although I suppose it would help if I updated my profile from time to time (I went to St Petersburg, Russia two years ago.)  Maybe I need to add something really compelling like my broken ankle last winter with a photo of my scar.  Kind of makes me think of Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty trying to get a wink on eHarmony, although I actually have been to the Himalayas and Iceland.

In spite of this failure to find true love on my computer, two years ago I met David and since then we have exchanged I am sure hundreds of emails, photos, ideas, feelings, thoughts, plans.  We have written sometimes several times in one day.  About year ago when I wanted to set up a meeting, he disappeared for over a month and I thought it was over.  I was pretty angry.  And there have been times when he has been angry and critical and seemingly very demanding.  But still we continue and in fact I just received an email from him this morning.  “Good morning,” he wrote.  “Thank you for your humble reply.  We have much work to do.”  David lives in Uganda and I live in New York.

David and I didn’t meet on a dating site.  We met on the Global Health Forum of LinkedIn when I posted my MPH thesis in 2011.  Over the two years we have been working together to establish Holistic Care for Mothers, a project of the Makindye Rotary and soon to be an independent not for profit registered with the Ugandan government.  I am more than academically interested; I am hopeful that we can make some positive change for women and girls.

This is not my only Internet relationship.   Early in my thesis process at New York Medical College, probably around 2008, I found the Birthing Kit Foundation and Dr. Joy O’Hazy.  Joy and I have written to each other over the years about the distribution and efficacy of birthing kits,, but also about her travel, her singing and dancing; her wisdom and experiences.  There are often long gaps in our correspondence, but I always feel a connection to her and every day I look at the beautiful appointment book she sent me last year with her photographs and poems.  It was Joy who was my contact to the Foundation that yielded the donation of birthing kits to Holistic Care for Mothers that David has distributed in rural Uganda.

I met Kirtiman Tumbahangphe in Nepal, the director of  MIRA, Mother and Infant Research Activities and after many emails and exchange of phone numbers, Kirti and I did meet in Hetauda where I visited several women’s projects out in the beautiful lush mountains of southern Nepal.  We talked about maternal mortality in Nepal and the very successful MIRA project using women’s empowerment, peer health education and community leadership.  Kirti and I even had dinner together at the Hotel Avocado and Orchid Resort where I stayed.  We said goodbye in the parking lot and he rode off on his motorcycle.

Diana Nabiruma is a health writer for the Ugandan newspaper The Observer.  I was researching health in Uganda when I found one her articles about violence against women and girls.  Thinking she might be interested in Holistic Care for Mothers I sent an email to the address in her by-line; an arrow shot into the cyber dark for sure, but she wrote back.  She was interested and interesting and funny and smart.  And, she interviewed David and Dr. Sarah Nkonge.  And….she did indeed write an article about maternal mortality in Uganda, about the Holistic Care for Mothers. The%20Observer%20-%20No%20more%20%E2%80%98labour%20suites%E2%80%99%20in%20banana%20plantation.html

And then there is Mike Cook who is one of the most amazing Internet contacts I have ever had.  I was thinking about how razor blades in birthing kits might be replaced with natural, local sustainable materials.  I thought about repurposing broken glass bottles; could blades be made from glass? So I searched “GLASS BLADES.”  And there was Mike Cook.  His website states, “Hi I am Mike Cook and I was born to be a flintknapper.”  Mike lives in Portland, Michigan and has a company called Art of Ishi He in fact makes blades from glass and stone, but not the kind of glass I was thinking of.  He uses natural volcanic glass, obsidian, flint, chert.  Take a look at his website and you will be totally astonished.  You can watch his videos about how he makes these blades.  For those of you who are not faint of heart, watch him shave with a blade he strikes off of a hunk of  obsidian  All I can say is “DON”T TRY THIS AT HOME.”  So I wrote to Mike.  Generous, thoughtful and expressing interest in birthing kits, Mike sent me a few of his blades.   I have them on my desk (although I have not used them on my legs,) and there is the possibility of natural blades to cut umbilical cords safely, cleanly, sustainably.  Thanks, Mike.

These are some of my Internet relationships.  I don’t think any of them will lead to a date for New Years Eve, dinner on Valentines Day, not even the cup of coffee or drink.  I have not found my one true love, but I have found passion.

As I, a la Joseph Campbell follow my (Internet) bliss, I think of a web perhaps not so different from our www in Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider”:

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

By Any Other Name: A Life Well Lived

The devastating epidemic that claimed the lives of 100,000,000 people globally and at least 600,000 in the United States caused the death of her young father, the family support and breadwinner when she was only 3 years old.  She was sent to live with her grandparents. Her sister died when she was about 5, from what was thought to be a heart condition, although diagnostics were limited then.  Children often died and the cause was a sad guess. The separation from her mother and two other sisters was emotionally difficult for her, but under the financial circumstances in the family and nationally, her mother knew it was her best opportunity.  Her grandparents had a small grocery store so no matter how limited their income was there was always nutritious food, for her, her family and the local community, her grandparents often taking a parrot, a zither, a paper IOU as payment from neighbors for their groceries.

She was told at some point in her adolescence that she might not be able to have children, and yet she married  and had three daughters.  She had a heart attack.  There was a diagnosis of breast cancer, a breast removed, chemotherapy.  A broken hip.  A thyroid condition.  Upper respiratory infections.  The long slow decline of Alzheimers.

My mother, Rose, died last week at the age of 96.  Despite the health and financial challenges, she thrived for most of those 96 years.  Last August my youngest daughter, Alex, and I visited her at the nursing home she lived in for about 5 years.  She was bright and happy to see us although at some point during the last few years I had realized that she might not really remember my name or which one of the daughters I was.  But she was all smiles and hugs that day, and she loved that we were there with her.  She particularly loved the granddaughters.  Once about 4 years ago, she was rushed to the hospital barely conscious.  My daughter Kierra and I met my sister in the emergency room and standing at her bedside we all believed that my mother was about to die.  Concerned that she might, even in that state, be thirsty, Kierra dripped some juice from a straw onto her lips.  She licked her lips and as the juice ran into her mouth she swallowed.  Her eyelids fluttered open and she smiled at Kierra.  “What are you all doing here, Sweetheart?” she asked.

Fortunate to have had her for so long and to have been able to spend her last two days of life with her, I am still grieving, but I also can’t help but wonder what it was that contributed to her long life.  My father died in 2001 at the age of 86 from a heart attack.  Most of my parents’ friends have died.

When I think about the generally accepted contributors to health, exercise, good nutrition, and keeping mentally active, I wonder how these affected my mother’s life.  She was always active gardening, cleaning, taking us kids to the beach, helping at the church, but she never went to a gym, never ran, never wore spandex.  Even at the beach she wasn’t a swimmer.  She and my father though would take walks around the neighborhood, holding hands.  And nutrition, well, she was an amazing cook and in the summer months was always gathering fresh fruits and veggies and then canning and freezing them to get us through the winter with those summer vitamins.  But, there was lots of meat (red and otherwise) in our diets:  Sunday roast beef, pork and dumplings and sauerkraut, fried chicken, bacon and eggs for breakfasts.  I remember that when I was in elementary school, the other little girls had these darling little sandwiches made of cream cheese, and peanut butter and jelly, maybe tuna salad, cute sandwiches with the crusts cut off.  I however, would remove from my lunch box, big hunks of homemade bread with a fried veal cutlet or slabs of leftover Sunday roast beef.  And by the way cutting off crust was considered totally wasteful and my parents subscribed to the philosophy that  eating “crusts makes you pretty.”  And of course there were not only the sandwiches… lunch box consistently contained a big slice of homemade lemon cake (with frosting) or apple strudel or a poppy seed pastry or chocolate chip cookies.  Well into my parents’ late 80’s, my mother was known as the “Cookie Lady” in their neighborhood because rather than giving kids’ candy bars for Halloween, she baked cookies that she and my father put in little baggies with ribbons to give out to the costumed callers.  They were renowned at their church for making literally hundreds of donuts (fried in hot oil of course!) for the Fastnacht celebrations every year the night before Ash Wednesday.  For all of this, neither of my parents were ever overweight, nor are or were any of their off-spring.

So exercise and nutrition in my mother’s life were not exactly by the public health book.  Keeping mentally active was.  When I was in high school, my mother, who was a very good student in high school but never went to (as if it would ever even have been thought of) college, became the assistant for a well-known sociologist in Stony Brook.  She took over his academic life as a gentle whirlwind, organizing his books, redeeming royalty checks that were long expired, editing his manuscripts, negotiating with publishers and handling all of his correspondence and travel plans.  Long after Dr. Nelson died in his sleep on a train in Italy, my mother continued to read academic articles and edited my sister’s doctoral dissertation and my masters thesis.  But that wasn’t all.  She sewed.  No, she didn’t just sew, she was the mastermind of three daughters’ and her own wardrobes.  Months before Easter Sunday, we would all make a pilgrimage to various fabric stores where we would study pattern books for the latest fashions, hunt through bolts and bolts of fabrics, and ferret out the best notions:  little fabric frogs, buttons, lacey trims.  And then over weeks my mother would work her magic with pins and those thin paper patterns and hours and hours at the sewing machine.  And those, long  “hold still!!!!” sessions of her pinning up the hems and adjusting waistlines, shoulder seams and zippers.  She knit us sweaters and scarves and  crocheted a dress for me that I still have.  She made millions of little craft items and baby sweaters and booties, and cloth dolls for church fairs.  When the grandchildren she adored came to visit she taught them how to make little Christmas mice, pot holders and seashell jewelry.  She always had the best craft supplies. My daughter Kristin loved those little Grandma mice.

So what else?  Certainly the literature supports the association of a long stable relationship with health.  Rose and Charlie were together in a loving mutually supportive marriage for almost 70 years.  My mother had a very strong network of family support, neighbors and church members:  a social support being a strong indicator of health.  My father worked for Grumman Aircraft and so we all had good healthcare benefits:  I actually remember as a child when my parents thought I might have polio, the doctor coming to our house with his little black bag.

And then there was my parents’ consumption of coffee, the health benefits now well documented.  From the Harvard Review: In 2011, researchers reported findings that coffee drinking is associated with a lower risk of depression among women, a lower risk of lethal prostate cancer among men, and a lower risk of stroke among men and women. Go back a little further, and you’ll come across reports of possible (it’s not a done deal) protective effects against everything from Parkinson’s disease to diabetes to some types of cancer

And this in the Daily Beast:  A new study suggests that drinking coffee significantly reduces our skin-cancer risk. There’s a raft of other research that’s piling up evidence that regular cups of joe—six-ounce servings packed with antioxidants, polyphenols, and other health-boosting chemicals—can prevent everything from diabetes to depression to cirrhosis of the liver to stroke. (Intracranial aneurysms, not so much.) Scared of superbugs? Pour yourself another cup.

My parents didn’t know any of this and perhaps all the coffee health benefits were outweighed by my mother’s yummy buttery pastries and cookies and cakes that went along with the caffeine and antioxidants, but I do believe that the two of them sharing coffee at breakfast, the mid morning coffee, coffee with lunch, the mid afternoon coffee break, coffee after dinner and the late evening coffee (usually accompanied by ice cream,) contributed to my mother’s long and happy life.  Maybe it was the conversations they had while they were drinking coffee or the plans they would make or the hand holding that went along with the coffee.

My mother was not a public health professional, she wasn’t a nurse or a doctor although I do truly believe that she saved my life several times when I was a child by making me yum yum, a combination of hot milk, honey and butter, in the middle of the night.  She wasn’t a great philanthropist with a foundation that put her name on some medical center building or library, and she wasn’t the author of any great books.  Her long loving life is however a testimony to a life well-lived and perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn about our own health and improving the quality of life in the world:  Love the people around you.  Be passionate about everything you do, especially those the small acts of kindness.  Make the world more beautiful in your own unique way.  Love children, grow roses, knit a scarf, bake cookies, smile at strangers, hold a hand, share a cup of coffee, change the world.

Rose’s Czech Peach Dumplings

This recipe makes 8 dumplings

In a glass measure, pour 1/2 cup milk. Add 2 large eggs and whisk together to blend.

In a large mixing bowl, measure 2 cups all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir to mix. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk and egg mixture. Use a wooden spoon to mix well. Dough will begin to get stiff. If it is very sticky, add a little more flour. The dough should not be sticky, but should still be soft enough to roll into a sheet.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Roll out one piece at a time into a thin sheet and cut (with scissors) into 4 square pieces. Place a half of a peeled, pitted peach on each piece of dough, and add a small piece of butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Fold in the corners of the dough to cover the peach half.  Be sure the peach is sealed well in the dough. Repeat with the other piece of dough.  Sprinkle some flour on a clean surface. Set the peach dumplings on the flour and cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel. Bring a large covered pot of water to a boil.  When water is boiling hard, gently drop the dumplings into the pot. Put the cover on the pot. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Do not take the cover off the pot until the timer rings. Transfer each dumpling to a large dinner plate. Prepare to eat by cutting into small pieces. Pour melted butter over the dumpling. Sprinkle with more sugar and cinnamon. Eat. Enjoy!!!

Of Health and War

Last Monday was Memorial Day, the day that extends a weekend to three days, celebrates the beginning of summer and commemorates those who have died in wars with ceremonies, parades and poppies sold at grocery stores.  In my small town USA village of Piermont, New York, there was the annual parade through our little town to the Veterans Monument.  I had played tennis early in the morning and was returning just as our Piermont Police Department was starting to close the main street with saw horse barricades diverting cars through the pier parking lot.  After a quick handshake through my car window with my favorite Piermont cop, I took the detour, arrived up the hill at my house and grabbed my bicycle (oh, yes, got out of my sweaty tennis clothes and slipped into biking shorts.)  I cycled down to the Veteran’s Monument and got a good spot for the parade which consisted of the Fire Department volunteers in their uniforms, the very impressive Piermont (“on-the-Hudson”) fire trucks, our Mayor, and the Yonkers Pipe and Drums Band wearing kilts.  And, there were several veterans of wars marching, elderly gentleman who I would guess had been in WWII.  There were a few speeches and prayers, the band played “God Bless America,” it was over, and the crowd dispersed.

There was also another Memorial Day event that was taking place out at the end of the pier.  Every year on Memorial Day a huge bonfire constructed with enormous tree trunks is built right on the river.  It is lit at midnight and burns through Memorial Day until midnight and then is bulldozed into the river.  It’s a pretty impressive site for our little town.  It’s called a Watchfire, a homecoming fire.  It is a blazing light in the dark night to welcome back all of the souls lost far away and to bring them back home.

While all this was going on, and people were stoking their barbeques, I was thinking about all of those wars, all of the lost and damaged lives.  In fact I Googled “US in Wars” and opened up a chart that you can access on Wikipedia.  There was much more information than I expected.   In the meantime I couldn’t help thinking about other “wars.”  The war on poverty…who and what are we exactly fighting?  Was there a beginning?  Will we win or will poverty win?  The war on drugs.  The war on crime.

The war on cancer was declared 40 years ago by Richard Nixon.   Here is an interesting commentary.

And in an updated report from 2010:

Declaring a “war on cancer,” President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act on Dec. 23, 1971, in a White House room full of happy scientists and proud politicians. The bellicose metaphor implied that cancer was one enemy and that victory was possible. Nobody believes that anymore. It would have been no less naive if Nixon had declared a “war on bad government” that day, ignoring the fact that there are a hundred ways to govern poorly and no single way to do it right.   For the full article:

There of course has been a war on AIDS:

Brian Lehrer on WNYC has been conducting a survey called “End of War” asking the question “Is War Inevitable?”

Many responses indicated that if more women were in power that more wars would be prevented because women are more inclined to negotiation, conflict resolution, and a focus on health and well-being for themselves and their families.

Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, the first Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, discussed the role of women and war–and the importance of having more women in power to lessen conflicts around the world.

An interesting connection, or perhaps it is the disconnection, of war and health is in the little Central American country of Costa Rica.  In 1991, after having researched the substantial decrease in infant and maternal mortality and increased health and well being of children and families based on the Costa Rican home visiting program, I traveled to San Jose and had a meeting with Dr. Lenin Saenz, one of the architects of the government-funded health care program.  The program included visits to every family in Costa Rica four times a year to assure that all children had their vaccinations, that pregnant women were receiving prenatal care, that the family had clean running water and everyone was in good health.  The visits were done by community health workers who had been soldiers in the war against mosquitoes.  Yes, the war against mosquitoes was mounted by a collaboration between the United Fruit Company and the Costa Rican government.  So many farm workers were dying of malaria that the fruit export business was suffering.  Literally armies of mosquito eradicators were employed in the joint effort.  By the late 1960’s, the mosquito was defeated and Costa Rica was free of the tyranny of malaria.  But now what to do with all of these people who had visited every part of the country spraying and removing breeding areas?  Dr. Saenz and his colleagues in the Costa Rican government decided to fight on…this time against infant mortality, maternal mortality, water borne diseases, and just for good measure, illiteracy.  They retained the army of workers and re-educated them to be home health visitors.  Within 10 years between 1970 and 1980, the health status of Costa Rica dramatically improved as indicated by the drop infant mortality by 69 percent from 61.5/1,000 to 18.6/1,000. How did they finance this one might ask?  All those health workers fighting disease.  Well, they used money that other countries use to pay for their military.  Costa Rica in 1948 had decided not to fight their own people or other countries; they disbanded their army.  Since the mid 1980’s there have been financial challenges that have impacted the success of the Costa Rican war against disease, but there is still no military and the health status far exceeds that of most countries in the world.

So Is War Inevitable?

This post does not have neat clever ending or political message or even health prescription.  I just find myself wondering if the question needs to be shifted from “Is War Inevitable?” to “Who or What Are We Fighting?” or more importantly,  “Who Are We Fighting For?”

As for Memorial Day, I continue to think about the Watchfires bringing everyone home.