Things to worry about

Today is a sweet little girl’s second birthday. Fili can’t read just yet, although she can sing and dance and sign and hug and love with amazing dexterity and enthusiasm. This is for her, and for all of us – some wise words to remind us every day.




Happy birthday Fili!!


Photo credit: K Leoungk

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Health and Wellbeing | My bathtub story



I have been having some plumbing issues. That is not a euphemism by the way, I’m a lot more ladylike than that. The problem is my bathtub. It began with a somewhat slower-than-normal draining, as if the shower water was a glum teenager dragging her heels and shuffling slowly to the drain, but recently the water movement has decelerated dramatically. A pensioner on a zimmerframe probably moves faster than the water exiting my bathtub. There is nothing that wipes away the cleanliness effect of a nice shower than standing in a puddle of soapy water. Make that ankle deep in a lake of soapy water.


Whoosh- blocked pipes be gone!


It is partly my fault, I didn’t attack the drains with all my weapons the second I noticed. Although to be fair, I did spend quite a fair amount of time after I noticed researching the problem online, as you do. So last week I purchased some baking soda and white vinegar (ironic since neither ingredients were readily in my kitchen cupboards despite the forum thread being “things you can use do with household items readily available in your home”) and poured the correct amounts down the tub.


Quite a bit of fizzing occurred, like the volcano we made in the third grade, and I was quite impressed. But the lake in the bathtub remained, so I poured some more down the drain the next day.


Blocked qi in the channels.


My boyfriend and I finally gave up on the quaint Little-House-on-the-Prairie approach and went to our local home improvement store. The range of choice is unbelievable from the mild to the truly scary where they all but told you to wear a NASA spacesuit when using the product.


Our bodies are like houses, clothes are like furnishings and moisturiser is like wallpaper. Beneath it all is qi flowing through our channels like water through the pipes. If the flow of qi gets obstructed, illness or pain can occur; instead of a blocked sink or toilet you may find yourself experiencing pain or nausea or just feeling generally unwell.


As an acupuncturist I always recommend that you seek treatment for your ailments sooner rather than later: take your antihistamines as soon as hayfever season starts rather than wait for the horrible, teary effects; go to the optometrist when you suspect those headaches might be related to your eyesight; have acupuncture to help as pain relief for that lower back. The golden rule is that the longer you wait to get help for anything, the longer it could take to make it better.


If only I had listened to my own advice as soon as I sensed trouble after that shower, but as is often the case for many people, we don’t stop to think about what can resolve a situation if the situation is deemed just not that big. A blocked toilet is definitely a problem just as a broken foot would require a cast. However a slow trickling of water in the beginning is similar to that little niggling achy pain that isn’t comfortable but not terrible enough.


We chose a non-chemical one in the end, with enzyme producing organisms that are environmentally biodegradable, and are dutifully pouring it down the bathtub every other night. On the bottle, it also recommends using it as a preventative measure, pouring a capful every month or so which we will also be doing. Who knew the process of eliminating bathtub blockages would be so similar to acupuncture?


Photo credit: Daniel Rothamel via flickr

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Happy New Year



Americans have Thanksgiving to designate a time of thankfulness and appreciation. After the whirlwind of the party season, the simple joy of giving someone a present and of course the countdown to the New Year, I like to take time at the end of the year to reflect and count my blessings.


Family: I know a few fortunate souls who live within half an hour of their family, but let’s face it a lot of us don’t live in the same city of our parents, our childhood, our memories. The world of Skype and email has definitely made the world much smaller, but it doesn’t replace the touch of a loved one or the silly banter of a sister. I may not live near my family (although it is just a hop and a skip away) but I know I have their love and support.


Friends: In the Facebook stakes I do not have friends in the high hundreds, but every single one of my friends has made an impression on my life. Some live far away, some are just next door (a few stations down on the train) but they all make my life that little bit richer.


Health: It’s true when they say you don’t miss something unless you’ve lost it, and thankfully I still have my mind, my sight, my hearing, my sense of smell and taste, and my body is still going strong.


Beauty and laughter all around us: Sometimes it may seem as if the world is a bit tired and grey and the person sitting across from you could look a little more cheerful, but it really is all up to you to look for that tiny spark of colour. The more you do it, the bigger that spark becomes until, like Dorothy, your surroundings turn into glorious Technicolor. I have no qualms chuckling out loud on a crowded train or immersing myself into a lovely book. I have my desk facing the window and the scene outside, whilst rarely spectacular, is nevertheless always interesting.


Photo credit: Phil Wood via flickr

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Head Underground



Last Saturday, on my way home from work, I was reading my book (the siege of Constantinople in 1453) when the train pulled up to Bond Street station. Masses of people were piled on the platform and the quiet train was suddenly filled with tourists and shoppers.


I looked up and saw a lady with a young child, and so after catching her eye, I got up from my seat and waved her over. I stood in the aisle and continued reading but then noticed she hadn’t sat down because, in the brief 5 seconds it took for me to stand up, someone else had seamlessly glided into my seat.


The little girl’s legs weren’t too tired from her Saturday outing, and they soon got off at Westminster. It did make me think though, that perhaps what seems quite obvious to you and me may not appear so to another person.


Has this ever happened to you? A moment where you think you’ve made yourself quite clear but it doesn’t translate to the other person?


Photo credit: Annie Mole via flickr

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What things in life make you happy?



I read a lot on my commute, but sometimes just to rest my eyes I enjoy listening to podcasts. After much trial and error, I have decided I can’t listen to audio books- you just need one bad reading voice to ruin a perfectly good book. Also, the books I do enjoy reading don’t have audio versions. I’ve tried listening to podcasts that enrich the mind, but they’re best heard on a Saturday afternoon with the sunlight flooding through my sash windows.


As I commute with only one earphone in (how can you be aware of the world around you with all the cars and cyclists and pedestrians if you have both earphones jammed into your head with the volume up to 11?) I have found that fun, intelligent nonsense is the best form of entertainment. And there is no better intelligent nonsense than Adam and Joe.


My ancient ipod nano seems to agree as well, because out of 535 items available, it consistently brings up one Adam and Joe podcast for every 7.3 songs. This is on shuffle!


The podcast I listened to the other day was an old one from the archives (their BBC 6music show on 1/12/2007 if you’re interested) during which Adam mentioned a scene in the film, Manhattan, where Woody Allen’s character lists things that make life worth living. Now, because Woody Allen’s character was reminiscing to his Dictaphone things that made life worthwhile, the list was quite poignant and sentimental. Joe’s list of things “you really like and love in life that make you happy” was slightly yet distinctly different:



Fruit smoothies

Long Sunday breakfasts

Driving over the river Thames at night

Fresh bed clothes

Falling asleep on the sofa with the telly on

Finishing a project and getting paid

Getting recognized by somebody who likes you

Swimming in shallow, warm, seawater

Tickling a purring cat’s tummy

A haircut that’s grown to the perfect length

A new item of clothing that makes you look like some kind of a model

Walking along the Southbank

The village of Dulverton in Somerset

Seeing films in foreign countries

Going on big rollercoasters

Getting packages delivered from Amazon



Spending the whole day in pajamas

Things going wrong on live TV

Temporary deafness after a live gig

Coming home from holiday



Isn’t that brilliantly sincere? What would your list be? Do you think the things that make us happy change as we get older?



Photo credit: K Leoungk

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Information overload of our 24 hour news culture



The events of the past few days in London (and now in the rest of the country) have been shocking and alarming. It has been somewhat disconcerting to see how ill-informed I was. From being a news item over the weekend it quickly became a lot more real when I went to the local supermarket and found it closed. Tesco closed on a late Monday afternoon? My brain immediately thought there had been a fire alarm but no, it was to remain shut.


Twitter was the source of information for me that evening and later on into the night. After getting the latest update from BBC when I got home, I made the conscious decision to turn it off and only allow written liveblog updates. Much later in the night it became clear that people on Twitter were not always factual and tweets about this and that on fire were just rumours. Sirens were ringing in the darkness and helicopters raged overhead (although these were most probably news helicopters).


Overload of information does nothing to help the situation, instead I believe it increases the stress and panic for the individual. Images have such a higher impact than what our brains could ever see with the written word and that is why I disagree with today’s 24 hours news channels that play five minutes of footage on a loop. I only read enough to stay informed and no more. I don’t want to be crippled by fear or consumed by anger. I generally enjoy the banter and information on Twitter but I eventually turned that off as the graduation from shock to anger to harshness to blame to jokes just didn’t seem right.


Many people seemed unable to tear themselves from their TV screens and computers and smartphones and became increasingly jittery. The next day heart-warming news came through of the cleanup teams in different neighbourhoods. I was greeted by a quiet high street that had left every single independent shop unharmed, although most were in the process of boarding up their windows as a precaution. Some shops looked unrecognizable without their usual display of fresh fruit and vegetables that often spilled out and covered half of the sidewalk.


It was a beautiful sunny day yesterday and yet in my part of London, things were eerily quiet save the few children playing right outside their houses. At 6:24pm I heard the ice cream van pass by with his little jingly-jangly tune and it was the most wonderful sound.


Be safe everybody.


Photo credit: mendhak via flickr

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What a Chinese classic can teach us about health and wellbeing



I have been embracing my culture. More precisely I have been trying to read the historical novel Three Kingdoms which is widely popular in China and neighbouring countries. Think King Arthur but older and grander.


I remember one Korean 12-year-old re-enacting excitedly a scene which involved sending covered boats down a river in the dark of night, camouflaged by mist. The enemy, thinking they were being attacked, aimed all their arrows at the boats and let fire. The boats were eventually recovered by the good guys, which were now completely covered with arrows they so desperately needed. This was one of the turning points for their fortunes and an example of strategy genius that has made many boys (and men) go into slight crises.


I had no idea what he was talking about.


So now, after almost a decade of trying, I’m finally midway through the book. I have been lucky enough to find a very good English translation (which is oh so important) and despite there being 15 characters introduced in the first chapter alone (some with other names they sometimes go by) I have to admit it’s been quite good so far.


To be honest, I dusted this book and gave it another try this time because there are just too many epic martial arts movies that are based on these events. There have been two which are particularly well choreographed with enough horsemen to scare off the LOTR series, but everything was just too complicated without any knowledge on the history behind it. So, bring on the original novel!


In chapter ten, Kongming, a counsel for one of the good guys (Liu Bei) was fighting off criticism for why his side hadn’t overthrown the enemy if they were as good as they said they were. Liu Bei’s men and resources at this point were vastly outnumbered by Cao Cao (one of the bad guys) and they were covering ground at a snail’s pace. Kongming retaliated:

“When a man is gravely ill, he must be fed weak gruel and medicated with mild tonics until his internal state is readjusted and balanced and his condition gradually stabilizes. Only then can meat be added to his diet and powerful drugs used to cure him. Thus is the root of the disease eradicated and the man’s health restored. If you do not wait until breath and pulse are calm and steady but precipitately use powerful drugs and rich food, the attempt to cure the patient is sure to fail.”


This brilliantly summarises the theories of Chinese medicine (and strategies of warfare so it seems) but it can also be applied to other things.


The main concept is not one of wait and bide your time, but of building a strong foundation:

  • A ballerina does not jump right into the Swan Lake, she spends years at the barre perfecting her technique.
  • The head chef doesn’t get to that level without knowing how to slice carrots thinly and quickly with dangerously sharp knives.
  • The accountant running the London Marathon for the first time will have spent months preparing for the event.
  • After recovering from a serious injury, the patient needs to undergo relentless physical rehabilitation before they can take those first steps again.


Nowadays with the constant access of information available 24/7, people’s perception of time seems to be somewhat warped. I get frustrated if I’m still waiting to be connected to a customer representative until I look and see I’ve only been on the phone for 54 seconds. I’ve spoken to people (not my patients) who don’t think that acupuncture / TCM / massage / physiotherapy / (delete as appropriate) worked for their chronic condition when they’ve only had two sessions. Sometimes we should just take a step back and realize that a house built carefully and with consideration is the strongest house on the street.


How else can you apply this thought to everyday situations? Let me know, and if you enjoyed reading this, feel free to forward it on.


Photo credit: martin_vmorris via flickr

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Saying thank you is good for you.


Sunday just passed was Mother’s Day in many parts of the world (except the UK where mothers get their day of appreciation in March). I remember the numerous art projects I subjected my mother to throughout my elementary years. My proudest moment was presenting her with a papier mache apple, complete with stalk, painted ruby red and dotted with bright yellow spots (let’s not dwell on the significance of giving the woman who bore me an apple afflicted with measles).


Next month will be Father’s Day in all parts of the world (I’m quite sure everyone celebrates it in June), but experience tells me there will be slightly less furore over the third Sunday in June. Aside from the local pizza chains and other Italian eateries offering 2-for-1 meals to “make Dad happy” and supermarkets showcasing DVDS “that Dad would love” (Die Hard 3 anyone?) Father’s Day tends to be the slightly quieter cousin to the more popular Mother’s Day. I blame it on the fact that schoolchildren are given art projects every spring, but by the time June rolls around these same schoolchildren are preparing for the end of the school year- if they haven’t already embarked on a months-long summer vacation.


Despite not being really one for Hallmark holidays (Valentine’s Day just isn’t enough to excite me in a dreary, grey February) I think it’s sweet we get to be publicly reminded to thank our parents (why isn’t there Parents Day?). It’s true, without them none of us would be here so in a way we’re all celebrating ourselves as well. Sweet, I say.


Then yesterday I found out that in the US, May 9 is Lost Sock Memorial Day (I sincerely hope for just a minority of people). This got me wondering. I’ve heard of Teacher’s Day, Grandparents’ Day. Secretary’s Day, and Boss’s Day but why do these days exist?


The cynics will say, “Well it’s another way for companies to get consumers to buy more to mark a made-up, non traditional, secular event. Duh!” Yes, but why do people buy these cards to give to their children’s teachers or to their boss? Unlike Valentine’s Day where it may be relationship suicide not to acknowledge it (depending on your partner’s attitudes) these C-list occasions aren’t so mainstream that a person could feel guilty for not offering a token gift.


Everybody has a moment where they want to express thanks. Gratefulness and gratitude are emotions no one should be embarrassed about. Studies have suggested that being grateful is good for your health and wellbeing, by experiencing less depression and stress (or symptoms associated with it like headaches and stomach problems). A recent series of studies has shown that the recipient of your thanks can benefit as well. I say thank you to the little boy who held the door open for me at the juice bar; to the suited man who let me get off the train first; to the bespectacled lady handing me the receipt; to the Northern voice returning my call.


It’s quite easy to thank people in the general outside world, but what about the person educating your child, whose influence will significantly mould him/her in ways unfathomable? Or what about your colleague who shares the ups and downs of your working day, in ways your friends never could? Or your superior (at work, in religion) who you go to for advice and lectures you for your own good?


Imagine if all those cheesy card shop cards were just replaced with a nice scripted “thank you”.

Thank you for putting me through college.

Thank you for using your spare time to help me build that website.

Thank you for being so supportive while I chase our dream.

Thank you for emailing me that Youtube link because you know I like silly cats.

Thank you for reading this.


And thank you for never making me celebrate Lost Sock Memorial Day.


Photo credit: Nate Grigg via flickr

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