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Review of The World’s Emergency Room by Michael VanRooyen

The World’s Emergency Room: The Growing Threat to Doctors, Nurses, and Humanitarian Workers by Michael VanRooyen



A review by Jennie and Roger Sherwin

In 1945 when Allied troops liberated The Netherlands, an unlikely warrior accompanied them. American pediatrician Clement Smith flew into Amsterdam and then The Hague to study the effects of history’s first and only clearly delineated famine—in terms of its start and finish—on children born to Dutch women who were pregnant during the “Hongerwinter” of 1944. Following D-Day in May 1944, the exiled Dutch government called for a strike of the national railways to impede the German occupiers of The Netherlands, a call that was answered beginning in September 1944. The Germans retaliated by blocking all food transports into the western areas. Food, already scarce because most of the agricultural land had been destroyed during the war, began to run out. When the Germans finally relented, the severe winter weather, which had frozen the canals, along with the German destruction of roads and bridges to slow the advancing Allies, made overland and water transport of food impossible. From the fall of 1944 to May of 1945, the Dutch people in the affected areas endured a famine, which killed—according to some estimates—up to 22,000, mostly the elderly, and had lasting generational effects.

When news of the famine came to the attention of the exiled Dutch government in London, Queen Wilhelmina petitioned Winston Churchill to broker relief for the Dutch people. An agreement between the Allies and Germany allowed an airlift of food by the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the American Air Force. Called Operation Manna and Operation Chowhound, bombers laden with food supplies were allowed to fly in low, unmolested by German gunners, to drop their life-saving cargoes. The starving Dutch spelled out “Many Thanks” in tulips for the bomber crews to read. Although these crews did not think of themselves as humanitarian workers but as men in service to their respective countries, in effect they were doing the work of humanitarian outreach to a population affected by war, displacement, and starvation.

Clement Smith, whose research would show the famine had a major effect on birthweight but only if the famine coincided with the last trimester of growth, as well as other effects, would go on to become a founding father of neonatology and Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard University. Decades later, the son of a Dutch resistance fighter whose life had been turned upside down by the war and the mass starvation, would co-found the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative with the mission of conducting research to improve humanitarian response to crises, embedding the principles of human rights into these responses, and educating the next generation of humanitarian leaders.

In The World’s Emergency Room: The Growing Threat to Doctors, Nurses, and Humanitarian Workers, Michael VanRooyen, co-founder and director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative at Harvard University, professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the chairman of emergency medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, gives us an up-close look at the humanitarian crises of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Written from a very personal yet historically comprehensive perspective, the narrative provides an intimate portrait of the making of a dedicated emergency medicine physician and humanitarian as well as a series of harrowing tales of his and others’ provision of emergency life-saving procedures under threat from warring factions in troubled areas of the world.

What makes people dedicate their lives to helping others, especially under life-threatening circumstances? VanRooyen points to his father’s wartime experiences as the catalyst for his desire to devote himself to helping other people. Michael’s father, Johannes (Joe) VanRooyen, was a teenager when the Nazi Army invaded The Netherlands. At age seventeen he joined the Dutch resistance and helped Jews to hide and eventually to flee to England and to Spain. In 1943 he was caught and sent to Bergen-Belsen, where he was tattooed and put to work in a steel factory. Periodically, he was taken to Berlin and interrogated by the Gestapo. VanRooyen’s description of his father’s torture by the Nazis is not sensational in the least, yet it will nevertheless horrify those of us who have yet to become inured to the scenes of war and refugee crises that have been flashing across our television screens in the United States and around the world as technology has advanced to connect humanity globally. Returning home weighing all of seventy-eight pounds (on a five-foot, eight-inch frame), Joe found his country and its economy in ruins and his hometown deeply affected by the mass starvation. He met and married a young woman from Haarlem, Gertrude Breed. Together, they decided to emigrate to the United States for the chance of a new life.

And a new chance is exactly what these refugees from war were afforded in the United States of the 1950s. Working hard, they soon owned their own home and had two sons. Yet, personal tragedy would dog this young family even in their new country. Gertrude VanRooyen developed metastatic melanoma in her late thirties and died at the age of thirty-nine when the author was eight years old. Although at this young age he could not articulate the effect of this loss on his life, later he would cite it, along with his father’s stories of imprisonment, his religious upbringing, a roadside rescue he witnessed, and his medical training in inner-city Detroit as the seminal events in his life that led to his career as a humanitarian physician

He was clearly drawn to a life of service to others with a wish to provide this service through the field of medicine. Finding a specialty that would most prepare him to do so was the focus of his exploration in medical school. His search led him to the work of Charles Clements, a Quaker and a humanitarian physician who had served in El Salvador, providing medical treatment to the victims of the civil war between rebel forces and the government. In Clements’ example VanRooyen found the combination of humanitarian outreach and provision of emergency medical services that would define his career.

For anyone who likes delving into the motivations that lead people to do what they do, this is a book that will hold great appeal. VanRooyen gives us an intimate look at the defining moments in his life, including his relationship with and marriage to fellow physician, Julie VanRooyen, who shared his vision of bringing emergency care to victims of conflicts and disasters. For those who are concerned about the global humanitarian crises humanity is now facing, VanRooyen outlines in painstaking detail the circumstances that led to each of the major crises in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, describing the actors and movements that led to their explosions on the world scene, as well as the main responders who brought aid to the affected populations.

Along the way he provides a history of humanitarian aid and the evolution of humanitarian aid workers from being seen as neutral and protected from the conflicts into which they bravely entered to being thought of instead as pawns of opposing governments and open targets. He doesn’t shirk from discussing the inadequacies or inefficiencies of humanitarian aid efforts and the lack of coordinated approaches to some of the worst humanitarian crises in our time. Nor does he fail to focus on the consequences of starvation and the brutalization of those most vulnerable in the populations affected by war—women and children.

One vignette from the narrative, in particular, will serve to illustrate the effects of war, displacement, and starvation on the vulnerable, resilient but not infallible, women caught in conflict. VanRooyen describes meeting a woman in a camp in Mogadishu who would illustrate these effects without speaking. He and his team were screening children between the ages of one and five for malnutrition when they discovered a child named Fatima with symptoms of kwashiorkor, a condition recognized and so named by speakers of the Ga language, living in what was then the Gold Coast. Cecily Williams, an Oxford-educated physician of British extraction born in Jamaica who studied famine in seventy different countries, first determined that this condition was due to protein deficiency and distinguished it from marasmus, an overall caloric deficiency. Williams translated kwashiorkor loosely to “disease of the deposed child,” such deposition taking place after the birth of the next sibling. Since the mother would no longer be able to nurse the previously born child, he or she would be weaned and thus become vulnerable to protein deficiency.

After VanRooyen and his team examined Fatima, VanRooyen asked through an interpreter for the child’s mother. There was no response. The question “Who takes care of her?” was then posed. Again, there was no response. Obviously, Fatima’s mother had perished or been abducted during the conflict. Finally, a woman motioned to VanRooyen to come with her. They walked silently through the camp to a crude plastic shelter, and she pulled back the flap. There on the dirt floor sat three small children, a small bag of rice, and a pot. When VanRooyen looked again at the woman, she turned up the palms of her hands to indicate her inability to help. Fatima was a victim of the conflict, but so too was this woman, who was helpless in the face of another starving child. VanRooyen’s comment at the end of this vignette, which reflects his combined background in emergency medicine in hospitals in U.S. inner cities and his experience in the field of humanitarian outreach, is worth repeating here:

“The suffering of a malnourished refugee in the squalor of a camp is an affront to human dignity. That dignity is something we all possess and must fight to preserve. Perhaps now I also could better understand my patients in inner-city Detroit or Chicago, where the oppression of poverty and culture of violence drives them to helplessness. The struggle to promote human dignity was not only to be fought in Somalia, but also closer to home.”

VanRooyen has served as a humanitarian physician in more than thirty countries, including Bosnia, Chad, Darfur-Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Iraq, North Korea, and Somalia. He brings an insider’s knowledge and perspective to the reporting of the conflicts and natural disasters that have led to the urgent need for humane and compassionate responses to the millions of refugees now knocking on the doors of conflict-free countries in Europe as well as the United States seeking asylum. Will the world tell them there is “no room at the inn,” or will it find its way to a compassionate solution that raises the dignity of all of humanity?


The World’s Emergency Room: The Growing Threat to Doctors, Nurses, and Humanitarian Workers is published by St. Martin’s Press and is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Michael VanRooyen is also the co-author of Code Blue: The Making of an Emergency Physician (John Hanc and Michael VanRooyen) and Emergent Field Medicine (Michael VanRooyen, Thomas Kirsch, Kathleen Clem, and James Holliman).

Disclosures:  We have never met Michael VanRooyen, although Roger corresponded with him several years ago through letters of recommendation for two researchers then being considered for appointments to Harvard University faculty and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI): Phuong Pham, PhD, MPH, now Director, Program on Evaluation and Implementation Science, HHI, and Patrick Vinck, PhD, now Director, Program on Peace and Human Rights Data, HHI. Roger knew them when he was the Joseph S. Copes Chair and Professor of Epidemiology at Tulane University. Jennie also knew Phuong in New Orleans and later met Patrick in Santa Fe. We consider them close friends. (They are mentioned in VanRooyen’s book). Finally, we have provided editorial services for online and print publications written and produced by researchers within the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.



Rave Reviews Book Club’s Spotlight Author Sherilyn Powers

Today it is my pleasure to host Rave Reviews Book Club’s Spotlight Author Sherilyn Powers. In today’s post Sherilyn focuses on the phenomenon of “morphing” as it applies to allergies and sensitivities. It is a phenomenon with which I am all too familiar. I first heard about this so-called morphing in relation to allergies and sensitivities at the Environmental Health Center-Dallas, where I learned that when someone is sensitive to a food within a particular food family, it may not be long before that person develops sensitivities to other foods in that same family. To counteract this tendency for sensitivities to evolve, Dr. Rea, the center’s founder, recommended a four-day rotational diet to his patients. I followed this diet for about four years until I became so well after following Dr. Rea’s treatment program and receiving energy balancing from the healing team at A Healing Place in Richardson, Texas, that I was able to return to my normal eating patterns, based on a heart healthy diet with organic foods whenever possible and filtered water always. So … are you curious about morphing? See what Sherilyn has to say about it. While you’re at it, support her on social media and visit her website. You will find links below.

Sherilyn Powers image (1)

Sherilyn Powers is the author of I’m Not Crazy I’m Allergic! In her book Sherilyn explores how exposure to seemingly harmless foods and substances could be related to reactions like panic attacks, depression, uncontrollable crying, brain fog, body aches and pains and many more.

I'm Not Crazy I'm Allergic by Sherilyn Powers

Morphing reactions?

Speaking to people with allergies every day, I’ve come across a very interesting phenomenon:  allergies/sensitivities that “morph” or change seamlessly. Sometimes so seamlessly that it takes a long time to realize it has happened.

And by “morph,” I’m don’t mean a worsening of reactions, though this can happen, too, but actually a change in the type of reaction and even the form of the food to which they react.

For example, a lot of people I know can’t drink milk. It gives them stomach aches, excess mucus and even diarrhea, to name a few symptoms. These people have no problems with yogurt, cheeses or even ice cream, so they don’t consider themselves allergic to dairy, just lactose intolerant.

It gets interesting, however, when suddenly someone’s reactions evolve from just reacting to milk to reacting to the next food up the line, which seems to be yogurt or ice cream. These new reactions can present with symptoms similar to those they had after drinking milk, or they can be totally different.

After that the softer cheeses, and finally hard cheese, can also provoke reactions.  Once that happens, dairy can sometimes no longer be tolerated at all, and drinking milk may cause debilitating reactions where it once only caused a bit of mucus.

I found the same type of thing happened to me with gluten.  Before I found out I had Celiac disease, I had a lot of very interesting reactions to gluten. I had eaten it my entire life and had never known it was the cause of my so-called “IBS” (irritable bowel syndrome).

When I finally started to suspect a wheat allergy (I knew nothing about Celiac disease at the time), I noticed I had lesser reactions with some gluten-containing foods than others (e.g., spelt and kamut), and I found I could more easily eat foods prepared one way rather than another (toast vs bread, for instance). At that time, I had no idea that gluten was a factor. I just knew I tolerated certain foods better than others. It was after I was diagnosed with Celiac disease that I was able to put it all together from my notes.

How many people would have noticed the difference between how they felt having milk and cheese or eating toast and then eating bread?  I probably would have missed it, too, but I had been sick and had eaten nothing but toast for a week. I went from that to eating an untoasted sandwich and my throat began to swell up. That rather caught my attention.

This doesn’t happen with everyone, but I’m using these examples to point out that allergies/sensitivities are not static. Just because drinking milk makes you sneeze one day, it does not mean that it will still make you sneeze three years from now, or that only milk, among all dairy products, will elicit a reaction.

When you are trying to discover what your allergies and sensitivities are, don’t forget that cooking and processing foods can sometimes not only change your reaction, but also can influence whether you have a reaction at all.

Sherilyn Powers’ contact information:


Twitter: @SPowersINCIA





In Loving Memory of Kathryn Chastain Treat


Kathryn C. Treat passed away on Sunday, December 21, 2014, at 2:20 a.m. (California time).  On Friday, December 19, after having a wonderful time at the Rave Reviews Book Club’s virtual Christmas party, in a virtual chat room with her fellow RRBC VIP Lounge members, Kathryn said that she was not feeling well and was going to leave.  Shortly thereafter, she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and then lapsed into a coma.

Kathryn was an honorary board member of the Rave Reviews Book Club, where she served as Membership Director from December 2013 until September 2014.  Kathryn is the author of ALLERGIC TO LIFE:  MY BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL, COURAGE AND HOPE  She inspired and encouraged many with this book, so if you have not had the pleasure of reading it, please head to Amazon and get your copy.

Book Cover


Kathryn was a dedicated member of RRBC until her passing, and she was one of the most supportive members the club had…not just to one, but to all.  Kathryn leaves to mourn her husband, her mother, her sister, her two daughters, a son-in-law and three grandkids (whom she adored more than life), as well as her entire RRBC family.

Let us remember Kathryn and honor her memory by always being kind to one another and by always offering our support to another.  It’s what she did.  It’s how she lived.  It’s who she was.  In honor, many blogs across the world are memorializing Kathryn today with the same post that you see here.  If Kathryn touched your life in any way, please share your memories and comments below.  Since everyone who knew Kathryn may not yet know of her home-going, we ask that you also share this page on all your social media forums.

We have erected a memorial page on the Rave Reviews Book Club site that will remain.  Please stop by to leave your comments and memories of Kathryn, so that her family will get a sense of just how loved she was by so many.


PS:  As a member of the Rave Reviews Book Club and someone whose life was touched by Kathy, I am participating in the worldwide blog today as Kathy is laid to rest. My thoughts are with her family, and I send them love. In an earlier post I wrote about Kathy and her courageous fight both to educate others about multiple chemical sensitivity and to survive a workplace mold exposure that had turned her life upside down. You can access it here: Click.


Breathe! Inspiration from Arianna Huffington’s Book Thrive

41y2X6GOT8L._AA160_[1]I recently began reading Arianna Huffington’s Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. The book was a Christmas gift from my future daughter-in-law, Colleen Leddy, who had attended a Thrive workshop earlier in the year. She had texted me about her wonderful experience, and I made a mental note to buy a copy of Huffington’s book. One thing led to another, and I never placed that order. Consequently, I was really pleased when I opened the gift box and found Thrive. Since I was right in the middle of reading London by Edward Rutherfurd, a book I highly recommend to both seasoned and aspiring writers for a study of Rutherfurd’s approach to historical fiction, I couldn’t start Huffington’s book when it arrived.

Over the past three days, however, I’ve read about 150 pages of Thrive, but I’ve already found so much to recommend that I thought I’d take this moment to reach out to all of you who are celebrating the beginning of the new year. For many of us the end of one year and the beginning of another is a time for reflection on what has gone before as well as what is to come in our lives. Not exactly resolution making, reflection is a way to take stock and to dream or plan. I was thinking as I read those first 150 pages that part of Huffington’s message speaks to reflection in our daily lives through the mindfulness practice she recommends.

images[5] (3)The training I received at A Healing Place in Richardson, Texas, led me to incorporate mindfulness in my daily life through the practice of meditation. Living on a mountain, isolated at 8,000 feet, for nearly nine years after my introduction to mindfulness, or awareness, made that incorporation easy. Those of you who have read my book, Intentional Healing…or have been following my blog for a while know that I attribute my full recovery from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) not only to treatment at Dr. William J. Rea’s clinic in Dallas but also to the spiritual healing I received from energy medicine practitioners, Navajo medicine men, and the self-care awareness and energy balancing exercises I was taught at A Healing Place.

Obviously, my own experience with the health-enhancing benefits of mindfulness made me receptive to Huffington’s message that a successful life needs to be redefined from the current metric of working to career achievement through sleep deprivation and exhaustion to, instead, in the words of her subtitle, “creating a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder.” And to make this point, Huffington backs up her recommendations with a great deal of research supporting the benefits of mindfulness, not just to us but to the organizations, businesses, and institutions for which we work. The data are convincing. I highly recommend you read Thrive.

images[10] (2)What is mindfulness? If you’re new to the concept of mindfulness, you can think of it as paying attention to who you are and how you feel in the moment. It is as simple as paying attention to what you are eating and how you are eating it. A friend of mine attended a Natalie Goldberg writing workshop in France this past summer, where mindfulness was incorporated into every activity and task during the program. Eating in silence with mindfulness, paying attention to the scents of the foods, noticing how they felt on several levels as they chewed, allowed the writer participants to open their focus and their ability to write about the experience. Did I mention that they also had to be unplugged from social media—no smart phones, tablets, or computers except for a brief window each day? Something Huffington would have applauded.

Deborah Singleton, founder of A Healing Place, taught me that breath and thought are the two most important tools to enhance wellness in the bodymindspirit. Huffington has incorporated both of these tools in her approach to a successful life, one that is balanced between the planning and execution of tasks in the workplace and at home with living in the moment, which is what mindfulness is all about.

images[3] (3)You can take the first step toward cultivating mindfulness by focusing on your breath. As I was taught at A Healing Place, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth slowly. Think of letting go of all that does not serve you. And relax. Feel into every part of you—head, mouth, nose, throat, shoulders, arms, hands, torso, legs, and feet— as you sit in a chair with your feet on the floor. Focus on your feet. Think: I let it all go. This is something you can do in the middle of your work day right at your desk. Even one minute in this focus will enhance health and improve concentration.

If you’re fortunate to be working at one of the companies mentioned in Thrive that provides meditation classes or quiet rooms for mindfulness, then spend a few minutes bringing yourself into balance by de-stressing through breathing. Enter the quiet room. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the floor. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in one of your favorite places. Is it in a garden? At the seashore? By a lake? On a mountain top? Notice your surroundings in your sacred space. Feel a soft breeze on your face. Experience the warmth of the sun.

images9KCPPFAOTake a deep breath in through your nose and gently blow it out through your mouth. Feel your breath move from the top of your head through your body and into your feet. Send your breath from your feet into the floor below and down into the earth. Don’t worry about what floor you are on. Just see and feel your breath moving through those floors and into the earth. Feel your connection with the earth.

Notice areas of tension in your body. Breathe through those parts of you and think: I let all tension go. Feel it move into your feet and down into the earth. When you feel relaxed, gently bring your focus back to your breath as you leave your visit to your favorite place. Within yourself, express gratitude for your moment in your sacred space. Remember that you can return there whenever you want.

When you are ready, open your eyes. Nurture your body with a cool glass of water and a healthful snack such as fruit or nuts. You will return to your tasks refreshed.

Every day take a few minutes to be in the moment, noticing how you feel and relaxing the tension in your body through breathing. Over time, this refreshing break will develop into an automatic reflex that kicks in when you are feeling stressed. As you continue to practice mindfulness, your awareness of who you are in any moment will enhance your health and allow you to see other people in a more compassionate light. The benefits for you, your employer, and the world at large will grow and grow.

Blessings to all!

My thanks to Google Free Images for the wonderful visuals in this post.

Kathryn C. Treat, Author: Has Life Passed You By?


As  a member of the Rave Reviews Book Club, I am always happy to support a fellow member’s RRBC blog tour. Today I have the pleasure of hosting Kathryn C. Treat, author of Allergic to Life: My Battle for Survival, Courage, and Hope. Kathryn is the RRBC Membership Director and a very dear friend. We met in 2003 at Dr. Rea’s clinic, the Envrionmental Health Center-Dallas, where Kathryn was treated for mold exposure and I, for pesticide poisoning. We bonded then and have been friends ever since.

Kathryn’s book shines a spotlight on multiple chemical sensitivity and the precautions that must be taken to avoid further exposure. Her story is one of determination and courage. You can support Kathryn by purchasing her book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble and following her on Twitter, Google, and Facebook. Better yet, join Kathryn at Rave Reviews Book Club. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss. Tell them Kathryn sent you. Here is Kathryn in her own words.

Book Cover


“I pray to God for answers. I ask for His support and encouragement. If I have to live in this pain, in this bubble, in this life of isolation and loneliness the rest of my life, I don’t know what I will do.

Recently I was in contact with a friend who is also a mold survivor.  We talked about isolation.  In fact isolation seems to be a general topic and matter of woe among fellow mold sufferers and those suffering from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).

I soon began to realize that once my life had changed and I was no longer able to attend indoor functions, be among large crowds, go shopping or out to lunch, I also wasn’t being called or visited.  A majority of my treatment took me far away from home to Dallas, TX.  The longer I was there, the less I heard from others.  It was hard going through all that I went through by myself.  I thought when I finally came home, I would be totally well and everything would be the same as it always was.  I soon began to realize what it must feel like for a soldier to return after many months away at battle.


I also began realizing what soldiers must feel like after returning from an extended tour of duty. How do you assimilate back into your life? Things keep going on and moving forward but you aren’t there to participate in the moving forward. People carry on conversations but you feel like you were dropped in the middle of a story without access to the beginning. So you just sit there, and you listen but don’t speak.

Things were different when I returned home.  I was still sick and still not able to visit in the homes of friends or go out.  So much had happened after being gone for almost a year (2003) that I felt lost in conversations.  Someone would talk about something that had happened and I wouldn’t have the faintest idea what they were talking about because I hadn’t been there, hadn’t been involved in life at home and hadn’t witnessed changes that took place.  In this depressed state I wrote:

Life Passes Her By

She sits and stares out the window and she doesn’t recognize anything

Life has passed her by and nothing is the same

Where was she when all this happened?  She was here but

Life passed her by

Buildings were built and buildings were torn down

People arrived and left;

People were born and others died

Life passed her by

People divorced and others married;

People found new jobs and new hobbies

Where was she—she was there but she did not participate in life

It passed her by

She reaches out but touches nothing;

Life is just past her grasp

She stretches and bends and tries again

But life passes her by

She talks to people but it is a jumble to understand what they say

The life she missed is just out of her reach

Life passed her by

Life may pass us by but we can choose to keep letting it pass us by or we can choose to find a way to stretch a little further and grab hold of it.  We can choose to find a way to participate again.  Is life passing you by?  What can you do to reach and grab hold of it?

Kathryn and her husband, Rick.

Kathryn and her husband, Rick.

Allergic to Life can be purchased at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Signed copies may be purchased at Kathryn’s website.

Connect with Kathryn:




allergictolifemybattle or BeMyGuest

Killing What We Love: The Need to Bring a New Consciousness to How We Live on the Earth

A recent article in the New York Times by Michael Wines reported on the collapse of honey bee colonies around the world. So called colony collapse disorder, which began to be reported in 2005, has pushed annual die-off rates from a norm of 5 to 10 percent of bees in a colony to 40 to 80 percent in some cases.


As someone who sees the earth and everything on it and in it as sacred, a part of the divine consciousness manifested, I was greatly concerned when I first read about this phenomenon in Wines’ article. I was even more dismayed to read further that beekeepers and environmental and consumer groups were convinced that these collapses could be traced to the growing number of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides used to control insect infestation, in particular to a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, so named because they are derived from nicotine. Neonicotinoids, or neonics, began to be used widely in 2005, thus the suspicion that the colony collapse disorder is linked to their use.

imagesFDTLAUIWTo help readers understand the importance of bees to agriculture, Wines draws attention to the impact of pollination on annual harvests of fruits, vegetables, and nuts: “Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices.” For more information, you can check out “Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farm,” Michael Wines, New York Times, March 28, 2013.

What moves colony collapse disorder from a concern of limited stakeholders to that of our society at large, however, is the fact that neonicotinoids are only one of many pesticides judged acceptable for use on our food supply and in our homes, all of which do have toxic effects on people and pets, separately or in combination with the other “safe” toxins to which we are exposed in our foods, homes, gardens, water, personal care products, and even in the air we breathe.


In his April 13 article in the New York Times, Think Those Chemicals Have Been Tested?, Ian Urbina brought attention to the use of unregulated chemicals in personal care products and paints, as well as on clothing (stain-resistant treatments) and furniture, mattresses, in particular (fire-retardants).Urbana explained that the burden to prove or disprove safety is on the EPA, which doesn’t have the resources to monitor the 85,000 industrial chemicals now in use. He cites the fact that of all the chemicals in use, the EPA has succeeded in banning only five: chloroflurocarbons, dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls, hexavalent chromium, and asbestos. Yet scientists report that babies are being born with a myriad of synthetic chemicals in their blood.

If you haven’t yet gotten the point that we are unprotected from unregulated chemicals, then watch this video of interviews with Linda Chae, researcher and consumer advocate, and then go to her website for more information on what is poisoning us every day. Note: If you are concerned about the use of triclosan in everything from household detergents to shampoos, Chae’s video will provide the information you seek.

What can we, as consumers and parents concerned about the health and safety of our children and ourselves, do to shine the light on the unregulated and inadequately tested chemicals in our environment? Plenty. And in a positive way that will enhance our energies and set a good example for future generations.

  • First, buy products that are safer for the environment. Many supermarkets now sell more eco-friendly products, such as Seventh Generation. Here is a link for Seventh Generation coupons. If you don’t live near, or can’t drive to, a supermarket that sells organic or non-toxic/less toxic cleaning and gardening products, you can buy them online. Just enter key words such as “environmentally friendly,” “ecofriendly,” “organic,” “non-toxic,” or “less toxic” products. Buy from manufacturers that recognize environmental concerns and produce products that are safer for us, our children, and the earth.
  • Second, check out the shopping lists online at the Environmental Working Group’s website for advice on what organic fruits and vegetables are must buys and learn which conventional ones can be safely eaten. Buy as much organic produce as you can afford.
  • Third, support grassroots efforts to clean up neighborhood parks and schools. Lobby for nutritional lunches and work actively to keep cell phone towers away from schools to shield children as they grow to maturity. Call for environmentally friendly cleaning products, paints, grouts, and sealers to be used in schools and community centers.
  • Fourth, contact your state senators and encourage them to vote for legislation that would mandate that manufacturers demonstrate the safety of chemicals before they can be sold.

Last, take all of these steps with a positive attitude and love in your heart. Join your energies to the energies of those who seek change through positive means. When you keep positive thoughts around you, you attract the positive. Take a deep breath, send negative thoughts into the earth surrounded by light, and keep your heart open.

Instead of allowing what we love to be harmed by unregulated chemicals, let us join with the new consciousness of living on the earth with respect for everything on it and in it. All life is sacred. We are all connected. If we allow chemicals to harm the insect life on our planet, we allow ourselves to be harmed as well. If we continue to buy and use products that harm the environment, we harm ourselves and our children and grandchildren. Change the way you live on the earth, and preserve earth for future generations.

Make every day Earth Day!




Amazon gift card winner and bonus heart-healthy recipe


Susi L!


Thank you note

Yes, my husband drew Susi’s name from the container, so an Amazon gift card is winging its way to Susi. A big THANK YOU to everyone who stopped by to leave a comment and enter the giveaway.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have followed my blog since its inception in January of this year. I am so grateful you think I have something worthwhile to say.

As a bonus, I am sharing another heart-healthy recipe based on a dish Grandma Jennie used to make. Here it is:

Jennie’s Chicken in Tomato Sauce with Pizza Spices and Crostini

one whole boneless, skinless chicken breast

one 28 oz. can Italian crushed tomatoes

 three large cloves garlic

one to three tablespoons olive oil

pecorino romano cheese for grating

black pepper


Italian bread or baguette, sliced

1.  Remove skin from garlic cloves and cut cloves into thin slices.

2. In a medium to large sauce pan, sauté garlic slices in one tablespoon olive oil until slices turn golden but not brown (45 seconds to one minute). Remove pan to cool burner and remove all but one slice of garlic. Reserve other garlic slices for use later.

3. Place crushed tomatoes in a blender and mix, then liquefy, until tomatoes look creamy.

4. Pour tomato sauce into sauce pan and cook on medium or higher heat until mixture starts to bubble. Reduce heat to low. Place lid of pan at an angle to allow steam to escape. Cook for one hour, checking occasionally to make sure sauce does not boil.

5.  When sauce is ready, set on cool burner.

6.  Cut breast in half at connecting membrane. Remove all visible fat. On a meat-cutting board (washable), slice breast horizontally into scallopini-like slices. Place in baking dish that has a cover.

7.  Ladle thin layer of sauce into bottom of dish. Place chicken slices in neat rows, covering each row with sauce, pepper and oregano. When finished pour remaining sauce over top. Season with pepper and oregano to taste. Grate cheese over top.

8.  Bake, covered, at 375 to 400 (depending on your oven) for 30 to 40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes. Do not overcook.


Chicken can be served over pasta with a side salad and crostini. Remember the reserved garlic? You can spread sautéed garlic with one to two tablespoons of olive oil over slices of Italian bread or baguette. Grate some cheese over slices. Toast briefly in oven.

Note: For those who wish to avoid cheese, no problem. Both the chicken and the crostini are equally good without cheese. Use your imagination for the crostini. Slices of tomato, mushrooms, bell peppers, all make tasty toppings. And don’t forget a little oregano for added spice!

My Writing Process Blog Tour and Giveaway

 In conjunction with “My Writing Process” blog tour, I will be giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to one of the readers of this post who leaves a comment. Here is how it will work. At the end of this week, I will write the name of each person who has left a comment on this blog on a slip of paper. All slips will go into a hat, and I’ll have my husband draw a slip from the hat. An Amazon gift card worth $10 will go to the person whose slip he draws, so be sure to leave your email address for possible delivery. The giveaway will close at midnight on Friday, April 4, 2014.

My Writing Process Blog Tour.

I was fortunate to be asked by my friend Kathryn C. Treat, author of Allergic to Life: My Battle for Survival, Courage, and Hope, to join “My Writing Process” blog tour. Kathy and I met in 2003 at the Environmental Health Center-Dallas. Our friendship began as we supported each other through the rigors of testing and treatment at the Center and developed long-distance by telephone and email. Little did we know, all those years ago, that one day we’d support each other as authors. I have admired Kathy’s strength and determination to recover from environmental illness. She applies those same qualities to her new tasks as an author, and she has taught me a great deal about social media and promotion. I have her to thank for my WordPress site, which she helped me construct after my book website was hacked. To find out more about Kathy and her journey through environmental illness, you can check out her website or her blog. Here, thanks to Kathy, are my thoughts on my writing process.



What am I working on?

From 2004 through 2012 while we were living in Santa Fe, New Mexico,  I visited Navajo country, the Jicarilla Apache reservation, and Northern New Mexican pueblos, attending sacred dances and visiting sacred sites in a three-state area. On many trips, I was fortunate to have the company of my friend Christine Gregg, a sacred pipe carrier and sweat lodge keeper, who is a member of the Katala Okolakiciye, a traditional Lakota women’s society. Sometimes, Christine’s apprentice, Esther Maria Lindner, accompanied us. On one of our trips we traced the journey of the JemezSummer 2010 and Emma 005 maidens, who were sent by their elders under cover of night into Navajo country. This is only one of the historical events I researched for a book I envisioned that would tell the story of a remarkable Navajo headman who lived in the first half of the nineteenth century and played the dual role of encouraging his people to go into captivity and then, through negotiations with one of the U.S. Army’s ablest generals, of leading his people out of captivity, not to a U.S. Indian reservation but to their homes within the sacred boundaries of Navajo country. I am developing this story line now. At the same time I’ve been developing the theme of the Authentic Self–Higher Self or Soul–through my blog posts, sharing what I’ve learned about getting in touch with that side of ourselves through breathing and visualizations and developing awareness of the human energy system.

Jennie and Christine at Angel Fire

Jennie and Christine at Angel Fire


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I wear many hats as a writer. While some of my blog posts fit neatly into the bodymindspirit genre, many of the topics I choose to pursue identify me as a writer in the field of public health, a calling I’ve followed since 1989. Whereas in earlier years I wrote and worked with experts primarily in the fields of substance abuse and cardiovascular disease about topics assigned to me through the consulting companies for which I worked, now I write about the environment and its effects on health, not surprising since my health was affected by exposure to environmental toxins. I still accept commissions for public health and medical science editing with my husband, Roger, who is a retired physician and epidemiologist. We’ve had the privilege of supporting the Initiative for Vulnerable Populations, based at the University of California Berkeley, editing journal articles, a book chapter, presentations, and press releases.

Why do I write what I do?

I write to make a difference–a difference in the lives of the people I reach, a difference in the fields of public health and medicine through facilitating the communication of ideas and findings from research. I write about things that matter to me greatly. Isn’t that a part of man’s need? To make a difference somewhere? Or at least to think we are making a difference, part ego and part Authentic Self, reaching out to fellow travelers.

How does my writing process work?

My process varies with what I am doing, but usually the basics include (1) an idea or concept, (2) research, (3) consultation with an expert, if appropriate, (4) a rough draft, (5) review by others, and (6) final draft. For my next book I am venturing into historical fiction, with lots of room for imagination, but even for that work, a retelling of the life of Barboncito and his ancestors, I spent years researching and visiting the areas to be included in the settings.

That’s it for my writing process. Now I have the pleasure of nominating another writer whose work I’ve been following. Remember to check her blog on Monday, April 7, 2014. Here she is in her own words:

Meglena Ivanova

10154390_824339720913663_1921104990_nMy name is Meglena Ivanova. I’m Bulgarian author, blogger and essayist. I live in NYC with my husband, bearded dragon /lizard/ and abnormally strange cat. When I’m not writing, reading or blogging, I enjoy gaining insights into the psychologies of other cultures and times. I’m also into dancing, movies, and Apple products. Occasionally I like to write short (usually about mystical, mythological creatures and old but sacred objects that are described in ancient legends) fiction stories.

Cover-1Where people can find me:

•        Website

•        Blog –

•        Twitter

•        Facebook 

•        Google +

•        Linkedin

•        Pinterest –

•        Goodreads

•        Smashwords

American Heart Month: The Joyful Heart Lifestyle

Bleeding Hearts

February 2014 marks the 50th Anniversary of Proclamation 3566, a document signed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson designating February as American Heart Month, which succeeding presidents have signed every year since. The American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, active advocates for heart health, feature heart health information on their websites year round. Since the beginning of the month, the AHA has sponsored heart health workshops and held events to raise funds for continued research into the number one killer of men and women in the U.S.

Research has pointed to a number of factors that can increase or decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. They include

  • genes,
  • the use of tobacco products,
  • diet,
  • high cholesterol,
  • high blood pressure,
  • exercise levels,
  • obesity, and
  • diabetes.

While we can’t change our genes, we can take charge of our heart health through the choices we make. We can choose what I call the joyful heart lifestyle.

The joyful heart lifestyle supports the bodymindspirit in its wholeness and includes a Mediterranean diet, regular exercise, medication–if prescribed by a physician, meditation for profound relaxation, and a heart-centered approach to ourselves, the people in our lives, the work we do, and the communities in which we live.

Healthy Salad, mixed with many kinds of fruits&vegetableThe Mediterranean diet has been in the news lately, since research has shown that it reduces the risk of heart disease. Incorporating whole grains, nuts, vegetables, fruit, olive oil, spices instead of salt, fish, and chicken, it provides a wide range of foods that can delight the senses and the spirit. Especially if you bring to food preparation the wisdom of my Italian grandmother, Jennie, for whom I was named. I would sit in her kitchen as a little girl and watch her prepare meals. One of the first lessons she taught me in her halting English was this: “the finger…puts the love into the food. Don’t be afraid to use your hands.” And my grandmother demonstrated by rubbing a bowl with love to receive the ingredients she had chopped for the salad she was preparing for dinner that night. photo_13069_20090812

She would remove the outer covering of a garlic clove, cut the clove in half, and then, cut side down, rub the clove all over the salad bowl until every inch had been covered. My grandfather, Adamo, liked the taste of garlic, but he didn’t like to eat the clove. Every time my grandmother prepared food for him, she incorporated a little act of love. And, of course, she was serving both him and their family a salad, prepared in the Mediterranean style with olive oil and vinegar, a dressing which has been recognized to be part of a heart healthy diet.

Not everything my grandmother cooked was heart healthy, given her southern Italian heritage. Several of those dishes, including mouth-watering chicken parmesan and its eggplant counterpart, begin with breading and frying, and frying needs to be kept to a minimum or not used at all in a heart-healthy diet. The basics of healthy eating, however, were there in my grandmother’s approach to food for following generations to cull. Over the years, I’ve modified many of the dishes I learned at my grandmother’s side with, according to my husband, more than successful results. I’ll be sharing those recipes from time to time, including one at the end of this post, so check back for updates.

Incorporating regular exercise routines into our daily lives has been shown to have benefits for the cardiovascular system. You can think of it this way: since the heart is a muscle, it will benefit from staying fit. Exercise increases the heart rate and makes the heart work harder, thus increasing its capacity for work. It may also have some benefits for the aging brain. Studies have shown that exercise can increase the production of brain cells, as reported by Gretchen Reynolds in an article in the New York Times, April 18, 2012, to mention only one of numerous articles reporting this benefit. However, if you are thinking of starting a regular exercise program, the most important thing you can do to protect your heart and brain is to consult your doctor to see which kind of exercise program is right for you, especially if there is a history of heart disease or stroke in your family. 

Sometimes your doctor will prescribe medication for you to control high blood pressure, one of the risk factors for heart attack, stroke, and much more. The Mayo Clinic’s website on the dangers of high blood pressure provides clear information on just what can result without treatment. I know from speaking to many physicians and from firsthand experience that taking medication daily can greatly improve the health outlook for someone with high blood pressure. Don’t be discouraged if the first medication you try doesn’t agree with you. I had to try several medications before finding one that controlled my blood pressure without intolerable side effects.

Meditation can induce profound relaxation of bodymindspirit. Meditation, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, can be as simple as closing your eyes and breathing from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet while visualizing light moving through your body and into the earth. These seconds-long visualizations keep you in touch with the primary flow of energy that nourishes the human energy system and moves from the spine through meridians to every cell in the body. Free flow of energy supports the natural healing and regenerative processes in the bodymindspirit and is the focus of practitioners of acupuncture and energy balancing.

Meditation with visualization is an easy introduction to stillness meditations, which can be frustrating and sometimes intimidating, and breath work with color visualization is the easiest of all. Sit in a comfortable chair with your hands resting in your lap, palms turned up. Imagine a light above your head and while inhaling see that light enter your body and move through to your feet. While exhaling, see the light pool in your feet and send roots of light deeply into the earth until your light reaches a place of great light. You may see this place as a cave of light crystals or a garden of light. Look around this place of light until you see a source of red light. Connect your light to that red light. While inhaling, see the red light move through your roots of light and into your feet. While exhaling, see the red light move into your root chakra, coming up your legs as well, into your body and out the top of your head. Inhale again, and while exhaling see the light in your aura all around you and expand your light six to eight feet. Now see yourself in a cocoon of red light. You have grounded your energies, one of the first steps in balancing your energy system, and you have supported your root chakra.


You can continue working with color, moving through each chakra in turn. See my earlier blog on color meditations.

A heart-centered approach to ourselves means knowing when to say no when demands of family or work begin to overwhelm our ability to give from the heart.  Love needs to inform everything we do in life, whether it is writing to inform or persuade, relating to those with whom we think we have little in common, coping with a fussy child or an angry partner, or healing on many levels. The key is learning to love ourselves so that we can truly love others. That may mean setting boundaries to protect our energy levels when people ask too much of us.  If we give more than what is comfortable for us to give, whether to family, work, or community, then love turns to resentment, and resentment harms both the giver and the receiver.


As February ends and March begins, the lessons of the joyful heart lifestyle can inform this next month and every month of the year. Adopt a heart-healthy diet and an exercise program (after consulting your physician), take medication if prescribed for you, meditate a few seconds daily and longer weekly, and approach the people in your life through your heart. Your heart will love you.

Disclaimer: All healing paths, while they share certain things in common, are unique to the individual. Nothing I write in my blogs should be construed as medical advice. All decisions about physical and mental health should be made in consultation with your physician or other licensed or certified health care practitioner.

Jennie’s Pesto Sauce

2 cups basil leaves

1/2 to 3/4 cup walnuts

1 cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3 heaping teaspoons Grey Poupon mustard

Place above ingredients into a blender. Mix for at least 12 seconds. Then liquefy for an additional 12 seconds. Adjust ingredients to taste. This recipe eliminates animal fat, thus the absence of cheese, which is a standard ingredient in a pesto sauce. This sauce can be used on pasta, baked potatoes, chicken, and fish or used as a dipping sauce for Italian or French bread. Remember that a little goes a long way. Both walnuts and olive oil have high caloric counts per tablespoon, but are high in monounsaturated fats, which are heart healthy. Buon Appetito!

A Valentine’s Day Post: Attracting Happiness

ValentinesOn Valentine’s Day we send flowers and cards to those with whom we have relationships. The motivations that prompt those gifts and missives are as varied as the people who send them and the relationships that spawn them. If they have anything in common, it is that longing from the heart for closeness to another and a desire for happiness. In reaching out for happiness, we oftentimes look to other people, as if they had the power to grant that which we seek, thus making everything right in our lives. Consider the following.

I’m sure you’ve read some version of this instructive story. A man goes to a spiritual counselor to seek advice: “I’m very unhappy here and I want to seek happiness elsewhere. Will I find it?”

“What is it about your life here that has brought you unhappiness?”

“All of my relationships with women end in failure. I don’t get along with my co-workers. My neighbors treat me like an outcast. I have no true friends.”

“Why do you think this is so?”

“No one understands me or values me.”

“Seek not for happiness elsewhere. You will not find it.”

Crestfallen, the man leaves.

What did the spiritual counselor recognize that the man could not? Is happiness a destination to which other people take you? Or do we attract happiness through what we cultivate within?

The key to why this man could not find happiness lies in his answer. Instead of looking within to the kind of interior life he was cultivating, with its potential to attract or repulse others, he was looking outside himself. His answer clearly places the blame for his lack of happiness on others.

Sound familiar? Isn’t this something we all do from time to time? Isn’t our first impulse to deny the role we have in our unhappiness? For most people a cooling off time brings rational thought and the ability to recognize the part they play in the success or failure within their relationships. For others, however, deep-seated needs and fears block recognition of what they attract to themselves.

For the next week or two, try this experiment. Call upon your “silent observer” to be a witness to the conversations you have with others. Carry a little notepad with you. Make three columns. Head the first column “Relationship,” the second “Outcome,” and the third “Feelings.” The next time you have a conversation with someone, record information in the columns immediately afterwards. Be brief. Under “Relationship” note with whom you spoke. Was it a co-worker, your spouse or partner, your parent, your sibling, your child, a neighbor? Under “Outcome” note whether the encounter was generally positive or negative. Be honest. This is for your eyes only, and when you look through the eyes of your “silent observer” you look without judgment. Under “Feelings” make a brief note about what feelings you brought into the encounter and what feelings you took away from the encounter. At the end of the experiment, look over your notes. Can you pick up any patterns? Were the conversations more positive than negative, or just the reverse? Were your feelings and expectations positive before the conversation or negative? How did that affect the outcomes? The law of attraction in personal interactions is quite simple: in general, we attract to ourselves what we hold within. This is not an easy concept to grasp or accept, especially when we look only through the eyes of the wronged person we consider ourselves to be.

Try for a moment to look through the eyes of a loved one with whom you have just had a negative encounter. Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet firmly on the floor. Call the light to yourself. See a cone of light above your head and breathe deeply through your nose. See the light come into your body. As you exhale through your mouth, see the light move through your body to your feet. Ask Mother Earth to accept your light and send it deeply into the earth. You are connecting with the healing energies of the earth and aligning yourself with a consciousness that can allow you to be in a space of non-judgment.


Breathe deeply—in through your nose and out through your mouth as if blowing out a candle. Just be in this space. Now see the encounter as an observer. Can you feel what  your loved one felt during that exchange? If you had spoken differently, could you have had a more pleasant discussion, even about a difficult topic?  We all have triggers that bring forth emotional reactions that are sometimes not at all appropriate for the moment. Are you feeling tense? Let the feelings of tension drain through your feet. Don’t worry if you can’t let them go completely in the moment. There is no success or failure in this space. There is only exploration and recognition.

Becoming a “silent observer” is the first step toward developing a more transparent interior life, one that allows us to see more clearly what we attract to ourselves. The next steps are up to us.

Disclaimer: All healing paths, while they share certain things in common, are unique to the individual. Nothing I write in my blogs should be construed as medical advice. All decisions about physical and mental health should be made in consultation with your physician or other licensed or certified health care practitioner.