Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

This year’s Memorial Day celebrations and especially the Parade in Washington, D.C. will be focusing on honoring the men and women who served in Iraq.  It will be the first tribute to recognize their sacrifice since the end of the operations in December of 2011. 
They don’t get their own parade, unlike the service men who went to the Desert Storm War. I remember attending the celebrations and fireworks at the Washington Monument on June 8, 1991.  We could share the victory with the soldiers and it brought great honor to our country.

Here is a short list of “Seven Quick Facts About Memorial Day” by All Proud Americans:
      1.     Why we observe Memorial Day
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those who have died serving our country.
2.     It started with the Civil War
Memorial Day was a response to the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War, in which some 620,000 soldiers on both sides died.
3.     It was first known as Decoration Day
From the practice of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths and flags, the holiday was long known as Decoration Day. The name Memorial Day goes back to 1882, but the older name didn't disappear until after World War II. Federal law declared "Memorial Day" the official name in 1967.
4.     The playing of 'Taps'
The 24-note bugle call, is played at all military funerals and memorial services.
5.     Flying the Flag
It is customary on Memorial Day to fly the flag at half staff until noon, and then raise it to the top of the staff until sunset.
6.     Flowers and Flags
These are the two most popular items people use to remember soldiers.
7.     The last Monday of May
Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May.

Have a great Memorial Day and remember FREEDOM IS NOT FREE!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nutmeg – the Tropical Spice that bought Manhattan

My last blog was about the Many Uses of Nutmeg.

In the meantime I finished reading the book “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg,” in which British author Giles Milton writes about Nathaniel Courthope who was a trusted captain of the East India Company, who fought a fierce battle in the 17th century against the Dutch by defending Run, the tiny island in the volcanic group of the Banda Islands in today’s Indonesia.  At that time, Run was one of the few places in the world where the priced nutmeg trees were growing. 

Nathaniel made a name for himself, as after his death in 1620, the British took revenge to the loss of Nathaniel and the Island of Run which he so dedicated himself for and demanded the island of Manhattan from the Dutch.  Milton joked about it in his book that Nathaniel’s death caused England to ”lose nutmeg but gained bigger apples” instead and therefore altered the course of history.   In modern times nutmeg is grown in other tropical countries with Grenada (Caribbean) leading the production.  In fact, they made the nutmeg the symbol of their country and put it on their flag.  Natives also make jams and candies from the fruit pot.

Who was Nathaniel Courthope?

Almost 400 years have passed since Nathaniel Courthope became a trader and lieutenant of the East India Trading Company. He was hired by the British merchants in 1616 to stabilize the trade of tropical spices, especially nutmeg.  When he arrived at the small Island of Run as commander of the two ships, the Swan and the Defense, he was welcomed by the Natives.  The Dutch had won command over the rest of the Banda Islands It was Courthope’s charter to gain control over Run.  He negotiated with the Natives and defended the island as their protector for a period of four years, only to be betrayed by a Dutch traitor who passed himself as a deserter.  Therefore, he was attacked and killed by the Dutch on October 18, 1620.

Nathaniel Courthope’s courageous stand on the tiny Spice Island Run left a legacy of heroic exploits and helped reshape history and led to the founding of New York.

Why was Nutmeg so Important?

The Spice Trades have been going on for centuries. With the discovery of new sea routes (like Columbus coming to America), more countries send out explorers and traders until wars were fought over the prized spices.

The 17th century was a time where one nutmeg had the value of gold.  Nutmeg became of great value because of its medicinal application during the plague and other epidemics.  Nutmeg was looked at as a miracle drug in the treatment of all kinds of diseases.

How did New Amsterdam become New York?

Several wars were fought between the English and the Dutch.  After the 2nd Anglo-Dutch War of 1665-1667, at the Treaty of Breda, the two countries agreed on trading the Island of Run for the Island of Manhattan with the small colony New Amsterdam along the Hudson River.  The English had occupied the island of Manhattan during the war (as retaliation to the massacre at Amboyna in 1623 and spice war over the Banda Islands).  Manhattan came under the sovereignty of the Duke of York who later became King James II.  With that deal, history was changed forever.  The Duke renamed New Amsterdam New York. 

 It is interesting how history plays itself out sometimes.  It seems that the sacrifice of some people (in this case the courage, dedication, and perseverance of Nathaniel Courthope) was enough a price to overshadow the betrayals, cruelties, and greed of the conquering Dutch.  It turned out that soon thereafter the Natives transplanted nutmeg trees to other places in Malaysia, the Caribbean and Grenada.  With that the island of Run has very little significance today.
If you want to learn more about this intriguing time of history and you like to find out about explorers, pirates and sea faring, read the story of Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Many Uses of Nutmeg

Nutmeg with its warm, spicy and sharp aroma has been used for centuries the world over. Its botanical name is myristica fragrans.
Nutmeg is considered a twin spice, since the fruit produces nutmeg and mace (which is the outer layer of red fiber around the seed which is milder in flavor).  Nutmeg finds its application in flavorings, healing and aromatherapy. 

It has quite a history because in earlier centuries it had a high trade value.  Today, we are familiar with its use during the holiday season with pumpkin pie, spice cookies and eggnog.  I use it all throughout the year in my mashed potatoes and cheese dishes.

It also makes a wonderful air freshener as a scented candle.  The greatest benefit can be found in the medicinal use.  Nutmeg has analgesic, anti-septic, digestive, stimulant, tonic and anti-oxidant properties.

In “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg,” British author Giles Milton writes about Nathaniel Courthope who was a trusted captain of the East India Company, who fought a fierce battle in the 17th century against the Dutch by defending Run, the tiny island in the volcanic group of the Banda Islands in today’s Indonesia.  At that time Run was the only place in the world where the priced nutmeg trees were growing.  (I will write the next blog about the events which took place on Run and the Dutch-Anglo war which resulted in the trade of Run for the island of Manhattan (which was controlled by the Dutch and was called New Amsterdam).

Nutmeg’s Use in the Kitchen

There are many culinary uses for nutmeg, mainly in sweet and spicy dishes like pumpkin pie, puddings, custards, spice cakes and cookies.  It works well in soups like split pea, chicken or black beans or as an addition to cheese sauces.  In Middle Eastern cooking it is added to meat dishes like lamb as well. Italians are adding it to their sausages.  During the holiday season it is added to eggnog and mulled wines and punches.  One whole nutmeg grates into 2-3 teaspoons of ground nutmeg.

Nutmeg in the Medicine Cabinet

There many more medicinal uses of nutmeg.  The oil can become a rub for muscle and joint pains in arthritis.  In ancient Greece and Rome small amounts of nutmeg oil which contains myristicin were used as brain stimulants to induce dreams and to relieve stress.

Small doses of ground nutmeg can be added to liquids to reduce flatulence, indigestion and nausea.  In holistic medicine it is considered an excellent liver tonic which can remove toxins.  Nutmeg oil can be used to dissolve kidney stones and relieve infections.

Nutmeg can help with respiratory problems and can be used in the common cold against coughing.

NOTE: Large doses (2-3 nutmegs per day) can cause hallucinations, vomiting and other serious side effects, even death.

Nutmeg in Aromatherapy

In aromatherapy nutmeg oil finds various applications: it stimulates circulation, eases muscular aches and joint pains in arthritis and helps with nausea and indigestion.  It can also be added in small amounts to a glass of milk to induce sleep.

The home uses for nutmeg mainly focus on its fragrance.  With its musky smell it is often combined with other aromas to make candles and other aromatherapy products.

Nutmeg’s Magic

In the old days people used to carry nutmeg seeds as protection from danger and evil.  It was acceptable to put a nut in your armpit before attending a social event, believing that you could attract more admirers.

At some point it was popular to carry a seed and a little grinder with you to social events in a beautiful box made of wood, silver or ivory.

Commercial uses of Nutmeg

Nutmeg and mace are used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.  They are often added as flavorings in medicine or as fragrances in colognes for men.  They are also added to soaps, perfumes, detergents and lotions.  Some cough medicines contain nutmeg.  Many popular drinks and foods contain nutmeg.  Did you know that Coca-Cola contains nutmeg?

WARNINGS:  Nutmeg in large quantities can be toxic and even fetal.  Never use more than 30 grams (6 tablespoons) in a day.  Even 3 tablespoons are considered excessive.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Decision is Like a Goal

In some way it is; a definite decision is the beginning of the path we travel to reach a certain goal.  Life happens because of decisions. We can’t even get out of bed in the morning without deciding on it. Being happy is a decision. What we decide today will shape our future.

Decision is defined as a choice, determination, judgment, or even as a promise.  It all starts with making up one’s mind and then taking a certain direction.  Just like goal setting, making a decision is not enough to accomplish anything.  To me making a decision is the beginning and the end as well as the journey in between. 

Sometimes, the decision and the goal are very close, that’s when we act immediately upon an inspiration; not waiting for anybody else’s opinion, or even reasoning out why that idea maybe unrealistic.  It has been said, that when we have a “why” the “how” will unfold along the way.  Let’s look at decision making a little more closely.

 “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”
~ Amelia Earhart

How to make good decisions?

1)    Decision making is a skill

Like any other skill, making good decisions takes practice.  There is no failure in decision making.  With every decision we will get a certain result.  If we don’t like the outcome we can make an adjustment and take a new action.  With commitment and tenacity we will make better choices and get the end result (goal) we want.

“A real decision is measured by the fact that you've taken a new action. If there's no action, you haven't truly decided.
~ Tony Robbins

2)    Avoiding Procrastination

Napoleon Hill, in his book Think and Grow Rich, dedicates the whole Chapter 8 on the topic of indecision.  In hesitating and being indecisive we lose a lot of power and momentum.  Procrastination often goes along with self-sabotaging which has its origin in emotional/psychological behavior and has to be dealt with before one can move on.  Letting go of old emotional baggage and releasing it can make room for new adventures.

“The world has the habit of making room for the man whose words and actions show that he knows where he is going.”
~ Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich – Chapter 8

3)    Knowing ourselves

Our decisions have to be rooted in core values.  When our conscience is based on core values like honesty, loyalty, responsibility, etc. it is easier to make wise decisions.  When we know our shortcomings or weakness’ we can also make better choices.   It is best not to make life changing decisions when we are hungry, tired, or just in a bad mood; it is better to sleep on it.

I recently listened to a talk by Chade-Meng Tan who authored a book “Search Inside Yourself.”  His advice for knowing ourselves is based on three observations: 1. Pay attention to stay in the NOW; 2. Self-knowledge and self-mastery makes us aware of new opportunities; 3. Create new mental habits like practicing kindness.

He believes that it takes as little as 100 minutes to establish habits of centeredness and focus.  To become a true master of self-discipline though is a lifelong process.

“If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ’failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”
~ Mary Pickford

4)    Man is the only animal who can make decisions

Ever wondered why young people are often so spontaneous in decision making?  Scientists have discovered that the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain where decision making can be measured) does not develop until the early 20s.  In fact, this part of the brain which is located behind the forehead is the last part of the brain developed in the progress of man throughout history and is the only part which separates us from animals.  

While the prefrontal cortex is like the control center our brain has another (emotional) center – the limbic system.  Since emotions are often more powerful than reasoning, we can explain why young people sometimes make bad choices.

Being born in the sign of Libra, the scale, I have had my issues with making decisions.  Through experience I have learned that there are ways to circumvent the hesitation or even fear of deciding.  By applying the above guidelines, I have become better in decision making.  I have discovered that decision making is empowering as it is linked to the Law of Attraction.

The action of deciding comes from the Latin word decidere which literally means to cut off or to end.  Making decisions therefore has absoluteness to it and that will clear a path to reach any goal.  Our future is depending on the decision we make right NOW.