The Waayyy Behind Book Club – January 2023

It’s a brand new year! Welcome to the January 2023 edition of The Waayyy Behind Book Club, where I talk about the books I’ve read this month.

There were no entries in The Waayyy Behind Book Club for the last couple of months because my mother died, and I found it difficult to post anything during that time. I didn’t stop reading though! Reading was the way that I coped.

Here are the five books I read this past month. The first being Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri. Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize back in the year 2000 for her book, The Interpreter of Maladies. I remember reading that book many years ago, but I no longer remember what it was about! More recently, I read The Namesake, which was about a child of immigrants trying to assimilate into a new culture, while still holding true to himself.

Whereabouts is a bit different. Here, Lahiri is still exploring the themes of loneliness and belonging, but this time as a single, older woman. Childless and husband-less in middle age, she is beginning to question her life choices. Ultimately, she is happy with where she is, as an immigrant living on the periphery of a culture and a country. She gets along well with her neighbours and colleagues, but she also knows full well that she is at odds with the stereotype of what a woman should be. Her parents feel let down and her neighbours don’t know quite what to make of her, even as she follows her own heart. It’s a thoughtful book.

The second book I read this month was Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne. I have never really considered myself a feminist. That doesn’t mean I disagree with the idea that women should be treated equally to men, or that they shouldn’t be able to make their own life choices. But, perhaps because my own choices have tended to line up with societal norms, I have never been able to work up much of a passion for their mission.

Manne helped me to see how much work is yet to be done. Statistics show that women still don’t earn as much as men (even when doing the same job), they still don’t advance into the top positions in their line of work (even with equal or superior qualifications), they don’t receive equal justice when facing the law (particularly those of racial minority), or equal medical care (most scientific studies still exclude women), and they still do more than their fair share of domestic, non-paid work (even though male participation has ticked up in recent decades).

Manne perceives that the problem is less that women are thought of as inferior to men, as might have been the case in the past. Rather, it’s more that men have learned to expect superior treatment, or superior consideration, and then get upset if they don’t receive it. If this comment has raised your hackles, I suggest you give Manne’s book a read. It’s well well-written and she’s quite persuasive. I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down.

The third book I read this month was The Plague by Albert Camus. This book was on my reading list because of the recent pandemic, but it’s really not about a pandemic at all. It was written in the aftermath of World War Two, and here the plague is used as a metaphor for feverish idealism, or dogmatic thinking. When enough people think they have the right to enforce their opinions onto others, even to subject people to cruelty in order to get their way, the world has gone horribly wrong. Camus speaks through the voice of the doctor here, and he appears to be saying that our only true goal in life should be to help others survive and endure. It’s not about forcing others into our own point of view. And if killing is involved, we’ve definitely lost our way. I found it a profound read.

The fourth book I read this month was Watership Down by Richard Adams. It’s a classic book that has been on my reading list for years, and I have to say, I absolutely loved it! This is a wonderful book! The premise seems a bit silly: a group of rabbits leave their home warren and, after surviving many trials and hardships, aspires to set up a new one. Why should we care about a group of rabbits? It’s why I put off reading this book for so long. However, it turns out to be a novel that is not so much about rabbits as it is a thoughtful story about good leaders, and bad ones. And about how each of us has our own special skill, and when we find the courage to use that skill for the benefit of the entire community, we all become stronger. What’s not to love about that?

The final book for this month is Falling Upwards by Richard Rohr. It’s another book I would highly recommend, particularly for the middle-aged and older. Do you ever wonder about how you’ve lived your life? Could you have done it better? How can you even tell? Well, Rohr has some pointers for you, and I found them both thought-provoking and reassuring. ( Hint: if you’ve failed a lot, you’re doing better than you think!) It turns out that success in the second half of life requires turning the first half of life completely on its head. Rohr uses stories from ancient Rome, the Middle East, and the Bible to make his points, and he is persuasive – and encouraging.

So, there you have it! My list of books for this month. If you are interested in any of them, check them out at your local library. Until next month, happy reading!

Honeysuckle Flowers

My neighbour is an avid gardener. I envy his green thumb. All spring and summer long, his garden is filled with flowering bushes and perennials. It looks like a paradise compared to mine.

Along the fence between our two properties, and supported by a trellis, there grows a honeysuckle vine. I love to watch its delicate pink and yellow blooms in the summertime as they wave in the wind, surrounded by the lush green leaves. It makes me feel all soft and warm and relaxed inside, like I’m living in Italy, or somewhere else along the Mediterranean and couldn’t be luckier.

The thing that astounds me about those delicate pink flowers is just how tiny they are. We used to sell pounds and pounds of honeysuckle flowers in our store, and it blows my mind how many bushes must have been needed in order to produce a single pound of this strong anti-viral herb. The acreage of honeysuckle fields in China must be enormous.

Since the advent of COVID 19, honeysuckle flowers have been hard to source because they are considered among the most potent of anti-viral herbs, and are the chief ingredient in many Chinese medicinal formulas for colds, flus and viral infections. Production has had difficulty keeping up with the immense demand. It’s no wonder that the price per pound has skyrocketed.

Why are honeysuckle flowers so popular and valued? Well, they are used for both the prevention and treatment of all sorts of infections. Scientific studies of honeysuckle flowers have found them to have broad spectrum inhibitory actions against staphylococcus aureus, B-hemolytic streptococcus, E. coli, bacillus dysenteriae, Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella typhi, Diplococcus pneumoniae, Diplococcus meningitidis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis [1,2].

In addition to their potent anti-viral [3] and anti-bacterial ability, honeysuckle flowers also have marked anti-inflammatory and anti-pyretic properties, which means they bring down fever and help to combat inflammation everywhere in the body [4]. They are particularly effective for heat and inflammation in the upper chest and lung area [5], helping to soothe sore throat and thirst, as well as heat stroke, irritability, and insomnia.

In addition to that, they are also known to be particularly effective for all sorts of skin issues, including lung abscesses, skin sores, lesions, ulcerations, warts, and furuncles, and can be used both internally and externally for those problems.

It’s because of these potent anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory, and skin soothing properties that honeysuckle flowers are featured in a number of our products. They are a prime ingredient in our Chrysanthemum tincture, as well as in our Prime Herbal Mouthwash and our Mu Shang herbal deodorant.

In doing research for this blog post, I’ve also discovered that honeysuckle flowers have been shown to benefit digestion! Studies show that honeysuckle flowers decrease the absorption of cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract of rats, thus lowering cholesterol levels.[6] They also increase the excretion of bile acid and gastric acid, thus improving motility in the stomach and intestines.[7] They’re pretty amazing flowers!

I often think of honeysuckle flowers as being like echinacea root in Western herbalism. It’s often the first herb TCM practitioners reach for whenever they have an infection, or feel an onset of viral symptoms. I miss the days when honeysuckle flowers were cheaper and more readily available. Hopefully, once COVID 19 infections start to recede worldwide, we’ll have an easier time finding this delicate, beautiful, yet powerful herb.

  1. Xin Yi Xue (New Medicine), 1975; 6(3):155
  2. Jiang Xi Xin Yi Yao (Jiangxi New Medicine and Herbology); 1960;(1):34
  3. Guang Dong Zhong Yi (Guangdong Chinese Medicine), 1962; 5:25
  4. Shan Xi Yi Kan (Shangxi Journal of Medicine), 1960;(10):22
  5. Shang Hai Zhong Yi Yao Za Zhi (Shanghai Journal of Chinese Medicine and Herbology), 1983; 9:27
  6. Ke Xue Chu Ban She (Scientific Press), 1963:387
  7. Jiang Xi Xin Yi Yao (Jiangxi New Medicine and Herbology); 1960;(1):34

Listen: A New Year’s Resolution for 2023

We are now a couple of weeks into the year 2023, and I’m feeling the pressure to create a New Year’s Resolution, as I always do. It happens every January. Our success-oriented culture encourages us to take stock of our lives, and implement changes to improve who we are. To become more accomplished. To become more successful. To create superior versions of ourselves.

Except that this year, I’ve decided to sit that whole thing out. I’m weary of trying to improve myself and become a better ‘me’. I’m tired to trying to be fitter, or happier, or healthier. At the age of 52, I am finally starting to accept myself for the way I am, deficiencies and all. So, instead of trying to fit into someone else’s cookie cutter version of how they think I should be, or look, or act, I have decided to stick with what I’ve got and be happy as I am. It just feels right to me right now.

My mother died 7 weeks ago. This has no doubt affected my thinking. At the time of her passing, I thought I was handling it well. I was supported by kind family and friends who checked in on me constantly to see how I was doing. I spilled out my heart to them and was pleased that I was able to let it all go. I was living in the moment, feeling all the emotions and not holding anything back, just letting it all pass through me. I was fully present and felt completely alive.

But over the last number of weeks, my grief has become heavier. No longer the sharp pain I felt at her passing, it is now more of sadness, a weariness. More worrisome, I’ve been feeling numb and fatigued, a sure sign of nervous exhaustion. I know all the characteristics now. I’ve been down this road before. I know that if I don’t stop and take care of myself, worse symptoms will arrive before long.

And so, feeling the full weight of all that stress, and grief, and sadness, I’ve decided that this year, I will not try to become a better ‘me’. I will not push myself into exhaustion. I will not become more pleasing to others at the expense of myself.

This year, I want sit still enough to hear the deep whisperings of my own heart. I want to hear my own breathing and watch what is going on in my own mind. I want to sit still enough, with openness, curiosity and kindness, until I can hear my own voice. This year, I will listen.