I got to boast when 2 of my One Page Plays were accepted for performance! My play Baby You Were Great tied for runner-up as Best Comedy! The One Page Play Festival
So, it’s a wrap…. as 2019 ends, I invite all of you who have read my books to please write reviews for them on Amazon. These are vital to authors. And – if you haven’t read them – please consider buying my books as gifts for yourselves or your loved ones. As always, thank you for following me and being such a great tribe.
I’m sitting down to drink a cup of tea. If you don’t hear from me again, please notify my husband.
I’m going to try dittany or diktamos. The Cretans call it erontas or erondas, from the word eros. As you know, Eros is the Greek god of love and sexuality. The Greek is diktamos (δίκταμος) or erondas (έρωντας).
Diktamos is an herb that grows only on remote, rocky hilltops on the island of Crete. The name comes from the Dikti mountain range in the Lasithi region of East Crete.
The use of dittany goes back into the mists of history. It may be the plant featured in the fresco of garlands at the Minoan palace of Knossos. Hippocrates prescribed it. Homer, Euripides, Aristotle and Theophrastus, Plutarch and Virgil all wrote about the herb.
When Aeneas is injured, his mother Aphrodite (Venus) uses dittany to cure him:
A branch of healing dittany she brought
Which in the Cretan fields with care she sought:
Rough is the stern, which woolly leafs surround;
The leafs with flow’rs, the flow’rs with purple crown’d,
Well known to wounded goats; a sure relief
To draw the pointed steel, and ease the grief. 
Even characters in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows use dittany. The herb is considered an aphrodisiac (okay, maybe not in Harry Potter). Suitors collected the wild dittany flowers and gave bouquets to prove their love. The young men were known as “erondades (love seekers) and were considered very passionate men to go to such dangerous lengths to collect the herb.”  Traditionally, diktamos was given to newlyweds to inflame desire.
It can be used both internally and externally: a poultice, an essential oil, for application on wounds, an herbal tea (my chosen method – I bought a bag of dried herbs when we were on Crete this fall), to disinfect wounds, chewed, or as toothpaste for a sore throat and to clean the mouth and teeth. Dittany is distilled and used as a bitter in vermouth or martinis (for example), and in cosmetics. 
Finally, before I drink my brewed cup, I give you my favorite fact. Dittany/Diktamos is also known as the burning bush. I leave it to you to decide why I’m drinking it.
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“Dittany contains an essential oil called Carvacrol, which is a natural antibiotic, 50 times stronger than penicillin. In the leaves, there is furthermore a substance called Dictamin, which is used for cardiovascular diseases. In all, there are 70 different curative substances in the plant that can be extracted and used for medication or cosmetics.” — ilovecrete.eu
“Compounds of Dittany are powerful antioxidants. The essential oils have also antiseptic and anti-fungal properties and are often used in ointments to treat burns and skin ailments. Tea made from dittany is used to relieve tension headaches and as a relaxant. Dittany is also used to relieve indigestion, colic, stomach cramps and bloating. It is also thought to be a diuretic and to combat fever.” —greece-is.com
I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother recently here in Stuttgart. I arrived early and sat awhile in the silent cemetery chapel. First, I lit a slim yellow taper in the entrance to the church.
The family is Greek Orthodox. I’ve lit candles in lots of Orthodox churches throughout Greece, and once went to a church service in a tiny church in Thessaloniki that stands on a spot where the Apostle Paul preached.
I’d never been to an Orthodox funeral. Huge wreathes of white flowers bought by the families of her children were arrayed to the left of the altar. Candles in red glasses flickered around a framed photograph of Olga on a small stand; a cake in a white box and a bottle each of wine and olive oil were placed beside the photo.
The priest prayed and sang in Greek; he lifted the icon set on the casket and kissed it. Believers in the chapel crossed themselves at the right places in the text. Later, it was time to bury Olga.
A man played horn music, the priest chanted as the coffin was lowered into the ground. He opened the bottle of wine and poured it, in the shape of a cross, in the grave. Next (after wrapping his long black robes between his knees to keep them from getting soiled) he poured olive oil in the shape of the cross. He took the white box of cake that my friend had carried out of the church with her and, cutting it, spooned some of the cake into the grave as well.
We approached the grave one by one. When it was my turn, I tossed in a blooming flower and then a spade of dirt onto the casket.
The musician started playing Amazing Grace, which almost put me in tears. Some pieces of music transcend time, and continents, and cultures. In any language, for any generation, they bring solace and peace.
Then we went to a restaurant for the Makaria, the “Meal of Mercy” that follows an Orthodox funeral. This one was a German/Greek hybrid of coffee, Butterbrezel (large buttered pretzels), cakes and Greek pastries. My friend went around the long table and spooned out some of that traditional funeral cake onto each of our plates. “My mother used to make this dish herself,” she said. “Koliva. It’s traditional; every Greek family has a recipe. I didn’t have time to make it myself, so I bought one at a Greek bakery.”
I ate the Koliva, a mix of sesame seeds, almonds, oats, ground walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, and anise amongst other ingredients…
Sansevieria. It’s almost impossible to kill, produces oxygen like a champ, and has over 70 varieties. Sansevieria is also named the snake plant, or mother-in-law’s-tongue due to it’s sharp, pointy leaves.
I started off with a single snake plant about a decade ago. Over the years, I’ve divided and sub-divided the clumps of stalks every so often. In all this time they flowered exactly once. Heck, I didn’t even know a snake plant got flowers…
One of my oldest and best friends just came to visit. Before Shaun arrived I scurried around with all the cleaning and prettying up tasks I’d put off – one of them being to repot those stressed snake plants. And lo and behold, during Shaun’s visit they suddenly began to send up flower stalks!
These babies grow at an astonishing rate, practically as you watch. The flower stems grow as much as four inches a day! (No joke. Ask Shaun: I made her look each morning.) Even she oohed and aahed in wonder at how fast they rose.
Here are a few photos of the flowering stalks. And they are not slightly out of focus just because I’m a lousy photographer. They are blurry because they grow right before your eyes.
Here’s to flowering plants, Round Two. I hope I don’t have to wait another decade for Round Three!
I was beyond surprised when I got a phone call that Mr. Bond’s ex-wife wanted to me to come over. I put on a skirt (I have no idea why now, but it seemed appropriate to dress nicely if you were meeting royalty). His daughter from a previous marriage met me at the door and led me into the house where the baroness waited. The daughter left us alone to talk.
Baroness U. von O. was elegant, cool, and studied. She wore a dress and heavy jewelry. She’d removed one of her large earrings and clipped it to the matching gemstone necklace around her neck. How did I come to know her husband? She asked more questions. She lived in Paris, she said. Had I ever visited Paris?
The questions confused me. Paris? I was a sixteen-year-old girl who had cleaned her ex-husband’s house twice a week. I wondered why she even wanted to meet me.
Eventually the daughter returned. The baroness stood and shook my hand again. She left the room. Mr. Bond’s daughter took the chair the baroness had been sitting in, and as soon as Baroness U. von O. was out of earshot a very different conversation began.
“We found a drawer full of notes from you,” the daughter said.
I used to bring fresh flowers and harvest vegetables for Mr. Bond. (My parents always grew more than enough to give away – our garden covered half an acre.) I’d leave a note on the counter by the sink to say hello and tell him what was in the refrigerator. I always ended my note with PS: Have a nice day. This was back in the ’70s when the expression became wildly popular.
Mr. Bond had saved all of my notes.
“We found a stack of notebooks, too. Pages and pages in his handwriting,” she continued. “He was writing a book. He already had a title; he was going to call it PS: Have a Nice Day. I think my stepmother was more than startled to learn about you. You see, after she left him and went back to Europe, my father turned into an old man. Your notes brought a little bit of brightness back into his life. I for one wanted to meet you, to thank you for being nice to my father.” Then Mr. Bond’s daughter asked if I’d like something to remember him by. Maybe a nick knack? An object in the house I’d liked?
“Do you have a picture of him I could take?”
She fetched a photo album and removed a photograph. George Bond stands outdoors in short sleeves and a smile. The camera has caught a bright flash of sun, and the air above him is obscured by a ball of light. On the one hand it’s simply a bad photo. But I liked it. I imagined that snapshot captured a bit of his aura, the energy field that surrounds each of us like a protective shield, like a halo.
I’ve held onto that photo. I keep it tucked in an album of my own early memories. Today, for the first time in decades, I took the photo out to examine again. I found myself looking more closely: the tree behind him appears doubled. It’s as if he stands poised at the crack between this world and the next, left and right reflections of one another at the folds of time. If we’re lucky, sometimes we connect with people for brief periods that resonate beyond their life spans. For a short while I knew a Mr. Bond. George Bond. I see him still, an incredibly kind man who saved my notes, his image glowing in a photograph.
When I was in high school, I went twice a week to wash the dishes and vacuum the house of a man who lived a few blocks away from us.
His name was Bond. George Bond. He was a divorced, silver-haired lawyer who lived alone in a beautiful house with a big yard and a player piano.
My parents grew a ridiculously huge garden. Often I’d make up a bouquet of fresh flowers from my mother’s rows of zinnias, daisies, black-eyed susans, cosmos, snapdragon, calendula, nasturtiums, gladiolas, sunflowers and bachelor button. I knew where the vases were in Mr. Bond’s kitchen cabinet, and would place those fresh flowers on a table in his living room.
Throughout the summer and fall I brought him bags of fresh vegetables. I’d put the produce in the refrigerator, and I always left a note for him on the kitchen counter.
He left me notes as well, thank you messages for what I brought (I remember a dry note about how the onions were a bit strong). I doubt he cooked much, but he was always gracious.
Sometimes Mr. Bond arrived home while I was still cleaning. We’d sit and talk. I was sixteen, and he’d ask me about the classes I was taking, my interests, etc. I was mortified whenever our golden retriever Sam followed me over to his house, but Mr. Bond just laughed. He enjoyed my wonder the day he showed me how the player piano worked.
Mr. Bond was a nice, nice man.
A day came when he left me a note that he was going in the hospital for a heart operation, so I needn’t come the following week. But he didn’t survive the surgery, and suddenly I found myself at his funeral. The passing of Mr. Bond was my first experience of the reality of death, and it’s finality.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral service. George Bond was a widely known attorney and community leader, busy with civic and business activities. The church pews were completely full. I had known him only as a kind employer and an adult I liked to talk with.
A few weeks later my mom called me to the phone. A woman introducing herself as his daughter was on the line. She and Mr. Bond’s last wife were in town to close up his house. His ex was minor royalty and had flown in from Paris. Baroness U. von O. of Copenhagen, Denmark wanted to meet me. Why would a baroness possibly want to talk with me? The next day I found out.
I was going to tell you about Malaysian Borneo when I got sidetracked by their neighbor Brunei. Moving on quickly (which is what we did as we flew over the sultanate on our way to the state of Sarawak), we landed in Kuching. What a lovely, lovely city. Kuching should get its own post, and likely will. We roamed along the riverfront walk and slurped down laksa noodle dishes with gusto. Kuching is a great spot to head out to various national parks to see wildlife.
Borneo is home of the native Dayak tribes. Remember childhood tales of the wild headhunters of Borneo? The Dayak call this ritual Ngayau. We visited Dayak long houses. Smoked skulls still hang at the hearth in the central long house.
The most important tribal figure is the head chief, closely followed by the shaman. This medicine man, also known as a balian  is responsible for the health of the tribe as well as interceding between the worlds.
During our time in Kuching I’d been glancing in shops without actually entering any of them. Among the streets of tourist trinkets, one store fascinated me. On the last day I made a beeline for that shop. 
And then I made a beeline for a shelf lined with containers topped by human figures.
Jerry Ang, the soft-spoken shop owner, kindly answered all my questions. He told me these were Dayak shaman medicine containers. The figures are hand carved from polished buffalo or cow bone. A shaman had hand-etched the jar with scrimshaw patterns. Dayak shamans used the containers to store herbs, magic powders and betal lime to make medical potions. Some still contained resins – Jerry and I opened each jar and sniffed.
The carved figure indicates the illness the potion was intended to treat. Some of the figures held their heads (aches and pains of the head) or their stomachs. Some figures even depicted a person crouched over… the traveler’s curse of diarrhea for sure.
My piece has a prawn carved on the back: Jerry thought maybe prawns were one of the main ingredients in the medicine. Or perhaps the prawn indicated the woman who made the potion (he said the figure was female), or an ancestor. An on-line source tells me the scrimshaw work represents animals that bring good luck. If anyone can give me more information, I’d be most grateful!
NOTES:  Balian is the term used for traditional healers on Bali, too. Healing arts are passed down through generations. Twenty years ago I did a massage exchange with the son of a balian there; he had been taught by his father. To learn more about the Dayak shamans go to http://factsanddetails.com. The article gives the following information: “Shamanic curing, or balian, is one of the core features of these ritual practices. Because illness is thought to result in a loss of the soul, the ritual healing practices are devoted to its spiritual and ceremonial retrieval. In general, religious practices focus on the body, and on the health of the body politic more broadly. Sickness results from giving offense to one of the many spirits inhabiting the earth and fields, usually from a failure to sacrifice to them. The goal of the balian is to call back the wayward soul and restore the health of the community through trance, dance, and possession.” [Source: Library of Congress, 2006] Or see Wikipedia: The Dayak People  See also Unika Borneo, the shop where I found my figure. I receive no commission for mentioning the store. I just think they deserve to be mentioned. More figures can be admired at https://borneoartifact.com and https://www.esotericstuff.com
The island of Borneo is very special. Its territory is divided up between Malaysia (the Borneo part), Indonesia (Kalimantan), and the tiny sultanate of Brunei. Brunei is currently in the news as the all-powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who also acts as prime minister, insists that Brunei will implement sharia law. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has ruled non-stop for 52 years.
Harsh penalties have been in force since 2014; the second and third stages to the penal code just went into effect a few weeks ago on April 3. People convicted of being gay men or adulterers die by stoning. Thieves lose the right hand for a first offense, and the left foot for the second. Blasphemy or leaving the Muslim faith earns the death penalty. The new laws criminalize ‘exposing’ Muslim children to the beliefs and practices of any religion other than Islam. Cross dressing earns imprisonment. Abortion shall be punished with public flogging. Lesbians get flogged with 40 strokes of the cane and/or a maximum of 10 years in prison.
These laws mostly effect Muslims, though some aspects apply to non-Muslims. One-third of the country’s population is not Muslim.
Human Rights Watch condemns the new penal code as “barbaric to the core”. In ‘fairness’, it’s not entirely clear whether death by stoning will actually be implemented. A high burden of proof is needed.
We just finished up a trip to that part of the world and had an amazing time on Borneo. It repels me beyond words to think that we might have visited this barbaric regime.
But I digress. I wanted to tell you about our trip. Come back later; I promise I’ll be in a better mood. I’ll have stories about orangutans, rare frogs, and Dayak shaman medicine to share with you.
Every time Uwe and I went on a long trip, my mother-in-law’s last words were always, “The main thing is, you come back healthy!” She also said those words any time Uwe and I went on a short trip. Actually, she said this anytime either of us went anywhere.
“Cripes Uwe,” I would complain, “why the hell can’t she just tell us to have a good time?”
And then I got older and we did an extended trip and I did not come back healthy. I developed a herniated disk when we returned home.
Take it from me… Mothers are always, always right.
I should be on the other side of the world right now, meeting up with my sisters and their husbands to help celebrate a birthday. But I had a sinus infection since New Year’s Eve, and the space between my ears felt like it was stuffed with wet cotton. For weeks, I weighed the three plane flights needed for a trip of twenty hours against the likely reality of popped eardrums.
And suddenly, through the dampers in my eustachian tubes, I heard Mama Hartmann’s voice speaking that cautionary phrase with a new twist: “The main thing is, you leave healthy.”
I listened to my mother-in-law. I cancelled the flights at the last minute, and made a third appointment with a second ENT doc, an ear nose throat specialist. (Otolaryngologist. My new word for the day. Yippee for me.)
Christmas is a tricky holiday for me. My family always celebrated this time of year with gusto, and my mom made it really special.  The first year I spent Christmas with my German husband’s family I was hit with a bout of longing for America, for my dead mother, for all things beloved and familiar.
“I’m really, really homesick. God, I miss home at Christmas time,” I confessed to my mother-in-law.
“Well, this year you’re with us. This is your home now.” Her mouth was pinched. I had just royally offended (to say nothing of hurting the feelings of) my new husband’s mom.
I was on the brink: I was going to start crying and not be able to stop. “I think I’ll go for a walk,” I said. I put on my boots and coat, fast. I walked by myself through the snowy dark streets. Of course, on Christmas Eve the roads were silent and totally empty; everyone was in the lit-up homes, celebrating the birth of Christ with their families. I walked for probably forty minutes, until I was worn out and too cold to remain outside any longer.
And then I went back to the house and smiled.
I still get homesick this time of year, but after being here so long Uwe and I have our own traditions. Putting up a tree and decorating it always helps. We used to just walk up the street to a yard that sold trees, select one, and carry it home between us. Now Uwe purchases the tree at a shopping center parking lot, and I trim it with all kinds of ornaments.
The former Eastern Germany is known for wooden ornaments. I bought three in Leipzig, for both my sisters and one for my own tree. I also hang special ornaments that remind me of where I grew up.
About twenty-three years ago we spent the holidays in Sofia, Bulgaria, where my sister Pam was teaching. I bought some insanely delicate glass ornaments there.
I’ve never seen anything like them, before or since. When I sat down to write this post, I googled Bulgarian ornaments, hoping to get some info on where they were made. But instead I was directed to cheesy sites selling images of Bulgaria, probably mass-produced in China….
So I have no idea if these quirky (and highly breakable) ornaments are still being made in Bulgaria. I get them out each year, though. Aside from the kitty-cat missing an ear, they’re all intact.
Wishing everyone the blessings of the holiday season. Do whatever you need to in order to make the occasion joyous. Happy holidays, and see you all in 2019.