Friday, December 19, 2014

Battle of the Bulge: Enjoy the Sabbath

You know that whole "eat things in moderation" bit? Well, when I had cake or chocolate every day, even really small amounts, I never saw serious results until I restricted such sugary intake to just the weekends

Cutting off favorite foods completely, though, is just not a realistic way to eat, nor does it leave one particularly cheerful. Or on the wagon for very long.

One factor that I have to take into consideration is that I leave the freezer and pantry behind every day as I go to work. If I was at home on a daily basis, I would probably have to reevaluate my methods, but if one is employed and doesn't eat out, things are much easier. 

Shabbos is a realistic choice to get one's hedonism on. After all, there are all those meals anyway, so one might as well enjoy oneself. 

But my plan of attack is based on focusing on the foods that I like best. Even when one wants to throw a diet plan aside for one blissful day, still make a point to consume calories of only the concoctions one really loves; otherwise, it is just a waste.    

Hellooooo, cake. It's been a week since we met last.
Mmmm. A git Shabbos, indeed.     

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Open My Eyes, to Behold Thy Wonders"

When we become absorbed with the the complexities and intricacies of this world, we often forget at the "wow" of it all. Then one day, maybe there is nothing better on, so I "make do" with a science show, then I gape and gasp and go "No waaaaaay! So cooooool!" for an hour. 

I heard this stupendous shiur on by Esther Wein called "Iyov, Akeidah of the Mind," given on 11/20/14. I must say, if anyone is struggling with anything, this shiur certainly comforted me. She delves into Sefer Iyov, how Hashem responds to his main question: "Why?"

Hashem's response is to tell him, in detail, about the mastery of His creation, how Iyov cannot measure it or comprehend it all. It doesn't seem to be an answer to his pleas to understand his suffering, but it is. So to as Hashem created it all, so to He cares for it all. All is well. 

Knowest thou the ordinances of the heavens? Canst thou establish the dominion thereof in the earth?
"Heavens Breadth 16" by Marsha Charlebois
Canst thou send forth lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee: 'Here we are'?

Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? Or who hath given understanding to the mind?

Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can pour out the bottles of heaven, When the dust runneth into a mass, and the clods cleave fast together?

Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lioness? Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?
If one sees the majestic in the everyday currents of life, that can provide the comforting balm of security and trust. 

Robin Rinaldi, in "The Mystery in the Machine," describes her grief as she pines for a child. She fantasized: 
My husband and I gaze at the black screen as the grainy image of a fetus emerges, its head nearly as large as its tiny sea horse body. And then, a thumping sound, echoing like a signal picked up from deep space. My husband looks from the screen to me, and I can see in his eyes that he finally understands what I have instinctively known for years — that all of our ambitions, world travels and spiritual practices never brought us this close to the mystery.  
But it was not to be. She did not have a child, that intellect-defying gift that forces us to realize our place in this vast and unknowable universe. However, her heart began misbehaving, and she went in for an echocardiogram. 
“That looks like a sonogram machine,” I said.
“It is,” she said, smiling. “An echocardiogram is just a sonogram of your heart.”
. . . Then she turned the sound on.
There were clicks, lots of clicks, as if she had pried open a grandfather clock, and also a surge of liquid flowing wildly between pauses. Like water rushing over a falls in gusts.
“Those are your valves,” she said. “They open and close several times with each heartbeat.”
“And that liquid sound is the blood?”
“Yes, blood filling and leaving each ventricle.”
She saw the tears gathering.
“I’m telling you,” she said, putting her free hand on my arm, “I’ve been photographing the human heart for 20 years. It’s made a believer out of me.
“It’s amazing,” I said. “I mean . . . what starts it? What keeps it beating?”
“That’s the million-dollar question,” she said. “But something had to create this.” She snapped another image as my valves clicked open and shut like miraculous little dams.
I think we can be myopic as to the "amazing" there is in our world. There is just so much of it, all over. We just have to make a point to see it.
 . . . I do know one thing: I didn’t need a baby to get me any closer to the mystery. We couldn’t escape the mystery if we tried.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

To Date, or Not To Date

Why doesn't anyone call, e-mail, smoke signal? Is there no eligible bachelors about? I'll just take a date, then. It doesn't have to be epic, or anything. Just to feel as though things are moving along. 


Oh, e-mail, my redeemer! Let's see, what is this guy about . . . Oh. Hm. Er. Shrek, he already said yes. Dang. Now I have to e-mail her back that he isn't for me. 


She expects me to tell her in gory detail why I'm saying no? I've never beredt guys before, and I don't intend to start now. Even with the most offensive of dates I just said, "He isn't for me, thanks." What does she expect me to write? What do you want from me?! Did she not look at his information, what was she thinking making me the bad guy?

Deep breaths. Heeeeee . . . haaaaaa . . . heeeee . . . .

Why do You send me these aggravations? Never mind, I'd rather have no suggestions if situations like this are going to send my blood pressure into hyperdrive. I'd rather live a boring, non-emotionally exacting existence any day rather than having my nerves and guilt thrown into upheaval.

But by the next week, I still expectantly log into my e-mail. I peer at my phone. 

And the mad cycle continues. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Battle of the Bulge: Fat is Back

I am a serious potato lover. I have not yet met a potato or its derivative that I did not swoon over. For instance, I was just introduced to the Japanese/Korean/Oriental yam. Holy cow is it good. Roasted with a little salt, pepper, and oil, mmm . . .

Back to the topic at hand: I am not immune to carbs. But for a whittled waistline, carbs are out ("A Call for a Low-Carb Diet That Embraces Fat" by Anahad O'Connor). Also, after many misinformed years of "low-fat" ruling the day, "low-fat" has been shunned.
In a recent study, low-fat faced off against low-carb. Calories were not measured, and both groups were encouraged to consume more vegetables. Result: The low-carb group managed to increase heart health and lose more body fat, even with the butter and oil and some red meat, cheese, and eggs. 

However, the low-fat group lost muscle, not fat. 

The villain? Processed foods. The ones with refined carbs, especially. There really isn't much that can be purchased on store shelves, I've found. So many items on there announce how healthy they are because they are non-fat, but in order to compensate for the lack of creaminess, refined carbs are added. Oh snap. 

Real foods—like eggs—are no longer the bad guy. Fake edibles are on the run, for good reason. Just say no to faux. No fake fats, like trans (that means no margarine and no Rich's Whip), and while I'm at it, no fake sugars, either. 

But once a week, I have my Japanese/Korean/Oriental yam. The ideal diet is low-carb, not no-carb, right?   

Monday, December 15, 2014


After an ill-fated game of tag on a Rosh Hashana afternoon (my nephew and I had collided with a sickening crunch), Eewok and I sat on the front steps as Luke tossed the ball to the rest of his offspring, baby in arm.

In the waning light of the day, there was a variety of foot traffic trecking by, topped with diverse head coverings. Suddenly, Eewok piped, "What are we?" 

I knew what she meant, but pretended not to. "What do you mean?" 

"Like, what are we?" 

"You mean Jewish?"

"No, no, like, are we chassidish, are we yeshivish . . ."

"Well, we actually aren't anything." 

"Huh? How can we not be anything?" 

"We are something: We're Jews." 

"Nothing else? Not chassidish or yeshivish?" 

"Well, baby, we have some great-grandparents who were chassidish. And then we have some who weren't. That kind of cancels each other out." 

She took this in, then asked, "What is chassidish?" 

It's kind of difficult to explain chassidus to a seven-year-old, and as I struggled with descriptions of rebbes and sects I gave up. It was also impossible to quantify yeshivish. "You know what, booba? We're more alike than not. That's why I like to say that we aren't anything. Because once you have a label, there are also walls. 'I'm this, not that.' Jews are supposed to be all brothers and sisters, and once you start saying what else you are besides 'Jewish' then that gets lost. 'Chaverim kol Yisroel zu l'zu.' We are one, big family, see? So it's better that we're category-less." 

"Oh." She was silent a moment, then turned to me and smiled, her multi-colored eyes bright with understanding. "Most of the girls in my class are category-less."
"Good!" I said, and snuggled her close. We then continued to watch the many Chaverim stream by.    

Friday, December 12, 2014

When I Grow Up

On chol hamoed Pesach I had to run to the store for some more fruit for second days. Since this was to be a rather short outing, I grumbled to myself as I applied abbreviated Face; tinted moisturizer dusted with some mineral makeup, mascara, blush, mineral concealer on my dark circles, and a swipe of lipstick. It took five minutes, but I still felt as though it was a waste of good cosmetics

My household always conferred a reverence to chol hamoed, scorning denim for dressy wool in honor of the holiday. Sighing as I selected a pair of ballet flats over comfy sneakers, I marched out all bedecked, feeling a tad ridiculous considering the swiftness of my errand. 

Standing in line waiting to pay, with three boxes of newly-reduced Kerestirer matzah teetering on one arm as I clutched a bunch of grapes and a cantaloupe with the other, I gawped at the woman ahead of of me. 

She wasn't young, maybe even over 70. Her Face was brilliantly applied, not too much, not too little; her neat wig was topped with a crisp straw fedora; her skirt was of the well-fitting pencil variety; on her feet were a pair of 2" pumps that could pass for Chanel. The epitome of elegance.
I so want to be her. 

We exchanged pleasant smiles once I dragged my jaw back upwards, and I hungrily took in her pristine appearance for as long as possible. 

I take that back. It can never hurt to dress up.       

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Baa Baa

The history of Jewish leadership usually involves sheep. The patriarchs, Moshe, Dovid—they all spent a good chunk of their lives as shepherds. The reasoning is this: There is no job training for ultimate power like being a caretaker of rams, ewes, and lambs.

This explanation became more tangible to me as I read "Powerful and Coldhearted" by 
Psychological research suggests the answer is no. Studies have repeatedly shown that participants who are in high positions of power (or who are temporarily induced to feel powerful) are less able to adopt the visual, cognitive or emotional perspective of other people, compared to participants who are powerless (or are made to feel so).
Interesting. The prevailing theory has been that the higher one gets the less one needs others, and so casts aside any sort of kindness for humankind. But that doesn't sound right to me. Are people only nice because they need something? Earthlings are benevolent, every day, and they know they won't receive anything in return. 

Instead, the authors posit that once the brain is drunk on power, it begins to rewire itself; the sympathetic neurons quit. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Salads, 2.0

I didn't used to be a salad person. I still don't think of myself as a salad person, but it is only a matter of time. 

Owen and his posse came for Shabbos a couple of weeks ago, and Ma's method is to mostly churn out the tried-and-true favorites, with a couple of new experiments thrown in. 

For a salad, I remembered Rena's Maple Vinaigrette, as yet untried. She and I concur that fat is not terrible, only a lot of fat is terrible, while a reasonable amount keeps the body satiated. I halved this recipe for a small salad composed of lettuce, cucumbers, orange bell pepper, and grape tomatoes (one of the reasons for my salad dislike is that the components are usually oversized and difficult to chew; I chopped up everything into bite-sized pieces).
Now, for the flourish: Owen, he who scoffs and sneers at my "healthy" attempts, loved it. He kept saying, "This salad is great!" He even rhapsodized, "Who made this salad?" and didn't take back the compliments after I claimed ownership. 

For that Shabbos, the one store-bought item was a small container of coleslaw, brimming with divine mayo. The following week, for Friday night guests, I decided to search for a home-made recipe instead. 

I was taken with Jayme's Coleslaw Recipe, and halved it as well for the bag of coleslaw mix ($1.50 as opposed to $5 for the ready-made). I was initially concerned that there was insufficient dressing as I tossed it with a pair of tongs, but after it marinated overnight the results were satisfyingly mayonnaisey.
A note on the mayo: Now that low-fat is out the door, I purchased a bottle of safflower mayo (safflower oil is a good fat). Although it is full-fat, one only needs a little for a lot of creaminess. While there was only a 1/4 cup of mayo in the salad, it was enough. 

Cucumber salad is a Hungarian must with meals to cut the heaviness of meat, and I've found myself, for the first time, hankering for it. I cleaned out Ma's supply, and felt a burning need to concoct some more.
I didn't abide by a recipe, merely following my heart: thinly sliced cucumber, thinly sliced onion, minced garlic clove, dill, some sugar and/or honey, and drowned everything in apple cider vinegar and water.

A note on the thinly sliced: My Zeidy lived only for sugar, but he took personal pride on his cucumber salad; with knife in hand, ethereal wisps of cucumber emerged. So, remember to shoot for "ethereal wisps." They should fold up in your mouth like a cheap suit. Since this wasn't for company, only for me, I used a vegetable peeler. The results aren't as aesthetically pleasing, but possess the necessary transparency. 

* Disclaimer: I did not take pictures of my attempts, so the above photos are merely rip-offs from the 'net.     

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thinking Caps

I love calm. I crave calm. I weep for calm. It also doesn't take much to unhinge my calm. I'm easily excitable. "Oh no, they stopped carrying that whole bran matzah I liked? Whatever am I to do?" 

Since my nerves are more on the hysterical side, I make a point to soothe whatever areas of my life I can control to maintain equilibrium. I go to bed at the same time so I can wake up at the same time, which provides me sufficient time to prepare for the day, so I don't run out the door half-dressed, unpainted, and prayer-free. I am usually first at any occasion or appointment, preferring to be bored and prompt than frantic and late. When I babysit my method is to cast a spell of calm over the critters, since they are just so reasonable when they are mellow. "Bedtime? Cool."

I need time to acheive calm, brainspace to establish calm, I need to think to aspire to calm. One of my concerns about the smartphone is that it robs us of any unoccupied time when we could be doing the necessary thinking to streamline our lives, whether in scheduling, relationships, or to simply breathe for a minute.
But navigating the clutter in our own heads is not necessarily pleasant. There may be monsters lurking in our subconscious that we would rather not have to vanquish. So we dive into "busyness," and never surface.
As Kate Murphy writes in "No Time to Think":
In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.
In 11 experiments involving more than 700 people, the majority of participants reported that they found it unpleasant to be alone in a room with their thoughts for just 6 to 15 minutes.
Moreover, in one experiment, 64 percent of men and 15 percent of women began self-administering electric shocks when left alone to think. These same people, by the way, had previously said they would pay money to avoid receiving the painful jolt.
It didn’t matter if the subjects engaged in the contemplative exercise at home or in the laboratory, or if they were given suggestions of what to think about, like a coming vacation; they just didn’t like being in their own heads.
It could be because human beings, when left alone, tend to dwell on what’s wrong in their lives. We have evolved to become problem solvers and meaning makers. What preys on our minds, when we aren’t updating our Facebook page or in spinning class, are the things we haven’t figured out — difficult relationships, personal and professional failures, money trouble, health concerns and so on. And until there is resolution, or at least some kind of understanding or acceptance, these thoughts reverberate in our heads. Hello rumination. Hello insomnia.
Yes, I am a ruminator. And yes, there are times when I do dwell on the unpleasantly unresolved; heck, I can't stand it when I have to return a mascara to Sephora, never mind being single (may that be the worst to obsesses over). But if I didn't give myself time to think, I would not have any plan for the day, how to be more efficient, how to take care of the factors within my control, what would be the best thing to say to so-and-so.
But you can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.
Thinking, the article continues, detracts the power of negativity; if such feelings were ingnored, all sorts of mental as well as physical ailments take form. Thinking increases empathy. Thinking is the fount of creativity. 
Hard as they sometimes are, negative feelings are a part of everyone’s life, arguably more so if you are crazy busy. But it’s those same deep and troubling feelings, and how you deal with them, that make you the person you are. While busyness may stanch welling sadness, it may also limit your ability to be overcome with joy.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tick. Tock.

Disclaimer: As a female, I can only comment about my own date experiences, and for lack of imagination, cannot fabricate difficulties males may have on dates. I am simply stating an issue I have encountered, and am issuing a public service announcement. 

Don't look at your watch. 

Don't look at your watch. 

Good girl, don't look at your watch. 

Ah! He's going to the bathroom! OK, what time is it? 


Why am I still here?
I'm not familiar with the current date-time min- and maximum, but if my father is frantically calling my cell (which was shut off, but the poor man tried) to make sure I'm still alive, it's not good.

I don't know about other girls, but I make a point to fake it till I reach the safety of my own doorstep. So I smile buoyantly, vocalizing all the subtle initimations—blatant statements, rather—about the earliness of my workday, but the bachelor is unmoved. 

If the waiter keeps sidling by the table and noisily clearing his throat, take a hint.

I eventually crawled through the door, carsick, exhausted, and knowing that I will accrue about four precious hours of sleep, a mere fraction of my regular requirement. 

"Where did he drive you to?" Ma demanded, bleary-eyed. "Hungary?" 

Since girls aren't usually in the driver's seat—literally—on dates, we are often at the mercy of the date in terms of transportation. I, at least, don't want to be undiplomatic by insinuating that the company is unpleasant by explicitly requesting a return journey, like, now, please?

But that, of course, leaves me at a disadvantage, since the fellow can assume from his perspective that the evening is going swimmingly. Whereas it is requiring more and more detractions from my dwindling energy supply just to remain upright, never mind bubbly.
My dear chaps: Keep things to a reasonable time frame. If she likes you, she'll jump at the chance to go out with you again, and there will be countless future hours to revel in each other's glow. If she doesn't like you that way, she won't mentally curse you out. Win-win.

What's ideal? Well, if there is no hefty traveling to the romantic setting, two hours, at most, of each other's company, should do. If the guy insists on shlepping to more distant locale, three hours (this is including the travel time), tops. 

Gals, please weigh in!