Posts Tagged ‘health’

Smokers’ lounge

Take a gander at this painted ceiling in a smokers’ lounge.  Just goes to show you human beings can ignore absolutely anything.

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Saving time

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been exhausted after a day of working, housekeeping, and child rearing, and just wanted to get into bed to sleep.  But before I would drag my weary self upstairs, I would think, “Oh, I’ll just check my email first.”  And then, before I know it, the owl on my Audubon bird clock in the kitchen is hooting midnight, and I’m still at the computer.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the computer is just another addiction.  I’ve never been into smoking, or alcohol, or drugs, or even caffeine.  I don’t have what I’ve heard called an “addictive personality,” which relies on outside substances to wake me up in the morning, keep me going, or get me to relax.  But the computer has become something entirely different.

Billed as a “time-saver,” it’s true that the computer, with email, word processing, and the Internet, enables me to keep in touch with my family and friends on the other side of the world, look up obscure facts in a trice, work from home, and write posts like this one to be read by anyone else who has time to kill.  Until computers came along, I was content with the occasional phone call or letter, ignorance about all kinds of subjects, and working from home and blogging were virtually unknown to me.  But what I really find is that with the convenience comes a hankering to spend even more time on the computer, taking me away from my kids, my other responsibilities, and my sleep.  In the end, what I have found is that to a large degree, the computer is an even bigger time-waster.  Last Friday, I knew that my work had been buttoned up for the week, there was nothing in the news that I felt a strong urge to follow, and anything else could wait until Sunday.  We were having guests for dinner that night and I had to bake for a neighborhood seudah shlishit, so intent as I was on cooking with no distractions, I left the computer turned off all day.  The result?  Except for one stovetop dish, I was finished cooking by 12:30, filled the hot water urn, dusted the shelves in the dining room where my Shabbat candles and the kids’ artwork is displayed, checked my kids’ heads for lice (zero for four, thank God), took a leisurely bath, and read the paper for a little while.  No rushing at the last minute before candle-lighting, no writing emails until I smell something burning in the oven that I forgot about, no showering in the dark after the Cap’n has gone to shul.  It was luxurious.  The computer may save me time for some things, but on Friday, NOT using it is the real time-saver.

I realize some parents severely limit their children’s daily screen time (TV and computer).  I think this is a great idea—so great, in fact, that I think I should probably exercise it on myself, too.

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One of the most useful things I learned from attending public high school was sex ed.  It was taught to girls and boys separately (my first experience of single-sex education), discussed in an honest, factual, unabashed manner, and gave me all the information I needed about biology, pregnancy prevention, and sexually transmitted diseases, to make my choices in life.

My last two years of high school, and my year of high school teaching, were both in girls’ Catholic schools.  My high school (in Monterey, California) was unusual in that the seniors were given a day off from lessons in the spring to spend the day (including a posh luncheon) with a gynecologist imported from San Francisco.  She gave us a presentation about female sexuality, sprinkling her talk with humorous anecdotes from her private practice in The City.  She told us everything we needed to know, and then the floor was open for questions.  We were allowed to ask anything and everything we wished, and our questions were answered in full.  Recognizing that we would soon be off to college and devoid of adult supervision or counsel, the blessed sisters made an effort to provide us with as much information as possible to keep ourselves safe and healthy.

Contrast this with the year I spent teaching in a girls’ Catholic school in Newton, Massachusetts, where sex education comprised lectures about abstinence.  Please note that I was in high school in the mid-1980s, and was teaching fifteen years later.  But the school where I taught espoused the much more traditional Catholic attitude toward premarital sex and, since it was not acting in loco parentis (as my boarding school was), perhaps the administration did not feel at liberty to offer advice that might run counter to some families’ values and parenting.

But I still remember the students filing into my US history class grumbling about the abstinence-only curriculum.  “In two years we’ll be in college, and if we don’t know what we’re doing, we can get into trouble!”  They were angry at the school for denying them the information they knew they would need in order to make their own choices.  And given that one of my students (not in that class) was several months pregnant by graduation time, it’s clear that these girls were done a disservice.

All that came back to mind last week (as well as news of a 10 year old mother delivering her child in Spain recently) when a friend of the Cap’n’s who is a family physician sent him a link to a Slate Magazine article/slideshow on “The European approach to teens, sex, and love, in pictures.”  It is compiled and written by a physician who works for Planned Parenthood, and examines and contrasts advertising and attitudes toward teen sexual activity in America and Europe.  (In a nutshell, it shows that Europeans accept that many young people are sexually active and use humor to teach about condoms, encouraging young people to be prepared.  Americans view youth sex as bad, carrying a condom is perceived negatively both for girls and boys, and Madison Avenue prefers fearful messages  to sell condoms.)  It should interest parents, teachers, media analysts, psychologists and health educators, as well as anyone else who takes an interest in the next generation.

Click here to view it.  I’d be interested in comments from readers on both sides of The Pond.

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Send in the clowns

I have discovered lots of cool things about living in Israel.  While people here are notorious for being rude, small shop owners have sold me stuff on credit (“Just pay me next time you come in”), or even loaned me their own personal knitting needles for a project.  I have never once been catcalled by a construction worker here.  (In the US, I don’t think I passed a single construction site without someone rating my appearance.)  And I just discovered that clowns, which I never found funny, but always thought bizarre and pitiful looking, have been transformed into valuable members of medical teams in hospitals.  Check out this video:

The US has also worked at integrating specially trained clowns into its medical programs.  I’m impressed by what this video shows: how the clowns interact with patients from newborns to tweens, their level of training, and their acceptance–nay, the demand for them–by hospital staff.  For the medical field to take the leap to seeing medical treatment through a very young patient’s eyes, and to work to make the experience of hospitalization and treatment more comfortable for that population, is commendable.

I often despair that life is not a progression from barbarism toward greater civilization.  And then I see videos like this, and hope is restored.

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In the last few weeks, I’ve undertaken some challenging cooking jobs.  Vegan friends sponsored a kiddush, other friends with multiple allergies recently welcomed twins into their family, and a family joined us for Shabbat with a member who doesn’t eat gluten or eggs.  And my in-laws are shortly to join us for a couple of weeks, with my mother-in-law on a diet that at this point allows for plain chicken breasts, lettuce leaves, rice, and peppermint stick ice cream.

My mother thinks I’m crazy to cook as much as I do, but I really enjoy it.  I cook very simply during the week (salads, soups, beans and rice, raw vegetable platters) and save the bulk of my cooking energy for Shabbat.

And it’s also a fact that food, which I always thought was here to sustain us, makes many of us sick.  So it’s not enough anymore just to keep kosher (which was plenty complicated for me to learn at the beginning); now a competent cook needs to have a cooking repertoire that includes dishes for friends who are lactose intolerant or dairy-allergic, gluten-free, vegan, or allergic to tree nuts, eggs, sesame seeds, soy, half of the fruits, the nightshade family, and can’t be in the same room as fish.

Should anyone else find themselves having to make food for friends with allergies or strict diets, I thought I would share some of what I’ve done in the last couple of weeks, and the sources for the recipes where relevant.

For the vegan kiddush I made the following:

Ultra-orange cake (a beautiful, tasty one-bowl cake from the latest Joy of Cooking)

Vegan chocolate cake (not the best chocolate cake in the world, but passable, also from Joy of Cooking)

Apple “pie” (a crustless apple dessert made in a springform pan)

Coconut rice pudding (a very rich, Indian-inspired dish from Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food)

Jelly mold (I used bovine gelatin here, which no true vegan will eat, but the kids had to have something to enjoy, and I sprinkled Jelly Bellies® around it for added fun, flavor, and color)

Popcorn (the Cap’n made regular salted popcorn, but one can make caramel popcorn or “sweet” popcorn, adding powdered sugar instead of salt)

For our highly allergic friends’ dinner we took the following:


Spaghetti and meatballs (where I formed the meatballs from ground chicken and beef, but no other add-ins; just be gentle with them in the pan until they’re browned, so they don’t break up)


Raw vegetable platter

Crunch-top apple pie (okay, the kid with the nut allergies couldn’t eat this, but we didn’t call the kids for dessert anyway, and just sat and enjoyed it ourselves)

And for our friends with a gluten-free, egg-free mom, here’s what I made:

Friday night: chicken soup with choice of pasta or rice, cooked separately from the soup

Saturday lunch: Tuscan bean soup, chicken piccatta (sprinkled lightly with rice flour instead of dredged in wheat flour) and schnitzel (for the kids), rice pilaf (wild rice blend with sautéed shallots, olive oil, and fried pinenuts), roasted zucchini and tomato gratin, and coleslaw.  Dessert, the pièce de resistance, was homemade marshmallows, balls of green melon, strawberries, and orange chunks dipped in a warm chocolate sauce.   (Thanks for the idea, Ilana!)

What’s next?  Well, for my mother-in-law, I plan to have pre-cooked and frozen chicken breasts, spun lettuce, and the rice cooker at the ready.  (And since they’re bringing us an ice cream maker, I’ll make homemade ice cream.)  The rest of us will eat bean and cheese tacos, spaghetti with tomato sauce, Caesar salad, and the rest of the normal Shimshonit repertoire.  And we’ve extended an invitation to friends for Purim seudah where the father has Crohn’s, so no raw vegetables or fruits.  But I suppose shepherd’s pie, steamed broccoli and cake should be all right.

Does anyone else have tips, suggestions, or experiences they want to share about feeding people with special diets?

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Relatively healthy

One of the things I have found remarkable about our lives in Israel since making aliyah three and a half years ago has been how relatively healthy our children are.  True, like most new immigrants, we were all dreadfully sick in our first year here.  The Cap’n missed three solid weeks of ulpan while the girls each took a turn with a week-long fever, which would begin on Shabbat afternoon and taper off the following Shabbat morning, to be followed by the next girl’s fever spiking and settling in.  That, plus our own colds, were not fun.

And this is not to say that the Cap’n and I are so healthy all the time either.  We have had our share of colds, but even worse than the occasional virus are the allergies here, especially in Efrat where it seems something is blooming or otherwise reproducing at any given time, and the regular doses of Loratidine we take are more for making us less miserable than for making us actually feel well.

But the children have been in the pink almost every winter.  Banana missed a couple of days with a fever this year, and Peach pretended to be sick last month (which we humored for a day, then sent her packing back to school).  But in general, they go to school feeling fine every day.

Oy—the memories I have of the flu, the chicken pox, the rotten colds that made me miserable for days and weeks on end!  Living in Hingham (Mass.) where my bedroom was an icebox, in Denver where we burrowed tunnels under the snow in the front yard, and in Portland (Ore.) where the rain could keep us indoors for days on end were what I grew up with, and the viruses I caught which kept me miserable cannot be counted.

It’s a particular joy, and one I hopefully anticipated before making aliyah, to see my children healthy (yes, they eat well, including their vegetables) and able to play outside nearly every day of the year.  Even if the wind is blowing or the weather is cold, the ground is usually dry and the sun is usually out.  I suppose if one really wants to live in paradise, one could move to Hawaii which has essentially one season—warm.  But I couldn’t give up seasons altogether, and now the almond trees are flowering, the tulips and narcissus are up and blooming, the cyclamen and anemones are dotting the rocks and grass on the hillsides among the ancient terraces here in the Gush, and we still get a rainy day here and there to keep it all green.  It’s all good.

Except for those allergies…

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In last Friday’s Jerusalem Post, there appeared an article in the Magazine section in which a macrobiotic chef claims she cured herself of cancer through a dramatic change in diet and lifestyle.   A woman I know claims her child with Asperger’s Syndrome has responded dramatically to a gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free diet.  And when I was an aide in special ed. reading classes, a substitute teacher claimed that none of those kids would be in there if they were on proper diets.

It’s very bewitching to think that our health—including disease, mental illness, and learning disabilities—can all be controlled through diet.  Despite many great medical advances, many disorders are still not fully understood and the feelings of frustration and helplessness that accompany being—or caring for—ill or disabled people can be overwhelming.  It gives people hope to believe that they can cure themselves of all kinds of maladies, and for those disappointed by the healthcare field (and there are many), taking matters into their own hands through altering their diet gives them back the control they regret ceding to physicians, psychologists, and learning specialists who (for whatever reason) have been unable to help them.

There is only one problem: Since these disorders are still not fully understood, there is nothing to suggest that a change diet is all that is needed to cure them.  I know a woman who, like the woman in the Post article, tried to save her mother from a wasting cancer by putting her on a macrobiotic diet.  She failed.

I have no objection to someone adopting a regimen they hope will help them, especially if it’s going to contribute to their overall health.  I had a psych professor in graduate school who advocated a multi-pronged approach to any mental illness—behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and medication, if warranted.  Had someone suggested to him dietary therapy, he would likely not have shot the suggestion down.

What I DO object to is people who insist, loudly, anytime anyone is listening, that anyone who is sick is to blame for eating the wrong foods, and should adopt their personal regimen for perfect health.  We know that high-fat, high-sugar diets can lead to obesity, heart disease, and Type II diabetes.  We know that whole grains, fiber, pulses, fresh fruits and vegetables are nutritious and benefit everyone.  But it’s also true that someone like my grandfather can go through life, eating whatever he pleased, smoking, drinking to excess, and still live to a pretty respectable age.  Some things come down to genetics.  Some things come down to a hardy constitution.  Some things come down to regular exercise.

A friend of mine with a child with PDD (pervasive developmental disorder) blogs that she has not found most online resources to be useful to her, since some of them are written by what she calls “hawks,” or people who believe they have THE answers to their children’s problems, if only people will listen to them.  Some of these people, I have little doubt, are skeptical of the value of traditional healthcare solutions (as well they should be) and advocate alternative, sometimes simplistic solutions, of which they should be equally skeptical.

I believe a sensible diet is essential for overall health.  Avoiding foods for which one has no tolerance, substituting adequate nutrition from other sources, and exercising regularly are beneficial to everyone.  If someone has certain needs and those needs are met by a specific diet, they have my blessing.  But pontificating ad nauseum about what works for one person, or against one disease, or in one situation, and proclaiming that as the new gold standard of diet is preachy, bossy, and well, a bit much.

My doctor in the US told me after my kids were born that the best parenting book I can read is the one I write myself.  I would apply this same wisdom to what people eat.

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