OyChicago blog

Are You Sitting Down?

 Permanent link

Are You Sitting Down? photo 1

My new standing desk. By the way, do you like my re-designed bulletin board?

I’ve got some news. Are you sitting down?

Well, the news is that I’m not sitting down. I’m standing up!

For months now, I’ve been reading about the negative effects of what they call “sitting disease.” According to the experts, “sitting is the new smoking,” and the hours we spend each day are cutting our lives short. According to the Mayo Clinic, ‘If Americans would cut their sitting time in half, their life expectancy would increase by roughly two years, by reducing sitting to less than 3 hours a day.”

So a few weeks ago, I decided to buy myself a standing desk to use at work. After researching several options, including some pricey treadmill desks, I bought a Varidesk Pro. It’s an adjustable desk that sits on top of my current desk and raises and lowers my entire computer setup — both of my monitors, my keyboard, my mouse, and even my business cards, Post-It Notes, and Chapstick. When I want to stand, I pull the desk up. When it’s time to sit, I push it down. Each movement takes about two seconds.

I also bought myself an anti-fatigue mat to keep my footsies from aching too much.

The Varidesk comes with an app that pops up on my screen to tell me when to sit and when to stand. (Though, now that I think about it, it would be cool if it came with a Jewish version of the app that said “Please rise” or “You may be seated” in the voice of my childhood rabbi.) The experts say that sitting all day is not good for you, but standing all day isn’t either, so the combination of the two is the ideal. I set my app to tell me to stand for 30 minutes and sit for 30 minutes.

Are You Sitting Down? photo 2 Are You Sitting Down? photo 3

Left: My standing desk in the standing position. Pretty meta to see the picture of me composing this blog entry, right? (Excuse my mess of wires; I’m working on it.) Right: The adjustable desk in the sitting position.

How’s it working out? I love it. Here are some of my favorite things about it:

1. Stepping. While I’m standing, if I’m on the phone or responding to e-mails, I might even get a few extra steps on my Fitbit. I can talk and walk; why not type and walk? It works great.

2. Better posture. I’m not including a picture of the way I sit at my desk in this post because, honestly, it’s embarrassing. I’m a bit of a sloucher, especially when I’m sitting; so when I’m standing, my back feels much more natural and comfortable. Sorry, Notre Dame, you won’t be gaining any hunchbacks from this girl.

3. More alert. You know the post-lunch “Why-can’t-we-be-like-Europe-and-have-afternoon-siestas” feeling? I won’t say that I’ve completely lost that feeling, but it has certainly improved. If I’m feeling tired, I’ll stand up, walk a little, and get back into my groove.

4. Burning calories. My Varidesk app, in addition to telling me when to stand and sit, keeps an estimate of how many calories I’ve burned on a daily basis due to standing. I’m not sure how accurate this actually is, but the app tells me I burn around 500 calories per day from standing. I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like an extra couple of French macarons.

5. Helping others. My job often requires other people to come and look at my computer to edit a flyer or see something on our website. When I show them the computer in the standing position, I feel like I’m doing a small good deed by giving my coworkers a brief respite from their sitting. And hey, it’s fun!

6. It’s a conversation starter. I love icebreakers, and this is certainly a big one.

Alright, you’ve made it to the end of this post — I think it’s time to reward yourself by standing up.


Cue the Tomato Soup

 Permanent link

Cue the Tomato Soup photo

I have an incredibly depressing confession to make: I’ve started preparing myself for winter. I can’t even believe I just typed that sentence, but it’s true.

Last winter was a doozy and the know-it-alls that put together the Farmer’s Almanac are saying that this year will be just as delightful. I don’t want to be caught by surprise this time around, so I’ve been forcing myself to prepare for the torture that is to come.

I recently made a trip down to my basement storage unit and visited my winter coat. There she was in her little plastic storage box waiting for me. I could have sworn that I saw her giggle as I pulled her out of her summer home and reluctantly put her back in my closet.

It sounds awful, doesn’t it? It gets worse. Once my coat was back I went into winter preparation overdrive. I put away my shorts, packed up my flip-flops and retired my straw hat.

All of that depression inspired me to try thinking positively about this change of seasons. I know we’re not there yet, but why not start trying to have something to look forward to this winter?

I’m food obsessed, so naturally I turned to my kitchen for sunnier thoughts. You know what I realized? I miss grilled cheese and tomato soup. But not just any old tomato soup, I miss Ina Garten’s fancy Pappa Al Pomodoro. What could be more comforting than a tomato soup recipe that has bread in it? Not much …


1/2 cup good olive oil 
2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes, crusts removed
2 (28-ounce) cans good Italian plum tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan


Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process just until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.


Home Sick

 Permanent link

Home Sick photo

Well, one thing has stayed consistent at Soldier Field – the Chicago Blackhawks have still won more games on the lakefront in 2014 than the Bears.

The Bears’ inconsistent season continued as expected (or not) on Sunday with a pitiful 27-14 loss at home to the Dolphins. The Bears are 0-3 and minus 7 in the turnover battle at home this season, and 3-4 overall.

It was an overall lackluster effort on offense. For a group full of offensive weapons and firepower, it’s amazing to watch them consistently play with no urgency. They look relaxed out there, like they can just depend on their talent and assume everything else will just work out. Hell, we knew the defense wouldn’t be great this year, but at least they play with passion out there! I’d much rather watch a less talented group play with fire under their asses than a talented group play like they don’t need it – and that is exactly what the Bears have looked like on offense on multiple occasions this season.

Maybe we are starting to see that there is a reason Marc Trestman never got a head coaching job till now – like Thibs for the Bulls, sure he’s talented, but he’s close-minded. Yeah, Trestman is smart – the “Quarterback Whisperer,” maybe, but it seems he just can’t get it done, not as a head coach anyway. His game plans seem unprepared, he fails to make in-game adjustments, and he plays it safe, often to the Bears’ detriment.

I’ve asked all year for this team to define themselves, to create and harness an identity. But the truth is, this is who this team is – a middle-of-the-road, underachieving, .500 team. They’ll continue to give us false hope in certain games they aren’t supposed to win, (I’m predicting a win next week at New England) and let us down in easy ones like they have against Buffalo, Carolina and Miami.

They aren’t who we thought they were.


Animals Don’t Lie

 Permanent link

Animals Don’t Lie photo

My dogs Ozzie and Zorro. I cannot lie – they are adorable.

This weekend, we will read Noach, a Torah portion that is very dear to my heart because of its emphasis on animals. The people in the world became evil and G-d wanted to start anew, so he flooded the world leaving only Noah, his family, and two animals from each species (male and female) alive. More animals were saved than people because animals, unlike humans, can’t lie.  They aren’t evil. They might be animalistic when they are hungry, but animals just want to love and be loved.

I post articles about animals on my Facebook page every Sunday. Each post is called #AnimalSundays, and every article discusses the topic of animals receiving acupuncture. I have posted articles about a lion, elephant, dog, cat, camel, penguin, and even a komodo dragon receiving acupuncture. All of these animals get acupuncture regularly and are truly benefiting from each treatment. The lion was able to walk around without foot pain, the dogs and cats are living better lives with less pain, and the camel is living a longer life – all due to acupuncture.

But what’s most important is that these animals can’t lie about the results. They don’t feel better because someone told them they were going to feel better. They feel better because acupuncture works.

There are a lot of skeptics out there when it comes to acupuncture and I understand why. It’s because acupuncture is different. It’s because all we were taught our entire lives was Western science. In high school, we take biology, chemistry, and physics, not channel theory and acupuncture point location. It is very hard to think outside the box when we are taught one way our entire life. However, it is important to understand that biology, chemistry, and physics are all part of Chinese medicine too. We use biology to map out the human body and make sure that the channels flow correctly with their associated organ. Chemistry is used to examine Chinese herbs and figure out how they can help the body. Most importantly, we use physics to understand how our bodies should act in nature. Chinese medicine is also science; it is just viewed differently.

I often hear people say that they don’t believe in Chinese medicine or Western medicine. There is nothing to believe in; there is nothing mythical or spiritual about either medicine. Both medicines help people. Chinese medicine has helped thousands of people and animals for over 4,000 years. Western medicine is newer, but it has cured diseases and saved lives. We need both types of medicines to truly understand the human and animal bodies because we can help people with both types of medicines.

I am so happy G-d decided to save all the animals. They are adorable, loving, and sweet. My dogs will always tell me when they are happy, sad, or sick. As soon as they feel better, they get up and start running around again. They don’t milk or fake pain as a way to get what they want. Thankfully, that honesty helps prove the effectiveness of Chinese medicine.          


Connecting in 5775

 Permanent link

Neil Harris photo

As I inch further into 5775, my thoughts focus on relationships. Specifically, how I connect to my family, friends, my Creator, and myself.

Most will agree that it's way easier to make connections with others in today’s age. It's as easy as the swiping of a finger or the click of a button to link, friend, and follow someone. It's a way to connect. It's not how our parents did it, but it counts.

This ease of connecting is probably an attractive advantage to social network relationships. If you don't reach out and make an effort, that's ok because effort isn't expected. A simple "like" or "favorite" speaks digital volumes. It's a very low-maintenance situation and we need that once in a while. However, applying that minimal effort into other relationships isn't optimal.

The strength of any connection is really based on the effort exerted. I know from experience. There are times when I don't put as much effort as necessary into those that I love and the connection ends up becoming a barrier. Then – and this is the crazy part – I end up using twice as much energy to break down the barrier just to start over again with building that connection.

As we take our first steps into a new, fresh, and happy year, I hope that we are able to strengthen the connections that mean the most to us.


Chayote Soup with Spiced Pepitas

 Permanent link

Chayote Soup with Spiced Pepitas photo 1

So it’s fall. And everything is wonderful. You are wearing cute fashion boots and your lips are not yet cracked and bleeding from wind. You want to eat something cozy, but not insanely heavy like all of the casseroles and potato/cheese/cream-based dishes that are waiting for you right around the corner in winter vortex land. It needs to be hearty, but it also should be bright, relatively healthy, and it should include maximum condiment opportunity.

Here it is! It’s soup, which means it’s autumnal, but it’s squash without being orange. Never heard of chayote squash before? You’ve seen them. They look like little old green men hiding out in the produce section at the market. And they are delicious. And bonus, you don’t have to skin them like you do with other (totally over-played in my opinion) winter squash. Just make sure to remove the core!

Chayote Soup with Spiced Pepitas photo 2

Chayote squash have a core that must be removed before you add them to the soup.

And the pepitas (aka, pumpkin seeds), well those are the crunch-factor that all good soups need, and they are also a playful take on using squash in two ways. Clever, right? I thought so too. Enjoy!

Chayote Soup with Spiced Pepitas
Serves 4-6
Vegetarian (but easily made vegan)  

For the soup

1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
6 cloves of fresh garlic, chopped
4 chayotes, core removed and chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
3 tablespoons of salt
3 tablespoons of pepper
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
2 boxes of stock (I use veggie, but chicken would work well here too)
½ stick of butter
Optional: sour cream. fresh cilantro, and lime wedges to garnish

Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a large stock pot. Throw in the onion, carrot, fresh garlic, and jalapeno and cook them until they begin to soften. Add the chayotes, all of the seasoning, enough stock to cover the ingredients by about an inch, and the butter. Cover the pot and allow to boil for 10 minutes, or until the veggies are soft.

Use an immersion blender to blend the soup in the pot until it gets totally smooth. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, allow the soup to cool and ladle it in batches into a regular blender. Please, for the love of God do not do this with hot soup. Third degree burns are not a cute look. Return the blended soup to the pot).

Bring the soup back up to high temperature, use more stock until you like the consistency, and taste it! Continue to season with salt, pepper, butter, or spices until you love the way it taste and feels. Garnish with sour cream, cilantro, and limes.

For the pepitas

2 cups of pumpkin seeds
4 tablespoons of canola oil
1 tablespoon dried chili powder
2 tablespoons of salt (ONLY if the pumpkin seeds are not pre-salted)
1 tablespoon black pepper
½ tablespoon garlic powder  

Turn your oven on to 375 degrees. Pour all of the ingredients into a bowl, mix them around until the pepitas are coated, and throw them onto a baking tray (preferably lined with parchment paper so you don’t have to worry about cleaning up later), and bake them for 5-7 minutes, or until you can smell how delicious they are and see how lovely brown and toasty they have become.      


Shalom Bayit

 Permanent link

Cindy Sher photo 2

With Sukkot here, and a chill settling into the air outside, we're reminded of the warmth and peace of home, and the Jewish concept of shalom bayit—peace in the home.

But as news of domestic violence captures our attention in the media, we know not all homes are peaceful.

October marks National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and ever since the second video tape surfaced of Ray Rice knocking out his future wife, Janay Palmer, in the elevator, as well as other allegations of abuse in the National Football League, our society seems to be finally focusing on intimate partner abuse. 

In a world where we glorify celebrities for how far they throw a ball on the field or how big their star power is on the stage, it's about time we take this issue seriously and call out and punish the perpetrators of abuse.

I recall my stomach turning as I watched a massive crowd of fans at a televised performance cheer and practically bow down to musician Chris Brown not long after he punched his now ex-girlfriend, singer Rihanna, in the face.

And for decades, the public has paid a hero's welcome to Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist, whose ex-wife Robin Givens has alleged spousal abuse for years. The heavyweight champion of the world slugging his wife never seemed like a fair fight.

It's easy to wag our fingers at the NFL and other celebrities, famous for the wrong reasons, and yet the Jewish community doesn't get a pass on this one. As tough as it is to admit, intimate partner abuse is an equal-opportunity offender, happening just as often in the Jewish community as elsewhere in society.

Regardless of race, religion, education, or socio-economic status, a staggering one quarter of women in this country will be in abusive relationships during their lifetime, but only a tenth of men will be abusers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why the discrepancy? Because the abuser does not see his or her behavior as the problem; it is the abused person's problem. Consequently, even if the relationship ends, the abusive person, often a serial abuser, continues abusive behavior with the next person he or she becomes involved with.

Jewish abuse was once hidden away, kept shrouded in darkness. Helping our community expose this secret is the mission of SHALVA—"giving voice to the unspeakable." SHALVA—which means "tranquility" in Hebrew and launched in 1986—is the oldest, independent U.S. Jewish services agency combatting domestic violence.

A beneficiary of the Federation, SHALVA aids abuse victims through advocacy, counseling, legal information, and other support services for no fee. Anyone who self-identifies with the Jewish community—even those who are not Jewish, but who have Jewish partners—may turn to SHALVA.

We're not just talking about physical abuse. Intimate partner abuse, according to Bobbie Gordon, SHALVA's director of Community Education, builds over time, but starts with controlling behavior—verbal, emotional, financial abuse, and/or isolation from family and friends. It's unlikely that the first sign of trouble between Rice and Palmer was a knockout punch in that now infamous elevator.

Why all the secrecy in our community? SHALVA says that, first, there's a positive stereotype that Jewish men make the best husbands. And in contrast, there's a negative stereotype that characterizes Jewish women as demanding and overbearing princesses. That's what makes some women hesitant to seek help, for fear of not being taken seriously. Plus, in a more tight-knit community like ours, women fear loss of privacy and confidentiality if they come forward. Some worry about creating a shonda, a scandal, if they disclose their abuse.

SHALVA not only helps victims of abuse, but it plays another key role. It empowers the Jewish community to combat intimate partner abuse through awareness, education, and prevention, teaching what healthy relationships ought to look like.

JCARES is another effort in the Federation system that educates and addresses abuse across the Jewish community. Rooted in Jewish values, the program offers a series of educational sessions for professionals and leaders to engage in conversations about abuse. JCARES also offers two other programs: Partnership for Safer Communities strives to build overall health and wellness in schools, synagogues, and camps, and Project Shield heightens awareness about child sexual abuse.

Whatever the program, we need to model healthy relationships for our kids from the time they're in diapers. Abuse is usually learned behavior-passed down through the generations-where abusers were once the abused.

If we can make our children feel empowered and loved, they will have taken the first step to peace in their own homes down the road.

Contact SHALVA at (773) 583-HOPE or email: info@shalvaonline.org. SHALVA is a partner in serving our community with-and a special grant recipient of-the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

To reach JCARES Partnership for Safer Communities, call Jessica Schaeffer at (847) 745-5450. JCARES is a program of the Jewish Child & Family Services and is supported by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Jewish Women's Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, Michael Reese Health Trust, and other generous donors.


Recent Posts


Sites We Like


Jewish Singles Travel box ad 2

JUF News Box Ad

Featured Event