OyChicago blog

My Grandma’s Super Sweet 90th Birthday Bat Mitzvah Bash

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08/29/2014

My Grandma’s Super Sweet 90th Birthday Bat Mitzvah Bash photo 1

A few weeks ago, my wonderful, hilarious, sassy grandma reached the incredible milestone of 90. Nonee Ethel has always been an integral part in all of our lives, “our” referring to my sprawling extended family. Like most grandmas, she is infinitely special to us. As spring turned to summer and August 13 rapidly approached, the family got to planning a surprise birthday party no one would soon forget.

It started a few weeks after my sister returned from Birthright Israel. Regaling my grandmother with her experience of being bat mitzvah-ed on Masada, Nonee waxed poetic: she would have loved to both visit the Jewish homeland and to formally become a bat mitzvah, but didn’t have the chance in her nearly 90 years. One thing led to another and before we knew it, we had a birthday theme.

Shortly, a family email chain of epic proportions began, and what started off as a funny idea tossed out as a possible party theme took on a life of its own.

A myriad of ideas were discussed, responsibilities delegated and pictures for a very special bat mitzvah montage were shared. Not only would there be a montage, but there would be a “trip to Israel,” complete with “The Wailing Wall” (a display of the great-grandchildren’s building blocks), “Masada” (a poster of the Birthright highlight placed fittingly atop a flight of stairs) and other little touches. We crafted the perfect candle-lighting ceremony, complete with speeches, and set up a little bimah to make it all “official.” Everyone took to the project with so much creativity and love.

The day of, all of my aunts and cousins feverishly decorated the party house, making sure all of the creations and little touches were just so. We had some pretty fun birthday ideas to live up to from the past, after all. For example, we celebrated Nonee’s 85th by renting a party van and transporting the crew to Superdawg, one of our favorite places. Anyway, as the clock struck a quarter to six, we all found a place to hide and prepared to surprise our most favorite 90-year-old lady in the world.

Needless to say, Nonee was incredibly touched by the Israel trip and subsequent bat mitzvah. We gathered together and said the shehecheyanu to really commemorate her special day. I especially enjoyed writing a candle-lighting speech just for her. How often is it that you get to share your feelings in such a way? How do you even begin to say how grateful you are for someone who has been such a big part of your life, a cheerleader present at every concert, play, you-name-it from the time I was born?

Thank you, Nonee. For leading the way, for sharing your love, advice, delicious baked goods and more. I hope you had fun at your 90th birthday and I hope you know just much you are loved and appreciated. Mazel tov!

My Grandma’s Super Sweet 90th Birthday Bat Mitzvah Bash photo 2

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Small Worlds

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08/28/2014

Small Worlds photo

Years ago, I tacked a blank piece of paper onto the wall above my computer at home. Since then, I’ve covered its every inch with names of cities from around the world, cities I chanced upon during mindless hours of Google scrolling.

Mykonos, Rio, Madrid.

Zanzibar, Varanasi, Granada.

All I’ve ever wanted to do was travel.

Currently, I’m not traveling. In fact, I work downtown, in the Aon building. For those of you familiar with Chicago, you’d recognize it as that tremendously tall, glaringly white structure looming over Millennium Park like a pillar in the sky. During lunchtime, people pour out of the front doors in waves. There are at least fifty elevators. It’s enormous.

Every once in a while, from my cubicle facing a wall on the 36th floor, I sneak a glance back to Google. Sometimes it hits me unexpectedly. I’ll be innocently writing up an industry update when — before I know it — I’m Googling South American hostels on the Pacific coastline with vacancies for unpaid North American receptionists.

But, putting aside dreams of glittering beaches or windswept desert sands for a moment, what is it exactly about travel that is just so addictive? Sure, it’s a break in the monotonous cycle of waking and working. It’s a way to learn a new language, or try an exotic food directly from its source. It provides a new perspective, the ability to switch out the customary lens that filters and fogs our experiences, in exchange for a new — and potentially higher — vantage point.

But I think that underneath it all, the real reason we travel is to meet other people. Even the most stalwart introvert would be pretty disappointed if she crossed the globe and never spoke to anybody but her flight attendant. Talking to people from around the world, with experiences entirely different than our own, is what makes travel great. You gain a better sense of the world through empathy, and return home with a newer understanding of everything that’s always been around you.

Before this article begins to sound like the prelude to a travel blog, I’d like to point out — you don’t always need to hop on the plane to have the same experiences. Becoming more empathetic can be as easy as taking a closer look at the people around you.

Anyone who has seen Spike Jonze’s futuristic, computer/human romance Her, might recall a few quotes about empathy. In one scene, the mopey Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix with an impressive mustache) meanders through a crowded carnival recounting the people who pass by to Samantha, his personal operating system. A young boy vigorously munches on popcorn next to his brooding grandpa. A quiet, elderly gentleman sits alone on a bench. A nervous-looking man is introduced to his lovely girlfriend’s children.

“Sometimes,” Theodore admits quietly, “I look at people and try to make myself try to feel them as more than just a random person walking by. I imagine how deeply they’ve fallen in love. How much heartbreak they’ve all been through.”

Theodore is a little fixated on love, but he still has a pretty good point — what if during our busy days of shuffling through our commute, we paused to actually take a look at the people around us?

Each day that I walk downtown muddled in a swarm of urbanites, I rarely take a moment to consider who’s beside me. The woman who’s chattering away on her phone to my left? She’s likely experienced heartbreak, loss, moments of enlightenment. An epic story line.

There’s an old Yiddish proverb that claims, “We live in a world full of small worlds.” We each have our own stories, red herrings, and central characters in the plots that fill up a lifetime. Of course, traveling is an excellent way to learn about other people. But exploring other “small worlds” could be as close as the person you sit next to on the train.

At this particular moment, the person sitting next to me on the train is a bulky, middle-aged man, with short-trimmed brown hair, pink skin and a plastic cup of wine in his hand, which he’s sipping at through a narrow black coffee straw. It’s 6 p.m. on a Wednesday, so I suppose that’s understandable. Are any of these houses that blur past us on our commute his? Does he have children, maybe a pair of kids toddling by the front door, eagerly awaiting their dad’s arrival? A frail, elderly aunt whom he works overtime for in order to support?

I’ll never know. Maybe one day our small worlds will gently tap each other again, or I’ll meet someone else whose small world will merge into my own. Either way, glimpsing another person’s reality is the beauty of travel, whether or not a physical distance is crossed. In the meantime though, I’ll keep sneaking peeks back at Google Maps.

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Crispy Matzo Lemon Chicken

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08/27/2014

Crispy Matzo Lemon Chicken photo 1x

One Friday a few weeks ago, hubs called me with a long, breathy sigh … it had been a bad day. A very bad, horrible, day. And on those days I know my hubby needs comfort food. 

For him that is anything crispy and savory. So off to the fridge I went to grab some freshly butchered chicken cutlets and some lemons. And as my little toddler whipped circles around me chasing the tortured cat, I went on a scavenger hunt in my pantry trying to find the perfect crust for my cutlets. But my pantry had failed me. I had no breadcrumbs. And it hurts me to say it, but I only had a few tablespoons of flour. It was a sad, sad day in this girl’s house. And then I saw a container that looked somewhat promising to me. It was from the last time I made matzo balls.

Crispy Matzo Lemon Chicken photo 2

Classic Manischewitz matzo meal! And right there on the box was golden fried beautiful chicken cutlets! How have I been so clueless all this time! OF COURSE this would work! To hell with breadcrumbs! I’m using matzo meal! So I chopped up some parsley, scraped off some lemon zest and went to work. About 25 minutes and several beautifully crisp chicken cutlets later, I was pleased.

Hubs walked in right when I had placed my finishing touches on the platter of beauties. And I plated him one with a simple side dish of our favorite Avocado and Feta salad.

He sat and chewed the crunchy chicken and let out a sigh of relief. The munchkin sat right next to him in her high chair happily gobbling up every last crumb. Licking her fingers and making a satisfying “mmmmmmm” sound with each bite. I swear no one enjoys food more than this munchkin. Look at those food smears on the side of her mouth! Such a ham! She is smiling that big because she just ate an entire chicken cutlet.

Crispy Matzo Lemon Chicken photo 3

For the first time in the past hour, hubs let out a loud laugh as the little munchkin burped unexpectedly and then pointed to the cat in blame. This one will be trouble.

His so called very bad day … not so bad anymore. With a few pieces of his favorite chicken and some much needed comic relief from the munchkin, hubs was once again my happy love bunny. And my Friday was complete.

Crispy Matzo Lemon Chicken photo 4

Crispy Matzo Lemon Chicken
from girlandthekitchen.com

Ingredients

2 cups matzo meal 
2 pounds chicken cutlets 
4 egg whites 
zest of one lemon 
3 tbsp of chopped parsley plus more for garnish 
1 lemon sliced thinly 
2 tbsp garlic powder 
1 tbsp paprika 
salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions

1. Measure out about 2 cups of matzo meal. Add in salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika and lemon zest.

2. Then whip up 4 egg whites and add the Italian parsley.

3. Set up an assembly line. Egg white plate, matzo meal plate and an empty plate.

4. Dip the chicken cutlets into the egg white mixture first. Making sure to cover both sides. Do this with your LEFT hand.

5. Then with your RIGHT hand dip into the matzo meal mixture. You want to do this with different hands or else you will have what I call mummy hands.

6. Place about 2 tbsp of butter in a large pan over medium high heat and let it come to a sizzle. 

7. Cook it on one side for 3-4 minutes until nice and golden brown. Then flip it and cook it for another 3 minutes until crispy and golden brown.

8. Lay them on paper towels so they drain any access butter that may be on them. Also, feel free to change the oil/butter out with each batch if you have too many burnt bits in the pan.

9. Garnish with a few lemon slices and some parsley. Dive in! 

Notes

If you are using this for the Jewish holidays, you can use coconut oil or olive oil to make it truly Kosher.  

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Spare the Maxi Dress!

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08/26/2014

Spare the Maxi Dress! photo

Almighty benevolent God in heaven, if there is such a god, and if there is such a place, I have one small request. One simple favor for which I pray. On behalf of all humanity, to you I reach out today.

Please, God, let maxi dresses stay in style for at least one more year.

I’m not normally one who is current on the latest fashion trends. I remember distinctly in middle school thinking that capri pants were ugly and I’d never wear them — but sure enough, a few years later, there I was, sporting the three-quarter-length pants. I was all about the glitter on my eyes and the butterfly clips in my hair, but not until the popular girls did it first. And I wore my jean jacket long enough past middle school that it almost stretched to its comeback last year.

The fads come and go — which is unfortunate for my wallet — but usually I quickly get over their loss and move on to the next fashion trend. But if maxi dresses are out of style next year — one short year after I purchased five long, beautiful, flowy maxi dresses and skirts — then I’m not sure why it’s worth even attempting to believe in You.

These dresses look great on everyone — they make the tall look taller and the short look slightly less short. Maxi dress wearers need not worry about shaving their legs, or, in my case, showing the world their ghostly white legs. They pair well with the aforementioned jean jacket, a sweater, or even just a beaded necklace. They are casual and comfortable, both for walking and for sitting cross-legged on the floor.

My beloved maxi dresses have this uncanny way of filling a social ambiguity, when you’re wondering if you should dress up, dress down, wear nice pants, wear jeans and heels, or just skip the event altogether because you’re completely clueless on what to wear. What do you wear? You wear a maxi dress.

Ruler of the Universe, I just started appreciating these maxi dresses recently. If this becomes one of those fashions — the fad that just fades — I won’t know what to do with myself. Now that I’ve lived in a world where I can go from a street festival to an engagement party to a religious service without changing clothes, I just don’t think I could bear to go back to how it was before.

I need more time. It doesn’t have to be forever. Of course, that would be great, but I don’t want to be a greedy devotee. All I ask is for at least one more year of maxi trendiness, and then maybe two to three subsequent years of everyone understanding that the trend is on its way out but is still tolerated.

Because right now I have a yellow maxi skirt and a blue one, two teal dresses, and a gray one — and I think that I might want to buy a black one. And possibly a purple one.

Thank you for hearing my prayer, O Lord of Fashion. And let us say: Amen.

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Let Them in Your Personal Space

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How to “like” the things people say when you are not on Facebook
08/25/2014

Let Them in Your Personal Space photo

The High Holidays are around the corner, and with them comes an opportunity to share many meals with friends and family. Holidays in general remind me of the importance of taking the relationships that we keep online through social media, offline. We come together face to face and break bread with those that are important in our lives.

The people are a big piece of what makes holiday times special. There is no doubt about it that the food plays a major role in making memories too. I think another more subtle force at play is that, by and large, holiday celebrations take place at someone’s home. When I think of holiday celebrations of the past, I recall the smells, sounds and sights of my Bubbie’s home just as much as I do the taste of her brisket and the faces of those seated at the table.

Judaism considers welcoming guests to be one of the most important mitzvot that we can perform. The custom is said to date back to the time of Abraham, who stood at the entrance of his tent on hot days in the hopes that he might see someone passing by to invite into his home. In today’s world of big city living, I don’t know of many people who would stand on their balconies looking for hungry people to call up to their apartments for lunch, though I have been a part of many communities where organizing meals and potlucks in the homes of friends is the norm.  

Many of us regularly meet friends and loved ones for coffee, drinks, or dinner in public places, but the dynamic changes when we meet in someone’s own personal space. Instead of meeting on neutral ground, we are allowing someone to see us in a more vulnerable and intimate space. This creates a more intimate experience, a deeper conversation and a more authentic sharing of what our lives are really like.

For young adult Jews, organizations such as Moishe House and programs such as Birthright NEXT Shabbat have been helping young Jews come together to share in meals. Local synagogues, JCCs and chavurah communities also provide opportunities to bring people together in this way. In my experience, the magic of inviting others into our personal space to share conversation, ideas, thoughts and feelings is the root of the magic formula that makes these ventures so successful.

This year, I invite you to consider being a host to or allow yourself to be hosted by someone new in your life. It is a practice as old as Abraham for making your relationships deeper than any Facebook post would ever allow. May you have a Happy and Sweet New Year!    

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Tomato Vortex

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08/22/2014

Tomato Vortex photo

The thing I love most about summer is how it’s the opposite of winter. Maybe that’s too basic, but after last winter, can you blame me? I’ve been doing a little happy dance every time I walk outside and see the sun shining and realize that we’re not in a polar vortex.

There are other things I love about this time of year: longer days filled with extra sunshine, beach visits, bare feet and Chicago’s many street fests. Those are all fine and dandy, but I think it’s time we recognize the one true king of summer—the summer tomato.

Sure, tomatoes aren’t all that hard to find any time of the year, but that’s because we’re spoiled brats. We can have any old thing we want to eat any time we want it. We’re lucky to be alive when out-of-season produce can be shipped all over the place. You can have a peach in January or asparagus in November. The old days of only eating foods that are in season are gone.

While that is amazing, we shouldn’t forget that there’s a difference. A tomato is a tomato is a tomato, right? Well, no, not exactly. Nothing can compare to the taste of in-season tomatoes or other produce that didn’t need a passport to get to your grocery store. So, friends, prepare your taste buds, summer tomatoes are coming.

What will you do with this season’s tomato bounty? I’m looking forward to tomato sandwiches, sliced tomato with a sprinkle or two of salt, and caprese salads. While large tomatoes are delicious, we shouldn’t forget grape tomatoes. Those little guys are like nature’s candy. I recently discovered a new way to eat these little mini treats of summer. It’s quickly becoming my most favorite way to enjoy them. You really must give this recipe a try – it’s sure to knock your socks off.

Tomato Shortcakes

Ingredients

1 can of biscuits (I use a Southern-style)
1 small container of soft herbed spreadable cheese

Tomato Salad

1 tablespoon olive oil (I use garlic infused oil to add a little zip)
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch of sugar
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound grape tomatoes (mixed colors, if you can find them)

Directions

Prepare the biscuits according to the directions on the package.

For the tomato salad, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, sugar, and freshly ground black pepper in the bottom of a bowl. Quarter the tomatoes lengthwise and add them to the bowl with the dressing, tossing them together gently.

To assemble the shortcakes, split each warm biscuit in half. Smear a bit of the cheese on to the biscuit halves. Generously spoon each half with the tomato salad and its dressing. Eat!!

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One Mom, Four Kids, Five Days

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08/21/2014

One Mom, Four Kids, Five Days photo

Annice and her kids in Seattle (after being “rescued” by her husband).

I’ve had a lot of help in my life. I have a very dependable husband who fills in my various deficiencies quite nicely. I have a wonderful family and friends that pinch hit for me when I’m late, lost and overwhelmed. I have kids who intuit my (in)capacities and forgive my imperfections. When you’re surrounded by a net, it’s hard to remember what it feels like to stand alone.

Every summer we take a family trip with my parents. They rent a house; we beach it every day, head out to a county fair or two, cook, play board games and watch movies. It’s an easy week of four kids to four adults where we just show up and enjoy. And every winter, my mother-in-law takes us somewhere warm and exotic that leaves no time for complaining and insists my husband and I take a few nights to ourselves while she manages four kids with room service and a smile. I have been very, very lucky.

I have also been very, very clueless. This is the only way I can explain my decision to fly to Oregon and vacation with my four kids for five days with no additional help. It seemed manageable; my hubby would be waiting for us afterward in Seattle, where we would stay for a week as one incredibly well-adjusted (ahem) dual-parented family.

Well, kinda.

The day my solo journey began, I somehow forgot some things. Like, my hairbrush, my shampoo and conditioner and oh, anything whatsoever to entertain/feed my kids on the plane. Part of that I will blame on a 6:00 a.m. flight that required a 5:00 a.m. arrival and a 4:00 a.m. wake up. The second we sat down it was a cacophony of:

“I’m hungry!”

“I’m bored!”

“Is there a movie?”

“She’s/he’s touching me!”

“Are we there yet?”

I will admit my family is given a lot of leeway from strangers. They dig/are horrified by the mohawks and are curious as to Fray’s origin and are amused by her moxie with her three brothers. I cash in on that a lot. This plane ride was no exception. I got away with “feeding” them gum and renting portable movie players (for an outlandish fee) while passengers smiled sympathetically at the frazzled, clueless mother travelling with her mini gang of thugs and a princess. This graciousness allowed me to pass out for a few hours and dream that I was Martha Stewart (and her only child is grown, right?)

The first serious hitch in our trip beyond the immediate Maslow hierarchy of needs came when our rental car pick-up turned out to be downtown and not at the airport as I had thought. Having to negotiate four kids, two suitcases and two backpacks onto a train in a strange city made me tear up a little – not gonna lie – but the tears of terror turned to joyful ones when we successfully hit that Hertz counter and nothing and no one got left on the train.

I don’t want to mislead you. This baby bird didn’t jump out of the nest and fearlessly freefall. I have family in Oregon (plus “Shark Week” babysat a few hours every night) and I had help with city navigation from my cousin until she left and Google maps took over. But I did successfully pick activities, outings and food that were well-received. The hardest part for me was serving as 24-hour negotiator of disagreements/driving/navigation and as WWF referee without having the company of another adult for sanity check-in. (“The kid’s being an asshole, right? It’s not just me, right?”)

So? Would I do it again? Yup – in a heartbeat. Next summer? New Mexico! (Locals, consider this ample warning!) As my kids get older it’s easier all around to do things (and they actually remember all the stuff you drag them to.) I like that I had the opportunity to show them a part of the country that was new to them. I tell my kids all the time the world is a big place and I’m happy to be their (albeit neurotic) escort as they realize – at least on occasion – mom might be right.

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Bears Pre-Season 2014

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The good, the bad and what to watch for
08/20/2014

Bears Pre-Season 2014 photo

You know its baseball season in Chicago when we start getting excited to watch Bears Pre-Season games. With the dust settled from the crazy NBA free agency period, I am ready to dive headfirst into Bears football. And there is a lot to watch for the Bears entering their second season under Marc Trestman. So let’s take a look at the good, the bad and what I’d like to see in Friday’s pre-season game against Seattle.

THE GOOD  

So far the first team offense has looked really good. It is the best quarterback Jay Cutler has looked and the offensive line, even without Jordan Mills, has given Cutler all the time in the world in the pocket. Cutler looks really comfortable in the system and doesn’t appear to be forcing anything. I love the very recent addition of wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who is a low-risk signing at the league minimum, but could be a huge upgrade as a number three receiver. We haven’t seen much from Matt Forte, but, if the Bears can take another step forward from last season, this offense could be one of the best in the NFL.

THE BAD

The defense was historically bad last year and so far I have not seen any signs of that changing. Granted, it is only the pre-season and the Bears are a team with a lot of veteran players who understand not to go all-out and avoid injury before the season starts, but I feel like we should have seen more improvement than we have. Last week they let the Jacksonville offense do whatever they wanted drive after drive. The middle of the field still appears to be a huge hole and they are still not getting to the quarterback, even with the additions of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston to the line.

The safety position is still a big question mark and with Kyle Fuller tweaking his ankle, we really haven’t gotten a chance to see what he can do yet. The special teams appear to be an issue again too. Coaches have underplayed the problems, citing a lot of new pieces learning the system, but it cannot be denied that the Bears still have big issues in that phase of the game outside of kicker Robbie Gould. Luckily, the offense is good, but it would be better if they can start with a shorter field and put less pressure on the defense.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

In this third pre-season game with the starters going three quarters, I want to see multiple quality scoring drives from the offense. I want to see them avoid third and long situations and I want to see more from Matt Forte in the run game. I’d like to see what Holmes can do if they can get him up to speed and see if he clicks with Cutler and this offense.

I need to see the defense prove they can get stops, and what better way to do it than up against the Super Bowl champs. If they can get to Russell Wilson a few times or at least pressure him and limit the run, I’ll be really happy. And close those gaps over the middle of the field – I need to see more from the linebackers this week. We should see safety Chris Conte for the first time this week and he has a lot to prove to everyone.

No big lapses from special teams. No big returns given up and better protection for whoever they have back there returning kicks and punts, whether it’s newly signed return specialist Darius Reynaud or someone else.

The Bears front office made all the right moves to improve this team. And this is a great way to see what they are made of because if they want to make it far in the playoffs this year, that road will no doubt go through Seattle.  

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Laughter, Mischief and Paper Planes

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08/19/2014

Laughter, Mischief and Paper Planes photo

I love laughter. I love laughing. I love making others laugh as well as watching others make others laugh. To me, there’s nothing better than a good, hearty guffaw when things seem blue, or a side-splitting howl, all doubled up on the floor, completely in stitches.

My earliest memories are those of laughter and joy, the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with it, the soreness that develops around your cheeks and eyes. It could be an image, a joke, a sound, or an action that triggers this often uncontrollable response that leaves you feeling better than before.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not what you would call a “rule-breaker,” but when I had my partner in crime, we were meant to cause trouble. This is why I think my father nicknamed us “Rockheads.”

One of my earliest memories is at my grandparents’ apartment on my mom’s side when I was around five or six years old. My younger brother and I were being given a lesson on how to make paper airplanes from our fun-loving uncle. Upon securing some multicolored paper and sequestering it to our HQ in the den, I got very excited and imagined myself, my brother and uncle in a hangar, designing future Air Force fighters and stealth bombers. My brother and I are very competitive, so we challenged each other to see who would build the best flying planes. We were so engrossed in our airplanes that we weren’t even the slightest bit aware of what our uncle planned to do with them next.

I looked down at my fingers after a while and noticed they were tired and achy from folding and bending, so I darted out of the den and headed to the living room, where my family was hanging out. They were completely oblivious to our nefarious behavior and I was loving every moment of our act of espionage. My face, however, would not contort itself into the passive, nonchalant mask that was necessary to pull this off, but I couldn’t help myself. Seeing the glee on my face, my parents and grandparents asked what we were doing in the den. I shrugged and said, “I dunno ... yet. But I’m sure when we are finished you’ll see.” That line was followed by a muffled giggle and a quick dash back toward the den.

After we assembled our fleet, I turned to my uncle and smiled at our accomplishment. But he was too busy to notice. He and my brother had already carefully balanced as many colorful airplanes as they could fit in their hands, and were turning to leave the den. Careful not to be noticed by our family, we snuck down the hallway toward the balcony at the rear of the apartment. The door was already open because it was a gorgeous day, but the screen door was up and we had to find a way to slide it open quietly without being noticed. My brother and uncle both looked at me and stared at my hands, which were not so full of airplanes. I quickly understood the cue, and so very carefully and slowly, I pulled open the screen door. Suddenly, we were all peering 16 stories down to Lake Shore Drive.

Our first flight was merely a test run to ensure the aerodynamics were correct. My uncle took wind and trajectory into account before carefully releasing the first plane. At first, it looked like it was going to take off soaring into the atmosphere, but the wind sharply took hold of the flaps and violently steered it into a nosedive, heading straight for the doorman’s unsuspecting cap. We watched and held our breath as it veered this way and that, turning and tumbling, until it found its final resting place on the asphalt driveway. We saw the doorman’s cap suddenly jerk to the left toward the paper airplane and we pulled ourselves back into the apartment.

That’s when my brother and I could not contain ourselves any more. We laughed and squealed and hopped around like we had just won the lottery. Pretty soon, we were taking turns launching the rest of our noble fleet into the afternoon skies and watching them twist and turn in the wind, each one taking its own unique path to the ground below.

When our parents and grandparents found out, they weren’t so happy with us or our uncle, but one thing was for sure: we were having a great time. Sure, you could claim that we snuck around, disobeyed and littered, but we didn’t hurt anyone.

I learned a lot that day. I learned that breaking the rules isn’t necessarily a fun and laughable experience, but following the rules all the time isn’t either. I also learned that I could not do practically anything as a child with my brother without getting into some sort of mischief. But most importantly, I learned that life is too short to miss opportunities to laugh, love, and build memories that last a lifetime. I have my own family now to begin building those memories, and I smile and chuckle at the thought of building paper airplanes for my nieces and nephews when the time comes.

So what are you waiting for? Go share some laughs with someone!

L’Chaim!

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Why I Am a Coco-Nut

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08/18/2014

Why I Am a Coco-Nut photo

I wake up 20 minutes early every day just to swish coconut oil around in my mouth. During those extra, should-be-still-sleeping-in-my-comfortable-bed 20 minutes, I am actually helping both my health and my business.  

Oil pulling, the process of swishing oil in your mouth, is an Ayurvedic tradition, originated in India, that has been around for centuries. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, which kills bacteria, fungi and viruses. This swishing cleans out my mouth and prevents infection.  

This is not some gimmick; it is science-based. Studies have shown that oil pulling helps fight plaque and gingivitis. Since I started oil pulling, my teeth have never felt smoother and my breath feels fresh all day.  

Oil pulling can also help fight acne by getting rid of the unwanted bacteria in your mouth, which never re-enters your body. Other benefits of oil pulling are more restful sleep, fewer headaches—especially migraines, and relief of allergy symptoms and eczema. I can personally attest to the alleviation of eczema symptoms. I have not had one eczema flare-up in the four months that I have been oil pulling.  

I have made oil pulling part of my morning routine, not only because of the health benefits, but for the emotional benefits as well. The first 20 minutes of each of my days are spent in silence. I wake up, swish, answer e-mails, and post on my business Facebook and Twitter pages. If I have a few extra minutes, I reflect on the day before, and meditate on the day ahead of me. I can’t talk, so I am forced to get things done or reflect. It has a calming effect and has helped my business. It is a wonder drug to me, and it only costs $24.99 for two 54 ounce tubs at Costco!  

You should be eating coconut oil, too. When coconut oil is digested, it forms a monoglyceride called monolaurin. Monolaurin with lauric acid is even better at fighting infection and for many it can help prevent disease. Coconut oil is one of the medium-chain-triglycerides, which are fatty acids at medium length that can reduce hunger. Some athletes eat a spoonful of coconut oil before they exercise to ensure that they don’t get hungry during their workouts. You can also use it in cooking as a substitute for olive oil. Besides adding flavor, it can improve your health.  

If you are swishing coconut oil, eating coconut oil, or cooking with coconut oil, you are helping yourself. Growing up, I always associated coconut with unhealthy sugary bars with coconut slathered over them, or in candy covered with chocolate, but the health benefits can’t be overlooked. My friends, family members, and patients who have started oil pulling with me know how good their mouths feel. Start taking care of your oral health and start oil pulling now. Your pearly, white smile will be all the thanks I need!

Need-to-Know Facts about Oil-Pulling

1. Do not swallow the oil. Spit it out because the bacteria you pulled out of your mouth will be in the coconut oil.

2. Never spit coconut oil down the drain or in the toilet. It solidifies very quickly and will clog up your drain. Spit it in the garbage.

3. Buy organic, unrefined coconut oil to pull out bacteria, viruses, and fungi from your body without adding toxins.

4. Yes, oil pulling may sound unappealing at the beginning, and you may gag the first time or two that you try it, so start out small. Try three minutes, and work your way up to 20 minutes.

5. You can also oil pull with sesame oil. However, coconut oil has more anti-microbial properties and is the better choice. 

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Just Say “Yes”

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08/14/2014

Just Say “Yes” photo

Have you ever noticed how improvisational actors need to accept whatever is offered to them on stage? In order for a scene to flow, the actors take whatever arises and continue on. What if we did that in real life as well?  We just took what was handed to us and went with it.

There is overwhelming evidence that saying “yes” can help you in almost every aspect of your life. In the 2008 movie Yes Man, Jim Carrey’s character transforms his life by saying “yes” to any and all offers put before him.

Building a business in the financial industry, I feel like the “Yes Man” (I guess I should say “Yes Woman”). Anytime anyone asks me to do something, I just say “yes.” The quickest way to get someone to say “yes” seems to be to say it first. It is natural for people to match the communication of others, so if they hear “yes” they will say it right back. “Yes” – I will go with you. “Yes” – I need your help. “Yes” – I will support XYZ.

Now, not all the experiences I have had from my “just say yes” mentality have been remarkable successes – at least to the naked eye. For example, I said “yes” to help an individual sort out piles upon piles of insurance and annuity contracts acquired over the years. I spent hours spilled over the contracts, evaluating the benefits and establishing a plan for the future. I struggled to come up with a solution, but I learned, I grew and I said “yes.”

It is natural to want to say “no” when you are not an expert in the field someone wants you to talk about, when you are normally in bed before the event someone wants you to join them at is beginning, when you see yourself as a poor writer and someone wants you to co-author an article, but what’s the worst that can happen? You struggle. You learn. You grow. Is that a reason to say “no?” I think it is a reason to say “yes.”

We all have dreams and goals we want to attain but most of us build obstacles so we can’t reach them, we say “no.” Even when people say “yes,” the majority of time they are thinking “no.” It is time to change.

I have a challenge for you. For one day, just one day, keep track of every time that you say “yes” and every time that you say “no.” Tally them up. See the results for yourself. Most likely you will see that you need to tweak your mindset and just say “YES.”

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Na-nu Na-nu

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08/13/2014

Na-nu Na-nu photo

In the wake of the tragic loss of Robin Williams, I once again turn to writing and humor as a way to find solace. So thank you for humoring me as I attempt to humor you.

I was originally going to write about something more light-hearted. Like how right now I have to be scared of Ebola again. But that’s not happening anymore. Well, the Ebola thing is actually still happening, I’m just not writing about it.

In the immediate moments after hearing about a celebrity I cared about passing, I often find myself reflecting on what this individual meant to me, how their work influenced me and how I truly appreciate everything I have taken away from this someone I never met. Sadly, this is often unrealized until after their death, when I unenthusiastically yet poignantly look at the whole picture, much like I did with Roger Ebert’s passing. But when it occurs too soon, without warning and simply uninvited, it forces a solemn, unexpected moment to admire the one we lost.

Robin Williams’ passing reinforces in me the spirit of making others laugh. Making others smile. Being inspired while inspiring others. I’ve always loved putting the smallest joy into someone else’s day by providing them with laughter. As we all know and experience far too often, there is enough sadness in the world, so I figure I should do what I can to balance it out a little, even with only one bad pun, silly joke, or humorous story at a time. Actually, I’m not that great at telling anecdotes. It’s why I call them anecdon’ts.

So unlike everyone else, instead of watching some classic Robin Williams masterpiece the other night, (read: RV), I decided to watch the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 1990. Not the first movie you’d think of, right? Well, it was my original plan for the evening, and even though I was shaken up, I strongly felt that I shouldn’t let death stand in the way of my plans.

But here’s the thing. I discovered a random piece of trivia after watching it that involved way too much coincidence. Apparently, Robin Williams was a big fan of the Turtles, and provided actress Judith Hoag, who played April O’Neil, with information about her character while the two were co-starring in the movie Cadillac Man, right as Turtles went into production. This simple and truly trivial piece of trivia makes me feel like I picked the right movie on a night I had no idea I was supposed to be making such a decision. Robin Williams was an influence in places I didn’t even know existed, which shows, among other things, the true power of his character.

The more I think about him, the more I realize just how powerful of a presence he truly was for me growing up. He was the actor I pointed to more than anyone else to succeed in a debate about comedians making the strongest dramatic actors. Most importantly, to me he was one of my earliest voice acting influences, whether I realized it or not. Williams was actually one of the first “major” celebrities celebrated for his voice acting. For better or worse, his involvement in animated movies begot the idea of celebrity power in animation.

As a self proclaimed voice over enthusiast, I can’t even begin to express what his contribution to my childhood has done for me in my adult life. Many people, of course, think of him as the Genie in Aladdin. But for me, I hold an exceptionally special place in my heart for his voice acting prowess as Batty Koda in Ferngully. Mostly for this:

For a man that has had more influence and inspiration on my life than I have ever known, Robin Williams, you will be missed, never forgotten and always appreciated for showing me time and time again that laughter is the very best medicine because you can’t OD and the refills are free.

I have barely even scratched the surface of his career, (seriously, go to YouTube and look up Mork and Mindy, his stand-up, his improv, his television appearances, everything) but I’ll leave you with one of my favorite moments showcasing Robin Williams’ knack for being incredibly fun and his incomparable ability to “do voices.”

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The Jewish Genius of Robin Williams: 4 Examples

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08/12/2014

The Jewish Genius of Robin Williams: 4 Examples photo

In Jewish tradition we have a special greeting for a genius. Upon meeting such a person, we say, Blessed are You, Eternal God, Source of Life, who has given from His wisdom to flesh and blood.

Had I ever met Robin Williams, I would surely have said it.

Williams was a singular genius. He brought joy and comfort to so many. Yet, that same joy and satisfaction continued to elude him.

That’s one of the reasons his death strikes us so sharply. He seemed to have it all. Yet, he suffered from a horrific illness that many continue to speak of in shadows and soft tones.

As a child of a psychiatrist, I know how serious depression can be. Yet, as his wife urged in a statement released yesterday, let us remember Willilams for the laughter and joy he brought so many.

Even though he was not Jewish, his comedy brims with the tones of traditional Jewish comedy. They include the following:

1. Humor to undermine pretension and pomposity: Robin Williams managed to be lovable and irreverent at the same time. He did not fear offending anyone.

As one of his obituaries reported, he once called out from a London Stage, “Chuck, Cam, great to see you.” Charles, Prince of Wales, and his wife, Lady Camilla Bowles were in the audience. He continued, “Yo yo, wussup Wales, House of Windsor, keepin’ it real!”

2. The Power of the Voice: Judaism is a religion of the ear more than eye. We hear God’s words, as it says in our central prayer, the Shema.

This emphasis on the ear over the eye carried over into modern Jewish comedy. If you watch the Marx Brothers, for example, you don’t even have to see the action to appreciate the humor.

The same was true with Robin Williams. His voice as the genie in Aladdin was instantly recognizable. It conjures up the character of the genie in all its dimensions. And who can forget the powerful voice proclaiming “Gooooood Morning Vietnam!”

3. Comedy as Healing: Jewish history is filled with destruction. Hatred and persecution have plagued us for so long, and they continue to do so in the Middle East and Europe.

One of the great healing balms of Jewish life has been humor. It has helped us maintain perspective, seeing possibilities for joy amidst pain, for sweetness amidst the harshness of life.

Robin Williams’ humor—along with his many acting roles—helped heal so many. His life mirrored the role he played so beautifully of Patch Adams, the doctor who used humor to heal his patients.

4. Comedy as a way of poking fun at ourselves: Robin Williams knew his own foibles. He did not shy away from admitting his struggles with addiction and relationships.

And he would turn those struggles into brilliant one-liners. Indeed, he once described cocaine as“God’s way of saying you make too much money.”  

Williams’ apparent suicide is a tragedy. We can never known the pain he felt and struggles he underwent. What we do know, however, is that his life was a blessing.

He fulfilled the definition of a successful life captured so brilliantly by Ralph Waldo Emerson: 

"To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

Rabbi Evan Moffic is the rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

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Shift of Power

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08/11/2014

Cindy Sher photo 2

I have been feeling powerless lately.

And I know I'm not alone.  

We're powerless to stop the heartbreak and turmoil in Israel.

We're powerless to stop the gang violence in Chicago.

But then, on my way into the office the other day, I saw a guy in casual Friday attire hand a guy on a street corner a dollar--and I looked at things a bit differently. I remembered that we're not powerless.

In our little corner of the world, in small ways, we can take a bit of the power back. By doing mitzvahs, we can move the needle, and shift our despair into hope.

That's what my dear friend Stephanie did. Her infant son passed away in December and—being the incredible human being Steph is—she transformed her pain into something positive, by launching projects to help make other people's lives better. She did all of this in her son Rylan's memory, so that his short life would always have purpose.

One of the projects Stephanie created is a website for people to post kindnesses that they have committed or been shown by friends, family, and strangers. Even through that website, Rylan has left a beautiful legacy, creating ripple effects of kindness in the world.

So I thought we could all take a cue from Stephanie and Rylan, and each do a mitzvah this week:

Say a prayer for Israel and help our Israeli brothers and sisters through the JUF Israel Emergency Campaign. Buy a homeless person a sandwich. Give your seat on the bus to someone who had a harder day than you. Call up an old friend who you know could use a phone call. Invite an acquaintance who may not have a place to go for Shabbat dinner. The list goes on and on.

I'm not equating ending global terrorism with buying a guy a sandwich—because if only it were that easy. But I also think we can't just throw our hands up in exasperation.

As Pirkei Avot teaches us: "It's not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."

So let’s stand up for Israel. Stand up for that person on the bus. Shift the balance of power and energy off some of the bad stuff and add some more good stuff into the world.

Because--man--does the world need it.

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Is-raeli a Chicagoan

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08/08/2014

Is-raeli a Chicagoan photo 1

My grandma and me in Israel

“So when are you moving back to Israel?"

Taken aback by this assumption by a group of Israelis I had just recently met—complete strangers—I responded hesitantly, “Hopefully I’ll visit soon, but I don’t think I’ll be moving back.”

Apparently, that answer wasn’t satisfactory.

“You’ll be back soon enough,” they assured me.

To these Israelis, there was no simple or compelling reason for permanently residing anywhere but the Holy Land, the land of milk and honey, while I couldn’t think of a reason I should.

Although I’m an Israeli native, my family moved to Chicago before I could even walk, and I was raised in the city. Despite my dual citizenship, Israel was always a land containing a people and culture that seemed distant and even unrelated to me or my life in Chicago. This distance was somewhat bridged by the Israeli food my mom cooked, the Hebrew spoken fluently at home, and the Israeli music my parents listened to.

When we finally returned to Israel for the first time since immigrating to the U.S., I was eight years old. Seeing my extended family for the first time in years, some for the first time ever; seeing my parents’ childhood homes and friends and seeing everything Israel had to offer that I had missed out on growing up was one of the strangest, yet most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. After our first visit, I couldn’t wait to go back again and awaited each visit with more excitement than the one before – that is, until our next trip became a permanent one.

When my mother informed me that we would be moving back to Israel halfway through my freshman year of high school (I had just started at a new school), I sulked for days. I had always loved visiting Israel, but could never imagine living there and adapting to a culture that I had barely been exposed to growing up. Israeli kids my age had grown up a world apart from me, and the thought of this culture gap was terrifying.

Luckily, I had the opportunity to attend the American International School, where I could safely meld my American and Israeli identities while living in an American “bubble.” Within my bubble, you could incorporate “sababa” into an English conversation and you could be worshipped for bringing your friends EasyMac after visiting the States. Living in Israel and attending an international school allowed me to restore my connection to my Israeli roots and to adopt a new, third identity – a combination of both my American and Israeli identities.

Is-raeli a Chicagoan photo 2

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Israel with my friends 

When I returned to Chicago to finish my senior year of high school and to attend college at the University of Michigan, I realized what a gift it was to have discovered this “third culture,” and I realized something else too: my generation has a very different connection to Israel than those before us.

Many Jewish kids, born and raised in the U.S. don’t consider Israel a home, or place high importance on living there someday. They go on Birthright Israel, have an amazing two weeks and then Israel becomes a fond memory somewhere in the back of their minds – a place they would visit again, but never move to. But the thought that Israel will always be there for us to visit is comforting.

That’s what makes the recent escalated attacks from terrorists and those who wish to eliminate Israel’s and the Jewish people’s existence so discomforting. I do not feel comforted by the thought of my grandparents and friends remaining in Israel running to bomb shelters on a daily basis. I do not feel comforted whenever I see the names of IDF soldiers, most of who were barely out of high school, who lost their lives to protect our people. And it is not comforting seeing hateful words about Israel on social media, coming from people who understand little to nothing about the conflict in the Middle East, and feeling like they understand little to nothing about me.

For so long, as an Israeli that grew up in America, I have identified with American culture and given little thought to Israel. But each day the conflict continues, I feel a stronger sense of national pride, Israeli national pride, and a stronger connection to the country that I was lucky enough to call home for two years.

The way I look at it now, I will always and forever be an American and a Chicagoan, but Israel will always be more than just that place I was born and lived in for two years in high school. Will I return to live in Israel? Probably not. But will Israel always be my second home? Definitely.

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Interjections! With A Jewish Past - Part 2

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08/07/2014

Interjections! A Jewish Past photo

In case you didn’t catch my first post on the Jewish origins of common English interjections, check it out here. The main source is the book Zounds! by Mark Dunn.

L-Z

Lord have mercy
Dunn lists several variants, from “lord-a-mercy” and “lordy mercy,” to just “lordy,” but does not credit it to the Jews. The Catholic Encyclopedia, however, confirms: “A more obvious precedent for Christian use was … the Old Testament,” and cites five Psalms and the prophet Isaiah. This note is under its entry for the Latin version of “Lord have mercy,” which is “Kyrie Eleison”… although in Mass, they likely don’t sing it like Mr. Mister did.

Mazel Tov
I gotta feeling that we all know how this one is used: as “congratulations.” It’s often translated as “good luck!” but it means not “I wish you good luck,” but “You had good luck.” “Tov,” of course means “good”… but a “mazel” is a “constellation.” This verbal pat on the back is, at base, quite superstitious. It implies: “The stars must have been aligned in your favor.”

Nu
From the Russian “Well?” but turned into its own vocabulary in Yiddish, says Dunn: “from fondness and warmth to outright hostility.” It’s the second most frequently spoken Yiddish word, says Yiddish linguist Leo Rosten, after “Oy.” Also a common punchline.

Oy (vey)
Dunn: “‘Oy’ without the ‘vey’ in Yiddish means simply ‘oh.’ From pain and grief to anger, annoyance and simple weariness. ‘Vey’ means ‘woe.’” So it’s, “Oy! Am I glad I ran into you!”… but “Oy vey! I can’t believe I ran into him!”

Phooey
Dunn explains that this was popularized by Jewish gossip columnist Walter Winchell in the 1930s, and that “it probably comes from the Yiddish ‘feh!’ or ‘fooy!’” It conveys “contempt, disbelief, or outright disgust,” and it certainly sounds like spiteful spitting.

Selah
The Psalms were meant to be sung, so it is thought that “selah”— found 71 times in Psalms—is a musical instruction, perhaps a crescendo, coda, or rest. It’s now a town in Washington State, the title of a book of poems and the name of a Christian rock band, a Belgian singer-songwriter, and the daughter of a Jewish friend of mine.

Shalom
Really? You need us to tell you what this word means? Shalom!

Shazam!
This is a Jewish thing on the Internet, so of course we were going to get around to comic books. When young Billy Batson says this magic word, he turns into an adult superhero, Captain Marvel, a.k.a. Shazam. The word itself alludes to the inspiration of his powers: the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. As you can see, these are all Greek figures – except the first one, a Jewish king of Israel. (You see, the Greek figure of wisdom was Athena, a goddess. Shazam in a man, so that wouldn’t work … at least back in the day.)

So long
Dunn says this expression, not popular in the U.S. until 1850, comes from late 18th century British sailors stationed in the Middle East, who misheard “salaam.” If so, that makes it a cousin to “shalom.” (Again, not the song you expected? Fine…)

Tui! Tui!
Dunn lists this as “Toy! Toy!” but who says it like that? When you want to shoo away the Evil Eye, you spit at it with a “tui.” You don’t promise it a plaything or a “toy.” Another variant is the triple-spit of “Poo-poo-poo!”  

Maybe we should have stopped with “So long.”  

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Don’t Avoid the Cookie

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08/06/2014

Don’t Avoid the Cookie photo

“I’m not eating carbs this week, I feel so fat,” says your friend who is – by most definitions – skinny. And you want to scream, because there are people who really need to lose weight and can’t.

Well, one of the reasons that skinny friend can’t lose that last five pounds is the same reason the guy that needs to lose 30 can’t do it – stress. I’m not going to talk like an infomercial touting some wonder pill that blocks cortisol (stress hormone), but I do believe in the cheesy line that’s also a book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.”

If you want to have success in wellness, peace of mind helps, and sometimes comes in the form of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. They are amazing, even better a cookie from Specialty’s Bakery Shop, or the fried goodness of a Donut Vault Donut.

I know these are not the words a personal trainer is supposed to utter. The truth is trainers LOVE treats. Some bury that love so deep inside their rock hard core, that they miss out on an amazing, decadent, delicious life. And that is no way to live.

I’m not suggesting you splurge daily on a brownie, but once in a while you should have a cupcake. Maybe don’t eat the entire bag of brownie bites, but have one. Here’s a very typical situation for someone trying to lose weight:

1) Avoids the cookie they want
2) Eats too much fruit and rice cakes instead of eating cookie
3) Ends up eating the cookie anyway

This cycle is unhealthy for your psyche. Treat yourself occasionally. If you are craving a cookie, split one with a friend. If all you want in life is ice cream, go and buy one scoop in a cup, rather than a whole pint from the grocery store when you know you’re the one who will finish it. The same thing goes for fries: have a fry if you want one – just don’t eat the entire serving, which is usually way too many. I am lucky, I usually do not order fries but my wife always does, so I can always have a few but know I won’t gorge on the salty fried fun food.

The more you stress about every bite, the less you enjoy life, and depression and weight gain go hand and hand. Don’t use me as your excuse to eat a dozen Munchkins from Dunkin Donuts, but one is fine. And for the love of G-d don’t talk about it 24/7. It’s not healthy to worry about your weight all the time and lie about how you don’t even like chocolate and carbs. Make smart eating decisions 85 percent of the time, exercise most days, and the weight will gradually fall off.               

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Grilled Eggplant Salad

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08/05/2014

Grilled Eggplant Salad photo 1

Side dishes have never been my forte. I am more the main entrée type of gal – that is where I sparkle.

But last summer I was at my friend Tanya’s house when she was whipping up a last minute BBQ – a typical weekly occurrence – and in between taking sips of her sauvignon blanc and putting band-aids on her son’s knees, she whipped up a salad that is nothing more than sheer genius.

You see, my friend Tanya and her husband Bo are my favorite type of chefs, because they really are not chefs, just real people who love to cook and love food. Their BBQs are rarely planned ahead of time but also end up being some sort of organized chaos that ends in laughter echoing from their backyard at three in the morning.

Tanya is one of the only people who I can actually stand next to in the kitchen and feel like we are actually creating a dish together rather than me dictating a recipe and her attempting to execute it. Bo is the so-called foodie of the two, constantly whipping up savory concoctions in his kitchen and on his grill and experimenting with new flavors. He uses fresh herbs from his own garden and random other ingredients he picks up at one of those Asian stores we all love but fear going to due to the unusually strange aromas billowing out of it.

Ahhhhhh, but I digress, back to the salad. While the men grilled brontosaurus-sized meats outside, the girls all huddled around the kitchen island and sipped wine while sharing stories, recipes and anecdotes. I noticed Tanya peeling freshly grilled whole eggplants, tomatoes and chopping cilantro. She then combined all these ingredients in a square dish, sliced them roughly with a knife and added some salt and cilantro and placed it on the kitchen counter for the girls to munch on. I took a bite and was instantly hooked. Holy Julia Child!  It was amazing! This salad was so purely Tanya. Simple, satisfying and delicious.

In her usual humble manner, when I went to compliment her on it she claimed the recipe was not hers. Whether it is hers, his or someone’s from a land faraway, recipes are meant to share, and so this one is for you  A simple and savory salad to go along with any of your favorite meals!

Grilled Eggplant Salad photo 2

Grilled Eggplant Salad
From Girlandthekitchen.com

Ingredients

5 Large Eggplants 
5 Medium Sized Tomatoes – Roma Tomatoes work great for this 
1 Large Onion – Paper Skin Removed 
2 Large Red Bell Peppers 
4 Cloves of garlic, minced on microplane 
1 Bunch of Cilantro – very roughly chopped 
Olive Oil 
Salt and Pepper to taste 

Instructions

1. Roast all the vegetables on a grill turned to high or in a 450-degree oven. Making sure to rub them all down with olive oil. And prick the eggplants with a fork to keep them from exploding.

2. The tomatoes and peppers will cook the fastest so keep an eye on them while cooking. They should take about 15- 20 minutes. The eggplants take about 20-25. But again keep an eye on them turning them every 7 minutes or so.

3. Once the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are charred, throw them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 15-30 minutes. This makes the skin come off easier. Place the onions on the side.

4. Peel the skin off of all the vegetables except the onions and toss in a square dish. Cut all the vegetables very roughly in the dish.  Since they are all so soft they will cut easily.

5. Cut the onion into small dice, roughly and combine with vegetables.

6. Add cilantro, garlic, season to taste and enjoy  

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Jewish Athletes on the Move

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08/04/2014

Jewish Athletes on the Move photo

Julian Edelman 

It’s been a busy summer of trades and signings for Jewish athletes. Here is an update of the comings and goings around the sports world:

Gal Mekel is coming off a solid Summer League. He was plagued by injuries last season but with the Dallas Mavericks unloading some of their back court, Mekel will have a good opportunity.  

Two other Jewish basket-ballers are headed west. Omri Caspi has been waived after a recent trade with the Houston Rockets. He has signed a one-year deal with his original team, the Sacramento Kings. Jordan Farmar has inked a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.  

In baseball, Sam Fuld is headed back to Oakland. Fuld began the season in Oakland, but was claimed off waivers by the Minnesota Twins. The trade helps the A's with their bench depth down the stretch as they gear up for the playoffs.  

Danny Valencia is also on the move headed to Toronto. He was on ESPN recently with a great web gem.  

Is New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman headed to NASCAR? Well, he is staying in pro football, but he has recently been seen on the racetrack serving as the pace car driver for Camping World RV Sales 301 Sprint Cup race.  

In hockey, Jason Zucker has resigned with the Minnesota Wild and hopes to be 100 percent after his injury; Mike Cammalleri signed a five-year $25-million deal with the New Jersey Devils; Mike Brown signed a two-year extension with the San Jose Sharks; and Carter Camper signed with the Ottawa Senators.

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How I Fell in Love with Israel

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08/01/2014

How I Fell in Love with Israel photo

I remember my first impression of Israel vividly.

It was almost sunrise when my mother and I pulled up to my cousins’ apartment in Petah Tikva. We were disheveled and weary from travel, laden with overflowing suitcases and discombobulated from the time difference. As I yanked my suitcase out of the elevator, a quick beam of light flickered from the balcony to my side. Gently abandoning our luggage in the hallway, my mother and I stepped out into the warm morning light.

It was about 5 a.m., and the sun was just rising. It cast a warm glow over the chalky white apartments, illuminating laundry strewn on clotheslines, flapping gently in the breeze. Hilltops flowed like soft waves in the distance, and the creeping sunlight lit upon packs of stray cats howling in the streets. It looked so authentically Middle Eastern, and unlike any city I’d ever seen before.

To this day, Petah Tikva is known as one of the ugliest cities in Israel. It’s ridiculed on Israeli TV and my teenage cousin repeatedly moans about how boring it is. Still, at that moment, it seemed like the most beautiful place on earth to me.

From that day forward, I spent years fantasizing about Israel, Googling cities from Netanya to Eilat and picking up scraps of Hebrew that I gleaned from synagogue. At age 15, I was even researching real estate in Jerusalem. You could say that I fell in love with the country.

Earlier this week, Alison Benedikt — senior editor of Slate magazine — published an article titled, “Did Birthright Kill Max Steinberg?” Since then, the title has been changed to something a little less preposterous, but the point remains the same — Benedikt, a former Israel advocate and now a rather bitter critic, seems to believe that a largely donor-funded trip to Israel is actually a trick masterminded by the Israeli government to ensnare foreigners (Americans specifically) into the IDF.

Of all the problems in the Middle East — Sudanese refugees, civil war in Syria, the dismantlement of Iraq as a country —  and Benedikt takes a moment to tackle the issue of … Birthright?  

Several responses have cropped up to Slate’s inflammatory piece, citing statistics that show just how unsupported Benedikt’s claims are — the percentage of Americans who join the IDF as a direct cause of Birthright is insignificant.

But since Benedikt’s article was pretty much all anecdotal, I’ll insert an anecdote here myself. I, too, went on Birthright. I tried to take it for what it was — a highly enjoyable, but cursory glance at a country much deeper and multi-layered than camel rides in the desert or a sunrise hike up Masada.

On one particular night, our group visited the graves of fallen Israeli soldiers. In the past, I’d played with the idea of what it might be like to join the IDF (though, with my feeble muscles and weak nerves, I can’t imagine they’d want me very much). But as the Israelis in our group stepped forward one by one, tears forming in their eyes as they described the loved ones they’ve lost, I realized the gravity of the decision to enlist.

To put it bluntly, seeing the agonized faces of my Israeli friends as we hovered over the graves definitely did not make me want to sign up. I shouldn’t speak for anyone else — this was just my experience. But I’ve never known anyone, not in my group or any other group, who joined the IDF for no other reason except Birthright. It feels ridiculous even just typing that out.

Overall, of course Birthright is pro-Israel. The program did not take us exploring through the West Bank or peeking at Gaza City. The issue of a Palestinian state is an enormous topic in Israel, but the purpose of Birthright is not to wrestle weighty political issues with packs of tourists. The purpose is to offer a quick glimpse of a beautiful country often pictured in the media as a bombed-out and hopeless minefield.

It’s important to remember that, as a Birthright participant, nobody is knotting a blindfold over your head. You’re welcome to enter Israel with an open mind and look at its society with a critical eye — as you should in every place you live in or visit. No one will prevent you from doing research and forming an opinion of your own. No one will beat you with a stick for asking questions.

In her article, Benedikt was clearly baffled that a young, American boy such as Max Steinberg, with his whole life ahead of him, would choose such an unlikely route as an IDF soldier. After all, she argues, many young Americans barely even know Hebrew when they enlist— the implication here being that soldiers like Steinberg could just as easily have chosen China or France or any other foreign nation to serve in. Why fight for a country you weren’t even born in?

Maybe Benedikt, in her multiple trips to Israel, never felt at home there. Maybe she never dreamed about Israel, or never yearned to go back, craving that slice of Middle Eastern land more than her own hometown. And that’s very understandable.

I didn’t fall in love with Israel during Birthright. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time. But the most unforgettable moments are those when Israel amazed me in the smallest of ways — Jerusalem vendors belting out prices for cucumbers, the smell of fresh challah mingling with with the floating aroma of shawarma, narrow Old-City alleyways flowing seamlessly from the Arab to Jewish Quarters. From the moment I first saw it, Israel touched me. Since then, the impression it made has never left.

The fact that Benedikt never had these feelings does not mean that she somehow dodged Birthright’s secret agenda; it just means that everyone’s experiences are different. That’s all. Birthright may have its own purposes, but if its agenda solely involves enlisting American soldiers, it doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job.

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