Great Expectations and that Energetic Wall

IMG_0861I recently traveled to Israel with my boyfriend and didn’t really know what to expect. I, like many Americans, used to have a skewed perception of what the country is like.  Over the last few years many of these preconceived notions were debunked. I still wondered if life in Israel was at all like stories I had seen on the evening news. Would there be missiles everywhere and camels wandering the streets? Avoiding missiles and violence in Israel was not a problem. Gaining weight from all the fine food and finding a parking spot for your car were problems. I was so busy walking and eating there was no time to worry about missiles or my safety because walking around Tel Aviv was more safe than walking around New York City. Before the trip I had heard a lot about the food, the people, the beaches, the humidity, the historical sites and yes, more about the food. I spent most of my time in Tel Aviv, so maybe my extremely edible view of Israel is different than other parts of the country. The food was definitely the highlight of the trip, along with a particularly energetic wall.

iPhoto LibraryIn Tel Aviv there is no shortage of fresh squeezed juices (on every corner), amazing coffee, fresh melon, and delicious shawarma.  If you don’t know what shawarma is, you just have to taste it to understand. And (unfortunately) I haven’t found very good shawarma in the U.S.  The bread is different, the meat is different, the hummus is different and the tahini!!  My mouth is watering just writing about it. To give you an idea how amazing the sandwiches were, we stopped on the way to the airport to grab one last sandwich so we could nibble on it during the 11 hour flight back to the U.S. It definitely made the trip go by faster.

After spending several days in Tel Aviv, I took a guided tour of Jerusalem. There is so much history in Jerusalem it is hard to say what was the most interesting.  The tour was so fast paced I almost missed the stone where Jesus laid when they brought him down off the cross. I didn’t have time or the desire to wait in line to get a glimpse inside the tomb where Jesus was resurrected. Needless to say, Jerusalem has an aura of conflict, death and tourism. The old city at times felt more like a giant shopping mall than a historical site. There is one spot in Jerusalem that moved me more than anything else – the Western Wall or The Kotel. IMG_0914The tradition of the Kotel is to put your prayer notes into the wall.  I carried notes from others as well as  a few of my own. Getting to the wall was a challenge, placing the notes into the wall was nearly impossible. The Western Wall is divided into sections – one for women and the other for men. The section for women was very small – so there were a lot of us squished together and trying to place our notes. I was able to get up to the wall. To touch it. To place my notes. What surprised me was that I could feel an energy being emitted from the wall. I am not a religious person, but there is definitely something unique about the wall and I felt it.

My trip to Israel was too short and there are plenty of other things for me to see, do, and eat there. I am definitely looking forward to the next trip and my next shawarma!


Eat This!

At the beginning of the year I had an AlCAT food sensitivity test that checked my food sensitivities to 200 foods. I am sensitive to 39. What does this mean? Well, some foods I can’t eat at all while others I may be able to eat after avoiding them for a period of time. Sometimes if you avoid a food for a while (6 months), you can eat it again occasionally. There is some hope for my taste buds.

The worst part was finding out I can’t eat chicken, rice, vanilla, and maple sugar. These had become staples in my diet, so it actually wasn’t a surprise that I developed food sensitivities to them. It doesn’t make going out to eat easy, that is for sure. When you can’t eat wheat, chicken and rice, what can you eat? Salad? Did I mention iceberg lettuce and romaine were also on my ‘do not eat’ list? The other complication, is that it is recommended to eat all foods only once every 4 days. If you eat barley on Monday, you can’t have it again until Friday. To manage this I have a chart on my refrigerator that has the foods I can eat each day listed by food category. I also carry a list in my purse for dinners out or when I go to the grocery store. How do you remember not to eat 39 foods? It isn’t easy.

It has been almost 2 weeks since I started this journey (or some would call insanity). I have been reading a lot of food labels, searching for simple recipes, and eating a lot of obscure foods (like brussels sprouts). As I try to navigate my food selections day by day I have found I like a lot of these foods but somehow forgot about them. Some I never tried cooking from scratch (black-eyed peas) others I cooked and ate for the first time (lamb). Although I have spent endless hours asking myself the question,”What am I going to eat?”, I have discovered that I like to eat almost everything on my “ok to eat” list. One night I actually craved broccoli. Who does that? You are only supposed to crave Ben and Jerry’s ice cream or a Crispy Cream Doughnut, or at least that is what advertisers hope. I am starting to see food differently according to the motto, “eat to live”, not “live to eat”. I am not sure what the next weeks and months will bring as far as meals go, but I am eating healthier than I was before. By eating more vegetables, fish, nuts and fruits I feel better already. What are you eating on Monday?

Eat This

Man has survived for thousands of years on a variety of food that depended on location, climate and how hard they were willing to work for the food. Did they forage, farm or hunt? Could their tribe or community kill a whale or elephant to feed the whole village? Think about how Native American Indians lived off the land, sometimes killing buffalo or catching fish, while other times picking berries. In the past, man had to eat to survive, but it seems today instead of just surviving, man is thriving. Maybe thriving too much, if obesity is a measure.

Could the food that has allowed humans to survive, actually be killing us? With our bountiful food choices, we can choose to help ourselves or kill ourselves. Heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases occur, but is it caused by exposure to chemicals, bad genes, or something more sinister – food. How is food and the way we eat impacting our health? We have indigestion and doctors prescribe a variety of purple and other colored pills to ease our pain, yet our problems may be rooted in the food we put in our bodies every day.

Every week news stories expose more foods that are good for us, yet 6 months later the same food (according to the news agency) is no longer good. Wine is good, oh, no it isn’t. Well, some is good. Women, they shouldn’t drink wine, well, not too much anyway. How are we supposed to decide on what to eat when no one really knows what is best? How do we shop at the grocery store and make intelligent food choices? I want to eat nutrients but which ones? How do I get the nutrients? Is my only option is to listen to my body and let it decide what food is best for me? Seems as good as any other method for choosing food. Isn’t each person an individual and don’t they have different nutritional needs? Instead of mocking someone for being a vegan or a meat-eater, shouldn’t we embrace the fact that we are listening to our bodies to optimize nutrition and our body’s performance?

Recently I chose to go gluten and dairy-free (because that diet makes me feel better) and I am fortunate to have so many food options. I know I should eat something healthy, but I wonder if a gluten-free, dairy-free cookie counts? No one can be perfect in food selection and health, so it is time we made food decisions for ourselves instead of leaving it to scientists, reporters or peers to dictate what is ‘good’ for us. Thousands of years of human survival cannot be all wrong. What do you want to eat?

Rotten Bananas = Great Smoothie!

In my quest to save money on groceries and not waste food, I have found the perfect use for the rotten banana. To be more accurate, 2 rotten bananas. For some reason bananas in Arizona go bad fast – very fast! I buy new ones and within hours of getting them home, they are past the ‘ripe’ level where I (or anyone else in the house) would want to eat them. I often dream of freezing them for later use but usually find myself throwing them in the trash bin. Yesterday I procrastinated no further. I found a use for these browning, ugly and nearly rotten bananas. One banana was actually past the point of no return. I just couldn’t stomach using a banana with mold on it so it joined a long history of bananas who got to see inside of a Hefty bag.

So my very simple, quick and tasty ‘solution’ to get rid of the bananas was to put ice, two bananas and a healthy amount of vanilla soy milk in a blender. I added milk so it would actually turn into something resembling a milk shake instead of a snow cone (for those of you who cringed at soy milk, you can use regular milk with a teaspoon of vanilla). After the ingredients were loaded, I pushed the “ON” button on the blender. What? nothing happened? Ice got jammed? I tried again on a lower setting resulting in a very loud noise. Eventually things in the blender got moving to create a tasty concoction that my 7-year-old gulped down with a passion. He kept filling up his cup (like it was all for him?) until there wasn’t much left and he resorted to drinking right from the blender. He was really happy his sister was napping so he could drink it all. No way was he going to share this treat!

My lessons learned:
1) Something delicious can be made from rotten bananas besides banana bread
2) You can fool your kids into thinking that this ‘smoothie’ is dessert and get them to eat something healthy.
3) Cooking can be entertainment. My 7-year-old liked the idea of grinding stuff up in the blender, and it actually got him to stop watching “How it is Made” for 90 seconds.
4) I need more rotten bananas, because I could really use a smoothie right now but we are all out!

Do you have any rotten bananas you need to get rid of?

First Day Unemployed

Get up at reasonable time then decide yoga (gentle) is excellent course of action for first day unemployed.

Look in mirror – face already breaking out with rash due to stress. Take 50 mg zinc plus regular vitamin. Realize family might have to live on 300 tablet bottle of vitamins if things get tough.

Eat waffle with syrup. Realize no more maple syrup and back to $1.89 bottle of generic Albertson’s brand from now on.

Push reluctant kids into car after arguing about how 7-year-old cannot take DS to school/camp.

Start car….hmmm…making funny sound. Car is vibrating and rumbling. Can’t be good. Brilliant idea…check oil. Check it…a little low. Add quart of oil. Looks good. Start car. Now “Check Engine” light is on. Bugger. Check manual for indicator light ‘meanings’. Irritated it is 8 AM and it is already 100 degrees. Wish manual had Google search! Find needed info in manual…light not blinking = ok to drive, just go slow.

We are off to school. Drop off kids uneventfully. Arrive at health club for yoga. Have wait time! Call car dealer – opening tomorrow 8:30 AM. Yeah, car will be fixed.

Yoga, very nice. Relaxing. Still thinking of list of things to do. Not dwelling on ‘why me’! Way to busy!

Stop at store to buy external drive for computer – $79 for 320 GB. Wow! Actually feeling high-tech now!

Start car…hmmm…”Check Engine” light is off. Car fixed self. Realized no time for car doctor visit.

Doorbell rings…..release papers to sign. Delay reading for a few minutes. Already know what it says.

Phone rings. Coworker (sorry, ex-coworker). Yes, e-mail still works. No one knows why e-mail still working. Forward needed info to ex-coworker. Why sending when no longer working? Want to be good friend. If was non-friend would not have answered phone! Glad had good friends at work!

Check Linked In. More good friends! Recommendations are rolling in. Amazed! Can’t believe overwhelming support!

Time for haircut! Darn, no time for lunch. Not hungry, plus way too busy. Beautiful color and professional coiffed hair! Who wouldn’t want to hire me now?

Rush off to pick up kids. Four-year-old wearing different dress than when dropped off in morning. “Got dress dirty” she says. Borrowed dress from friend because she didn’t have any extra clothes at school. Bad mommy. She has to leave in only skirt, no shirt. Glad she has skirt at least!

Get to parking lot. Phone ringing! Another ex-coworker. Yes, yes, can’t believe they let me go. What? You will write recommendation! Great!

Pick up 7-year-old. Where is he? No one seems to know. Suddenly see him. He is holding DS!! Hmmm…must have snuck it to school. Punishment: 1 week – no DS!

Arrive home. Add note to DS with date of when available. Place on refrigerator for safe keeping.

Paige takes cold macaroni from refrigerator. Eats directly from container then puts self to bed. Meanwhile make pasta with brocolli and salad – all leftovers! Amazing feat…also healthy meal! Husband says, “Great dinner. You must have gone shopping today.” If he only knew how busy I was – no time for shopping!

Can you believe it? I survived day 1 of unemployment. What will happen tomorrow?

Schlotzky's or Cheesecake Factory?

I arrived at my hotel this evening after a day of traveling and meetings and I was starving. For breakfast I had eaten a bowl of yogurt. At the airport I drank a Cafe Mocha and for my lunch (if you can call it that) I ate a granola bar. I was starving and I wanted something to eat quickly. I also didn’t feel like sitting in a restaurant (alone) to eat. I was first thinking Cheesecake Factory (for the obvious desert reasons), but it didn’t quite fit my need to avoid dining alone or the desire for immediate satisfaction.

Another option for dinner was a Schlotzky’s Deli down the street. The sandwiches are yummy and I could get take-out! Best of all, I could sit comfortably in front of the TV in my hotel room while I ate. I can’t believe my desire to sit comfortably in front of the television while I ate was such a significant factor in my decision making process. If I wanted TV while I ate, I should have just gone to a sports bar. If I was a guy, a sports bar would have made a lot of sense. Unfortunately there isn’t a “Lifetime” bar or a “Sex in the City” bar.

I opted for Schlotzky’s and ordered my turkey and guacamole sandwich, jalapeno chips, root beer and chocolate chip cookie. It was all that I thought it could be. Best of all I didn’t have to do the dishes! Who knew that eating out on a business trip could be so satisfying even without going to the Cheesecake Factory.

Let's Talk Turkey

Why do we have to have turkey for Thanksgiving? Or hamburgers and hotdogs on the 4th of July? Ham on Easter? I realized after this Easter holiday weekend, that I have rebelled against the foods of my youth. I was brought up on meat and potatoes (like the majority of middle-aged people in the US). Did I just say middle-aged? I can’t believe I am admitting that, but it is true.

So back to my food rebellion – if I never eat another slice of roast beef, a pork chop, or a steak I definitely won’t feel like I missed out on anything. For most of my 20’s I was a vegetarian (talk about a food rebellion!). Actually, to be totally honest I was a “fish-a-tarian” – I ate tuna, lobster, crab, and salmon…I just couldn’t give those up. During that time I never ate turkey on Thanksgiving though. People would ask, “What are going to eat on Thanksgiving if you don’t eat turkey?” Honestly? Like there isn’t enough other ‘stuff’ to eat on Thanksgiving? Surely I would starve by only feasting on mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potato, cranberry sauce, rolls, and pumpkin pie? We usually had apple pie too, but maybe some would just consider my meal the appetizer and not the ‘meal’. I mean, where was the meat?

When I was pregnant with my daughter I added ‘meat’ back into my diet for health reasons. I ate bacon for the first time in about 10 years. Yeah, not the smartest thing to eat… it makes me ill just thinking about it. Chicken and beef were gradually added back into my diet, and 5 years later I am still trying to figure out how to phase them back out. The beef is totally out (except for my occasional, once yearly trip to “IN-N-Out Burger”). I still eat chicken albeit reluctantly. I am still trying to understand how turkey has showed up regularly in my lunches.

I was thinking about the foods that I now crave the most, one of which is sushi. If I go a few weeks without sushi I really want it, to the point where the pre-made stuff at the grocery store around the corner, “Fresh & Easy”, starts to look appetizing. I even start eyeing the fish in the aquarium at Bass Pro Shop. This is not exactly the kind of fish you would find on a plate at a local sushi restaurant, but desperate times call for desperate measures, even when it means visualizing a trout in hand-rolled sushi.

Yesterday it was Easter, so we had ham. Actually everyone else had ham and I ate potatoes and asparagus. Yet another holiday where meat is the ‘star’ of the meal. I have to admit that for the kids, chocolate was the ‘star’. They aren’t exactly big meat eaters either. For some reason my daughter likes “SPAM” but not ham. Is there really a difference? I guess there is because she wouldn’t eat the ham.

I am just glad that I am not the only one in the house who on occasion craves sushi – as my 7-year-old son can scarf down his share of sushi (california rolls!) I hope to create a generation of children that enjoys a variety of foods and if sometimes meat is in there, I guess I can live with that. I am still not sure I can stomach my 4-year-old eating SPAM, but she seems to think it goes well with mandarin oranges and she also really likes Pad Thai noodles. I keep hoping that she won’t get stuck eating just “meat and potatoes” for the rest of her life. Then again, maybe she will rebel like I did instead of from “meat and potatoes” to “meat and potatoes”!

I need coffee, but all I have is trail mix.

As we flew down I-10 heading West toward California from Arizona, I was munching on my trail mix and wondering why it is called trail mix to begin with. What is funny is that whether I am hiking on a trail or driving across country, trail mix always tastes good. Something about the crunch of the nuts and the occasional sweetness of M&Ms that permeates my tongue. Or is it that you get so hungry that any food tastes good?

Today I find myself eating trail mix for lack of other suitable nourishment to fill my palate’s desire. We just stopped at McDonald’s for lunch for “Happy Meals” in an effort to keep the kids from killing each other in the back seat as the hunger gets the best of them and takes over their personality. At the McDonald’s counter I approached confidently knowing what I wanted to order – 2 chicken nugget happy meals and a couple of milk shakes. I couldn’t bring myself to eat beef today and the fish fillet will probably make me feel worse than not eat at all.I am not sure I want to order anything for myself.

My eye catches a new item on the menu – a McCafe coffee drink. Considering we ran out of the house this morning (leaving the french press looking lonely and sad on the counter), I got the bright idea to order a coffee drink. My need for coffee was greater than my desire to avoid drinking coffee from McDonald’s. Although I had “heard” that the coffee at McDonald’s wasn’t that bad. I ordered a “Cafe Moca Hot”. My mouth was already salivating at the idea of getting some caffeine. (Strange how I suddenly found myself addicted to the stuff to begin with.)

Chris picked up the order and brought it over. Now the hot drink isn’t looking quite as appealing as the kid’s milk shakes, but hey, I will definitely feel better after the caffeine injection. I take a sip and this is the sweetest mocha I have ever tasted. And when I say “sweet”, I don’t mean that in a positive way. I begin wondering how much coffee was actually put in the drink, because it doesn’t taste like there could be more than a few drops of coffee…if any? I keep sipping it thinking the taste will get better, but it just doesn’t. My only salvation was the large order of french fries now my ‘lunch’ since I couldn’t bear to order anything else. I notice on the side of my cup there are letters “NF” and “HC: Hmmm..they must have given me non-fat instead of regular? Could that be why this drink tastes so bad? Just at the moment I am wondering what the “HC” stands for and Chris says “The receipt says hot chocolate, you know”. Apparently my order of Coffee Mocha – Hot was translated into “Hot Chocolate”.

I am not really surprised that there was confusion in my order, I mean we were in California, so I guess I was happy I got a “Hot Drink” and not “Hot Salsa”. I was really disappointed that I didn’t get the drink I wanted, but what could I do? I have to say, that it would not have been quite as disappointing if a 1/2 mile further down the road I hadn’t seen a Starbuck’s. So I didn’t get my beloved coffee, but at least I have this yummy trail mix.

A new form of meditation: The Oreo cookie

As Paige was eating an Oreo cookie after dinner tonight, she closed her eyes as she savored the taste of the cookie. For a moment it looked like she was meditating. I wondered if it was possible for an Oreo to trigger a meditative state. Seeing her like that made me think about how I feel when I am hiking or even writing. If it was possible that she could meditate eating an Oreo cookie, how many other ways was it possible to meditate?

Yesterday was Sunday, my day to refresh and clear my mind. No, I didn’t go to church, but I do have a place for my own form of prayer as it were. On a Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon I love to head out with the family for a hike (assuming Tucker has not hidden at the neighbor’s house to avoid the hike). Also hiking is seasonal even in Arizona. For some reason I can’t get excited about heading out on a hike at 2 in the afternoon when it is 118 degrees. Maybe if it was only 102, just not 118. I had been waiting weeks for the opportunity to hike (when it wasn’t pouring down rain) and my body was feeling like it had been ‘missing out’ on something these last few weeks. Was it possible that meditation was what my body was missing?

There is something ritualistic about strapping on hiking boots with leather that has been scratched with wear and are so covered with dirt that it is impossible to see the original color of the boots. Boots should be well broken in, and mine certainly were – even for this relatively short hike. For those who know me as a bit of a tomboy, they would be surprised to know that I wear a skirt to hike in Arizona. REI really knows their stuff, so if they sell a quick-dry, brown skirt with numerous pockets, I feel obligated to hike in it. I realize I live in Arizona (and the heat doesn’t require it) but I still wear wool hiking socks. Either I am too cheap or too lazy to buy new ones, but I patiently wait for them to wear out so I can purchase new ones.

Hiking with two kids can be a challenge. The amount of water and snacks required to keep them happy on the journey seems to add up to the same weight as my college engineering books (combined). This is a lot more than I enjoy carrying; however, I have learned from experience that either I carry all the ‘stuff’ or listen to whining and complaining for the full length of the hike. Yesterday’s hike was planned to be over 3 miles, so 3 hours of whining? or a real ‘workout’ from carrying the extra weight? I chose the weight. I guess another option would be earplugs, but that would just defeat the purpose of relaxing to the sounds of nature.

On the hike yesterday I wandered along the narrow and winding path, with Paige shuffling along in front of me, and I felt like I was in another world. It was quiet. The ground was covered in a green carpet rarely seen in Arizona. The wildflowers were amazing. Poppies were a beautiful orange-yellow and everywhere you could find these teeny tiny flowers. I had escaped my busy life and my blackberry for a few hours and all I could focus on was the scenery (and of course keeping the kids moving along and nourished). For me, hiking is so much like meditating because the mind seems to be ‘free’ to finally relax and escape the over-stimulation of daily life. Writing actually has a similar effect on me. I am not sure why, but something happens during both of these activities that is so similar, yet so different.

Whether you go for a hike, sit on your patio to listen to the birds chirp, go to your local church for a sermon, or you have some other tradition you like to do on Sundays (or any other day for that matter) you should savor this meditation time. With the overflow of text messages, e-mails, and mental demands it is nice to escape that for a while. I am looking forward to trying a new form of meditation soon…over an Oreo cookie. I think Paige has something there.

Don't try the chocolate chip diet

For some reason I decided that it was a good idea to lose 5 lbs this month. This is not just a goal I committed to myself, but I committed it to a room full of other goal-setters. In other words, I can’t just back out now, I have to keep going. I was just pondering how many calories it would be if I ate my notebook? I was talking about the paper kind, not my computer. I feel like I am counting calories of everything around me, and now, not just food! I have a few strategies I have come up with, but none has eliminated my tremendous pangs of hunger. Did I mention I could really eat?

Considering I work from home and I sit only feet from a vast selection of tasty treats in my kitchen pantry, it has been a real feat to eliminate in-between-meal snacks. Every time I would walk past the pantry (before) I would stop and grab something. It wasn’t anything big. Just a Cheez-It or a pretzel. What could be the harm? Well, my pants are so tight I feel like if I eat a single grain of rice, my stomach will expand – ripping my pants apart like the Incredible Hulk. As a result, I will be forced to buy a whole new wardrobe. Clearly this weight-loss thing is about mind over matter; my minds desire to not go broke buying new clothes. Right now the mind is winning, but my stomach pangs are holding strong.

As a tactic to limit my eating, I started writing down everything that crosses my lips in one of those on-line food diaries. It is great because you can even track calorie burn by activity and your weight over time. I now log every cup of tea, every nibble of a cookie, and every chocolate chip. Everyone eats chocolate chips right out of the bag don’t they? Or is that just me? When I tried to log it in the food diary it didn’t have a measurement for “chocolate semi-sweet morsel”, so I had to improvise with 1/100th of a cup = 1 morsel. I didn’t actually count the morsels, but surely a handful couldn’t be more than 15 morsels? Could it?

Now I see why the ‘single chocolate chip habit’ is so bad. You eat a handful, which doesn’t look like much. Then 10 minutes later you have another handful. It isn’t long before you realize that 1/2 the bag is gone and you barely have enough left for those chocolate chip pancakes you were planning to make at the weekend. Did I mention this would happen by Monday at 10 AM? I kept wondering if someone else had been getting into my chocolate chips. Then I realized I opened the bag this morning and everyone else was out of the house for the day. The next day when I stepped onto the scale, I would realize that it must have been me eating all the chocolate chips, because the dial inched upward ever so slightly. Now I am scared to eat any snack for fear that I will tumble down the slippery slope where my single cheez-it turns into a box-a-day habit. Sadly, my eating problems are just that, habit.

You would think without all my snacking, I would be a lot more productive because I don’t have to brush bright orange crumbs from my keyboard. Unfortunately, at times I find it hard to focus because I am distracted by the hunger pangs. Pangs that seem to hang with me most of the day. Well, except when I am sleeping. Then I can just dream about eating everything I want. I may feel hungry a lot of the time, but something must be working because the scale dial has started inching downward instead of upward.

How am I surviving this hunger? Surprisingly I have been positive for the most part. I have traded my sugar crashes to “Choose to feel better”. Besides just watching the calorie counts, I have reduced my gluten intake (you know, wheat? or anything made with flour?). This seems to really improve my mood and alertness. Another trick I tried, but not sure if it actually works – I wear my loosest pants and ‘think thin’. Can I brainwash myself to think I am thin? Will my brain just ‘make it so’? I thought this might be more motivating than trying to squeeze into pants a size too small. The pants must have shrunk in the dryer because I couldn’t have gained THAT much weight? In 2 weeks it looks like I have lost about 2 pounds. Feeling hungry isn’t so bad; just don’t put your hand too close to my face because my choices may be down to eating your hand or a notebook (although I need to check my calorie counter first). Here comes another hunger pang, time for my mantra…”Choose to feel better”.