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Monday, March 26, 2018

Israel: Part 2

Probably the most interesting thing for me about visiting Israel is not being a minority for the first time in my life. That being said, I don't necessarily feel I've got a lot in common with ALL Jews. Not being religious, and being extremely socially liberal, I can't say I understand the Hasidic Jews beliefs or way of life at all. But according to our guide, Roni (roni_tours@walla.com), who was fantastic, by the way, most Israelis don't understand them much either. Nevertheless, they have a lot of power in Israel, which is why they don't fight in the Israeli army, and insist on businesses shutting down for Sabbath in Jerusalem.

Of course, the other amazing thing for me was just the ancient history of the place. Coming from a new country like Canada, where any structure over 100 years old is considering 'historical', it was mind boggling to see so many buildings over 2000 years old still standing. If the history interests you, then definitely visit places like Ceasarea, Acco and Old Jerusalem.


Below is a photo of Old Jerusalem I took:


Though Israel is a Jewish country, it is a place considered sacred to many religions including Muslims, Christians and Baha'i. Roni took us to see many of the Christian holy sites in Old Jerusalem, which was fascinating. There were many, many Christians visiting and praying all over the place! He also took us for a brief visit to Haifa, which is the holiest site for the Baha'i.
We also went to the wailing wall, which is where the Jews pray. I stuck a little prayer on a folded up piece of paper into a crevice in the wall, as is tradition, even though I don't pray.

We also went museum mad during our visit. You definitely have to visit some museums if you are in Israel!

The Herzl Museum was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. Its interactive, so I think even kids age 12+ might enjoy it.  In fact, it had a profound impact on me, especially when Roni told us some personal information about Theodor Herzl. He was the first one to propose the idea of a Jewish state, after witnessing the ongoing anti-semitism in Europe in the 19th century. Sadly, he died in his 40s, long before Israel became a state. Even more tragic, is that none of his 3 children or his grandchild (murdered in the Holocaust) lived to see it. But his remains were eventually moved from Europe to Israel and you can visit his tomb on the grounds of the museum.

If you are interested in archaeology or ancient and/or biblical history, than you definitely have to visit the Israel Museum. As an added bonus, its one of the few places open Fridays and Saturdays in Jerusalem!

If you can stomach it, a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum is also a must. It is the best Holocaust museum of have seen yet, even better than the one in Washington, D.C. We were trying to fit in a lot the day we went, so our time there was limited. I think its one of those places you could go many times and still feel like you learn a lot more each time.

Below is a monument honoring Janusz Korczak, a Polish teacher at an orphanage, who refused refuge and went to the gas chambers with his Jewish students.


Below is a shot of the Dead Sea. We didn't actually go in it. First of all, it was a bit too cool for outdoor swimming while we were there, but also, we didn't bring bathing suits.


To be honest, though Israel has a lot of natural beauty, that's not what I was really there to see. I wanted to focus on the history and culture.

If you are interested in doing outdoorsy stuff, there is a lot of that too: swimming in the Dead Sea, beautiful beaches, hikes in the desert, etc.

Our guide, Roni, told us he has led tours focusing on the plants and trees in Israel, and bird watching ones too. There are lots of birds!!


Monday, March 19, 2018

Israel: Part 1


I am finally getting around to writing about our trip to Israel!

As you might expect, many Jews from around the world visit Israel. Many go as children or youth because there are programs like Birthright that facilitate this. I never took advantage of anything like this, nor was I in the least bit interested until a few years ago.

After my Bat Mitzvah at age 13, I threw in the towel on having anything much to do with Judaism. One reason was that I just wasn't religious or interested in being observant of traditions, but in hindsight it probably had more to do with being Jewish in a small, relatively homogeneous town. I was eager to rid myself of any traits that made me 'different'.

It was only a few years ago, after reading The Lemon Tree, that I realized how little I knew about Israel's history and I felt an interest and connection to it. Adam had been as a teen on the March of the Living, and wasn't eager to go back, but after I talked about my desire to visit for a long time, he offered to go with me. It was a belated 15th anniversary gift.

This trip was a huge leap out of my comfort zone as I hate flying and hadn't done such a long flight since I was 3-years-old. As I have said before, I am very happy to read about places around the world from the comfort of my home, rather than visit them in person. Especially if they are really, really far, dangerous, hot, and/or have huge, scary insects). Israel is definitely far...and potentially dangerous.

It took months of research for me to figure out what kind of trip we would do. Lots of people I know who have spent lots of time in Israel, told me its really easy to travel and explore there, and recommended renting a car or just devising our own itinerary. Um, wrong! I am very glad I did not listen to this! Maybe for someone already extremely familiar with the country, otherwise, I definitely recommend a tour!

I struggled to find an organized tour, however, that really appealed to me, so finally after a long chat with the Israel experts at Aufgang Travel, we booked a private, custom tour. Yep. Just me, Adam and our own tour guide. I specifically asked for a focus on culture and history. I was not particularly interested in seas or deserts. So sue me, but that's just not all that interesting to me. Water is water (even if the Dead Sea is somewhat unique) and sand is sand.

So our tour included the following:

  • Caesarea
  • Acco
  • Old Jerusalem
  • Hertzl Museum
  • Israel Museum
  • Yad Vashem (Holocaust museum)
  • Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
  • Mahane Yehuda Market
  • Masada (but we never made it due to road there being flooded out)
I was very nervous about the flights even though my doctor gave me some Ativan to help me sleep. The flight there ended up being alright. Getting through security at Pearson Airport in Toronto was horrid though, as the wait and lines were very long. We flew with El Al airlines and they have their own, lengthy security check system. Of course, its good to feel secure when flying to Israel 😐😐

I did manage to sleep, but even with our upgraded (but not first class) seats, I found it ridiculously uncomfortable. Given how small a person I am, I can't imagine what it was like for anyone bigger. 

We arrived in Tel Aviv, settled in to our hotel (The Dan Panorama), and went exploring. We found the wonderful Carmel Market nearby, and got dinner at an Aroma Cafe. Though we have them in Toronto, we never go, and it was nice at this point to find something familiar and with menus in English. We went back to our hotel and slept about 11 hours. 

Our next day in Tel Aviv was free before our tour guide picked us up the next day. After sleeping in, we had an amazing breakfast at the hotel (they are known for their buffet breakfasts!), and then went for a run along the waterfront (our hotel was right on the Mediterranean Sea). After showering, we went exploring, and ended up at an upscale fashion mall. Though we didn't buy any clothes, we had lunch there and met some lovely locals who offered advice on sites to see.

We ended up wandering rather aimlessly, just getting a sense of the city, and then had an amazing dinner at a restaurant in Carmel Market.

Part 2 of my posts will describe the tour, and 3 I will devote the entire discussion to the FOOD.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine: Book Review


The topic of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) comes up a lot with my counselling clients because many folks dealing with infertility are drawn to it as a way to try to boost their fertility naturally. A few of the fertility doctors I work with even support clients in their decision to incorporate it into their treatment.

For this reason, I was eager to check out Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine to learn more about TCM and how nutrition can be used therapeutically.

What is TCM? It is an ancient holistic healing approach. The basic principles are balance, connectedness and wholeness. The focus is on yin and yang, qi (energy/vital force), blood and other body fluids, and jing and shen (internal interactions with external environmental influences).

Dietary therapy is an integral part of TCM, and is based on the thermal nature or qi of foods. Foods are categorized as hot, warming, neutral, cooling or cold. It is believed that different flavours (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, etc.) have different thermal properties. TCM food groups include:

Whole grains/legumes/nuts/seeds
Animal foods
Vegetables
Fruits
Condiments

Parts 1 and 2 of Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine gives detailed information about TCM and nutritional therapy. Though the information is extensive, it is provided in a very accessible way so even if you have no background, it will give you a fairly solid understanding of the basics.

There is even a chapter in part 2 that provides food recommendations for various common health concerns from coughs, to diabetes, to insomnia. Perusing through this section my impression is that the advice is all pretty sound, though I think you need to avoid looking at these things as 'cures'. Like for stress and tension you are advised to avoid late night eating, overeating, spicy foods, excess alcohol and coffee. It is recommended that you focus on eating leafy greens, nuts and seeds, bitter greens and seaweed. Of course, that all makes sense, but if you work a super high stress job, have major personal problems contributing to your anxiety, and a sedentary lifestyle, then just making these dietary changes will not completely eliminate the stress in your life.

Part 3 of the book contains instructions for stocking your kitchen for TCM nutritional therapy and a chart classifying foods by their nature, flavor, and therapeutic value in TCM.

And then there are the recipes, which are divided by seasons, along with blood tonic and condiment recipe sections.

Now nutritionally, I have no issue with these recipes. They are generally very nutritious. Diabetics may have to alter them, however, because the sweetener used most often is honey.

If you have stocked your kitchen ahead of time with the necessary spices, herbs and condiments, you will find most of them very simple and straightforward. There are meat and seafood recipes, but also a lot of vegan recipes. Each recipe has a tip section and health information about the ingredients. There are no photos, however, so you have to use your imagination about what the final product will look like.

Though many of the recipes are infused with Asian flavours like fresh ginger and tamari, many others are not at all, so there is a lot of variety. They mostly sound very tasty too, so this is not about gagging down various substances in order to cure what ails you.

There are lots of yummy sounding and nourishing soup recipes which would be perfect for anyone suffering from a cold or flu and even some fruit based desserts that sound delicious.

So do I recommend this book? I certainly do for anyone looking for some sort of framework to improving the quality of their diet, or experimenting with different ways of eating to see how it makes you feel. Following the TCM nutritional philosopy could just help you feel less bloated, get rid of your stubborn cough, or make your PMS less severe. Just don't think that you can cure cancer by preparing these recipes. We have chemotherapy for that!

Disclosure: I was sent this book to review, but all opinions are my own.

Monday, March 5, 2018

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest


I apologize for the absence of blog posts recently. The reason is that, first, we were away on an epic trip to Israel, which I was very excited to share with you, but the day we came back, I was struck with an even more epic case of the flu (a very special variety that included both gastro and respiratory symptoms!). And yes I did get a flu shot, but it's not a guarantee, obviously.

In case you think the flu is just a bad cold, I am happy to clear up the misconception. It is not, it is HELL ON EARTH! I can tell you I have never been so sick for so long probably in my life (and I had strep throat and mono simultaneously as a kid!). Last week I spent many days basically in a fetal position. My days were full of chronic diarrhea, painful abdominal cramping, nausea, lack of appetite, throbbing head pain, fever (chills/sweats), coughing, congestion, and sore throat. At no time was I actually worried for my life, but I did think about ending it! Goodness knows if I didn't support the idea of assisted suicide before, I do now! (I always have, actually). Even though I knew I would get better, I felt so miserable that it became hard to imagine feeling normal and healthy again.

Even now, I am still not 100%. I still have several bouts of diarrhea every day, but I am able to eat more foods (I went 2 weeks without eating vegetables!). I am also still super congested, have the pounding head, and the cough. I would say my energy isn't back to normal yet either. I also am weak since I've missed so many workouts. But I know I will get that back eventually.

So, given that I got the flu shot and still got the flu this year, will I get it again? Hell yes! This was a horrible, horrible, horrible experience, and even if I only decrease my chance of getting the flu again by 1% its worth it!!!

Go get your flu shot 💉💉