Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Lag B'Omer Beyond The Fire

It was already a month ago but I wanted to write about Lag B'Omer this year because our traditional class bonfire was different and it gave all of us parents pause for thought. But before I get to that I have to re-frame Lag B'Omer as a rational holiday.

The mini festival marks the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. The Omer is the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot (Pesach and the Feast of Weeks). In religious terms those seven weeks count the time between the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. In practical terms, they were the seven weeks of the grain harvest (barley first and then wheat) that called for a celebratory feast at the end. It's no coincidence that Christians count seven weeks from Easter Sunday till Pentecost (or Whit Sunday).

In the Jewish Year, the Omer is a time when we don't celebrate weddings, cut our hair or do any frivolous partying. Obviously, there was no time for any of this when everyone had to help with the grain harvest. So of course the rabbis had to come up with a reason for this period of semi-mourning, which wasn't mourning at all but rather a time of concerted and focused effort on one project - the harvest.

Its all a bit silly really. They say that 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students died of a plague during this time because they didn't show enough respect to one another. You couldn't make it up. Oh, they did make it up. And on the 33rd day of the Omer, the plague stopped. Hooray! What probably happened was that 24,000 students fell in the battles against the Romans and on the day that happened to be the 33rd day of the Omer, either they had some minor victory or the war ended. That would tie in with the fact that traditionally children used to play with bows and arrows on Lag B'Omer.

It's also supposed to be the deathday of another great Rabbi. But we don't celebrate the births or deaths of any of the real central figures to Judaism - Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Kings Solomon and David, or even any of the prophets, or, in fact, any of the revered characters to whom God actually spoke (Samson, Daniel). So 1. Bonfires and parties are a funny way to mark someone's death, unless it's Guy Fawkes or Hitler. And 2. If we're celebrating someone's life I'd rather it be Theodor Herzl who paved the way for a Jewish State and so saved thousands of Jews who moved to Palestine from being murdered by the Nazis. Or Alexander Fleming, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain who together discovered penicillin thereby saving millions of people from previously fatal infections and infectious diseases.

I can't find any reference to a natural or agricultural phenomenon linking Lag B'Omer to bonfires so I'm thinking that maybe at the end of the grain harvests they started to burn the stubble in the fields around this date? It could be. It's a theory.

So we have bonfires and parties to celebrate Lag B'Omer. It's huge in Israel. Every school class and youth club have an enormous bonfire and the older kids often stay up all night. I've written about it before.  

Back to our class bonfire. We've had one every year with DD's class since they were four years old in nursery school. When they were very young the children largely ignored the bonfire and we kept them busy with some sort of activity. In 2nd grade the school had one large bonfire for everyone and a fair in the playground. No one was really satisfied with that and anyway, by the next year the open space next to the school had been turned into a proper football pitch with expensive astroturf. So no place for a fire there.

In 3rd and 4th grades the activity was the fire. The kids collected the wood and were fascinated by watching it burn - as we all are to some extent, let's be honest. The game was to build as big a fire as possible and to keep feeding it with more and more wood. However, this year was entirely different.

They built a moderate fire and the obligatory tiny hearth nearby on which to roast marshmallows. Then they spent the rest of the evening playing dodge ball (or king ball, or two camps, or whatever variation they play). Another group sat and sang songs. The parents provided far too much food as usual but we're the same as we we've been for years. It's the children who are noticeably growing up. It was a wonderful thing to see the difference between 9-10 years old and 10-11 years old.

In times of heightened awareness about air pollution and the environment, in which groups are being encouraged to attend central or shared bonfires, and forest fires meant that size and other restrictions were imposed countrywide, it was a good to see that our children have moved beyond the fire.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Slimming Sunday - OMAD

Yes, a stroopwafel on my coffee is allowed.
I waited a day before writing this post (you may have noticed that it's Monday) because I wanted to see the effect of eating an enormous falafel in laffa (a large chewy flat bread) with all the trimmings (8 falafel balls, humus, salad, fried aubergine, pickles, and chips) for my one meal a day.

Here's the story so far. I did intermittent fasting for the five weeks between April 28th and June 2nd. I aimed for 20 hours of fasting a day and, with the help of a motivating phone app (Fasti), I managed it on most days. There were at least five days when I went over 24 hours without food but it averaged out to about 20 hours a day throughout the month. Even with a couple of days not doing it at all and about 6 days of only managing between 14 and 19 hours of fasting, I lost 12 lbs (5.5 kg).

Then came summer. The first week of June I was doing great until Wednesday. On Thursday I went to a wedding and the following weekend was the festival of Shavuot which, being a Jewish Holiday, involved a number of festive meals. I dreaded standing on the scales after all that, but in fact I only put back on 2 lbs.

If you read/watch all the all the information on IT (Intermittent Fasting) it seems that doing intermittent fasting just intermittently can be beneficial. Reducing your insulin levels drastically a few times a week has a good effect. Hence the success of the 15:2 diet. However, I read that even fasting for a day once a month is good for you. I'm purposely staying clear of any scientific explanations here as I'm bound to get it wrong, I'm not a doctor or a scientist, and you can find out everything you need to know online.

Anyway, back to my experience. It was June 9th and I'd put back 2 lbs of the 12 I'd lost. I'd lost the momentum of fasting for most of the day because the wedding and some festival meals are served late at night and then there were the festival lunches...

There was also a slight problem with the 20 hour goal with no time constraints. If you eat after 20 hours every day, your eating window gets earlier and earlier. I managed to adjust it by going for a full 24 hours every few days but that was when I was in school till 3 pm four days a week. Now I'm mostly working from home so it's a lot harder to hold out. (I can see the fridge from where I'm sitting now.)

Thus, I decided to fine tune the IT and say no eating until 4 pm. And then I have OMAD (one meal a day.) I don't have to eat that meal at 4 pm and I usually don't eat until 5.30 or 6. If I'm going out on a Friday night the meal is usually a bit later. If I get an invitation to a Shabbat lunch I'll make an exception. Luckily there are no festivals coming up.

So far, only a week following this new (new for me) patent, I've been eating mostly a big salad for my one meal. However, I have been known to finish off the pasta I made for DD or eat the leftover slice(s) of pizza. I had some hesitation about a spot of dessert after the salad but I often went for it. It was usually a Danish pastry or a Stroopwafel with my coffee. The point is to make the one meal big and filling enough (without stuffing yourself to the gills) to get you through the evening without craving more food. However, if I do need to finish off some pasta or pizza (because it would be rude not to) I make sure I do it before 8 pm.

The scales have been going down slowly but steadily all week.

Yesterday evening I had a school event so I told DD I'd bring falafel home for supper. Mine was the enormous laffa described above. It must be 1,500 calories. I didn't have any dessert. And this morning the scales were down again.

It takes a leap of faith to allow yourself all the foods that have been forbidden on traditional weight-loss diets for the past 40 years. But it seems that it works. I won't be eating laffas every day. I shall return to my salads for the most part and only have dessert when it's there, which is occasionally.

Two weeks into June I'm still on track.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

R2BC - End Of Year Events

DD's Monsters. Everyone liked them except DD.
DD's story is on the left but it's in Hebrew.
Here are my reasons to be cheerful for last week. The linky is back with Becky on Lakes Single Mum this week as Mich is busy with guests and family.

No End Of Year Parties
End of year parties are a big thing in Israel. Some teachers have an end of year party for every class they teach. I spared my students and pupils yet another party and more sugar overload. For my last week of teaching we had relaxed lessons, I wished the students good luck in their exam next week and my young pupils a wonderful summer.

DD's original drawing.
Of course I'll be seeing them all again this coming week for the exam in college and I have to wrap up the library and attend a training session in school. Remember how I was laughing as I finished teaching on Wednesday? Well I did finish teaching but I have teaching related work to do for at least another week - if not more. My laughing has been reduced to a wry smile as I don't have to get both me and DD out of the house by 7.30 am. Small gains.

New Beds
My mattress was 30 years old, it had come through half a decade of children using it as a trampoline - it was that type of old fashioned, fully sprung, bouncy mattress - and it was sagging in all sorts of places. More importantly, it was no longer comfortable. So I went to buy a new one.

Ready for children's television. 
I know things are more expensive in Israel but I was shocked when the man in the bed shop told me the prices. I could probably have got something cheaper in IKEA, however, this is my local bed shop. They made my bed frame and a few years later they added a headboard to it when I realized that no headboard is not at all sophisticated. They provided a new mattress for the child's bed that used to be DD's but then got moved to the spudy. It originally came with a thin sponge mattress and needed upgrading for guests.

The price of the simple mattress (not sponge obviously but nothing amazing) was the price I wanted to pay for something in the middle range. The man told me to lie on the most expensive mattress and feel the difference. Then he offered me the most expensive mattress that had been on a bed in the shop for six months, for less than the simple mattress. Sold.

While I was at it I bought a new bed for DD too. Her 1.2 m. wide box bed took up too much space in the bedroom, we don't need the storage in the box, and I wanted to make her room lighter and airier.

The beds came on Thursday. Mine is amazing. I am now about 20 cm higher up, I can't sit on my bed anymore as it's too high, and I have slept through the night since it arrived.

Here's one by Natan that everyone loved. 
We enjoyed the Artists' Class Finale at the museum on Thursday evening.

Monster Exhibition
DD's year at school all drew monsters and wrote stories about them. They were then paired up with Art Students from The Hebrew University Bezalel Art School. The students produced professional drawings or models of the monsters as if they were to be made into cartoons or books. On Friday all the students came in to school and we had an exhibition of the finished works alongside the original drawings and stories. It was very good.

(Aside: I must confess that DD didn't have such a great experience. Her name plate fell of the wall so at first we couldn't find her work. Eventually we found it on the floor and managed to stick it back up for the photo. Her illustrator couldn't come so she didn't get that experience. But turns out maybe that was a good thing. DD took one look the way her monsters had been interpreted and burst into tears because she didn't like it. We slipped away and came home were she was inconsolable until she accidently dropped a glass dish and cut her foot. That took her mind off the monster at least. We were both glad that it was Friday afternoon.)

That's my blogging score for this week. Not quite the bogging every day that I was aiming for but at least this month has the most posts so far this year. Today starts another week...

Have a great weekend! xxx

Friday, June 14, 2019

Artists' Class Finale 2019

Yesterday we had the closing even of the Artists' Classes. I wrote about last year's fabulous event here.

To remind you, this is a small class of up to 15 pupils who have a passion for art. They do weekly art sessions in school and every couple of months they go to the Israel Museum for a special tour or project. There are about 50 primary schools in Jerusalem who take part. Contrary to folk 'wisdom' in the rest of the world, the programme includes Jewish, Arab, and 'Other' schools; secular and religious. We don't need Madonna to tell us how to work together.

There were about 500 dioramas.
This was the best one. 😜
Yesterday we went to the Israel Museum well prepared with our own bottles of water and summer clothing but the weather was mild, even a bit chilly. We already knew the drill. Daphna from the Museum made a short opening speech in Hebrew and in Arabic. She welcomed 43 schools and reminded the children that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' in art. Whatever you create is your truth.

Each school had an area of the sculpture garden. We had a tree-top previously painted by our wonderful art teacher, Moriya. And each child had a box in which to draw a background and then make a sort of diorama. The boxes would then be stuck onto the tree and displayed with all the other trees in a forest of artistic creativity.

This was our school's finished tree. 
The backgrounds were supposed to be a view or sculpture from the museum but our children mostly opted for sunsets or country scenes. DD did a beach. But by the time all the diorama's had been completed with all sorts of incongruent additions, very few of them were specifically identifiable as Israel Museum based.

Unlike last year, the children really didn't need our help. I gave DD a couple of ideas at the end and helped her cut out the birds and the boat. Mostly I walked around spying taking an interest in other schools. The school where I teach was there with three of my own pupils so I hung out with them for a while and chatted with the parents. Like last year there were loads of people I knew who have children on the programme from other schools. Jerusalem is like that. Still small enough to know people.

Here are some of the other trees from other schools You can click on the photos for a bigger picture:

I loved this background on the tree.

I liked the way this school used real branches and leaves.

These guys decorated the outsides of the boxes to great effect.
This school really used the Museum sculptures.

The most tree-like.

We didn't stay for all the speeches at the end. We learned something from last year. We slipped away and came home on the bus. On the way from the bus stop we stopped to buy half a watermelon for today's event in school. It never ends. It's that time of year.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Slimming Sunday - IF Only Revisited

Two years ago I wrote this post. I'd lost 10 lbs with intermittent fasting for one month and I laid out my plans for the following month. The following month's plans never happened. I managed to keep some of the benefits of IF because even a short period of fasting has longer term benefits, but I lost the momentum.

So last week I was actually in almost the exact same position I'd been in two years ago. If you follow the link, most of what I said then remains true today. This time I added a couple of tweaks and of course the motivation has increased due to my brother's wedding in the Autumn.

I'm not going to explain IF again -  you can read and watch videos about it all day online and I urge you to at least dip into that body of information, especially Dr, Jason Fung and his book: The Obesity Code. Like two years ago, I aimed for one meal a day (OMAD) and this time I aimed to increase my fasting to 20 hours a day. (By fasting I mean not eating. I drink tea, coffee, and lots of water.)

I downloaded an app which times your fasts (Fasti - fasting tracker). There are many many IF apps. You can browse them and choose for yourself. Mine is a simple stop watch that saves the times so you can look back on the week and even the month in various graphic representations (a list, a bar graph a weight loss graph if you put in your weight).

The app doesn't tell you what to do, it only records what you've done. However, I did find it motivating in that when I started to think about eating and I saw the clock on 18 hrs 55 mins and counting, I tended to hold off for the sake of one more hour. Even in the middle of the day, when I saw e.g. 14 hours, I'd think why spoil it? I'd be less likely to throw away 14 hrs of fasting to eat something I didn't need than if I didn't have that clock keeping track for me.

As I said, I set my goal for 20 hour a day. I didn't always get there and there is one 14 hour fast, a few between 15 and 19 hours. There was one full weekend where I didn't do it at all. Otoh, there were many days (at least two a week) where I went over 24 hours without eating. If the 20 hours was up in the afternoon and I was still running around, taking DD to gymnastics or shopping, I often didn't get to sit down and eat till 8 pm. And sometimes, having broken the 24 hours barrier, I'd be motivated to go for longer. Even going to bed in order to add another 10 hours.

On the whole I averaged about 20 hours a day fasting. It's easier for me to fast than to eat in moderation. Better not to open the flood gates even a crack. And I actually enjoy feeling hungry. It's not starving but rather feeling light and knowing that I must be running on stored energy. A mixture of physical and psychological well-being.

I've put the suffering of the cows and chickens on hold for now. I'm not proud of it but I need to concentrate on my own health atm. I've ditched calorie counting and low fat mania completely. I try to eat fewer carbs but I don't forbid myself potatoes, bread or pasta.

I lost 12 lbs in the first 5 weeks (5.5 kg). This past week I, week 6, I'd kept it all off by Wednesday but then I went to a wedding and was invited to two festival meals this weekend. I didn't even weigh myself this morning. I have noticed though, that I am eating much less when sitting down to a big meal served buffet or family style. I pay attention to when I'm full and I stop.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

R2BC - Festival of Weeks

Anticipating the wheat harvest.
Or perhaps just thinking about the pizza we ordered for them.
For all my excitement last week about coming to the end of the academic year and having more time on my hands... turns out it was a bit premature and it has been another busy week. Here are my Reasons 2B Cheerful. There's a linky over at Mich's Mummy from the Heart, where us cheerful bloggers hang out.

On Thursday night I went to a wedding of the son of old friends from my teenage years. The parents and I had loads of adventures together in England in the 1970s - early 80s, from camping in the Wye Valley to campaigning for the freedom of Jews in Soviet Russia. We moved to Israel around the same time. We spent Shabbatot (pl. of Shabbat) together, I celebrated with them the births and Bar/Bat Mitzvas of each of their four children, I worked with the wife for a few years in educational publishing where we wrote maths textbooks together, and they offered me their garden for a baby blessing party for DD.

More about weddings in Israel in another post, but suffice to say this one was lots of fun. Lots of old friends from those early years, lots of catching up and lots of great dancing to music from our era. Perhaps belting out the words to 'I Will Survive!' which aren't the most appropriate lyrics for a wedding, was a bit strange but we went with the flow.

Going to a wedding requires extensive pre-planning on my part. I have to rush home from work, shower and change, if it's a day that DD has gymnastics - take DD to gymnastics, arrange for her to get from Gymnastics to my friend Sarit who graciously has her to stay for the night*, organize how DD will get from Sarit's to school in the morning**, find my way to the agreed meeting point to get a ride to the wedding, make sure my ride is also willing to bring me home again afterwards, and only then relax and enjoy.

*Think about it. If I get home some time after midnight, apart from the enormous cost of a babysitter, what would I then do with the babysitter? I wouldn't expect someone to walk home at that time of night and I don't have a car to take her, nor would I put a teenage girl in a taxi on her own at that time of night.

**On this occasion I let DD miss Stupid Friday at school - stupid because it finishes at 11.45 - and Sarit dropped her off here on her way out.

This is actually the second wedding I've been to in two weeks. It's wedding season. Sarit had DD both times so big big thank you. xxx

63 Up
There was much talk about the long awaited 63 Up which was screened in the UK over three nights this week. Again, I want to write a whole post about it, but I found all the amazing episodes, even 63 Up, on You Tube and binge-watched the whole lot. Coupled with the wedding I went to, the program makes you assess your own life as well as watching the lives of the Up 'children'. The series is charming and alarming and I can see why the participants dread it coming around every seven years. Anyway, more about that in a different blog.

Blogging Along
Last week I committed to blogging every day in June. I managed four days out of seven this week. This was largely due to binge-watching Up on Wednesday, work and the wedding on Thursday and a final push to finish report writing on Friday followed by conking out in the early evening. But hey, I'm fine with 4/7. It's better than 4/31 which is about what I managed last month - not even four I think. I'm still up for it and hope to do better from now on.

Tonight and tomorrow is the festival of Shavuot (lit. Weeks). Traditionally we're celebrating the end of the seven-week grain harvest that started with the barley harvest on Pesach (Passover) and continued with the wheat harvest. Later they tagged celebrating the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai, onto this harvest festival. Lots of eating, especially cheesecake. Again, more about this in its own blog post.

Have a good week y'all.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Paradise On Earth

The view from our hike stroll.

In the Bible, King Saul, Israel's first King, led a charge against the Philistines at Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 28:4). The battle ends with the king falling on his own sword and Saul's sons, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Melchishua being killed in battle (1 Samuel 31:1-4). Wikipedia

At Gan HaMa'ayanot
I call this one "10" 😋
Our Independence Day holiday - Day 2 took us to Paradise on Earth. (See Day 1 here.)Of course you have to earn your place in Paradise - everybody knows that. So before trying to go there we went on a short hike. Normally I hate hiking in Israel because it invariably involves climbing or walking over rocks. Remember this disastrous outing? But this time we walked on a smooth path towards the enchanted natural pools of Gan HaMa'ayanot (Spring Park - as in natural springs).

Entrance is free. You only start paying for things if you visit the shop, the cafe, hire bikes, or pay for a cart to drive you to the springs.

We frolicked in the first pool on the route. DD was't too sure about the tiny fish that come to nibble your feet but you pay a fortune for this treatment at a spa so I was up for it.

You can choose from several routes of varying degrees of length and wetness. You can opt to take the paths between the pools or walk through the streams that connect them. After the first pool we opted to walk straight back to the car and head for the real jewel in the crown.

Sakhne to my left....
Gan Hashlosha (Park of Three, I think it means three pools), also called Sakhne, is a place dear to my heart. When we arrived on our kibbutz in September 1981 for our gap year, one of the very first places they took us to was Sakhne. I have a very clear memory of my future b-i-l and another boy throwing me off the bridge and into the water head first. I was terrified as I fell but then it was fine of course. And though it's one of the most beautiful places in Israel, I've not been back in almost 38 years.

... and Sakhne to my right. 
We were lucky on two accounts. Firstly it was still April so not too hot. And secondly it was the first Friday of Ramadan so it was much less crowded than on a normal Friday. Oh and a third lucky thing - we didn't arrive on the same day that the Azerbaijani contestants recorded their intro video for Eurovision. (Ahh so that's why you recognize it. Yup).

It cost something to get in - I think about 65 shekels per family of two.

And, unlike God, on the third day we rested. except that it was like God because our third day was His seventh ifyswim.