Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Passover and Food Choices

I sometimes wonder if social media was created for the expressed purpose of sharing food porn.

I am as far from a foodie as one can get. There are just too many comestibles out there that disrupt my delicately balanced digestive system or those to which I might have a moral objection. I rarely eat for sheer pleasure, but rather for nourishment, nutrition, and basic preference, (Hello, vegetarian sushi!) but I plead guilty to the online crime of occasionally sharing delectable images to Facebook, Instagram, and the like. When I do photograph my creations, it is mostly out of the sheer amazement that I was able to create anything that even closely mimics the recipe. (I am not in the least bit artistic, so any food that doesn't resemble vegetarian chili is a win.) So, sue me. Every so often I like to show off my rather limited culinary prowess.

At this time of year, it is almost impossible to avoid surfing food porn. The coming of the Passover holiday will do that to even the most lapsed of Jews. I cannot think of another observance that puts us more in touch with our inner gourmand and our continuing culinary legacy than does Pesach. (Unless of course we count the pure asceticism of Yom Kippur and that holiday makes us think less about food and more about hunger.) At Pesach, we become positively intransigent when it comes to preparations and menu planning. Favoured and cherished recipes, that still carry the stains of previous years' cooking, are dragged off the shelves. Family discussions about what dishes will or won't be served at the seder often take on greater significance and importance than planning for the event itself. Recipe sharing becomes almost cutthroat, and all of this takes place before even considering issues like kitniyot, vegetarianism, ethical eating, or nutrition. But, I have begun to wonder if we have become far too focused on the food and far less on what the food represents. In our zealousness to protect our food heritage, have we lost the simplicity to maintain our legacy?

Yes, we all know about the matzah and the maror and the significance of the seder plate. But what about the actual sitting down and the sharing of our birthright and our history? Do we really require an almost gluttonous experience to achieve this most important of Pesach lessons? And what does this type of overindulgence say about us as a people?

There is no question that food stimulates memory and that our memories are sensory. Many cannot even conceive of a holiday observance without Bubby's famous fish or Aunt Ida's chicken soup. The idea of introducing the perfectly legitimate and halachically-acceptable  rice, corn, and beans into Pesach ritual is anathema for some because it rubs against the grain of family history. I understand these positions. It is difficult to let go of things that we believe have become part of our ancestral fabric. But for me, it is more important to challenge and question past norms in order to build a Judaism that remains relevant for me in the here and now, and ethical, healthy, moderate, and sustainable eating is a huge part of that.

When I sit down to my seders this week, I want and will attempt to achieve a simple balance in my food choices. I don't want to remove the memories of my ancestors, but rather to build on them with care and consideration. I don't seek to redefine the holiday, but rather to adapt it to my twenty-first-century ideals of helping the planet and her creatures. When my Jewish heritage and beliefs easily coexist with my secular ones, Judaism becomes starkly relevant for a new age and only then will I be comfortable with the legacy that I am leaving for the next generation. We need for Pesach to be far more than "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat." 

This year, the first seder coincides fortuitously with Earth Day. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life created a few lovely readings that we can and should share at our tables. Here is one that particularly resonated with me.
This is the Lechem Oni, Simple Bread, that our ancestors ate when they were slaves in Mitzrayim. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need celebrate Pesach with us. This year, we are still alienated from the land and its living communities. Next year may we be more connected to our people’s homeland, Israel, and to the natural world that is homeland to us all. This year, we are still slaves, tied to materialistic and destructive consumption patterns. Next year, may we and all the peoples of the earth be redeemed by having enough to satisfy our needs without consuming beyond what the earth can sustain.

Chag Sameach.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Naturopathy or the Devil's Cure

Today's post is also a lesson.

This story is mine and mine alone and every single person will react differently so I don't want anybody to think that I am a medical/science person ringing alarm bells, but it should serve as a warning for those of you searching for quick health fixes or easy solutions to physical problems via supposed "safe" herbal remedies or somewhat unregulated naturopathy. Please please please....always consult medical professionals before using any herbal or natural "remedy". goes.

I have a thyroid issue. I have been diagnosed with a form of hypothyroidism known in medical circles as Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. I know. It sounds like the name of a sushi roll, but in reality, it is a medical condition whereby my thyroid is underperforming. As a high achiever, the idea of having an underactive thyroid was a real pisser to me. I'm an A student and my thyroid was failing me? How dare it? You can read all about Hashimoto's by clicking the hyperlink, but suffice it to say that it is manageable with medication, and I am fine and under the care of excellent physicians, both primary care and specialist.

The real problems started when I asked my doctor if there might be a way to jumpstart my metabolism. One of the symptoms of Hashimoto's is weight gain and I have never been content to sit still for weight gain. I eat well, I exercise regularly, and I am wholly frustrated by my inability to drop those pounds. Aggravating? Yes, especially for a high achiever with a thyroid that preferred sitting on the sidelines. My doctor suggested I visit a naturopath that she wholeheartedly recommended. One of the things that I like best about my doctor is that she is willing to think outside of the box. She has had great success with some natural remedies in the past and thought that I might benefit. She sent my charts over to the naturopath and an appointment was set up.

I liked the naturopath immediately. We talked for over an hour and I think that she understood that I wasn't searching for a miracle cure, but rather a way to restart my flailing metabolism. It was understood from the beginning that I was on thyroid medication prescribed by an endocrinologist and that my doctor and I were only interested in enhancing what traditional medicine was already providing. She gave me a whole range of supplements, most of which were just higher dosages of stuff I was already using like Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. And then....she handed me something called a thyroid booster. The pills, from a highly reputable Canadian laboratory, purport to "help in the function of the thyroid gland". I followed her directions to the letter and took the pills exactly when I was supposed to. And then the trouble started.

Within a week of taking the supplements, I was swept up in a wave of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and vertigo. I spent hours in the bathroom and days recuperating. The first time it happened, I honestly thought that I had the stomach flu. I ceased taking the medication but only because I couldn't keep anything down. After almost a week of wretched symptoms, I returned cautiously to my normal routine. I cut out the supplements for almost a month while I regained my strength and then I restarted as before. Within two hours (not exaggerating) I was once again heaving over the toilet. Another week of recovery ensued and I finally ceased taking all supplements for another month. Last week, I mentioned to The Husband that I was going to reintroduce my supplements but one at a time to try and discern if there was a problem. The B12 and D were non-issues, and yesterday I decided to try the thyroid booster. It should surprise noone that my dinner plans last night went awry.

A quick Google search provided irrefutable confirmation that it was indeed the thyroid boosters that were causing my misery. A cursory reading of the label, past the ordinary minerals of manganese and zinc, list several root extracts that we are now fairly certain are the emesis culprits. Suffice it to say that the thyroid boosters are now occupying a permanent place in the trash. Fifty bucks down the shoot.

While I absolutely should have done better due diligence and I absolutely should have ceased taking the shit after the second go, the fact that I went against my skeptic nature has me more aggravated than anything else.  I am thoroughly bruised from the beating I have given myself. Why didn't I ask the naturopath about possible side-effects? Why didn't I ask about fillers and source the active ingredients? Why didn't I tell her about my high propensity for stomach ailments, vertigo, and vomiting? Why???

Because I wanted it to work. Because I was looking for an easy solution. Because I liked and had faith in the naturopath. Because I am tired of being tired and cold and weight-retaining. Because I wanted to trust alternatives. Because I forgot who I am at my core....a new-age solution agnostic, a cynic, and a full-throated science believer.

Look...not all naturopathy is bad and not all alternative medicine is hokum. There are probably some very good remedies out there that are effective and work. is very likely that these same thyroid boosters that made me projectile vomit would work on others. All I am saying is that next time I will do better homework and ask better questions. For now? It is back to the endocrinologist for an enhanced game plan and back to the treadmill for more intense workouts. And.....

Caveat emptor.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Remembrance.....Yizkor Elohim

Today we remember....

We remember the complexities and the contradictions that are forever mingled with the simplicities and the affirmations.

We remember the distances left unresolved that are camouflaged by moments of pure sincerity.

We remember the stoicism that is muted by wild peals of laughter.

We remember the seemingly impenetrable that was permeated by acts of undiluted love.

We remember the enigma that was comfortable in that cloak.

We remember the pain and suffering of death that is muted by the joy and exhilaration of life.

Yizkor Elohim....

Thursday, 25 February 2016

No More Jokes. Trump Isn't Funny Any Longer

I have been down here in the Southern Home now for almost three months. The weather has been middling for a Miami winter and while the natives may enjoy it and don turtlenecks and Ugg boots for the season, the snowbirds and weekly visitors are less than enamoured. Outdoor activities have  been severely curtailed by rain and chill. F*** You El NiƱo!!

There have been far fewer Canadians in the region this year due in large part to the drastic drop in the Canadian dollar so that anybody visiting can't really shop or buy anything unless one is willing to sell the soul of their first born in order to make up for a 40% price difference. F*** You global economy!

So what is a winter resident in the United States of America to do to keep busy in the face of a shrinking tidepool of activities? Well, once I got past blogging, writing, exercising, reading, Words With Friends encounters, guitar playing, and Facebooking the only thing left was to glean entertainment from the inanity that is the presidential primary season.

Initially, it was easy to be amused by the clown car of candidates that were populating the airwaves and newspaper pages. I often felt as though each and every person running was campaigning to survive the tribal council and be the last individual left on the island. These assholes were more compelling as Bachelor candidates than they were as serious presidential material and believe me, arranging a shitach (match) for any of this women-hating bastards would be a tough sell, including Carly Fiorina! The debates made for some light titters and hefty guffaws, though. Rubio stuck in robot mode. Ted lying through his smarmy capped teeth. The Donald rolling his eyes at Jeb! We laughed. Long. Hard. Loudly. It was preposterous, outrageous, and non-sensical. But....and I can't say this strongly isn't funny any longer.

Here's the thing. This shit is real now. And it's about to get more real in the coming weeks.

Up until this week, I honestly thought that the Republican elites (translate that to the big money guys) would find any means, ethical or unethical, to derail the Trump Bump. I thought that we would see gargantuan sums flooding into the Rubio campaign and with it a shift in tone coming from Florida's junior senator. It was time to get down in the mud with the dirtiest pig in the race, and even if Marco wasn't entirely comfortable with it, he would be duly schooled in the art of character assassination by the party elders. It isn't that I am a fan of Marco Rubio, mind you. Quite the contrary, in fact. My analysis was based purely on what I saw as the primal, almost pathological need of Republicans for winning back the White House in November. Rubio seemed to be the last "non-crazy" standing.

I was wrong! Oh so very wrong.

This race is now the pompous, megalomaniac, demagogue, misogynist, racist, rampant xenophobe, birther, bullying reality star's to lose. And there doesn't seem to be a damn thing that the GOP establishment can do to stop him.

Today we were treated to the news that Trump leads Rubio down here in Florida by 16 points. 16 f***ing his home state?!? Assemble the virgins, the apocalypse is upon us. It's all over but  the combover.

But...and it's a big honking but....herein are two words why the jokes need to stop and the serious work needs to begin.

Rob Ford.

Yes folks! (That was a deliberate Fordism) Take it from this live just outside Torontonian. Asshole extremist, unqualified, right-wing populists can and do get elected to office and it is a disaster waiting to happen. My beloved hometown is just now recovering from the collective nightmare that we venomously refer to as "The Ford Years". (Before you think that this is some liberal bitch spouting claptrap, understand that this is consensus from  both left and right.) Rob Ford took our wonderfully progressive, cosmopolitan, multicultural, liveable, forward-thinking city and stunted its growth by at least four years, if not more. Like other cities, we have serious problems that require serious attention. Poverty, homelessness, transit, infrastructure repairs....were all left on the back burner while the mayor spouted bullshit catchphrases, promised the moon with money that didn't exist, alienated everybody who wasn't like-minded, and all of this happened before the crack and public drunkenness. (Hey American friends...aside from the substance abuse, does any of this sound familiar?) Toronto became the international butt of a thousand jokes, and nothing of consequence got done during his mayoralty unless of course one counts the paperclip census done at city hall.

Late night comedians loved Rob. He was always good for a laugh, almost manna from heaven. Local TV networks followed him around like puppies searching for the teat. Rob was great for ratings. But most Torontonians tired of his antics quickly and completely. Yes, there is still a devoted following that would like to see him make a triumphant return to the mayor's chair, but thankfully that group is now the minority.

Donald Trump is Rob Ford in a better fitting suit. (And he isn't merely running for mayor. He is striving to become the most powerful man in the world.) He is a rich dude pretending that he understands the minimum wage worker. He panders to the worst instincts in society so that he can gin up great TV ratings and become the "breaking news" on every channel. He says outrageous things so that he can dominate the 24-hour news cycle. He is a master manipulator and a genius at self-promotion. And...he is the living embodiment of the "dumbing down of America." Trump is no longer a joke. He is inherently dangerous. He is now within sniffing distance of the Oval Office and that should scare the collective pants off of every American voter.

I realize that the options are limited. I realize that there is a battle raging on the Democrats' side of the ledger too. I get it. But the world can co-exist with either Bernie or Hillary. As much as we progressives might hate to admit it, the world could have also dealt with Rubio, Christie, Jeb!, or Kasich. But The Donald? HELL NO!!! Stop laughing America because the rest of the world ceased giggling a long time ago. The joke isn't on you. It IS you!

P.S...I didn't even address the lying sack of dog poo who was born in Calgary because in many ways he is even more dangerous than Trump. If he gets close, I will write about him too.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

My Shabbat Online

My Shabbat morning was strangely schizophrenic today.

I spent the first part logged on to my home synagogue's brand new streaming feature so that I might partake of our weekly Torah study and to watch the Bar Mitzvah of an extremely involved and capable young man. I haven't yet found a synagogue down here in the Southern Home in which I feel entirely comfortable, so the connection via the interwebs is much like wrapping myself in a warm blanket sent from home, especially on Shabbat.

Following services, I switched on the TV and found myself watching the funeral mass for Justice Antonin Scalia. It isn't as though I am enamoured with funerals, nor do I consider myself ghoulish, but I have been struck this week by the tremendous polarization of the Justice and his opinions, and by the outpouring of both tributes and enmity at his passing. I was curious to see how the Washington elites on both sides of the political aisle might come together to honour a man who was nothing if not extremely controversial throughout his career.

Having little to no previous insight into Justice Scalia's personal life, (such is my lot as a passive Canadian observer) I was surprised to discover that one of his sons is a priest and that he was the celebrant at the mass. I was struck by Fr. Scalia's grace and composure as he honoured his father. As someone who has officiated at many funerals, I was rather surprised at his ability to set aside his own grief for the sake of his faith, and the public ease with which he was able to carry out his religious duties. And so...I tweeted the following:

Within seconds, I was inundated with likes, retweets, and discussions. I have been using Twitter for many years now, and I have never before (even in the Rob Ford heyday) had so many people interact with me. Even more stunning, was the fact that most of them were extremely conservative Christians and right-wing Republicans with whom I have very little in common, at least on the surface. (As I write this, the Twitter interactions are still pouring in.)

But I suppose that just by noting something with decency and with a modicum of courtesy, my tweet struck a nerve with others who were watching. It is easy to heckle and criticize, or to praise and dogmatize Justice Scalia for his opinions and his polarizing views, but today he was being remembered as a father and a devoutly religious man by the people who loved and knew him best...his family.

One woman who engaged me in a very respectful conversation wondered whether or not I felt it "emotionally healthy" that the son was presiding over his father's funeral. And while I am not in any way, shape, or form a therapist, I responded that while I had always abdicated the bimah when my family was involved, I had learned over many years that there is no right or wrong way to deal with grief and death. Perhaps the good Father required this ritual as a tangible method of managing his own sorrow? Perhaps his faith was that which enabled him to get through a very rough personal time, and more importantly, who are we to judge? The woman who asked me the initial question, an atheist by description, quietly and humbly acquiesced.

My interaction today with the Twittersphere was enlightening. We all know of the filth and excrement that can and does burrow deep within, but today showed me that while left and right can fundamentally disagree on politics and religion, there are many out there, on both sides, made up of lovely, decent, and caring people. Believe me when I say that I wouldn't want to see an entire court made up of like-minded justices, but today Antonin Scalia was just a man being mourned in a most profound way by his son and the rest of his family. And in one little corner of Twitter, civility reigned for just a brief moment in time.

Not a bad way to observe Shabbat if I do say.

Monday, 15 February 2016

National Anthem Quick Hit

I haven't written in quite a while, so I thought that I'd give a very quick hit in order to answer some of the burning questions that have been lighting up my Facebook page this weekend and that I really don't feel like engaging with on said social media site.
  1. No....I didn't watch the NBA All-Star game or any part of All-Star weekend. I am not a basketball fan and that wasn't going to change simply because the all-star game was held in my hometown. The game's beauty eludes me, so I won't pretend. I hope it was great, that many were excited, and that Toronto performed well on the international stage.
  2. Yes...I did see Nelly Furtado sing O, Canada.
  3. Yes...I do think that she butchered it.
  4. No...I do not think that national anthems should be styled nor interpreted to suit individual singers. National anthems are not merely songs. They are musical representations of a country's national psyche and pride. If an artist wishes to "interpret" a song, pick a different melody and certainly a different venue. Would we fly a stylized Canadian flag at the event with a blue maple leaf just to suit the whim of an artist? 
  5. No...I don't think that National Anthems should be sung before sporting events. 
  6. Yes...Lady Gaga can sing.
  7. Yes...Ne-Yo can sing.
  8. Yes...Nelly Furtado can sing.
  9. No...I didn't get chills when any of them sang the anthems.
  10. Yes...I am a proud Canadian.
  11. No...That doesn't change because I'm not moved by the singing or playing of a national anthem.
Tomorrow's quick hit post may be about politics. Beware.

Monday, 18 January 2016

My Fading Youth

It's been a tough few weeks for those of us of a certain age and generation. The recent and far too soon passings of Natalie Cole, David Bowie, actor extraordinaire Alan Rickman, and now Glenn Frey have left me reeling. It is a strange experience to mourn for individuals whom I have never personally met. And yet....there is such familiarity with these artists and the extensive bodies of work that they left behind, that I feel a chasm has opened in my personal history.

I have always been highly suspicious of public outpourings of grief for celebrities and in fact, I have been rather dismayed at the excessive and exaggerated public spectacles of mourning that seem to regularly occur in the internet age. But now it is starting to feel personal.

These artists weren't merely singers or performers. Their work made up the patchwork fabric and soundtrack of my youth. There were the road trips down to Indianapolis when we rolled down the windows and blasted The Eagles at high decibels. There was the smoothness and soulfulness of Natalie as she reminded us of romance and passion. There were the schmaltzy date nights curled up on the couch watching Mr Rickman's brilliance and marvelling at his ability to get me to cheer for his villains as ardently as I did for his leading men. And....there was Bowie. The iconoclast. The individual. The man who taught all of us freaks and geeks that differences are to be celebrated and never dismissed. They were all there for me during my awkward years, my formative times, my growing pains, my youth.

This fortnight has felt personal because it has felt like my childhood and adolescence are eroding and slowing evaporating into the ether. These recent deaths have brought my own aging and mortality into question. It is difficult to look in the rearview and realize that all of those important artistic touchstones have aged right along with me. We collectively mourn these artists not out of some macabre interest in the details of their deaths, but rather to celebrate and remember the gifts that they bestowed upon us. While nobody can lay claim to immortality, these gifted souls left behind work that will be enjoyed and debated about for years to come. 

My sadness metre is on overload this month. I have lost chunks of my history in less than a month. It is difficult for me to fathom that no new works will be forthcoming from this quartet and that is extremely painful. Nobody, least of all me, likes to come face to face with their own decline. And while there are many more artists for me to discover, and to enjoy, and to revel in, there is still a sense of melancholy in the knowledge that some things will never be the same.

Zichronam Livracha...May their memories always be for blessing.