Thursday, September 27, 2012

In Praise of Coconut Oil

It's a funny thing about coconut oil. Back in the eighties, when I subscribed to the fatfree mailing list (it was a great source of recipes, many of which I still use, with the fat added back in), tropical oils were viewed with particular horror. In fact, one person admitted to recoiling from buying soap because it contained fat. She did make fun of herself for that, thankfully.

In the meantime, we've learned a few things about saturated fats in general, and coconut oil in particular. We've learned that the hypothesis that saturated fats lead to cardiovascular disease is just that, a hypothesis, and it does not seem to be supported by research. It is true that man-made trans fats, artificially hydrogenated to be more saturated than they were originally, do cause all kinds of diseases. But natural saturated fats, such as the ones that appear in meat, fish, dairy, avocados, palm nuts and coconuts, actually do a lot of good for our health. In particular, they contain a healthier ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 oils, thereby helping to decrease inflammation in the body.

Coconut oil, especially, is an excellent source of medium-chain triglycerides, which are prescribed as medicine for people with digestive disorders. I've been cooking almost exclusively with coconut oil for the past few months, and I've noted great improvement in my own symptoms. That is probably also due to a few other changes I've implemented, such as cutting severely back on grain products and avoiding nightshades (waaah - my tomatoes are so beautiful this year!).

I have found, though, that I prefer regular (organic) coconut oil to the extra virgin type. The latter just tastes too much like, well, coconut. The more-processed oil is much more neutral in taste, and does not impart a coconut flavour to whatever is cooked in it.

Finally, last night I took the plunge and tried it on my face before going to bed. As mentioned, the non-virgin oil has no smell to speak of, but my skin was so smooth and soft this morning, I couldn't believe it.

Good-bye to all that fancy stuff, coconut oil for me!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On Guilt

GuiltSo this is one theme Rabbi Sommer didn't put in her list, but it has been on my mind lately.

Last night I had the strangest dream. I dreamed I was visiting one of my March96 friends, except that rather than being on the East Coast where she really lives, it was in California. The details are vague, but what I remember most clearly is that we had agreed to do some things together, and for various reasons I decided to do something else. I think my family was there, but the decision was mine. Of course my friend had made arrangements and even paid money for some of the things we were going to do, and she was very sad and upset that I had just let it go like that and abandoned her and her family.

I woke up because of the feeling of crushing guilt that was smothering me in my dream. Of course this is the time of year that we are particularly sensitive to guilt - we are supposed to make amends for any pain we may have caused anyone in the past year.

I've been trying to understand this dream and what the real guilt is that I'm dealing with (I've done many things, but not this particular one!). Fifty years on this earth give plenty of opportunity to hurt and abandon people, so I guess I get to choose which one was really behind this dream.

As we move into the Ten Days of Atonement, how have you been handling your guilt? Have you found ways to atone that satisfy both you and the person you have hurt? These are hard questions we prefer to run away from, but when we do that, they intrude on our dreams.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Justice - #BlogElul 29

This is it - the last #BlogElul post of this season. It is now officially Erev Rosh HaShanah, or New Year's Eve. No champagne going on here, just lots of cooking and cleaning and preparing.

I find it fascinating that Rabbi Sommer chose Justice as the final theme, rather than Mercy or Compassion (in fact, neither of those appears here at all). While we envision G-d as a stern Judge and Ruler, we also entreat Her to sit on the Throne of Compassion as we stand in judgment.

In general, G-d admonishes us to pursue justice (Deuteronomy 16):
יט  לֹא-תַטֶּה מִשְׁפָּט, לֹא תַכִּיר פָּנִים; וְלֹא-תִקַּח שֹׁחַד--כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר עֵינֵי חֲכָמִים, וִיסַלֵּף דִּבְרֵי צַדִּיקִם. 19 Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons; neither shalt thou take a gift; for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.
כ  צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף--לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ.  {ס} 20 Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

But on the Day of Judgment, we implore G-d for mercy and compassion instead.

To quote King David, who understood about justice and mercy (Psalm 130):
א  שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת:
מִמַּעֲמַקִּים קְרָאתִיךָ    יְהוָה.
1 A Song of Ascents. {N}
Out of the depths have I called Thee, O LORD.
ב  אֲדֹנָי,    שִׁמְעָה בְקוֹלִי:
תִּהְיֶינָה אָזְנֶיךָ, קַשֻּׁבוֹת--    לְקוֹל, תַּחֲנוּנָי.
2 Lord, hearken unto my voice; {N}
let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
ג  אִם-עֲו‍ֹנוֹת תִּשְׁמָר-יָהּ--    אֲדֹנָי, מִי יַעֲמֹד. 3 If Thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
ד  כִּי-עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה--    לְמַעַן, תִּוָּרֵא. 4 For with Thee there is forgiveness, that Thou mayest be feared.
ה  קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה, קִוְּתָה נַפְשִׁי;    וְלִדְבָרוֹ הוֹחָלְתִּי. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope.
ו  נַפְשִׁי לַאדֹנָי--    מִשֹּׁמְרִים לַבֹּקֶר, שֹׁמְרִים לַבֹּקֶר. 6 My soul waiteth for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning; yea, more than watchmen for the morning.
ז  יַחֵל יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶל-יְהוָה:    כִּי-עִם-יְהוָה הַחֶסֶד; וְהַרְבֵּה עִמּוֹ פְדוּת. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption.
ח  וְהוּא, יִפְדֶּה אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל--    מִכֹּל, עֲו‍ֹנֹתָיו. 8 And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. {P}

May everyone be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet and good year. I'll see you again on the other side.

Responsibility - #BlogElul 28

Taking responsibility has got to be one of the hardest lessons we ever learn. It's what the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony is really about - taking on adult responsibilities, even if in our modern society they are "only" ritual ones, and we don't really expect a 13 year-old to be responsible for their own life. It is the beginning, though - the secular world recognises that - at least here in Manitoba, a child aged 12 and up can be charged with a criminal offence, implying that they can recognise and take responsibility for their actions.
To be treated as an adult, though, a person must have turned 18 or even 21 in some jurisdictions. The law then attributes full responsibility for the person's actions to them, and they can no longer hide behind their parents or somewhere else.

But how many people really take full responsibility for their choices in life? How many blame circumstance, their boss, their mother, whatever it is? Heck, this trend started with our first parents, Adam and Eve (Genesis, Chapter 3):

יב  וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם:  הָאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה עִמָּדִי, הִוא נָתְנָה-לִּי מִן-הָעֵץ וָאֹכֵל. 12 And the man said: 'The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.'
יג  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים לָאִשָּׁה, מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂית; וַתֹּאמֶר, הָאִשָּׁה, הַנָּחָשׁ הִשִּׁיאַנִי, וָאֹכֵל. 13 And the LORD God said unto the woman: 'What is this thou hast done?' And the woman said: 'The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat

It's hard to stand up and say, I choose. But as we go into the final Shabbat before Rosh HaShanah, here's a thought I'd love to leave with you. It's a very famous quote from the author Marianne Williamson, but none the worse for having been bandied about the Internet.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. 

If we can take responsibility for who we are, we can be powerful without measure in healing the world.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Good and Evil - #BlogElul 27

What a dualistic view of the world. White and black hats, good and bad guys. A very Western, very Greek way of looking at things, although the concept of a struggle between the forces of light and darkness goes back to ancient Persia. Obi-Wan and Darth Vader echo the ancient concepts of Zoroastrianism.

Judaism sees things a little differently. Acknowledging the existence of evil in the world as separate from G-d would be to deny G-d's omnipotence. The inexorable conclusion from the premise that G-d is responsible for everything, good and evil, was expressed by the prophet Isaiah (in chapter 45):

ז  יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ, עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע; אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה כָל-אֵלֶּה.  {פ} 7 I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the LORD, that doeth all these things. {P}

It is interesting that when these words were put into the prayer book, the rabbis could not bring themselves to declare G-d the creator of evil - so they changed the wording so it says "I make peace and create everything".

To be honest, though, I find the idea that good and evil both come from the same source to be oddly comforting. There isn't some horrible demon out there trying to get us - even Satan, in the Book of Job, is one of G-d's servants, the "adversary" whose job it is to tempt humans to sin. He is the prosecutor before the Heavenly Court. In the vision of the prophet Zechariah (Chapter 3):

א  וַיַּרְאֵנִי, אֶת-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל, עֹמֵד, לִפְנֵי מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה; וְהַשָּׂטָן עֹמֵד עַל-יְמִינוֹ, לְשִׂטְנוֹ. 1 And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.
ב  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-הַשָּׂטָן, יִגְעַר יְהוָה בְּךָ הַשָּׂטָן, וְיִגְעַר יְהוָה בְּךָ, הַבֹּחֵר בִּירוּשָׁלִָם; הֲלוֹא זֶה אוּד, מֻצָּל מֵאֵשׁ. 2 And the LORD said unto Satan: 'The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan, yea, the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this man a brand plucked out of the fire?'
Good and evil are two sides of the same coin. We often ascribe the first to luck, and the latter to something outside of us - there is no way a normal human can understand the mind of a psychopathic killer, and that in itself is a blessing. But in the end, I do not believe in the dualism of these two.

Whether you believe in a personal G-d or some vague "Universe" out there, it forms the light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates evil. The source of all is the same.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Readiness - #BlogElul 26

Are you ready? Are you ready for this? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?

The members of the classic rock band Queen were not thinking about spiritual preparation when they wrote their 1980 hit single "Another One Bites the Dust." It is a song of cruel revenge, of revelling in bullets ripping through the air to punish an unfaithful lover, or maybe it is really an ode to marijuana if you play it backwards ... definitely not about preparing for the High Holy Days.

And yet, when I saw the theme for today, this song started buzzing through my head. Maybe it's because I was a teenager when it came out, and it is part of the soundtrack of my youth. In any case, if you take the words above at face value, ignoring what comes after, it can be a very good question to ask a few days before Rosh HaShanah.

After so many reflections during the month of Elul, so much preparation, planning, menus and music, I'm definitely hanging on the edge of my seat. How about you?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Forgiveness - #BlogElul 25

In the 14th chapter of the Book of Numbers, we have a very serious rebellion on the part of the people of Israel. They refuse to go in and claim the land that G-d has promised them, and threaten to stone the two spies who try to encourage them. They desire to return to Egypt, to the land of slavery and security.

G-d is fed up to the back teeth with all this and tells Moses that he is about to destroy these annoying people and replace them with Moses' offspring. Moses cunningly points out that in that case the whole project, derailed already, would become a laughing stock for all the surrounding peoples. It is kind of amazing that G-d falls for that kind of argument, which suggests that the threat was not very serious to begin with. Then we have this very interesting exchange, which is followed by the punishment of wandering in the desert for 40 years until all the generation of slavery has died (except for the two righteous spies):
יט  סְלַח-נָא, לַעֲו‍ֹן הָעָם הַזֶּה--כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה, מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הֵנָּה. 19 Pardon, I pray Thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of Thy lovingkindness, and according as Thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.'
כ  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, סָלַחְתִּי כִּדְבָרֶךָ. 20 And the LORD said: 'I have pardoned according to thy word.
These lines are enshrined in the Makhzor, the special prayer book for the High Holy Days - we repeat them many times, reminding G-d of this promise. The forgiveness that G-d gives us is according to the greatness of G-d's lovingkindness, and not because we are so worthy. We are well-known for being stiff-necked and wandering from the path at the slightest provocation. But G-d forgives us because of Her greatness.

When we forgive those who deserve to wander in the desert of our affections for at least 40 years, we achieve something resembling the greatness of G-d. We aren't doing it for their benefit, but for our own. Receiving forgiveness is a great gift, but giving it is even better.

Whom do you need to pardon according to the Torah's word?

Giving - #BlogElul 24

Yesterday the phone rang and it was a rather prominent member of our community, wanting to talk to my husband. Since she isn't someone we socialise with, and it was the second Sunday in September, I guessed that she was calling to canvass us for the Combined Jewish Appeal, our local Federation's major fundraising push.

We gave, of course. It's good to give to the community, whether it's time, money or both. Much of this money goes to support my children's school, which, as a result, is unique in North America in being an affordable Jewish Day School.

Still, there is something that perturbs me when a woman I don't actually know, although I recognise her name, phones me on a Sunday afternoon to ask for money. Tzedakah, roughly translated as charity, is a major virtue in Judaism as it is in Islam (with an almost identical name, which I find fascinating). The root of the word is the same as that of Tzedek, meaning justice. Jews (and Muslims) do not give charity out of the goodness of their heart or merely as a virtue, but as an obligation. If we are able, we are obligated to support the needy.

The great rabbi Maimonides established eight levels of Tzedakah. The highest level of Tzedakah is one in which the benefactor establishes a partnership with the recipient, so that the latter is no longer in need of help but is gainfully employed. Going down from there, the next highest level is one in which the gift is completely anonymous - neither benefactor nor recipient know who received and who gave, so there is no embarrassment. In the next level, the benefactor knows, but the recipient doesn't; next one down, the situation is reversed. Giving to a person's face but before being asked comes next. The list continues, and the one where you give when you are asked is pretty darned low down on it. Having your name emblazoned on an honour list has got to be even lower down, although it looks like Maimonides did not even conceive of the idea.

I do realise that the Federation needs the money and this is the most efficient way to do it. The synagogues all ask for money on Yom Kippur, too, which has always blown my mind (although again, this is the most efficient way - captive audience who might not be there otherwise).

Giving is good, but I wish there was a better way to support the community without sinking to names on buildings everywhere. What do you think?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Awakening - #BlogElul23

Ooh, a tough one this time, Rabbi Sommer. I feel like I am in a dialogue with you, even though I've never met you or even corresponded with you. I do hope you are reading these blog posts - I think you are. It's funny how some of these little contributions just flow out of my fingers, and some just keep on getting erased again and again.

In search of inspiration, I asked Rabbi Google for a definition of awakening, and this is what s/he told me:


An act or moment of becoming suddenly aware of something.

Coming into existence or awareness.

revival - arousal

Ah. That gestalt moment when the vase suddenly becomes two faces, when we suddenly see or understand something we can never again unsee. Realisations hit us when we spend time on the accounting of the soul, and we can never again become unaware of them.

It can be pretty darned painful, but it is often a useful exercise, one way or another. The pursuit of mindfulness can have its costs, because ignorance or rather obliviousness sometimes can be bliss.

But in the end, it is better to know, to understand, to forgive, rather than to stuff things down into our unconscious and let them dictate our actions from the depths.

Awakening can mean looking reality in the eye, trying to understand the past and move forward to the future. Sometimes we would rather remain asleep, but Elul calls upon us to wake up to who we are and who we can be.

What will you awaken to today?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Seeing - #BlogElul 22

This morning at minyan I had the privilege of leading Shacharit, as I usually do on Sundays. I was thinking about the commandment to wear the tzitzit, the ritual fringes that give the tallit its meaning - otherwise it is just a four-cornered shawl.

We remind ourselves of this commandment every morning in the third paragraph of the Sh'ma, the most basic of Jewish blessings.

When we think of the Sh'ma,  we think mostly of the iconic first line, the one we hear whenever we take the Torah out of the ark, the one we are supposed to say on our deathbeds:

Hear, O Israel, HaShem is our G-d, HaShem is One.

But that line is embedded in a series of other blessings and commandments, and the third paragraph of that series tells us, quoting Numbers 15 37-39:
לז  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 37 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
לח  דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל-כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם, לְדֹרֹתָם; וְנָתְנוּ עַל-צִיצִת הַכָּנָף, פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת. 38 'Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue.
לט  וְהָיָה לָכֶם, לְצִיצִת, וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת-כָּל-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה, וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם; וְלֹא-תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם, וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר-אַתֶּם זֹנִים, אַחֲרֵיהֶם. 39 And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray;

The purpose of the fringe is to protect our eyes from the temptations that will lead us astray from loving G-d with all our hearts and all our souls and all our might (which is what the first paragraph after the Sh'ma tells us to do). We will see it and be reminded, just like tying a knot in your handkerchief to remind you to do something. Seeing is remembering.

eli's hands

How are you going to remember to avoid going astray this year?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hearing - #BlogElul 21

The High Holiday services are very auditory - the cantor leads the congregation in many traditional tunes, often there is a choir to enhance the experience. The rabbi gives a longer and more intense sermon than usual. The shofar sounds 100 times over the two days of Rosh HaShanah, and with full force at the end of Yom Kippur.

In the congregation itself, people talk and sing and there is often much noise going on. We think about the meal we need to prepare, about the family and friends we will be greeting at our table. We chat with people we may not have seen all year. So much distraction.

Where is G-d in all this? In the noise and singing? Let us think for a moment about these lines from the Book of Kings.

יא  וַיֹּאמֶר, צֵא וְעָמַדְתָּ בָהָר לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, וְהִנֵּה יְהוָה עֹבֵר וְרוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה וְחָזָק מְפָרֵק הָרִים וּמְשַׁבֵּר סְלָעִים לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לֹא בָרוּחַ יְהוָה; וְאַחַר הָרוּחַ רַעַשׁ, לֹא בָרַעַשׁ יְהוָה. 11 And He said: 'Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.' And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake;
יב  וְאַחַר הָרַעַשׁ אֵשׁ, לֹא בָאֵשׁ יְהוָה; וְאַחַר הָאֵשׁ, קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה. 12 and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
יג  וַיְהִי כִּשְׁמֹעַ אֵלִיָּהוּ, וַיָּלֶט פָּנָיו בְּאַדַּרְתּוֹ, וַיֵּצֵא, וַיַּעֲמֹד פֶּתַח הַמְּעָרָה; וְהִנֵּה אֵלָיו, קוֹל, וַיֹּאמֶר, מַה-לְּךָ פֹה אֵלִיָּהוּ. 13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said: 'What doest thou here, Elijah?'

When the prophet Elijah was called to stand before G-d, he got quite the display of natural wonders, wind and earthquake and fire - so much noise. But in the end, G-d was in the still small voice that spoke to him. Elijah needed to get through all the distraction and noise to be able to hear the voice of G-d in his heart.

Can we put all the distraction aside and hear the still small voice?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Endings - #BlogElul 20

How clever of Rabbi Sommer to put Endings at the end of the work week, as we prepare for Shabbat. Cooking special foods, looking forward to resting and seeing friends at shul, putting this first week of school behind us.

I've been writing and posting these blogs the evening before, when it is the Jewish day already but not yet the Gregorian one. But last night I got home too late to write it, because our Internet ends at 10:30 pm on school nights. There's another ending to think about - a self-imposed boundary that my family has taken on, because my teens and I are Internet junkies - if it is there, we will be on. So all summer it went out at midnight, but now it turns into a pumpkin at 10:30 so we can go to bed and get the sleep we so desperately need. Sometimes blogging just has to wait. What endings and boundaries do you impose on yourself to deal with your own weaknesses?

I am going to try something I've never done before - pre-write a blog post (for tomorrow) and have it post on a schedule. I won't know if it has worked until after Havdallah, the beautiful separation ceremony that ends Shabbat and brings us back into the workaday world. Of course the first thing my teens and I do when we have made Havdallah is to run back to the Internet to see what we have missed. It is very  important to us to have those 26 hours offline, but when they are over, our FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) strikes in full force. I'm not proud of it, but there it is.

Wishing everyone a restful Shabbat, and I'll see you on the other side.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Encouraging Paleo Kids, One Egg At A Time

 This morning I made a heart-shaped omelette for my daughter.

My kids love cereal, the more sugary the better. We have progressed to the point that the really obnoxious ones (Cinnamon Toast Crunch is the major favourite) are only allowed on Shabbat morning, but I'm trying to wean them gently off Cheerios. Now that school has started and they are no longer eating breakfast at noon, I'm trying to get the egg routine into place.

My eldest son has already developed a taste for omelettes and is old enough to understand the process, even though he sometimes sabotages it - don't we all? My second son blows hot and cold, but he's never been as much of a carb fiend as his siblings. I bought a tiny square cast iron pan and he will occasionally let me cook him a little square omelette in it. "It's so cute!"

My daughter has been a tougher nut to crack. She will occasionally eat the cute little square omelettes, but she really wanted a heart-shaped one, or at least round - but little.

Yesterday I was at Pollock's Hardware, a fabulous co-op here in Winnipeg. I picked up a teeny tiny round cast-iron pan, but then my eye fell on the little tart mould you see here. Bingo!!

So yes, this morning I put the tart mould, well-greased, IN my regular-sized round cast-iron pan, and poured the beaten egg into it. It did leak a little bit along the fluted sides, but I picked those bits up and put them back in. It was a little tricky getting the egg out of the mould to flip it, but a little persistence with a fork did the job.

She totally loved it and ate it all - a first.

Take that, General Mills!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Beginnings - #BlogElul 19

Ah, Rabbi Sommer, you've hit it again. Right on the nose. I heard people on the radio talking about how September really feels more like a new year than January - especially in Manitoba, where the summer is short and precious. The people reluctantly come back from the lake and take up reality again, preparing for the snow to fly by Halloween and the bone-chilling cold to be here by Hannukah.

I find it fascinating that the Rabbis chose to put the New Year for calculation of years, Sabbaticals and Jubilees on Rosh HaShanah, the first day of the seventh month. They said it was the anniversary of the creation of the world - hayom harat olam, literally today is the pregnancy of the world. Connecting to what I said yesterday about the Shechinah being our mother, Rosh HaShanah is the world's birthday, and in Elul we blow up the balloons and hang the streamers for the world's birthday party.

It's a new year - new clothes, new teachers, new resolutions. May it hold sweetness for us all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Love - #BlogElul 18

Tomorrow is my kids' first day of school for this year. That is the main reason my day of Elul is practically coinciding with my day of September - I need to finish this blog post and go to bed, my alarm will go off at 6:30 for the first time in two months.

There was much running around and packing and organising, and people who couldn't get to sleep from excitement and a whole summer of going to bed late. There is a newly minted Grade 5 student who is nervous about getting her own locker, a big brave Grade 8 student who has this junior high thing figured out, and an unbelievable Grade 11 student who is suddenly thinking about university and life after the school in which he began kindergarten just the other day.

I am very blessed to have three versions of my heart out walking around outside my body, to quote the writer Elizabeth Stone. Before they came into my life I thought I knew what love was. I had parents and siblings and lovers, and I loved them all. But they did not cause my heart to go walking around outside my body.

During the High Holy Days, we imagine G-d as the King of Kings, a stern but fair judge. But let us not forget that HaShem is also our parent, and that the feminine aspect of G-d, the Shechinah, is our Holy Mother. We are Her heart walking around the world. In the face of such love, how can we be afraid?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Inspiration - #BlogElul 17

Ah, Inspiration.That elusive energising of the imagination that we all seek. The Greeks personified it as nine goddesses, each in charge of a different form of art, and called upon them to support their efforts - the opening lines of both the Iliad and the Odyssey are invocations of the Muse. Romantic poets such as Lord Byron wrote impassioned poems to their muses, either real or figurative.

In Judaism, inspiration is considered, of course, to come from G-d, the ultimate source of our spirituality and imagination. True understanding, repentance and most importantly, the resolve to do better, must follow from a moment of inspiration. Art may be the result of this clarity of vision, but it cannot be created without it.

The prophet Isaiah had a vision in which an angel of fire touched his lips with a glowing coal and made him fit to carry out G-d's mission, speaking to the people of the destruction that was sure to come if they did not mend their ways. 

How painful does inspiration need to be before we can see our way clear?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Wonder - #BlogElul 16

Today is the 16th day of Elul, because the sun has already set. Very confusing, because it is still September 2nd. At midnight, the two days will coalesce into one, only to separate again at tomorrow's sunset.

Our ability to handle two calendars at the same time is only part of the wonder that is the human mind. My daughter is now of an age that she has been asking me where we go when we die - I have to admit that I don't know. I like to think that my late mother's consciousness is still around somewhere, amused at the cosmic joke of my daughter being so very much like myself. Yet that joke is a wonder in itself - the face, the voice, the behaviour - not identical because she is, after all, her father's daughter as well, but shockingly similar at times.

Religion is not really necessary to appreciate the wonder of this gift of life and the perpetuation of ourselves, but it helps organise our response to it, I think. I don't know whether Judaism is the only religion that has a special blessing to be said upon seeing natural wonders: we bless the King of the Universe who has fulfilled the act of Creation. It is to be said upon seeing a magnificent mountain or a gorgeous sunrise - something special.

Where have you been that justified a special blessing for natural wonders?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Learning and Health - #BlogElul 14 and 15

As I was planning this series of blog posts about Elul, following Rabbi Phyllis Sommer's #BlogElul system that you see here on the left, I knew I couldn't write number 14 on Shabbat, so I figured I'd write it after Shabbat was out. But by then, of course, it would be the 15th of Elul, because Jewish days start at sunset, not midnight.

So I'm combining 14 and 15 into one, which I am posting on the 15th of Elul, Saturday night. No wonder we have got such a lovely full moon - it's the middle of the month already, and Rosh HaShanah is only two weeks away. Yikes.

To me, learning and health have become inextricably connected in recent years, so it is actually more than appropriate for me to combine them in one blog post. A few years ago I suffered a major bout of ulcerative colitis that nearly landed me in hospital. I took my steroids as directed for a limited time to get the flareup under control, but I was determined not to go on the long term, low-dose chemotherapy drugs that seems to be modern medicine's only answer to autoimmune disease. It was first offered to me in 1995, and there wasn't anything better on tap in 2010. It was very disappointing.

So, I started learning about alternatives ways of supporting health (as opposed to treating symptoms and suppressing the immune-system-gone-wild). My travels on the Internet led me first to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and then to paleo, and to the fascinating concept of n = 1 self-experimentation.

There are a zillion and a half diets and theories and concepts out there, most of them contradictory. A fruitarian like Durianrider gets excellent results, and so do people who eat exactly the opposite way. It's enough to make you throw your hands in the air and give up, and just eat Twinkies until you die.

Alternatively, you can try things out and find out what works for you. Your body is unique (unless you have an identical twin, and even then your life experience will cause epigenetic changes). What works for your buddy may not work for you. What works for you may be disastrous for your sister. Only by taking responsibility for your own health, learning what works for your body, your metabolism and your immune system, can you become healthy (as opposed to merely managing symptoms). Health care professionals can support us in this quest, but we've got to be the ones driving the train - nobody in this world knows your  body better than you do. Learn as much as you can to achieve health.

Wishing everyone a healthy new year!