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

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 💉💉

Monday, February 19, 2018

Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Training

What the heck is BFR, you ask?

For everyone you ever want to know about it, this site covers it. As a basic explanation, BFR is:

Blood flow restriction (BFR) training is a training strategy involving the use of cuffs or wraps placed around a limb during exercise, to maintain arterial inflow to the muscle while preventing venous return. BFR can be used with resistance training, or with other modalities, including walking.

Programs of resistance training with BFR and low loads (20 – 30% of 1RM) appear to increase strength. BFR programs appear to increase strength more than resistance training without BFR when using matched (low) relative loads but are either similar in efficacy or slightly less effective than conventional resistance training with unmatched (high) relative loads.

Programs of resistance training with BFR and low loads (20 – 30% of 1RM) appear to produce hypertrophy. BFR programs appear to increase muscular size better than resistance training without blood flow restriction when using matched (low) relative loads but are similar in efficacy to conventional resistance training with unmatched (high) relative loads.

There is some evidence that resistance training with BFR might be able to improve muscular power, sprint running speed, and endurance, and that non-resistance training methods (like walking) with blood flow restriction can cause hypertrophy, although there is more limited research in these areas.

After reading about BFR, I almost immediately ordered these BFR (occlusion) cuffs.

Why was I so eager to start this type of training, you ask? For the following reasons:

1. I am always trying to increase my strength.

2. Since I work out exclusively at home and our dumbbells only go up to 50 lbs, I saw this as a great way to increase strength without having to spend the money on heavier weights, and find room for them!

3. I thought this would be a great way to stay fit while travelling, if I also bring some resistance bands (because I generally hate hotel gyms).

I brought them to Florida over the holidays, and was very glad I did. I had zero interest in going to the gyms at the resort. They have mostly cardio machines and only very scanty weight equipment, and so if even 1 other person is trying to lift at the same time as you, its very annoying. I skipped the gym entirely and a few days over our stay, I did a resistance band workout in our condo with the occlusion bands on.

Without door attachments, etc., it is often difficult to make a band workout tough enough, but the cuffs definitely made my exercises more challenging. It was awesome!

 Back home, I have been using the cuffs 1-2x week, once for legs, once for upper body. I really like being able to work with lower weights, but still being challenged.

If you are looking for a way to jack up your training, or if you workout at home and have limited equipment, this is a great way to give your training a boost without spending a lot of money or buying big equipment.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Kinin Bioactive Aromatherapy: Product Review

I am embarrassed to admit something about the back story to this product review. Initially, the Kinin company contacted me, and asked if I would be interested in reviewing their aromatherapy pens. I thought they meant writing pens that contain essential oils. So, you know, you're sitting at your desk working, or writing out your to do list or grocery list and relaxing with a lil' aromatherapy. Um, no, they meant pens like a vaping type device that you inhale. Oh, that kind of pen! 😜

I was a little suspicious since vaping is not really my thing, um, at all. I even contacted them just to confirm there is no tobacco or nicotine or anything in them. They assured me that there is none. The pens contain safe, organic, essential oils that the pen simply vaporizes and you do, indeed, inhale.

As you know, I am very in, I love perfumes, and scented products! Though I would not say I regularly practice 'aromatherapy', I do see its value. Even research has supported the link between certain scents and our moods. Things like peppermint and citrus can invigorate, while lavender can enhance relaxation. In fact, I keep lavender essential oil at my counselling office and sometimes sprinkle a few drops around because of its therapeutic benefits.

Anyways, back to Kinin.

The company sent me a selection of their pens:

1. Focus - Nootropics, Cinnamon, Tangerine
2. Relax - Kava Kava, Valerian, Copaiba
3. Recover - Eucalyptus, Peppermint Clary Sage

Apparently these products are generally safe for everyone though their website warns:

We recommend that women who are pregnant or nursing, or people who have specific allergic reactions to any of our listed ingredients avoid our products. There is no age requirement, but if you’re under 18, you should check with your parents.

I had never heard of nootropic before but apparently it is a general term for cognitive enhancer, which could mean anything from caffeine to ginko biloba to prescription drugs. The fact that they don't give any more info about this ingredient is a bit worrisome to me.

Copaiba is another plant derived stimulant.

Apparently clari sage has a myriad of benefits including anti-depressant, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, blood pressure lowering, anti-anxiety, and ability to improve mental function. Not a ton of scientific research to back this up, however.

I found all of them pleasant smelling. I would describe the physical experience when you inhale as similar to when you first pop a piece of strong minty gum into your mouth and you get that cold, fresh burst.

My first thought is that this might be a good replacement activity for people trying to quit vaping or smoking. You get the same action with your hands and mouth, and none of the detrimental health effects.

Does it work? Who the heck knows. I suspect it works if you believe it does. But hey, even placebo effect is real.

Do I recommend them? If you believe in the benefits of aromatherapy and essential oils, or are looking  to quit smoking/vaping or for healthier ways to get a boost (instead of sugar, coffee, weed, etc.) than absolutely. It is kind of a cool concept. Its also good as an aromatherapy-on-the-go tool, though you might get strange looks if you pull it out on the subway and start inhaling from it.

The pens are $22 USD, and for $45 they are coming out with a refillable/reusable one.

Disclosure: The company sent me the pens but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Dead of Winter Favorites 2018

If you get SAD in the winter, than you know how important it is to find joy in small pleasures. Here is what I am loving right now...

Neutrogena MoistureSmooth Color Stick

My lips always feel dry in winter (along with my hands!), so I have to have something moisturizing on them, but I also like lipstick when I'm going out (to make me look a wee bit presentable). All of the lipsticks I've tried up to now, haven't moisturized enough. So ironic as it is (isn't Florida like the most humid place in the U.S.?), I picked up this Neutrogena MoistureSmooth Color Stick and adore it. It is super moisturizing and I love the colour I picked up! Of course, as my luck would have it, I don't think its available in Canada 😭

Old Navy Mesh Compression Leggings

I have bought many brands of compression leggings, and though these are the least expensive, they are also THE BEST! As a petite woman, I also love that the XS size actually fits me, and is the perfect length!! Oh, and I may or may not wear them to work sometimes...

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

I just finished this book and it was hilarious. I read so much heavy literature, that sometimes reading something funny is essential. This fit the bill perfectly. Its as clever as it is funny. I loved his first book too, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

Hot Lemon Water

I have already told you how addicted I am to drinking cold lemon water throughout the day right? Well its awesome hot in winter too! I discovered hot lemon water when pregnant with both girls. I couldn't stomach coffee or regular tea, so this was my warm beverage of choice and I really enjoyed it. Afterwards, I went back to drinking coffee and teas and kind of forgot about it. But lately I just find that aside from my morning coffee, drinking coffee or tea later in the day gives me a dry mouth and an unsettled tummy. Hot lemon water warms me up without those nasty side effects. The only trouble is, even in winter, I don't need much warming up. I am a human radiator, as always, and it seems to be getting worse as I get older 😱😅

If you can't escape the winter or you're feeling low, pamper yourself with little pleasures until the sun comes back out.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Grace Foods Product Review

You know I love strong flavours and heat in my food, so, of course, I am a big jerk chicken fan (or jerky chicken as my kids call it). Its such a delicious, aromatic, punchy spice combo, there really isn't anything else quite like it.

So I was more than happy to review some of Grace Foods jerk products. Unfortunately, whoever delivered the package, dropped the box too hard on our front porch, and the bottle of jerk paste smashed. It leaked out of the box and made one heck of a mess! This totally sucked, because aside from having to clean up the mess, I have tried their jerk paste and love it. In any case, I still had their jerk marinade and barbecue sauce to try, and several cartons of their coconut water.

One hint I have for you about something as concentrated as the jerk paste, is that a little goes a long way! For that reason, I was eager to try their marinade, that I could use more liberally in a recipe (recipe is forthcoming). I used it to make a jerk chicken stew, and it was fantastic! Just enough heat, and the perfect amount of jerk flavour. Though I didn't use it as a marinade, more as a simmering sauce, I can tell it would be great as a traditional marinade for meat, or even vegetables or tofu.

The barbecue sauce I have not tried and probably won't. Why? Because like most commercial barbecue sauces it contains a ridiculous amount of sugar. I either buy sugar-free ones, or make homemade. I suggest you do the same.

I am not at all a coconut water fan, and neither are Adam or Little A, but Big A was happy to try it, and declared it great and very refreshing. I also took one of the bottles to work for my clients and it disappeared quickly, with many being thrilled to have it as an option besides our usual offering (plain water).

My personal philosophy on coconut water is that while it may be better than pop, its still unnecessary liquid calories. Unless you are exercising in extreme heat or doing intense endurance activity, water will do you just fine.

So, do I recommend these products? I absolutely recommend the jerk paste and marinade, but forget the bbq sauce, and only drink coconut water if it is truly necessary, otherwise just turn on your damn tap.

Disclosure: Grace Foods sent me these products, but all opinions on this blog are our own.