What Now?

It is morning, the sky is blue, the clouds are fluffy and I feel oddly anxious in this strange unstructured life. I seem always to have something to do and I wonder how that could be. Are these things that I simply ignored when I was working, things I chose to be in denial about or that I just put off until now? Maybe they are the things I filled my nights and weekends with so that I felt that I never had a day off.

How strange to be able to say, “I can do that tomorrow” or “there is no urgency”. But I still find myself thinking I must do it now. A lifetime of structure – I need to rewire my brain.

I am off to Germany and Poland in a few days and people keep saying to me “have fun”. Although I think this trip will be interesting, spiritually fulfilling, educational and emotional, I am not sure it will be exactly fun. It is a trip to visit the places of the holocaust, that horrific time that many people choose to deny or forget just as we forget or ignore the many many genocides that have taken place in our time. There are so many, Kosovo, Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Nanking, the Ukraine under Stalin, Armenia all in the last 100 years and many in my lifetime.

I am honored to be able to say Kaddish at the places my people died. I am filled with gratitude to be able to carry the memory of my Grandmother who, as a child, fled Russia with her mother and seven siblings to come to America. And I am proud to know that in a family of mixed and little faith, I carry the faith of my ancestors and represent them at a time critical in the survival of Judaism in America.

I am proud that I recently took a group of young Jewish students on an overnight trip the central purpose of which was to visit a small but powerful holocaust museum about three hours from our home Temple. We had fun too, but the impact it made on some of those young people was stunning.

So, in my unstructured life, I sat down at my computer to write, told Alexa to play some bebop and this is what I wrote.

Shalom

Food Choices

So, being diabetic is much more complex than I ever could have imagined. My father always made light of it saying he just had “a little sugar”. As did my grandfather; all the Meyers men had “the sugar”. It didn’t sound so complicated really, just don’t eat sweets. Little did I know; and forget all the other health risks that come with it.

Everything is sugar for a diabetic; rice, potatoes, all bread (rye and pumpernickel are best), carrots, peas, fruit (do not eat bananas) and of course the usual suspects, deserts and sweets of all kinds. I do find that I can eat a small amount of dark chocolate without adverse effect. And this is not an exhaustive list.

As an aside, I personally detest those people who arrogantly declaim that you can “cure diabetes with diet and exercise”. My disease is genetically acquired and can be controlled with diet and exercise but cannot be cured. I am definitely not obese and my legs are skinny enough thanks. And there are those that say “well it’s the net carbs” or “don’t count the sugar alcohols.” For me, and every diabetic is different, it is the total carb count without these excuses that is the best predictor of a sugar spike.

For a long time I used Glucerna (diabetic brand) shakes for breakfast as I am not much of a morning eater. Then I discovered that the Atkins shakes are cheaper, taste better and have fewer carbs than Glucerna (I still travel with them and my suitcase always gets searched because they x-ray as a bomb like shape). Then I started making my own with whey protein, almond milk, ice, berries, dehydrated greens (a bag of spinach always goes bad before I can use it) and a splash of sugar free raspberry or pomegranate syrup to amp the taste and sweetness (yes, I have a terrible sweet tooth). But I tend to put too many berries in, thus negating the good blood sugar effect.

After several years I just got bored with shakes and went searching for alternatives. I found the recipe I am sharing here. They are yum, easy and are filling enough to hold me until lunchtime and they do not raise my blood sugar. So here it is.

GRAIN FREE CRANBERRY ORANGE BREAKFAST COOKIES:

2 cups almond flour plus 2 tblsp. 1/4 cup shredded coconut (original recipe calls for unsweetened, hard to find so just use regular baking coconut, not enough to raise blood sugar) 2 tblsp. hemp hearts, flax seed or chia seed (see note at the end) 1/2 teas. each sea salt, baking soda, cinnamon 2 large eggs lightly beaten 1/3 cup coconut oil 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey (use maple if you have it – delicious – can reduce slightly to account for the coconut if you like) 1 teas. orange zest (more won’t hurt) 1 teas. pure vanilla 1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries (so far 1/2 and 1/2 is yummiest) 1/2 cup unsalted raw pecans, chopped

Peheat to 325 and line a baking pan with parchment or a silicone mat. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together almond flour, coconut, hemp/chia/flax, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Add eggs, oil, maple/honey, orange zest and vanilla. Mix on medium until well combined. On low speed add dried fruit and pecans and mix until combined.

Using a metal quarter cup measure, drop on baking sheet one inch apart, bake approx. 25 mins until golden and not doughy. They will be sticky but if you give the cup measure a hard quick shake it will drop out. Cool on rack. will keep about 4 days in fridge, freeze for up to 3 months.

NOTE: If you use hemp hearts they will be softer and spread more. If you use chia or flax they will be denser and hold shape when baked. I prefer the chia/flax over the hemp hearts which are also expensive and hard to find.

Bon Appetit and A Votre Santé!

Magnificent Beasts

Elephants are amazing. But you knew that. I travelled to Thailand blissfully unaware of what, exactly, I was in for. After a night in Bangkok we loaded up and flew to the wonderful city of Chiangmai. And after a night in Chiangmai we loaded into four by fours and headed into the hills.

Using their trained keyword "bun bun" to have them raise their trunks – those elephants love bananas. Click To Tweet

We lined up outside the fence around the enclosure and the elephants came to us, obviously anticipating what they knew came next. Huge bunches of small local bananas were placed on the ground and we were shown how to give them to the elephants. And we proceeded to do just that, using their trained key word “bun bun” to have them raise their trunks. Those elephants love bananas.

We arrived at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary #9 and loaded our stuff into a bunkhouse that would be our home for the next four days. Those were some hard bunks, just a mat and a throw. But that is of no matter. We were given a little orientation and went to meet the elephants.

For the next days we would come to know the elephant’s habits, their families, their names. We would bathe with them, in water and in mud, we would help to do vet checks on them and learn about their health, we would walk with them in the jungle as they walked free. We were told about the history of the elephants in Thailand, their uses and abuses, and of all the efforts the project was making to rescue them, to make their lives healthy, happy and safe.

For the next days we would come to know the elephants' habits, their families, their names. Click To Tweet

We also learned about the lives of the mahout, the “handlers” that literally live and work with the elephants on a daily basis, and the efforts being made to improve their wages and living conditions. We worked to build dams in a small river, creating larger pools for the elephants to cool in during the hot dry season when the water was low.

I loved being close to them but I also found them very intimidating. ! When we were in the jungle with them, the guides told us it was their time, not ours and to just let them do what they wanted, to walk or not and where to walk. It was wonderful that there was so much respect for the needs of the animals and that the people came second, put their needs second. There was a sense of glorious purpose, living and working with people so committed to these beautiful, intelligent animals and doing something to help. It is hard to articulate why this felt so good and so important, but it did; something to learn from.

There was a sense of glorious purpose, living and working with people so committed to these beautiful, intelligent animals… Click To Tweet

Some in our group were totally fearless and walked amid them as casually as can be imagined. As much as I loved being with them, watching them, learning about them, I’m sorry to say that wasn’t me.

HOPE

It is almost impossible, now, to describe what it felt to be incalculably hopeful. Our idealism, in the sixties and seventies, was boundless. We believed absolutely and completely that we would change the world. And in some ways the world was indeed changed. The civil rights act, the voting rights act, ultimately Title IX, the rise of feminism and a tectonic shift in our culture; music, art, attitudes.

And idealism dies hard. All my life I have held fast to some idealistic notions of good and right. Not to mention my steadfast belief in constitutional democracy and the protections it should afford us.

Having said that, the hardest thing for me about where we are now is the erosion of hope, the loss of idealism. I find it damn near impossible to watch the news without becoming angry, or depressed, or just plain sad. I find it almost impossible to believe that we are where we are. That racism, fascism, anti-semitism and all forms of bigotry are on the rise. That we cannot agree that saving the planet and all the creatures on it should be a first and urgent priority. That the short view is always the prevailing view. That civil discussion and disagreement are no longer possible. These are the big things, the small things confront us daily. My town now only pretends to recycle, my social security is taxed, there are hungry homeless children in our schools; and on and on.

I was watching a fictional television show in which a leading character made an impassioned speech about the values we should all be holding dear. About the pure and fantastical notion of a government by and for the people. And geek that I am, it made me cry. Good,grief. And it reminded me of that hope, that beautiful boundless hope.

And all I can do, as I witness the destruction of decades of progress on the environment, the recission of regulations that protect our air, our water, our parks, our children, the poor, the disenfranchised, is try to see the good. I watch for those moments when the best in us is evident, when my neighbors help me with things I can’t do, when people band together to help the victims of some senseless tragedy, when a restaurant feeds those with no money. Just examples, but sparks of hope. As I said, hope does hard, so we have to fan those tiny sparks and pray, every day, that the flames can rise again and carry us forward. Maybe hope is contagious.

Am I Happy?

Apparently I am going through some kind of “normal” retirement slump. Every day people ask me with a big smile “so, how is retirement”. People have the oddest idealized idea of retirement. And perhaps it is based in some truth that I will discover later. It is hard to live up to people’s expectations of your retirement happiness.

Lots of huge changes in my life. It has been pointed out to me that it is reasonable to be a little traumatized by this. Single in my sixties after 27 years of marriage would be enough, but the basis for being single is something that destroyed an enormous chunk of my self esteem along with whatever imaginary idea I had about growing old. Then I retired after fifty or so years of working. Those two changes created a huge decrease in my finances. So… trauma. I guess it comes in many forms.

I spent fifty or so years working for others in, for the most part, a reasonably structured environment. I set my alarm and got my coffee every weekday, and some weekends, for all those years. I worked two jobs in college and law school, and one graduated, just worked. In all those years there were very few breaks or real vacations. My life was bounded by my work life and my son’s school schedule.

I woke up on January 4th of 2019 without an alarm and had no obligation to go anywhere. For a few weeks I found myself sleeping a very great deal, waking only when the sun bothered me or the cat wanted food. Six weeks later I left the country for almost four weeks. I returned to a teaching backlog, an intensive rehearsal schedule, my taxes and Passover. I was so busy I couldn’t keep up.

Now I am in self-care/doctor’s appointments world. Just catching up, not to mention getting older. Recently cleared out storage and many cabinets and held a garage sale: caveat – don’t do that. The good of it is that “stuff” is gone. Things that belonged to my father – gone many years now. Things that belonged to my ex husband, that he didn’t want – gone from here more than three years ago. Gone are many things I didn’t want and didn’t use and that others could use. It is a good weight to have gone but the process tends to reopen some wounds that are still healing.

I have a wonderful life. I have a beautiful home. I have a wonderful son and his lovely fiance. I have many loving women in my life. I have the privilege of making music with some brilliant musicians. And every day I wake up speaking my gratitude, thanking the G-d of my understanding, trying to meditate on the good. But I feel oddly off kilter, as if this retirement thing hasn’t quite found it’s footing.

So, in six weeks I am off to Europe for another amazing adventure. I guess routine and finding my feet will have to wait. Ask me in August.