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We always think (or hope) that there are easy rules to follow that lead to a healthier life and healthy eating. But as much as Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual suggests we just have to adhere to some simple ideas to eat healthy, when you get right down to it, nothing is that simple.

But I must say that he made me stop and think about what I am eating.

If you read nothing else, read his 12-page introduction. It is an eye-opener because he suggests ideas that we all (or most of us) can agree on but are never willing to say out loud.

1. Even though we have all heard of the following words: antioxidant, saturated fat, folic acid, carbohydrates and omega-3 fatty acids, we are no closer to knowing what it takes to eat healthy. We have learned the “talk”, but it is not leading us to a better understanding of food nor a greater understanding of good nutrition.

2.  The way we eat, the so-called Western diet, leads to disease – everything from obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems and cancers. And the bad eating cycle not only continues but continues to get worse.

3.  The Western diet is great for business…the food manufacturers continue to create more “manufactured” foods” and the pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs as an antidote to our terrible eating habits. They win. We lose!

So what does Pollan suggest? He lists 64-somewhat simple rules that he simplifies into one statement:

                                         Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Let me share some of Pollan’s rules that made the most sense to me: 

Rule #3:  Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.  He suggests that if you wouldn’t cook with these ingredients, cellulose, xanthan gum, ammonium sulfate, than why let others use these ingredients in your food?

Rule #5: Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among that top three ingredients.  He suggests that no matter what we call it, sugar is sugar and it does not lead to weight loss.

Rule #6: Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients.   (Or his rule #7: avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.)  The more ingredients in foods and the more processed, the less healthy it is for us.

Rule # 20: It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car. Good-bye Duncan Doughnuts, Sonic and all those other burger joints.  

Pollan is a well-respected journalist and popular speaker. Whether you get Food Rules from the library or Amazon, get it now. It’s a fun read with lots of ideas to chew on. And maybe we can all get healthier along the way.

photo by Ken Light.

As an editor, writer, and an emailer, I am sitting way too much.  But I balance that — or so I thought — by visiting a gym three times a week for the elliptical machine and weights, plus walks on the weekends.  I think many of us have a similar lifestyle: sitting for long periods with a break a few times a week either walking or at a gym.  In the new book, Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, author Joan Vernikos, Ph.D. and former NASA director of the Life Sciences Division has made me rethink my daily routine.

In her work with astronauts, Dr. Joan Vernikos discovered “that constant movement that challenges the force of gravity is essential to good health.”  Astronauts, she realized, developed muscle weakness, heart problems, and poor balance and coordination, plus a lack of stamina from their time in space.  We all have heard that sitting too much shortens our lifespan, but did we know that’s the case for those who regularly exercise?  Unfortunately, yes.  Sitting for long periods of time — despite breaks for exercise throughout the week — is not good for the body.

Dr. Vernikos found that “systemic damage” was done to the body when the astronauts were weightless in space, or existing in an environment without gravity: the force that holds us down on earth.  When they returned to earth, the astronauts showed a “pattern of symptoms that collectively resemble those seen in older persons….The lack of gravity,” she writes, “causes rapid progression of the kinds of changes in their bodies that we on Earth associate with age.”   Examples included reduced stamina, greater risk of muscle injury, muscles no longer supported spine, blood pressure was affected, coordination problems, and more.  Effects that Dr. Vernikos associated with aging.    Thus, her theory that living with constant resistance to the force of gravity is essential to good health. and calls it the “head-to-toe gravity vector,” or the “Gravity Deprivation Syndrome.”

 

And it does make sense.  It gives more of an explanation of how our sedentary lifestyle is hurting our bodies…the drive-thrus that keep us in our cars, the comfy lounge chairs that encourage the “couch potato”  pose for hours in front of the TV and the computer screens, sitting in class, sitting on long commutes to work, on long airplane flights.  The remedy:  every day, balance how much you sit with how much you move.  

Just standing up frequently from your desk, chair, seat, goes a long way.  “Every time you stand up,” Dr. Vernikos writes, “the body initiates a shift in fluids, volume, and hormones, and causes muscle contractions to occur and almost every nerve in the body is stimulated.”  Standing up 16 times a day for two minutes is better for the body than standing up one time for half an hour.  Each time you stand up provides the stimulus your body needs: your heart rate increases every time you get out of your chair.

Let me consider my day.  I get to work at 9, and usually work nonstop at the computer until lunch (4 hours), then I go get lunch  for 1/2 hour, then back at work until 5pm (3 hours).  I go home my activity level rises with the dishes and laundry and walking the dog, but compared to the time spent sitting, my three times a week/45 minutes gym visit is not cutting it. 

What does Dr. Vernikos suggest?  Start gravity habits throughout your day:

  • park your car further away from the store,
  • walk around your building at coffee-break time,
  • when working at your desk, every 15 minutes stand up and stretch, raise your arms
  • work in the yard, rake the leave, garden
  • create a meal from scratch: involves standing, reaching, bending, and many motions of the arms and wrists as you wash, slice, chop, stir, lift pots and pans, etc.
  • sweep the floor with a broom, even use a broom outdoors to move a light snowfall
  • don’t forget to play: a favorite sport, an instrument, or ride a bike
  • shop the stores, or walk the mall, but skip the internet shopping
  • learn new things to work the brain: take up a language, learn bridge.  Research does show that working on a crossword puzzle increases the brain’s blood flow.

I found Dr. Vernikos’ book a real eye-opener.  I will look upon that long-distance parking spot as a good thing, the “elevator out of order” sign as a gentle reminder, and my dog will be glad for our longer walks. 

The bottom line:  go back to the basics, think about the generation that came before us and how they lived.  The more active we can keep our bodies the better.  Keep up the visits to the gym, of course, but keep moving throughout the day.  Limit your sitting, and WALK into that fast food restaurant.

My grandson, Robert, at his first spelling bee

My grandson, Robert, called last week to let me know he was participating in a spelling bee and he had to raise $50 to enter. His parents, two sets of grandparents and two uncles all chipped in to raise the money. I was so impressed that he entered, that I agreed to give him fifty cents for his piggy bank for each correctly spelled word.

The money all went to the Lakewood Trumbull YMCA for scholarships for kids in the region.

I never attended a spelling bee nor have I participated in one. In fact, I am very grateful for the spell checker which comes with Microsoft Word. Without it I would be out of business.  So watching Robert do his thing was going to be a unique experience for me.

There was a rush of excitement as we entered the school with kids laughing and joking around as they got their “official “spelling bee t-shirts.  Parents, kids and grandparents all settled down as the 35 participants entered the auditorium to the tune of Rocky.

3rd, 4th and 5th graders took their seats ready for the challenge. After the first round only two were eliminated and you could see the rest of the kids beginning to settle down.

An hour has gone by, maybe more, and we are on the fourth or fifth round.  Robert is still on stage waiting for his next turn.

  • Almost                  correct
  • Full                    correct
  • Deaf                        correct
  • Notch               correct
  • Terrible                correct
  • Scratch            correct
  • Poison                      correct
  • Entertain         correct
  • Apartment              correct

 Now, in Robert’s group of 4th graders, we are down to 3 kids.

  • Conscience         A wrong spelling but the other kids get it wrong too.
  • Detrimental        Again, wrong spelling but he is not out yet.
  • Treachery           Wrong and he is now in third place.

We have been there for three hours and the three winners for each group have been finally been chosen. Those kids who lost bravely left the podium, many crying or sad. Some just flung themselves into mom or dad’s arms.

Roberts just jabbered about why he lost. He was mad. But the best part was when he said, ‘I will do better next year.’ I am glad he saw this as a challenge that he could face again.

 

 

Yesterday, my husband Clay and I had lunch at a local diner with the kids and grandkids. Much of the time both the grandkids played with their games on their computer tablet but there was some conversation. I mentioned to my daughter-in-law, Caroline that last summer the kids were big on manners at the table. Things like:

  • Don’t put your elbows on the table when eating!
  • Don’t talk with food in your mouth!
  • Chew with your mouth closed!            
  • Don’t eat until everyone else is served!

But now that the summer is over, everything returned to “normal” and table manners has never come up again.

Caroline said that they were learning manners because the group was going out to a restaurant to eat and the counselors wanted to make sure that the kids learned the basic rules of eating out.

What a good idea. But it only good if we parents and grandparents remind our kids what good manners is all about.  

Do we share the basics like how to properly use a fork and knife? Put a napkin in your lap? Eat small portions so that our mouth isn’t stuffed?

My grandmother use to take my brother and I out…separately. She took me to The Plaza on 5th Avenue in Manhattan where we had tea and small sandwiches. We went to Bergdorf Goodman’s and enjoy a drink and something small to eat while fashion models walked around the tables with the latest clothes. We never brought anything but my grandmother showed me how to act like a “lady.”

For my brother it was a different story. He went out with my mom, aunt AND my grandmother. He had to hold the door for them, pull out the chairs at the table and make sure he used the right fork, spoon an knife with each course. He definitely got a workout.

Although we have become a very informal society where women no longer wear white gloves and hats, etiquette and manners still make a difference. Take advantage of small teachable moments like waiting until you have your food and are sitting down before the rest of the family eats. It is something they can carry forward as they grow up.

Hope you have a eitquettely happy day

There is a terrific alternative to holiday shopping, and trying to get the next best electronic device.   Plus, it’s in a direction that’s opposite of where everyone is heading, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  My 16 year old daughter joined me — be still my heart — on my day’s outing to the Bethel Woods Museum.

Bethel Woods…it’s a performance arts space for both large and intimate events, it’s a memorial to theWoodstock concert of 1969, it’s an educational center for school groups and pre-K, and it’s the caretaker of a host of historic documents, film, photos, memorabilia, groovy apparel from what was truly the wildest and transforming decade in recent history. 

I asked my daughter — a big Woodstock fan — to tag along with me, to see the museum for the first time, and experience the Pig Light Show, a visiting exhibit running through December 31. When we turned off the main road and made our way along the country road to the site, I could see her sit up in the car, take notice of her surroundings.  I knew that she knew she was somewhere special. 

The grounds of Bethel are so scenic with its rustic fencing and rolling hills and with the light blanket of snow, it looked magical and surreal.  Temperatures had dropped, so we didn’t linger, but headed right to the warmth of the main building.  There was a Hansel & Gretel live production going on in the main room, so there were many families with little ones; staff members wearing Santa hats handed out gingerbread cookies.  It was very festive. 

During this time, while the majority of guests were watching the live fairy tale, we toured the museum.  My daughter ended up wandering on her own, taking it all in at her own pace.  I’ve been to the museum a handful of times, and still I see something new, so one visit won’t do it.  On this visit, I was paying more attention to the history of the concert, how it came about, the players involved in making the deal.  (The movie, Taking Woodstock, I believe gives a good representation of how and WHY the concert was moved from Ulster County to Sullivan.)

I hadn’t realized that so many big folk acts were living in Ulster at the time, i.e., Bob Dylan, the Band, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, so the guys behind it were thinking why not put together an all-day concert of peace.  How it went from being a one day concert to a three day love fest has to be seen to be believed.  You can’t make this stuff up!

My daugher was more into the concert footage, as I figured.  She caught the two movies that played continuously: one focused more on the backstage activity, and the other solely on the performances.  She was riveted to it, and even in her quiet way, I could tell she was enjoying it.

After awhile, we decided to head to the downstairs “special exhibitions” area for the Pig Light Show.  I’d heard about this last month when it started, and glad I got to see it. Not often you get to see a “pig light show.”  The show is a tribute to the psychedelic light shows from the mid-1960s and 70s that accompanied concerts with performers like Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa, and Grateful Dead. 

A master of the art form, Joshua White, created his light shows for the Fillmore East in NYC.  Learning from him at the time was Marc Rubinstein, who has gone on to be a master of the light shows himself.  His shows are created from computers, and today, my daughter and I sat in the observation benches and were hypnotized by two large movie screens featuring the kaleidescope of blobs and swirls, and stars and orbs.  It was just the coolest thing.  The music accompanying it included the Beach Boys, Peter Gabriel, and one of my favorites, The Moody Blues. 

You can also walk around the smaller cubicles to listen with headphones to your own movie light show.  Great headphones..puts the earbud to shame.

We hit the gift shop — how could we not — and picked up some groovy Christmas presents (couldn’t resist the 25% off sale).  I have already accepted that I am and will always be a Bethel Woods fan, and now I can enjoy the thought that my daughter is as well.  There’s not many things we have in common, so I will cherish this day.

(Bethel Woods is located on Route 17B, off exit 104 of Route 17.  For museum hours and ticket information, log on to bethelwoodscenter.org.  1-800-745-3000

P.S.  This experience has explained why we are so hooked on electronics: the sights and sounds of our world today are truly mesmerizing. It’s no wonder we don’t want to miss a thing.

As you know, our Hudson Valley Parent office gets lots of products to review, talk about and giveaway.  I’ve had this product on my desk for awhile, and because it has to do with reading, and encouraging connections between the generations, I wanted to try it out. 

The “Read me a book! Anybook!” product by Franklin Discover caught my eye because it allows a relative, or the child him or herself, to easily record their voice as they go from page to page.  Having lost my mom recently — a great lady who was also a Grandmother and Greatgrandmother — it would’ve been wonderful to have her voice in a recording for her grandkiddies and great-grandkiddies. 

The package, which retails for about $19.99, includes a recordable device resembling a large pen, or microphone.  Through easy to follow instructions, any age can get their voice on the recorder.  By holding the pen onto a special sticker (supplied), and holding the correct buttons, the reader’s voice is captured, and can then replayed by the child when they place the pen onto the sticker.  The playback quality is not bad considering the relatively inexpensive price.  It runs on two AAA batteries (not included), and can hold up to 60 hours of recordings.  These recordings can also be deleted if you want to add new books as your child’s reading level grows.  Some stickers come pre-recorded with fun sound effects like choo-choo train and airplane sounds that add to the fun.  I’m sure that a young one would get such a sense of success by manipulating the pen and hearing Grandpa’s voice.  It works motor skills as well. 

I wanted to give mention to the book I practiced on.  It’s new, called, The Flyaway Blanket, by Allan Peterkin.  What I liked about the book was its Note to Parents in the back which explained a little bit about the thought behind the story.  “At its heart, The Flyaway Blanket is a simple story about the strength of the bonds between parents and their children.”  The author is a Toronto-based physician and writer, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine, and Head of the Health, Arts, and Humanities at the University of Toronto.  When Peterkin writes, “Transitional objects [the blanket] symbolize a parent’s love and become a familiar presence that allows children to soothe themselves in new situations or when they feel alone or insecure,” it takes on a whole new meaning.  The book is a sweet story about a cherished blanket that flies off a clothesline and makes its way on the wind past farm animals, and country scenes.  How does it end?  Will the blanket and the child be reunited?  (I’m sure they do..but I don’t want to be a spoiler.)

The Flyaway Blanket, Magination Press, $14.95 hardcover/$9.95 softcover. 

Be the first to write MJ with the words…”I read the review” and you will be able to get the Read Me a Book Pen WITH the book I practiced on.  (Pen has been used only once..and yes, you can keep the batteries.)

 

Terrie's winter jacket bargain

I am not much of a bargain hunter. I just don’t have the patience. When I cut coupons I feel like I am giving this craze for “best deals” a good shot. But every week or two I am sorting the coupons in my handbag to see which have expired before I had a chance to use them.  I think coupons and shopping for the best buy required organization and patience. Neither of these traits is well integrated into my personality.

But last week I couldn’t resist the buy of the century.

My husband, Clay and I go to the Wappingers Buffet on Rte 9 somewhat regularly. (I am a sucker for Chinese food.) Afterwards, I stopped at Just a Buck to see if they had my $1 magnifier eyeglasses besides any other dollar bargains that I can’t refuse. Then we walked back to the Good Will store. I convinced myself that this is one way to get in a good walk while helping me digest the food we just ate.

Clay was looking for corduroy slacks. He culls through the racks rather diligently and finds a pair that appears to be good quality. Me. I just walked around until Clay was finished.

He’s at the checkout, which is very busy. I am looking at a rack just inside the front door with dresses, slacks, shirts, and then I spotted a winter jacket. Great colors.  Looked good.

50% off is a great deal.

“I am ready to check out,” Clay says. “Do you want the jacket?”

“How much?” I ask the sales clerk.

“ It’s 50% off,” she replies.

How bad could it be at 50% off, I think and pile the jacket on top of Clay’s slacks.

The total bill is $10.48. You can’t beat that!!! (The jacket was $7.99)

What’s your “deal-of-the-century”?

I’d heard about the Dead Sea Scrolls but didn’t know any more than they’d been found in the 1940’s by some shepherds, and their discovery was probably the greatest of the modern era.  That got my attention and ventured there early Saturday morning during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season in Times Square.  It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm day for December, but the corner vendors selling hats and gloves and scarves were doing a brisk business.

I got to the Discovery Center, 44th and 7th, as soon as it opened.  I don’t do well with crowds, especially when trying to absorb something intellectual.  After showing my ticket, I was instructed to go down to the lower level where there were actually two exhibitions going.  One for the CSI fans (how to read a crime scene) to the right, and the scrolls’ exhibit to the left.  We were then instructed by very nice workers in blue polo shirts wearing headsets, into the large waiting room.  It’s very dramatic, like we were about to start a 3D ride at Disney.  Hebrew music began to play over the loudspeakers, and a psalm from the Old Testament was read.  All very much “in the mood.”

(sample of the Dead Sea Scrolls)

Then the big doors opened, and we were welcomed by a college-aged narrator, who stood alongside gigantic screens playing a video of what looked like the Dead Sea itself.  He told us about the findings of the scrolls, about the other items found in Jewish city ruins, like coins and jars.  I figured that the scrolls themselves would not fill out the tour, so other artifacts discovered over the time were added in. 

We had to keep moving, and then headed into another section, this time, with displays built into the walls, so that we could walk along and read bits of descriptions, like any museum display.  There was a lot of time and thought put into this, with the artwork depicting those early, early days, now called, “BCE” for “before common era,” and the traditional BC and AD not being used for “cultural diversity.”

There was a lot of pottery discovered, and many pieces had etchings and carvings which gave an indication if the owner was a king or a commoner.  Pomegranate-shapes were in, as we were doves: signs of divinity or fertility.  We could the history of the eras along the walls as we walked.  The rooms were spacious, darkened, and quiet. A piece of the Western Wall, from the Second Temple in Jersusalem, considered the Holiest of sites, was also on display.  According to the description, it was where Abraham made his sacrifice, where Jesus challenged the chief priests, and where God gathered the dust to create Adam.

But, what’s the big deal about these scrolls.  First of all, that they even survived over the thousands of years is a miracle in itself.  They were pages and pages of parchment, written by hand, using inkwells and whatever pens they had at the time.  The parchments were then rolled up in linen, tied with a leather strap and placed in jars in caves at Qumran, near the Dead Sea.  At the time, nearby cities were being sacked, and these documents were seen to be too valuable to lose.  Shepherds in the late 1940’s came upon them by accident, and they moved from antiquities dealer to dealer eventually being purchased by the state of Israel. (There was even a NY Times classified with a portion of the scrolls for sale.)   

According to What Are the Dead Sea Scrolls and Why Do They Matter, by David Noel Freedman and Pam Fox Kuhlken, the scrolls, “changed the course of biblical scholarships in that they prove that the text of the Hebrew Bible that has come down to us is more reliable than previously thought – that fewer scribal or editorial changes or errors had occurred over the centuries than scholars once imagined.”

In short, it legitimizes the Hebrew Bible: the book that inspired the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The last room featured the pieces of the scrolls in the round, with translations alongside.  Films were available to view, that ran in a loop, which described the discoveries, and the painstaking steps in preserving these documents.  One interesting fact was that the scrolls were originally scotch-taped so they wouldn’t fall apart.  A good try then, but now that we know more about caring for historical artifacts, scientists had to, piece by piece, remove the scotch tape so they could be cleaned, and protected. 

For kids who enjoy archeological stories, enjoy history, or want to learn more about the bible, this was an excellent exhibit found at a great time of year to visit NYC. If your older kids are studying religion, they might enjoy this visual proof of some things, like the 10 Commandment, for instance.

Tickets are $19.50 for kids 4-12, $25 for adults, and $21.50 for seniors.    Pricey?  Not for what you’re seeing, and not for the care these scrolls are being given.  Seeing them upclose was a very humbling, and an almost once in a lifetime opportunity since the scrolls are on loan by Israel’s Antiquities Authority.  The exhibition runs through April.

 

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