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Homework “in” Hebrew School?

(Oops…I posted this page on the wrong blog site.  Please click on this link- http://allyadayim.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/homework-in-hebrew-school-2/     to read the same posting on the right blog.   You are welcome to read the posts on this blog but they are about my personal health journey.  The All Yadayim Blog site posts are Jewish Education and Art related.)

 

You might be surprised to learn that homework is done in my Religious School classroom.  Before you dismiss the thought that it could work in your class, let me explain why it happens in mine.

I teach a Wednesday night, 8th grade class for my local congregation.  My students are typical teens with too many demands on their time. Several years back, I noticed that some of my best students were absent more than I liked.  I would frequently hear, “I’m sorry. I had too much homework to do.  I couldn’t come to class.”  I work hard to design lessons that are engaging, interactive and meaningful for my teens but they are useless (the lessons, not the teens) unless I have them IN my classroom.  In a competition between Religious School and AP Chemistry, I’m afraid, Rashi and I take second place.

Not willing to concede defeat, I instituted a new agreement with my students.  Instead of staying home to complete their public/private school work, they should bring it to our Religious School classroom.  I would set up a table in the back of the room and let them work on it.  My rationale was simple.  A long as they are IN my classroom, I have a chance to catch their attention.  The added bonus is the implicit messages I am sending to them that a) I understand they are overwhelmed with responsibilities and b) their mere presence is important to me.  I miss them when they are not present.

Karen was one of my students who often missed class.  She was enrolled in all advanced placement classes.  Each morning she arrived at school an hour early for track practice and stayed after for drama rehearsal.  One night she arrived to our class with books in hand but asked if she could sit in the circle of desks with the rest of the class instead of the designated homework table.  As the rest of the class engaged in a provocative discussion from a Torah Aura Instant Lesson, comparing Biblical, Talmudic and modern references to suicide and euthanasia[1], Karen had her nose in her calculus homework.  Then, to my surprise, she looked up and asked, “How is Samson from Tanack any better than a Palestinian suicide bomber today?”  In that moment I knew I had success.  Karen’s nose may have been in calculus but enough of her attention was with us to stir a very interesting class conversation.  That discussion would never have happened if Karen had been doing her homework at home.

I respect the realities of my students’ lives and in turn, they respect that I have a genuine desire to help them see how Judaic studies are also relevant in their lives.  On that note, I should tell you that I do assign homework to my students on occasion.  However, I only assign homework that is relevant and my homework is optional.

My Dad is self-described pessimist who is always happy.  He expects the worst and then is always surprised and happy when good things happen.  That’s the way I look at the homework I assign.  I don’t really expect any of the students to complete it.  Then, when some students do, I’m thrilled.  I can’t force them to engage but I can provide interesting opportunities for those who have an interest to learn and do more outside the confines of the class.  Homework in the Fall might be to sleep one night in a sukkah.  Most of our kids get a chance to לישב בסוכה  ‘Lay-shave BaSukkah’ sit in a sukkah, but few experience camping in the backyard.  Those that choose to try it have wonderful memories and a new understanding of living a life tied to the elements of weather.

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Students in Joshua’s work group are more than happy to take partial credit for his homework.

One year our class did a short unit on Rosh Hodesh but we noticed that unlike most Jewish celebrations, there were no foods associated with it.  The homework assignment was to choose a food to connect with Rosh Hodesh.  Joshua came to class the next week with a filled cookie dessert and a list of 12 fillings and how each is connected to a different month.    (see his list at the end of this blog)

I have used my “Homework Policy” for many years now and it generally makes everyone very happy.  There was one notable exception.  One Shabbat morning I ran into Nora’s Mom.  She came over and told me how mad at me Nora was when she came home from Religious School this last week.  “Really,” I said, “I didn’t know there was a problem?”  She proceeded to tell me, with a smile on her face, that Nora brought her homework to class but accomplished nothing.  It turns out that my lesson was too interesting and she spent all her time participating with her classmates!  “Oh, I’m sooo sorry,” I said with a grin and chuckle.


[1] Torah Aura Body Ethics: Suicide IL by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky & Joel Lurie Grishaver.

 

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[1] Torah Aura Body Ethics: Suicide IL by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky & Joel Lurie Grishaver.

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“Active” Traveling

I am on the way home from a short, four day trip to California to visit family.  This trip did not have a specific agenda.  The main purpose was just to check in on my Dad without him really knowing that he was the reason for my trip.  I brought my son with me this time so that necessitated that we stay don’t stay at my Dad’s place.  I am protecting my son from my father’s impatience and I am protecting my father from my son’s ridged habits.  Most of all, I am protecting myself from needing to accommodate both of their quirks at the same time.

 

My brother’s home offers a perfect combination of a giving us everything we need while placing no demands on us.  My sister-in-law makes us feel totally welcome gives us carte blanche to come and go, take and use.  I raided her kitchen cabinets and reveled in the culinary resources available to create meals for my Dad that I could deliver to his waiting freezer. 

 

The really remarkable feature of this trip, and the reason for including it’s description in this blog on health, was the activities in which we engaged.  I thought about our activities prior to the trip.  I did not want to go from meal to meal just to catch up with friends and family only to repeate the same stories over and over while consuming too much sodium and calories that is enviable when eating in restaurants.  I didn’t try to make this trip about seeing lots of old friends, in fact, while I checked in with friends who would otherwise yell at me for coming into town and not letting them know, I told most I would catch them on my next trip in a few months.  This trip was for Noah and I to stay active and spend time with the oldest and the youngest in the family.

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Sunday, my nephew joined us and we drove into San Francisco, parked and walked across the Golden Gate Bridge from vista point to vista point!  It was about 4 miles in total.  It was not a speed race but it was an amazing activity we could do together that consumed energy instead of calories.  In fact, the GGB is remarkably void of any options to purchase junk (food or souvenirs).  It took a couple of hours by the time you include parking, watching the gorgeous scenery and walking.

 

Monday we had intended to tackle Mission Peak but decided to wait until a more appropriate season since there is little to no shade on that hike and it was at least a five our endeavor in all.  However, we did not totally abandon our desire to start the day actively.  We discovered that the trail entrance to Fox Trail in the Bishop Ranch reserve was right down the street from where we were staying.  Noah and I donned our bug spray and sun screen an of we went.  It was a strenuous hike with steep inclines and declines.  I’m not sure which were harder.  All I know is that today, my upper thighs are letting me know that they exist!  Apparently, while I was in a knee-blended squat trying delicately not to digress into a bottom landing slide down the hills, I was exercising my thighs!  Can’t do that on a treadmill!

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The afternoon continued with a “Reading Picnic” (a favorite activity of mine to do with kids) with my great-niece at the Lafayette Reservoir followed by a swim and then an evening of “reverse babysitting.” Reverse babysitting is when the babysitter (me) pays the parents (my niece and her husband) to get out of the house and leave me to play with with their children (ages 2 & 5) while they get a much needed and rarely taken not out to themselves.

 

Bottom line…new life choices extend not only to eating and routine exercise but they have now transcended officially into a LIFESTYLE.  Who knew, I could be an active person and like it!

 

Footnote: I had to remind Noah that I was significantly younger than him and, “no, I would not just run down the hill quickly.  After all, I reminded him that he was the kid who would be taking care of a mother with a broken hip if I was not careful on this unstable terrain!

 

 

Refocusing-Goal 100

Ok, I have not added anything to the blog lately.  That’s going to change.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to say but it’s a little daunting.  If I want to make this a legitimate record of the journey I am taking to live healthfully and purposefully then I need to be completely honest and share the stumbles as well as the strides.

Lately I have been in a holding pattern and have felt good about that.  I hit the 99 pounds down (six months ago) but never made it to the 100 mark.  Certainly, most important goal is sustainability.  As hard as it is to loose weight, conventional wisdom says that the hardest part is maintenance.  I didn’t consciously think about it but a natural consequence of the weight loss slowing down was the shift in priorities towards the goal of maintenance.  The more I stabilized, the more I experimented to see the boundaries of gain, maintain or loose.

Over the past five months I have put back about five pounds.  That doesn’t sound like a lot and it isn’t BUT if I don’t make a conscious decision to resume a more aggressive attack on the last 20 pounds I hope to loose, I will be in danger of slowly slipping back further and further.

I am going to us this blogs as my new accountability measure.  I will try to blog in “real time” so that i have a responsibility to stay focused.  I thank you in advance for reading this blog and for functioning as a silent partner in my life long health journey.

My Blog…

This blog is composed of thoughts and lessons I learned along the road to becomming healthier.  Many people ask me how I did it or “What’s the secret?”  The real secret is…there is no secret.  In shorthand, I ate less and I moved more. 

Specifically, I eat around 1,500 calories each day of healthy, real food.  Translation: lots of good protein, tons of fruits and vegetables, some good fats and a few carbs.  Truth is, I don’t even count the caloried for fruits and vegetables.  If I am hungry, I can always grab something.  In addition to eating better, I started exercising, consistently.  I started small and worked my way up.

This blog has more details but it also has insights and things that surprised me along the journey.  I hope you enjoy reading it and I hope it helps you to find your path to a healthier lifestyle.

 For a bit of context:  Here is a current picture of me wearing a dress for the Briarwood Benefit and below is a picture of me dressed for an event in 2009 fo the Year of the Torah at Brith Shalom.

I began this journey in August of 2010 and as of March 2012 I have lost a total of 99 pounds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before and “After” Pictures

One week prior to starting to make changes.  I was driving through Pensacola on the road home from a Florida trip with the kids.  We stopped to see my best friend from our Alabama day.s (Yes, I know that Pensacola is not in Alabama, but that is where she lives now.)  We took a picture together.  Here is is below.  It’s HORRIBLE!  You can’t even see my body but it doesn’t matter.  You can tell I was not healthy.

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This last December (16 months later) we were again driving through Pensacola.  I called my friend and said I need a new picture of us.  Here it is below…MUCH BETTER!

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Michael Pollen’s Rule Book

            In my quest to stay motivated I found myself browsing through the health and diet section at Barnes & Nobles.  Michael Pollan’s Food Rules caught my eye for two reasons.  First, I recognized the author from another of his books,  Omnivore’s Dilemna.  Dorie and Brooke were required to read at UNT.  Second, it was small and concise and each page was laided out in a easy to digest format.  There was a “rule” in bolder print, centered across the top of the page and it was followed by 2-3 paragraphs to explain and clarify.

            The rules, or mantras, as I would call them made you say, “Oh,… that makes sense.”  My favorite of all was the following:

If it comes from a plant, eat it.  If its made in a plant, dont.

That made sense to me.  My “diet” did not have a specific list of “eat these” and “don’t eat these.”  Instead I used common (or in reality, not so common) sense principals of healthy eating.  From the very start, this was about learning to create a habit of eating healthfully forever.  No short term food plan would work.  This had to be a transformation of how I approached food now and for always.  That is exactly what it has become.  The goal from the start was to align my beliefs in some core Jewish teachings about the essence of our bodies with my lifestyle.  What I believed and what I was doing had to get on the same page.  I felt like a hypocrite when I would teach my students the rabbinic value that our bodies were on loan to us from G-d and we were responsible to care for it with respect.  I was not respecting my body or the relationship between myself and G-d.

            So, Michel Pollen was right.  Fruit and vegetables were to be a staple in my everyday eating.  Many people ask me what I do when I am hungry.  I tell them, “I eat.”  I allow myself unlimited fruits and vegetables at all times.  In fact, the very first rule I gave myself on week one was that I could not eat anything after 9:00 pm except fruits or vegetables.  I needed to break the very bad habit of eating late.  This resulted in three beneficial things.  One, I didn’t feel restricted when I was eliminating this standard meal time for myself because I was allowing myself to eat.  I just had to eat the right things.  Two, I started to enjoy more fruits and vegetables.  There were my only choices and I began to appreciate them.  If I had a choice between a bowl of cereal or carrots, I would prefer the cereal.  If my choice was carrots or apples or cucumbers etc. then the fruits and vegetables became the best choice instead of second choice.  Third, I found that I was able to eliminate another nightly consumption, the antacid pill.  Guess what?  I no longer wake in the middle of the night with painful heartburn.  I no longer need several pillows to prop up my head so the reflux will not return.  I have not taken a prilosec or maalox or tums or pepto in a year.

            More Food Rules I like:

  • Don’t get fuel for your body at the same place you fuel your carOk, that makes sense.
  • If it comes through the window of your car, it’s not food.  Ok, that makes sense.
  • Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.  Ok, that makes sense.
  • Eat food that will eventually rot.  Ok, that makes sense.
  • Eat real food.  Ok, that REALLY makes sense.
  • Eat the rainbow.  Okthat sounds attractive.

The dreaded…EXERCISE

Exercise

            I was eating healthfully for almost three months before I faced one of the biggest transformations.  I had been losing weight consistently but the notion of exercise was starting to creep into my head.  Each month when I met with Dr. Horsfeld he would encourage me to set the next goal.  Exercise was the next step.  I knew it but I put it off as long as possible.

            There is a poster in each of the weighting (oops, that should be “waiting” – Freudian typo!) rooms at Baylor Family Medical that lists off all the benefits of exercise.  I knew them all and could have come up with a list of at least 20 reasons why I should be exercising.  So why wasn’t I doing it?  Sam loves to exercise.  Even if he has a headache, in fact, sometimes when he has a headache, he will go to the gym because he knows it will make him feel better.  The only time I felt better at the gym was when I was walking out the door of the gym. 

            After some thinking, I had another of those life changing moments of realization.  The clarification came after a couple of months of ruminating over a conversation I had at my original visit to Baylor.    I remember telling Dr. Horsfeld that I could give him 100 excuses for why I was not eating well and exercising.  He said, “Don’t give me an excuse; Give me the real reason.”  What the hell was the real reason?  I would think of something then realize that it was another excuse.  This happened over and over again.  Ultimately, the “reason” was less important than the action plan that resulted.

            It goes something like this.  Everyone has different levels of tolerance and abilities.  What works for someone else may not work for me and visa-versa.  There isn’t one person I speak with that doesn’t list off the details of why this is hard for them or why that is hard for them.  Here it comes, my epiphany.  The “explanations” one gives are either an excuse or a reality.  Wow.  Ok, that may not sound profound but the implications are monumental.  If something is found to be just an excuse, then get rid of it.  It is not the real problem and it needs to be gone.  It is not valid or important.  However, if something is found to be a reality that cannot be changed or is so ingrained that it seems that it cannot be changed then you must DEAL with that reality OR admit that you will never reach your intended goal.

            I have an injury to my lower back.  That will not change.  I must deal with it, work around it, and find alternatives to further harming my back.  I hate exercise.  That may not be a hard fast fact but it sure feels like it.  If that is my reality then I must DEAL with it or admit that I will never be healthy again.  I will always be obese (not over-weight) and I will die at an early age.  I will probably not have a lot of time playing with potential grand-children and I won’t get to travel and enjoy years ahead with Sam.  Didn’t have to think a long time before I knew I did not want to resolve to that fate.  My best years are not behind me.

            So, how do I deal with the reality that I hate exercise?  Well, first I tried to think of the exercise that I hated least.  If I had to rank all types of exercise on a list, what types of activities would be towards the bottom of the list?  I thought of the recumbent bike I had used a few times at the gym.  It is a stationary bike but instead of having the pedals below your torso, they are stretched out in front of the body such that your sitting position is more like being in a recliner chair with the foot-rest up.  (Now that’s my kind of exercise.) 

The next step was to get consistent use of the recumbent bike.  The only ones I knew were at the gym.  Going to the gym was a whole other issue.  I did not want the details of getting to the gym to be the stopping point to exercising.  Going to the gym in order to exercise would build in too many potential hurdles and make it too easy to not go.  On the other hand, I had a long history of getting motivated to do something, buying all the necessary items and then fizzling out of motivation.  The treadmill standing in the corner of our bedroom can attest to that.  So my brilliant solution was to rent the equipment.

If I could find a way to rent the bike and I could have it right in the living room near the big TV.  I could wait to watch all the trash television shows that are my guilty pleasure.  I could even sit on the bike and slowly ride when I am watching tv in the evenings with Sam, something I usually only do with a project in my hands.  I went to the internet and found a company in Houston (actually, it’s the only one that rents) and set an appointment.  I went down and chose a bike from their selection.  I found one that felt good and one that would look good in my living room.  I got a simple carpet to place it upon and they delivered.  I could cancel the rental at any time if I was not using it.  If I exercised, it stayed.  If I did not, it goes.  The company allows you to take the rental payments and convert them into purchase payments within the first 90 days.  Sam and I spoke about it before the 3 months were up.  Economically it does not make sense to rent the bike for long term use.  In less than a year we would have paid.  However, Sam realized that the motivation to use it or lose it was working for me.  He preferred that we stay with the rental plan.  It would give us the ability to exchange the bike down the road if we wanted and it maintained the motivation incentive for me.

The first time I got on the bike, I went for about 15 minutes at setting level 2 and I thought I was going to pass out.  Success was not in the length of time on the bike or even the calories burned.  Success in the beginning was just consistently,  a minimum of 3-4 times a week, just getting my butt (literally) on the bike.  Each time I would try to go for 1 minute more than I had done the prior time.  It did not take long before I found that I was less and less conscious of the clock.  If I was watching a good show, I found that I could go for 45 minutes each time.  That was the amount of time it takes go get through one episode of Desperate Housewives if I fast forward through all the commercials.  I would try to focus next on increasing the tension level on the bike.  Eventually, I worked up to my day-after-thanksgiving record of 2 ½ hours at level 7.  Most days I go for 1 ½ hours or two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.  The goal is to exercise 3-4 times per week.

Progression is a remarkable thing.  I have taken so many life lessons away from this process.  Doing something consistently over time gives you the hindsight to see growth.  I don’t think I have done many things in my life that have illustrated this to me quite as clearly.  I see it also in my ability to chant Torah.  I tried to learn trope for 20 years.  It was several years ago that Cantor Renee Waghalter taught an adult trope class that used some visuals to help me learn what I was not learning auditorally. Once I had learned the system, Suzanne wisely stated that it is a skill that I must practice regularly or I will loose it.  I made the commitment to chant once-a-month. 

Every time I get a new portion and read it for the first time, I get panic stricken.  I can’t imaging how I will reach this insurmountable task in the time allotted.   Then as the weeks goes by and I look at it over and over again.  Five minutes here and five minutes there seems to be very effective for me.  Suddenly the portion that was first terrifying and foreign has now transformed into something familiar and comfortable.  After several years, I continue to chant regularly.  What began as once-a-month has evolved to as much as 3 times a month.  A week’s notice is sufficient and Shabbat morning no longer means I’ve self-induced myself to the point of a migraine from stressed.