Preparing for Shabbos without electricity was one of my biggest challenges. I only had access to a stovetop, not an oven, so I couldn’t bake bread or cake. Since it was my Mom’s gas stove, and not my own, I didn’t have the authority to leave a flame on all night. I couldn’t prepare a hot stew for Saturday afternoon, or even keep hot water available.
Making a special blessing over the bread is an integral part of Shabbos observance. It’s supposed to be made over two whole loaves, symbolizing the two portions of Manna that the Israelites received on Fridays in the Desert after leaving Egypt. It’s supposed to be made of wheat, spelt, rye, oats, or barley, but rice is an acceptable alternative only for those who cannot eat any of the other 5 grains. I normally bake rice challah rolls for myself, and spelt for everybody else. I make rolls so we can have “whole loaves” without using large portions of bread.
This would have been a perfect time to buy bakery challah, had there been any available we could safely eat. But no bakeries in the area prepare spelt or rice challahs, so we used spelt matzah on Friday night. Shortly after making the blessings, we discovered some spelt rolls left from the Shabbos before- we’d have used those if we’d realized we had them! I couldn’t find rolls made of rice flour anywhere, but I did find a sliced loaf of rice bread, so I used two slices, instead of two loaves, that week.
Friday night’s meal wasn’t all that different from the other dinners we’d been eating. I made white rice in one pot, and in another pot I made a stew with chicken cutlets, sweet potatoes, and green beans. . I wasn’t entirely happy with serving chicken, since it’s an avoid for my type B son, but we had chicken in the freezer, now thawed, that would have otherwise spoiled. I did buy some turkey bologna for him. I’d feared the meal wouldn’t feel special without dessert, so I bought chocolate covered marshmallows. I needn’t have feared: the meal was elegant.
Saturday was another story. Since I couldn’t heat anything up without violating Shabbos, and I couldn’t keep anything warm without electricity, we were stuck with cold food in a cold house. I’d prepared a pea salad with frozen green peas, ume plum vinegar, chopped onions, and toasted sesame oil. We also had romaine lettuce, slices of assorted cheeses, and canned tuna. It was the kind of food I normally serve on Saturday afternoons in the summer, and it wasn’t really satisfying with a cold house and no hot beverages available.
The following Shabbos felt kind of strange too. We got power back on Wednesday night, and I was super-busy on Wednesday night and Thursday, then on Friday I crashed. I had to serve chicken again, because the second store I went to didn’t have any kosher turkey available. The first store I’d gone to, the one that normally carries a wide range of kosher meats and poultry, was without power and wasn’t selling any perishables at all! I still couldn’t drive beyond those two stores because I hadn’t bought fuel for my car- the lines were now manageable, but I didn’t have time or energy to go buy any.
Thankfully, I was now able to bake challahs, use the electric hot water urn, and prepare a variety of dishes in the oven! But I was completely worn out and in a fibro-flare, meaning that I was sore all over, mentally and physically exhausted, and very irritable. I slept a lot over Shabbos, but still needed much more sleep. I’ve been in that flare for a whole week now.
It’s almost time for Shabbos again and I’m starting to feel a little bit better. I’m just about caught up with my housework and errands- the fridge and freezers are clean and we have plenty of food in the house. I even have a full tank of gas! Just being able to resume these bits of normalcy is doing wonders for my mental health, which directly affects my physical health. I’m looking forward to resuming my normal Friday routine tomorrow, and then relaxing and enjoying Shabbos.
On October 30th 2012, the day after the storm and our first day without power, Jack, Hannah, and I went for an afternoon walk, assessing the damage to our neighborhood. Uprooted trees pulled up chunks of sidewalk and completely blocked the roads- one on our street, just a few houses away, but we encountered many more in our walk. Some trees had landed on cars or houses, although most landed between two houses or on the road. Plenty of houses needed roof repairs, though the overall damage clearly could have been a lot worse.
When it got dark that evening, it seemed way too dark in the house. We turned on battery-powered lanterns downstairs in my Mom’s part of the house, and lit candles upstairs, but nothing seemed to dispel the gloom. It was too dark to read and our eyes were straining uncomfortably when playing board games. Hannah and I decided to go for a walk. while Leah and Jack continued playing games with their Bubbie (grandma.)
That walk was magical. Our eyes quickly adapted to the dark, and the lighting felt natural, not dismal. We had to watch out for debris on the sidewalk, but there was very little traffic because most roads were still impassable. It felt more like a walk in the country than a walk in the suburbs. We didn’t get blinded by headlights from vehicles or floodlights from people’s porches. We passed houses that were gently lit within from candles and lamps; there was no harsh light anywhere. I don’t even think we passed any generators that first night.
When we returned home, eyes adapted to the moonlight, the candlelit interior was plenty bright. We played a few games of Boggle by candlelight and then went to bed, feeling much more relaxed than we normally did on evenings full of computer screens and artificial light.
It’s unfortunate that our experience wasn’t repeated on subsequent nights. We did go for walks, but clear roads meant we encountered numerous headlights. Many of our neighbors regained power days before we did, so we dealt with harsh exterior lights that ruined our night vision before returning home to candlelight. That one moonlit walk was an isolated, magical moment.
Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, my family was without electricity for 9 days and 9 VERY long nights. Thanks to the gas crisis that hit Long Island, I wasn’t able to drive beyond the library or the two closest supermarkets during this time either. It’s almost like we lost over a week of our lives, as “normal things” such as school and my usual errands were completely on hold. On the other hand, we created memories to last a lifetime. When else would the entire family have played games together by lamplight, or gone for a moonlit walk, free of light pollution, in our suburban town?
When we were without power, I started taking lots of walks. There wasn’t much else to do! For the first 8 powerless days, I went for at least one walk a day, averaging 2-3 miles a day towards the end of the week. The 8th day was windy and snowy, since the nor’easter was coming through, and it wasn’t safe to walk outside. Unbelievably, that’s also the day that workmen from Texas finally restored our power- during the storm itself! It was pitch black outside- but only 5:50 PM, when power was restored. Two hours later, trees fell over the power lines in our backyard, but miraculously we still have power! I don’t quite trust that we’ll KEEP the power back, and won’t fully restock my freezer until the power lines are repaired. I expect that will take several weeks since LIPA (Long Island Power Authority) needs to restore power to other homes first.
After a week of “not doing much after dark” I cleaned out the freezer and did several loads of laundry before bed on Wednesday. Then I cleaned out the fridge, scrubbed the kitchen floor, did more laundry, and shoveled snow on Thursday. By Friday I “crashed” and my Fibromyalgia flared up again. Chronic low back pain, which was nearly gone last week, is back with a vengeance. I’ve been taking prescription pain medications for the past 3 days- something I hadn’t needed since starting BTD.
I have electricity in my home, gas in my car, and schools have resumed normal sessions, but things don’t “feel normal” quite yet. I’m worried about the power lines in my backyard. My heart hurts for friends on the south shore of LI who have been displaced from their homes. I’m feeling physically and mentally worn out.
Things have been pretty busy lately with all the Jewish holidays, and then trying to get into a routine with the kids and school. Leah is nearly 18 and pretty much does her own thing; I simply need to keep the house well stocked with healthy foods for her to prepare for herself. 12th grade is turning out to be far less stressful than 11th grade was. Meanwhile, Hannah is in 11th grade this year, is taking 2 AP classes and has a part-time job. Jack, my 10 year old, is having a hard time adjusting to the increased workload of middle school. Both of the younger two are having trouble with time management. I’m trying to keep everybody well fed and get them to bed on time, but I’m not always successful.
I also want to encourage everybody to exercise, but I’m having the most trouble with that one. If I let my son ride his bike before homework, will the homework be finished early enough to get him to bed on time? If he does his homework first, will it be too dark outside when he’s done? The middle school is only 1/3 mile from our house, and I wish he’d walk to and from school daily. He won’t walk there on purpose, but I don’t stress if he dawdles a bit in the morning and misses the bus.
Hannah seems to be finding ways to be more active. Her high school is a large building, and she probably walks a mile every day through those halls. Occasionally she’ll walk the 1.5 miles home. More often she’ll walk to or from a friend’s house after school. About once a week she’ll do some yard work- cutting down branches, weeding, and bagging up the cuttings. She always wants company outside, and it’s usually my job to hold open the bags while she fills them. In the past 2 months or so, she’s definitely firmed up and started to slim down. I’m not sure if the scale yet reflects these changes, but she’s dropped about one dress size since the summer- and without a formal exercise routine.
Getting myself to exercise is often my biggest struggle. The one time I went for a 20 minute walk during the school day, I felt great! I just have to find the time and energy to actually do it regularly. It’s just far too easy to find excuses not to: I just showered and I don’t want to go for a walk with wet hair. I have something cooking that might burn if I leave the house. It’s too hot/cold/rainy outside. I’m feeling too tired. Never mind that I own a few exercise videos and a treadmill, which can be used in my pajamas, in any weather, and I can hear the kitchen timer while using them. I need to actually clear away the clutter before using either one, and it just hasn't happened yet.
There is one thing I've managed to be consistent about for the past month or so. I was having HORRIBLE lower back pain in one specific area. Somebody suggested Active-Isolated-Stretching, and I took out a book from the library about it. After doing all the exercises a few times, I selected the 6 that seemed to target the muscles causing me the most trouble. Besides stretching the tight muscles causing the pain, these also provide a gentle workout for other muscles in my legs and torso. I’ve been doing the recommended 10 reps each morning, plus 5-10 reps each night. It only takes about 5 minutes each time.
My lower back pain has improved, but it’s not yet completely gone. I’ve been fairly consistent with the exercises; I’ve skipped it a handful of times, only to have the pain get worse. The pain is keeping me honest- without it, I’m sure I would have abandoned this exercise routine.
So, I’ve been doing this simple routine for about 10 minutes a day for the past month, even during the crazy busy holidays. The other day, I noticed that my thighs and buttocks are much firmer than they used to be. I think my abdominal muscles may have firmed up as well, but it’s hard to tell under the layer of fat. I forgot to wear bike shorts under my skirt when I took that 20 minute walk on Monday, and I did NOT have the expected problems with my thighs rubbing together and irritating the skin. All this firmness from 10 minutes a day? Wow!
This is incredibly encouraging. I can easily imagine the benefits I’d get from a regular walking routine.
Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is almost upon us. This holiday is celebrated with special prayers and the blowing of the Shofar (ram’s horn) in the synagogue. Equally important are the observances that take place at home, around the dinner table. Blessings are made over wine and bread, like we do on Shabbos. But we also eat a number of symbolic foods.
Apples are dipped into honey to represent our wish for a sweet new year. Pomegranate, with its many small seeds, symbolizes the numerous blessings we hope to receive in the coming year, along with the good deeds we hope to perform. Carrots are cut into circles to represent coins, to show our hope for prosperity in the coming year. Many other symbolic foods are used, many of them puns in Hebrew or Yiddish. The foods used vary, as some add in new symbols that are puns in English, while others use puns from other languages. A new one we started a few years ago is to eat raisins with celery for “a raise in salary.”
We’re supposed to eat lots of sweet foods and no bitter ones. Many traditional Rosh Hashana recipes use lots of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. Over the past few years, I’ve developed healthier, more compliant versions of these foods. I make a honey cake that uses only honey for sweetness, not a mixture of honey and white sugar, and it uses rice flour instead of wheat. My daughters may or may not also make one with spelt flour.
As an O nonnie, many of my “sweet” food choices are limited. I’m fine with the sweeter vegetables, but I’m not supposed to have apples or honey. I’m sure I could make a “honey cake” using just molasses and agave, and dip pears in agave to symbolize a sweet new year, but I don’t plan to do either one. I’ll have one or two apple slices each night of Rosh Hashana, and eat the honey cake made with real honey. I will serve pomegranates to my type B son, even though they’re an avoid for him. The holiday symbols are important to me, and we only have a few bites of each one.