I was planning to write a blog about the Jewish holiday of Purim; one of the happiest times in the Jewish calendar. But I just can’t get myself into that spirit right now. All I can really think about is that my father passed away two days after Purim last year.
The Jewish laws regarding mourning for a parent last for a full calendar year. I really haven’t been myself this whole time. I wonder if I’ll feel more whole once the year of mourning is complete, or if his yartzeit (anniversary of his death on the Jewish calendar) will just dredge up even more pain. I suppose the point is to have the mourning process go through the whole cycle of seasons, and all the holidays, and this is the last holiday in that cycle.
It’s not like my father and I were even close. He worked 70+ hours a week when I was growing up. Most of my telephone conversations with him consisted of “Hi Dad, it’s Ruth. Is Mom there?” Even the last few years, when I lived in an apartment in my parents’ home, I still didn’t see much of him, or talk to him much. We just never had much to say.
Thinking of him is more about regret. What could have been. Opportunities I didn’t take to get to know him. Jealousy that my son had a better relationship with him than I or my brother ever had. This isn’t about thinking of a great man I knew and loved and miss, and I feel kind of guilty about that. This is all about what could have and maybe should have been.
Could he have been saved if he’d eaten right for his type? We only found out his blood type a month or so before he died. I did notice that he seemed more peaceful and easier to connect to when he wasn’t eating chicken, which is an avoid for B’s. Could we have at least gotten more out of the time he had with us if he’d eaten better, even if we couldn’t get any more time with him?
But then I have to remember that not everything is about blood type or diet. Knowing his blood type 15 years earlier might have changed nothing. I can’t fix the world; I can’t make anybody else take care of themselves, and I certainly don’t have the energy to take care of everybody. Some days I barely have the mental energy to take care of myself. Today is one of those days.
I’m not feeling so good this morning. Last night my family celebrated Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year for trees. My personalized diet plan only allows my half a cup of fruit per day, but it’s hard to keep the portions so small when there’s a holiday designed for feasting on fruits! We had a large platter with a variety of fruits, all sliced up for sharing. I’d meant to serve a few kinds of nuts as well, since nuts are also from trees, but I forgot to serve them.
I also made two kinds of berry spreads with goat cheese, tuna salad, broccoli, and served it all with sparkling grape juice, rice cakes, crackers, and homemade spelt bread for the kids. I probably ate more fruit than is really good for me, and slightly fewer vegetables than usual. My grain servings were just about right, and I had enough protein. But I still managed to overdo the sugars. I’m not sure if it was from the sheer quantity of fruit, the agave I mixed into the fruit spreads, or the few “avoids” I ate. I limited my consumption of dates to about ¼ of one date, but that might have been too much for me.
After the meal I felt spacey, almost drunk. But getting drunk isn’t quite as intense a feeling as I had last night after dinner. I can only guess my blood sugar was sky high. I went to bed early, but woke up two and a half hours later STARVING. There was no way I could have fallen back to sleep without eating something.
So I got up and ate a handful of almonds and then some of the roast sweet potatoes I’d made for dinner and forgotten to serve. I stayed up and read for a while, and got hungry again while I was still up. I finished off the tuna salad, ate some of the leftover broccoli, had a couple more rice cakes with goat cheese spread, and then went to bed around 2:00 AM. I was also very thirsty all night.
I wasn’t very hungry when I woke up this morning. I’m drinking lots of tea and water and didn’t have breakfast until about 10:30 AM, which is about an hour and a half later than normal for me. I plan to eat lots of protein and greens today, and NOT eat all the fruit I’d intended to eat since it’s still Tu B’Shvat. I think I’ll stick to nuts today.
The Jewish Holiday of Tu B’Shvat is the Jewish New Year for Trees. The name literally means “the 15th of Shvat” so it’s similar to the way American Independence Day is known as “The 4th of July.” As with all Jewish holidays, the exact date on the Gregorian calendar varies each year, and all holidays begin at sundown and end at nightfall the following day. In 2012, it falls on Tuesday night and Wednesday, February 7th and 8th.
Back when the Great Temple in Jerusalem was standing, Tu B’Shvat was used to calculate tithes on fruits and nuts that grow on trees; anything harvested before this date counted as last year and anything from this date forward counted for the coming year. Since we don’t pay tithes or our harvests anymore, Tu B’Shvat has a more symbolic meaning these days.
There are a variety of ways in which Tu B’Shvat is celebrated within the Jewish community. I’m planning to serve a “fruit and nut course” before my regular family dinner. Some families hold a Tu B’Shvat Seder, similar to the Passover Seder, but not nearly as formal. Others serve a wide variety of fruits and nuts alongside the meal but with no special ceremony. There may or may not be a large group of guests at the meal, or a party-like atmosphere. All serve several kinds of fruit. Some have 15 or 20 different kinds of fruits and nuts in all; most will serve all 7 of the special foods associated with The Land of Israel: wheat, barley, dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and olives.
Some of those 7 special foods are problematic for my family: none of us should be having barley, only my son should be having wheat, he shouldn’t have pomegranates, I shouldn’t eat dates, etc. It’s HARD balancing our differing diets with the demands of religious Judaism. But I remember that these foods are merely symbolic; it’s not like Passover when there’s a commandment to eat matzah.
I’m going to make omissions and substitutions as needed for the health of my family. But I’m also bearing in mind that there are foods we *shouldn’t* eat and foods we really *can’t* eat. A crumb of wheat could sicken me for weeks, but ¼ of a date won’t do me any harm. I plan to serve the 5 fruits that symbolize Israel, even though they’re not perfectly compliant for all of us. We’ll each eat small amounts and enjoy them, guilt-free. I’ll make spelt bread for the children to symbolize the wheat, and rice bread or crackers for myself. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll make quinoa to symbolize the barley or simply omit it. I’ll also get a variety of other fruits; whatever looks good when I get to the store.
It’s a time to thank the Creator for the bountiful variety of foods that He created, and for making us able to appreciate them. The physical becomes spiritual when we use food for a holy purpose, both by making blessings over the foods we eat and by choosing our foods with a higher purpose in mind.
Certainly the laws of Kashrut are one such “higher purpose” to a Jew’s selection of foods, but physical health is equally important, and is applicable to everybody. If you knowingly eat foods that make you unhealthy, you’re defying the Creator’s will. How can you fulfill your purpose in the world if you’re sluggish from eating too much wheat or sugar, or if you’re bed-ridden from a chronic illness that a proper diet could have prevented? Dr. D’Adamo has given us the tools to nourish our bodies and help reach our physical potentials; I feel a moral obligation to follow those guidelines now that I know of them.
My life is so full these days that I’d be lost without my routines. I wouldn’t be able to co-ordinate everybody’s diet and the food budget without the routines of knowing when to go shopping, what to buy at which stores, and which foods to keep cooked and prepared in the house. I save a lot of money by buying things like flour instead of bread, and dried beans instead of canned, but this means I need to be organized. I have to remember to soak and cook the beans and then freeze them so they don’t spoil before they get eaten. Flour can’t be eaten if it’s not baked into bread, pizza dough, or cookies. I can’t pack my son rice and beans in his thermos if I forgot to cook the rice!
So I have a system that keeps me going. I usually go food shopping in the mornings, when the kids are all at school, then have a few hours to unwind before they come home and life gets busy again. I try to pace myself so I’m not going to five stores in one day, or doing all the housework AND all the shopping on the same day. I have a few basic things I prepare for dinner repeatedly, to save me the mental work of “figuring out what to cook.” Routines give me comfort, as well as enabling me to “get it all done.”
But this month everything seems topsy-turvy. My oldest daughter attends a private school, while my other two are in public school, so their school schedules differ. Our normal routine developed around the fact that Hannah comes home around 2, Jack is home at 3:30, and Leah comes in at 6. Since Leah has mid-terms this week, she’s home early in the afternoon. She has mid-terms next week as well, followed by her school vacation. It’s wonderful having her home more, but it still upsets the “school day routine” we’ve been following since September.
This week was extra-stressful because I was called for jury duty. Sunday is normally a day that I take my son to Hebrew school in the mornings, and pretty much spend the rest of the day at home. But I had to prepare for being gone on Monday, and possibly for several days in a row, so all my “Monday chores and errands” had to get done on Sunday. I managed to stress myself out completely over some of the details, such as misplacing my juror summons and then having trouble locating the court building. It all worked out fine in the end, but the added stress fatigued me.
I don’t like change, so I’m not happy that this month is different from what we’re used to. But it’s also an opportunity to develop new routines, and maybe make things even better than they were before. Leah is hoping to use this time off from school to establish an exercise routine. This will also be a good time to experiment with new recipes, which may then be added to the list of weekly dinners. Sometimes we need a change of pace to improve our lives.
Following the Blood Type Diet is a challenge, especially for families with more than one blood type. Keeping kosher is another challenge all by itself. Both restrict some food choices and can be more expensive. Combining the two may seem impossible- but I’ve been doing just that for years, and on a tight budget.
Kosher is the term for the Jewish dietary laws. The laws of kashrut (kosher-ness) are complex, and involve the non-mixing of meat and milk products, a specific list of meats, sea foods, and poultry that can be eaten, and special rules about how foods can be processed. The laws of slaughtering animals are especially complex. All raw meats and processed foods must bear a kosher symbol, to certify that they’ve been handled properly at all stages. In some cases, this certification increases the price of the food. Kosher meats in particular are much more expensive than non-kosher meats, because the slaughtering and processing of the meat is labor intensive.
There are many foods available in the stores that don’t contain any non-kosher ingredients, but are nonetheless “not kosher” because they’re not available in a certified kosher brand. Often times, “healthy” and “kosher” are mutually exclusive in packaged foods. Some of the more natural packaged foods don’t bear a kosher symbol, while the kosher packaged foods often contain a host of unhealthy ingredients.
Meanwhile, fresh raw eggs and produce don’t require any special certification at all. Many “basics” such as dried and canned beans, spices, and uncooked grains are already certified kosher, at no extra cost. Plus it’s much cheaper to buy fresh ingredients and cook your own food, rather than buying prepared foods.
Cooking from scratch is the key to making this all work. I can accommodate kashrut, blood type diet compliance, as well as personal likes and dislikes. Family dinners contain foods we can all eat safely, while breakfasts, snacks, and lunches may contain foods that are only good for the one person eating it. Sometimes dinner will include a side dish that only one person can have, and often contains condiments for only some of us. For example, I might make potatoes just for my Type B son or tomato sauce for my Type O daughters.
It’s still a challenge. Making one meal that’s mutually compliant is fairly easy, but a full-time menu is harder. We need to rely on the more economical foods, such as ground beef instead of steaks, and produce only when it’s in season. But we don’t want to get bored from eating the same things all the time. Besides dinners, I need to figure out breakfasts, lunches, and snacks that my kids will actually eat and that will provide balanced diets for each of them. Plus I can’t forget to nurture myself!
Even though I get overwhelmed at times, it’s still worth it. My children are much more even-tempered when they’re well fed, and they don’t get sick as often. Without Blood Type Diet, I might have an easier time with food preparation, but my kids would be harder to live with. I think they’d say the same thing about me!