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Basil Cloning for Late Bloomers

Here in Zichron Yaakov the days are cooler and we have had a little overnight rain. It is still mostly sunny with a pleasant breeze – this is what passes for fall in Israel’s Carmel Coastal Plain – warm days and cool evenings. My basil plants are a bit “leggy,” presaging the end of fresh basil season. This has been my experience over the years and I had no idea that there was any alternative.

Imagine my surprise to learn that it is possible to rejuvenate basil plants through cloning on my kitchen counter.

With no prior experience, I came upon cloning by accident: A few weeks ago when I collected some fresh basil for cooking, I found that I had several nice sprigs leftover. I stuck the extra basil in a glass with water and promptly forgot about them. Over the course of the next week, I used an occasional leaf. Then the next time that I checked, I was surprised to see the start of a new root system and additional leaf growth. After a few more weeks I planted the expanded sprigs with root systems, and they have taken off.

For those who care about the details, cloning is asexual reproduction, creating a clone or copy of the earlier plant from which a sprig is taken, without use of seeds. They would look even better if I were to cut off the top to help them branch out, however you can really see the difference between the new clones and the donor plants.

Two basil clones
My “Leggy” Basil

Cloning duplicates plants; in my experience my cloned basil plants appear stronger, with larger and more attractive leaves than those of the “donor” plant. Above is an example of an existing basil plant at the end of the summer – leggy, with small leaves.

This is the time of year where basil also tends to flower and go to seed. For effective cloning, it is important to select a small sprig that is not flowering, like the one below.

Leggy basil with a nice blossoming sprig suitable for cloning.

Unlike growing basil from seeds / seedlings, apparently you can grow basil from clones at any time of year.

(Over the years I have found growing basil from seed a bit onerous – it takes a long time and can be disappointing. My usual routine is to start with seeds in the spring, and usually end up also planting seedlings over a period of weeks or months. Actually I find that when I finally go out and get the seedlings, then the seeds I planted seem to do a bit better and I end up with both.)

After my first experience, I decided to do it again. Above are photos of my second cloning experiment – two additional sprigs taken from the old basil plants that have grown well and now also are in their own pot.

With cloning, you don’t have to be an avid gardener to enjoy fresh basil at any time of the year. Even if you don’t have space for a container garden, it should be possible to grow your own basil plant from a sprig taken from store-bought basil.

Later I found a wealth of online resources relating to cloning plants – obviously I am late to the party. Here is a link for those who want more on the science of plant cloning.

It has been a lot of fun for me to learn a little bit about cloning. So here I am in 2nd Middle Age with decades of gardening experience and also still a novice. How great is that?

I am sharing this for other “late bloomers” like me who may find the information helpful. Wherever you are reading this – whether the weather may be cold and damp, or warm and sunny – I hope that you also may enjoy a small pot of basil on your windowsill, balcony, patio.

Literally all you need is a few sunny spot (a few square inches) that is not too cold, a glass of water and a sprig of basil. And for anyone with children at home, it is a fun small science experiment – a great way to show how plants can reproduce without seeds / seedlings. Please let me know If you try this at home.

I would love to post photos of your basil clones!

All of my basil clones – so far!
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Training for Life

As we move forward, we realize that the things that have worked before either may not be appropriate or may not be enough at every stage of life. Following graduation from the University of Michigan Law School I moved to Chicago and jogged along Lake Michigan, dreaming of training for a Marathon. I had no idea what adventures lay ahead.

These days my life is here in Zichron Yaacov, a town founded 140 years ago and nestled between the Carmel mountain range and the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel’s largest botanic garden Ramat HaNadiv is only a few minutes away, and is surrounded by a protected area left largely in its natural state – including significant archaeological sites with their explanations posted for visitors. Two to three mornings a week I go there with a friend to walk in nature.

When we moved back from Jerusalem in February of 2021, I started walking by myself in the early am hours in Zichron Ya’akov both as a way to explore the neighborhood (where we were house-hunting)as well as to get back into shape – to lose the weight I had gained during COVID lockdowns. Even in the middle of town I found stunning views.

Within a few months my friend had joined me and we began our habit of walking at Ramat HaNadiv. The walking has been great for body and soul, however we realize that it is not enough.

Now at the advanced age of 62 and a half, I know that I am training to walk to the bathroom in my 80s and beyond. That is the real Marathon.

Walking / hiking promotes cardiovascular health, and yoga can be great for balance, flexibility and mindfulness. For many years I had an established yoga practice at Unity Woods, in Bethesda MD – by far the best studio I have ever found for Iyengar Yoga. After Aliyah in October 2018, I participated with my son in a local therapeutic yoga program from stellar teacher and dear friend Maya Saxton. Then after our move to Jerusalem I connected with another excellent Iyengar studio, however with all of the COVID displacement I lost the thread. Now I am renewing my practice here with a Vijnana yoga – a wonderful branch of yoga developed by Orit Sen Gupta that I learned about during an all too brief Jerusalem sabbatical in 2012.

Particularly during 2nd Middle Age, the missing piece of the puzzle for me has been strength training, and so at the beginning of September I started a weight training program – with light weights – to strength my core and upper body. Four weeks in, I am happy with initial progress and encouraged to continue weight training as an important part of my fitness program.

Still walking may always my most most accessible, familiar and – thanks to my good friend – social fitness habit. Earlier this week following the Rosh HaShana (Jewish New Year) holiday, we decided to head to the Nachsholim beach for our early am walk, ending with our shoes off in the surf. It was an amazing experience and reminded me yet again that I have only begun to scratch the surface of the beauty around me.

That is the other enduring challenge – to truly appreciate the beauty along the way.

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My Dad’s 3rd Yartzheit

Murray G. Kling, MD (February 1, 1930 – November 3, 2019)

Today is my Dad’s 3rd Yartzeit – the anniversary of his passing in the Jewish calendar. Every faith has its own way of remembering our loved ones; in my 2nd Middle Age I am finding enormous comfort in Jewish traditions. In the days leading up to my Dad’s Yartzheit, I thought a great deal about the funeral in 2019, and my thoughts at that time. I crystalized my thoughts and feelings to share with my Shul (synagogue) here in Zichron Yaakov as follows:

Dr Murray G Kling (1 February 1930 – 3 November 2019) was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather; uncle, mentor, doctor, teacher and friend. He was a lifelong caregiver who never took a day off from hospital rounds – checked on every patient he knew who happened to be in the hospital. (I grew up thinking every doctor did that.) He was a doctor’s doctor – a gifted surgeon who had a healthy fear of surgery (and anesthesia), a life-long educator and student who learned from everyone, and who never lost his concern for others. His last mission was care of my Mom following her Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and he dedicated himself to her fullest recovery, which was miraculous. 

Dad’s 3rd Yartzeit this year falls started the evening of Saturday (Shabbat) the 29th – always the night before). Today I am missing my Dad enormously – despite his professional responsibilities and extended family obligations he was there for me at key moments in my professional and personal life (selected photos below).

In the Jewish tradition, the different Parshas of the Five Books of Moses (known as the Chumash – the contraction of the Ḥamishah Ḥumshei Torah) are all named for the first word or major theme in the chapter. Yesterday (Shabbat) we read the story of Noah, which ends with the summary of genealogy of Abraham’s father Terach. Then in the evening we started the next chapter in the story of the Jewish people, known as Lech Lecha – Go forth!

One very interesting thing about the construction and structure of the Chumash is the prevalence of cliff-hangers. Noah’s story starts at the conclusion of the previous Parsha, Bereishit – the story of creation (Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and their progeny). And the story of the pilgrimage of Abraham and Sarah – the OG Jewish Patriarch and Matriarch – begins at the end of Parsha Noah.

So there is frequently a connection or a relationship between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

For many years I have closely associated both of these chapters (Parshas in the Jewish vernacular) with my Dad. So experiencing my Dad’s 3rd Yartzeit in connection with both Noah and Lech Lecha was particularly meaningful for me.

In Lech Lecha, we begin the story of the first Jewish Patriarch and Matriarch, Avraham and Sarah, which is also the beginning of the story of the Jewish people.  G-d speaks to (then) Avram at the age of 75 and delivers two seemingly contradictory messages:

  • Avram is told to leave his country, his kin and specifically his father’s house (literally, Beit Aviecha);
  • Avram will become a great people, with great wealth, vast fame, and blessed by G-d.
1And the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. אוַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵֽאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ:
2And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing. בוְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַֽאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַֽאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶֽהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה:
3And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.” גוַֽאֲבָֽרְכָה֙ מְבָ֣רֲכֶ֔יךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ֖ אָאֹ֑ר וְנִבְרְכ֣וּ בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל מִשְׁפְּחֹ֥ת הָֽאֲדָמָֽה:
4And Abram went, as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him, and Abram was seventy five years old when he left Haran. דוַיֵּ֣לֶךְ אַבְרָ֗ם כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֤ר אֵלָיו֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ אִתּ֖וֹ ל֑וֹט וְאַבְרָ֗ם בֶּן־חָמֵ֤שׁ שָׁנִים֙ וְשִׁבְעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה בְּצֵאת֖וֹ מֵֽחָרָֽן:
5And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, and the souls they had acquired in Haran, and they went to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan. הוַיִּקַּ֣ח אַבְרָם֩ אֶת־שָׂרַ֨י אִשְׁתּ֜וֹ וְאֶת־ל֣וֹט בֶּן־אָחִ֗יו וְאֶת־כָּל־רְכוּשָׁם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר רָכָ֔שׁוּ וְאֶת־הַנֶּ֖פֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־עָשׂ֣וּ בְחָ֑רָן וַיֵּֽצְא֗וּ לָלֶ֨כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ אַ֥רְצָה כְּנָֽעַן:
https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8176/jewish/Chapter-12.htm

In Lech Lecha, we hear G-d instructing Abraham and Sarah to leave their land, their extended family, and their father’s house to reach the land where they were destined to found Judaism. Through study of Lech Lecha, we can see that in order to become who we are meant to be in G-d’s eyes, we need to move out of our own comfort zones, i.e. literally leaving home, and take on what may seem like daunting or impossible challenges in our lives.

This all seems to come as a bolt out of the blue, however if we go back to the end of Parsha Noah, we come to see that Abraham’s father Terah also received the same message, and had in fact started the journey:

31 And Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter in law, the wife of Abram his son, and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land of Canaan, and they came as far as Haran and settled there. לאוַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּֽצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֨כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם:
32And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran. לבוַיִּֽהְי֣וּ יְמֵי־תֶ֔רַח חָמֵ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים וּמָאתַ֣יִם שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּ֥מָת תֶּ֖רַח בְּחָרָֽן:
Source: https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8175/jewish/Chapter-11.htm

So what do we make of the two stories taken together?

The lesson that I take from all of this is the recognition that even in our own journey and destiny it is not all about us.

Whatever our own talents and accomplishments we stand on the shoulders of giants, including our own parents. While we consider Abraham and Sarah the first Jewish Patriarch and Matriarch, in actuality it was Terah who first pulled up stakes and started the journey.

Before my father’s passing, I associated these two Parshas with him because of my literal continuation of his work relating to care of cancer patients, and my own interest in anti-cancer peptides from the microbiome with effectiveness against Gastrointestinal and Genitourinary solid tumors. (I may share my story of surprising synchronicity later.)

Over the last three years I have thought more about how my sister Nancy – who does the heavy-lifting in support of our mother – has continued Dad’s efforts.

Dad’s care of our Mom after her traumatic brain injury (TBI) was incredible, with miraculous results. He literally dedicated his life to ensuring her recovery in a way that was all-encompassing, inspiring and compelling. Now my sister (and me to a minor extent) is doing what he would have wanted, literally, to ensure her continuing health and safety. We have often talked of how she is carrying forward his mission to support Mom – the relationship that meant more to him than anything else in the world. This has required both of us to leave our comfort zones and take on daunting challenges.

There is no guarantee of success of course, however like Abraham and Sarah we carry on the journey. And of course we are who we are because of both Mom and Dad.

We may not reach the promised land, and we are not obligated to succeed, just to keep trying to move forward.

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Parenting 360 – Take 4: Critical Importance of Medication Review

Medication organizer

My last parenting post centered on our adventures in supporting an adult son with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which have brought us from Washington DC to Israel where he has been able to live away from home in a supportive community for the first time. You can read more about our experiences here, here and here.

Today I am returning to the other side of the coin, the needs of our parents – or other older relatives – who may no longer be able to live independently and who need our support to maintain their quality of life and basic dignity. This is where we are in 2022, experiencing what I call “Parenting 360” in our 2nd Middle Age.

I have to start this out by mentioning how blessed I am to have an amazing “big sister” living nearby to my Mom in Metro Detroit, who faces every challenge with tenacity, and who serves as our Mom’s legal and medical representative. There are four Kling daughters, two living locally and the two youngest overseas. We are all very different; fortunately we are on the same page where it comes to our Mom.

Most of the time I feel like there is very little I can do to help my sister from 6,000 miles away. It is dispiriting when things seem to be going badly and I can’t be there more than a few times a year (and not at all for the first two years of COVID). Then there is the occasional situation that arises that reminds me that all of our efforts matter, as happened recently with regard to my Mom’s medications.

You may have heard over the years about how important it is to routinely review all medications and supplements to ensure that none are contraindicated and/or avoid drug-drug interactions or other possible adverse effects. This is generally important, and particularly critical for older people who may be taking a plethora of drugs and supplements daily, and for whom drugs may have different effects than in younger populations.

To make matters worse, very few clinical trials include elderly people, for the obvious reason that their health is generally more fragile and all medical research carries some level of risk. Essentially we mostly don’t really know what we don’t know about how commonly prescribed drugs effect elderly patients.

This may be the most important thing that I ever write: if you have a family member taking one or more regular medications, supplements and or vitamins, check them on a regular basis for potential adverse reactions and/or contraindications.

Even the right medications can suddenly go wrong. Some time back, my husband and I witnessed this with regard to his mother (z”l), who suffered a severe adverse reaction to a medication that had been helping her for quite some time. In that case the facility where she was living was excellent, and the doctor almost immediately came to understand what had happened and took corrective measures. Still it took several weeks for her to recover.

In the case of my Mom, there was no overnight crisis that made it obvious that something was obviously wrong with her medications. Her deteriorating physical and mental condition came about over a period of months; we were all assured that it was to be expected and would only get worse over time. More specifically, the Assisted Living doctor (not a gerontologist) asserted that our Mom’s dramatically worsening tremors, dizzy spells and falls, memory problems, increasing detachment, reduced speech, lack of mobility and general inability to be comfortable in her own body were part of an expected progression. This led my older sister, quite rationally, to believe that our mother was dying and so my youngest sister and I – both living overseas – rushed back to spend time with her.

The physician at her Assisted Living facility also assured me – by phone and directly to my face – that she was carefully checking Mom’s medications every two weeks and that she was sure Mom’s medications were appropriate for her condition. She was apparently unaware of the potentially serious and debilitating side effects of the drugs she was prescribing for our Mom.

Still with little to lose and a great deal of anxiety about our Mom’s continuing negative trajectory, I decided to dig deeper into her medications. I had seen first hand how even appropriately prescribed medications could result in adverse reactions.

This was not an easy process – just to get the list of neurological medications took much more time than it should have, and required “in your face” communications with the Assisted Living Facility that were not really welcome. I really just needed to know for sure what was going on with the medications and prevailed in the end to receive initially just the neurological – behavioral health – medication list, and later the full list of prescriptions and supplements.

In the process, I learned that our Mom – who has never had any significant diagnosed mental health problems – was taking a boat-load of neurological meds.

On reviewing the publicly available – credible – information from the drug manufacturers themselves and from reliable sources like the Mayo Clinic, etc., it was obvious to me that her worsening symptoms correlated eerily with the well-known side effects for the drugs.
And she was taking one drug every day that was contra-indicated for her, given her medical history of serious heart disease. It never should have been prescribed for her in the first place!

Based on this review it was clear that our Mom’s doc was unable to tell the difference between adverse events caused by medications and the progression of pre-existing conditions. We could not know for sure unless and until we changed her medications. And that is what we did.

Through a series of increasingly insistent emails and late-night (for me) teleconferences and one in-person meeting, over time we were able to eliminate two of the neurological medications from her schedule completely. It took several weeks more to start to see the impact on our Mom.

The results have been shockingly positive:

– Our Mom was always a big reader, so it had been painful to see her stuck in front of a television for much of her day. Now she is once again plowing through her New York Times bestsellers.

– She is no longer (uncharacteristically) passive and once again is able to advocate effectively for her own interests with the Assisted Living staff.

– She has gone from being almost 100% wheel chair dependent to being able to walk with the support of her walker.

– Her tremor is almost unnoticeable and she no longer feels unstable or dizzy most of the time.

– She is much more verbal and socially engaged at meals and activities.

– Talking on the phone with her had become so difficult that it was hard for me to pick up the phone and try – as important as I knew that it was – now she even calls me back if she misses my call.

Exceeding our wildest dreams, our mother now is so much more like our pre-COVID Mom again and I am so grateful to have her in better spirits as well as in improved health. It feels like we found a time machine back to 2019.

The general take-away is that while we are well aware versed in advocating for the best interests of our kids, sometimes it can be much harder to play that same role for parents. And yet there is no alternative, where medications are concerned and more broadly.

Reviewing medications on a regular basis is incredibly important.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing the necessary research yourself, ask a pharmacist, psychiatric nurse or physician. But get it done.

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Parenting 360 – Take 3

For just a few moments I would like to set aside all of the COVID worry, the rule of law crisis swirling around Washington DC and everything else, to share a few positive thoughts about my son Aaron(27, ASD). This is a story of persistence and redemption, of nascent success that has even more resonance for having happened during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In October 2018, we threw the cards in the air and relocated from Washington DC to Israel. At that time our goal was to find a program where Aaron could live and work independent of his parents (us), and where he could find personal fulfillment and growth. This seemed a tall order, and I am sure that many of our friends and relatives thought that we were crazy.

Fast forward 2 years and we have found a better way forward for Aaron here in Israel, where he is living at Kibbutz Heftziba, in the foothills of the Gilboa Mountain (images from his new home at a Beit Eckstein site above).

Aaron has benefited from a comprehensive network of supported living and meaningful employment/educational opportunities for individuals with special needs including ASD. We have found advanced therapies and approaches that have helped Aaron immeasurably in addressing his anxiety and improving his emotional bandwidth, focus, and development.

Aaron has regained his physical health, lost 50+ pounds, somehow gained over an inch in height, and even fell in love.

Of course nothing happens overnight, and development is never a straight line – there are zigs and zags and everything takes time, particularly when we had to learn a whole new system, in a different language, set up housekeeping (more than once), and also over the last year deal with a pandemic, lockdowns, etc. And no one has worked harder than Aaron to make progress.

Everything seems impossible until it is obvious.

me

Before we made out big move, my son Aaron and I traveled for a 3-week pilot trip to learn more about resources for young adults on the Autism Spectrum.  I will never forget our conversation immediately after arrival, in the car en route to close friends where we would spend our first few nights.  I said to Aaron that we were looking to find opportunities to make him the ‘best possible Aaron’ that he could be.  His response was that in the US, the programs were making him ‘the worst.’

Unfortunately Aaron was right. At this stage the U.S. does not offer a national roadmap for our young adults with special needs, with only limited funding and programming available on a state-by-state basis. For hundreds of thousands of families (probably an understatement), the end of high school is like falling off a cliff.  

Despite the active engagement of wonderful social workers in Washington DC who really cared about Aaron, we ended up pulling Aaron out of the system for his own physical and emotional safety. As Aaron’s stellar psychiatrist put it, Aaron needed ever-higher levels of behavioral meds just to keep his equilibrium in an environment that made no sense. This situation was unsustainable.

The lie that we tell ourselves is that our children with special needs don’t know what they are missing.  The reality is that too much of the time they know what they are missing and live in silent despair. (They already knew the misery of social and economic isolation before COVID.) I experienced my son’s heartbreak after high school graduation on the honor roll when he was able to articulate his feelings of ‘being left behind’ while his friends left for college and beyond.  He was a cheerleader for his sister’s college success but longed for a dorm room of his own.

Now he has his own small apartment (exterior shown above), at a wonderful Beit Eckstein program in the North of Israel near the Gilboa Mountains. He has started his dream job working at a therapeutic farm in Megiddo (aka Armageddon), together with his “Heftziba Capsule” of new friends. (Due to COVID-19, Israel’s programs operate on the Capsule model.)

Clearly what we came to Israel to find should be replicable in the U.S. I am sharing my ‘good news’ story in the hope that the incoming Biden Administration may initiate a meaningful national conversation on the needs of individuals with special needs on employment, broader inclusion and social engagement.  

As I learned years ago from Professor Reuven Feuerstein (z”l), the only limitation on learning is lifespan – not just for those with special needs but for all of us.

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Meditations on Moving House, Finding Community, and the Existential Poverty of ‘Billionaires Bunker’

The U.S. Foreign Service taught me at two essential life skills:  how to pack a suitcase and move house.  As both a former Former Service Officer (FSO) and then a FSO Spouse  (fun fact: we started the other way round and switched midway), we have moved locally, cross-country and internationally – sometimes all three in the same year.  

After overseas tours together in London, Tel Aviv, and Manila, Phils, assignments to Main State in Washington DC and my husband’s solo Tour of Duty in Kabul, our latest moves have been in Israel.  In October 2018 I left Washington DC to set up a beachhead in the north of Israel.

After the turmoil of the previous few years Zichron Yaakov felt like a warm bath –  the best summer camp ever, only with amazing, fresh food and in wine country. We arrived with our trunks only to find our initial transit flat underwhelming due to misleading / incomplete disclosures. Enough said. So that was apartment number one.

After another month, I had found (and furnished) a better temporary apartment – we would move to Jerusalem for family reasons before too long – where we settled in happily and waited for my husband Matt to sell off our Washington DC home and furnishings, retire, and join us here. That was apartment number two.

Living in Jerusalem since June 2019, we have have again moved from our initial apartment – extra points for moving house in the midst of COVID-19?  We did stay for the duration of our one year lease, and that was the end of apartment number three.

Gardening in Old Katamon, Jerusalem, circa 2020

Last May we relocated within Jerusalem to a cozy Ottoman-era house in a highly walkable neighborhood called Old Katamon, renovated ten years back and now part of a small apartment building.  This garden apartment met our COVID-considerations including a large courtyard with space for our old deck furniture (the only big furniture that we shipped and have kept), gardening, and private parking. We have appreciated the high ceilings, many windows and French Doors for ventilation and most of all the outdoor space as COVID restrictions ebb and flow – we are now well into Israel’s third Coronavirus surge and impending restrictions.  So now we are comfortably ensconced in apartment number four.

Throughout our moves we have been blessed with old and new friends and opportunities for spiritual and social support.   Of course the Coronavirus has made it much more difficult to get to know our new neighbors here in Old Katamon. Even at the height of COVID-19, however, we found a new spiritual home literally around the corner in one of a myriad outdoor prayer groups that fill the gap left from closure of ‘bricks and mortar’ religious institutions. The heartbeat of Judaism is home observance; I have been impressed anew by how much can be done with the support of a WhatsApp Group and knowledgable neighbors. 

Gan visitors making like Monet painting tulips in our garden circa 2014, Washington DC

Now as we contemplate the future, I am reminded of the past.  More than twenty years ago we found a home where we could raise our children, cultivate our garden, and open our doors to our community, friends and family to share in our simchas (celebrations) and support us in our sadnesses – the stuff of life.  To find it we drew a circle on the map of northwest Washignton DC – marking a quarter-mile circle around our Synagogue and Gan (nursery school).  The house was not large by US standards and we never had more than one car.  We realize how fortunate we were to be truly a part of the fabric of our community. 

We are not yet at the point of finding our permanent home – I hope this will be sooner than later.  When that time comes we will not be looking for an isolated fortress on an island to separate us from friends and neighbors. I can’t imagine more of an impoverished existence than a gated mansion on Indian Creek Island.

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Parenting 360 – Take 2

In your Second Middle Age you may need to ‘Parent-up’ – taking a role in care of both your own kids and your parents.  This is what Parenting 360 is all about.

There is a truism that everyone experiences special needs at some point in life.  For the truly fortunate, this comes with advanced age, and with the support of one’s own adult children or other loved ones.  Many of us may experience special needs through our own children and/or loved ones.

As the primary care-giver for an adult son with special needs, I have had the opportunity to learn over the last 25+ years that life can be very rich in love and in special experiences, so long as we live in reality and not in our dreams.* In Second Middle Age this reality only becomes more prevalent and more intense as we add our own mother and/or father to the mix.

Parenting-up may include supporting a healthy diet; basic – yes, important – also yes.

When our children were young – with or without special needs, for the most part we had the luxury of not worrying about the day to day lives of our parents.  Now as we ourselves enter our Second Middle Age, in many cases our special needs children need us now more than ever, with less or a roadmap to successful parenting.*  If we are lucky, we find ourselves playing the role of parent to our own mothers and fathers.

As hard as it may be to fight the good fight every day for your special needs child as he or she navigates early adulthood and beyond, it is a fundamentally different challenge to address the evolving needs of your aging parent(s).

In other words, at the same time that you may be struggling with how to support your child (or children) to gain greater independence, you come to terms with the reality that your mother and/or father is no longer able to live independently.

Generally speaking, no one wants to usurp the autonomy or authority of their Mom or Dad.  It does not feel right or good.  It is also generally an unwelcome intrusion on your parent(s), who may not recognize or accept diminishing capacity to manage day to day challenges of life.  

There are a number of ways to provide needed support, depending on the circumstances, and the important thing is to lean in and not to assume that everything is ok, just because your mom or dad says so.

Time is not on your side.  You can take the approach of waiting for an ‘action forcing event’ like a fall at home or an illness requiring hospitalization.  In my experience, this is a terrifying option and one I can not recommend.  The sad reality is that a parent who insists on living without assistance for too long will ultimately lose more of the independence that he or she was desperate to keep.

A better alternative is the truth, stated through repeated, gentle discussion, to the effect that you love your parent and that you seek to preserve the most meaningful forms of independence for as long as possible, in a safe and secure environment. 

One of the hardest, and yet most important things you may ever do, is simply to recognize at a certain point it is time to ‘take the wheel.’

The bottom line:   Parenting 360 is both a challenge and an opportunity.  If you get the opportunity to parent-up, that means that one or more of your parents is still in this world and that is a good thing.

* We are accustomed to our children needing our help; in some cases in fact we run the risk of becoming an obstacle to progress, doing too much and expecting too little.  At other times we withdraw support too soon or we may rely at our own peril on medical/other experts who in fact have no idea what they are doing.

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Your 2nd Middle Age: What are you doing for the next 20+ years of your life?

Do you remember that one kid in school who seemed preternaturally grown up, like a middle-aged adult? While life does not start in the middle for most of us, many people see their Middle Age years in retrospect as their most productive stage of life.

This Middle Age is generally defined as the years between 35 and 58, years that may be consumed by a range of important life challenges and opportunities. Our middle years may be important to us for many reasons, including relationship building, raising a family, spiritual growth, career development and/or financial success.  

Moreover, throughout the 20th century, people had limited expectations for life after Middle Age, perceived as a gateway to old age.  If life is a puzzle to be worked out, most people expected the pieces to be in place by the end of their 5th decade.

With the combination of life extension through emerging biotechnologies and rejection of societal expectations, your 1st Middle Age may be the prelude to a healthy, wealthy and wise 2nd Middle Age. 

Your 2nd Middle Age: take
a fresh look at the puzzle that is your life.

Now as we start 2020, we can take remake the puzzle, so to speak, and look beyond what I would now call the 1st Middle Age;  many people may have a robust 2nd Middle Age ahead of them, running from approximately the age of 58 – 80.

As I approach my own 59th birthday, I am thinking more about my 2nd Middle Age, and how to leverage what I have learned in my 1st Middle Age to enrich the decades ahead. My valued friend and colleague Dr. Ganzalo Laje and I hope to use this blog to explore some of the key issues relating to the 2nd Middle Age, including topics like:

– Microbiome Diet: Renewing the body’s ability to fight off pathogens for better health

– Parenting 360: Taking on the challenge of parenting our own our parents (as well as our Special Needs kids) 

– Alone Together: Successful singles & Couples Adjusting to the Empty Nest

– Benefits of Shaking it Up: Throwing the cards in the air for renewed joy and sense of purpose 

– Moving your Body: Maintaining / regaining flexibility, balance, strength and broader health benefits through movement

– After the Diet: Following the middle path for sustainable health

– Looking Within: Capturing Meaning through spirituality, meditation, contemplation or other practices to promote mindfulness and avoid rumination.

We hope you will join us on our journey to explore 2nd Middle Age, and that you will share your own, thoughts, experiences, hopes and dreams for this important period of life. The best is yet to come!

Crunchy Tofu Salad

You don’t have to sauté or marinade tofu to enjoy it. Whenever you find yourself short on time or just don’t want to cook, this is a super easy and delicious way to add healthy protein to a green salad. This is my favorite cold Crunchy Tofu Salad recipe, provided by special request. If you are still among the tofu-hesitant, I hope that this recipe for Crunchy (cold) Tofu Salad may tempt you to give it a try.

This one’s for you Lucy!

I am providing photos at every step to make it super-easy to get it right the first time; in fact it would be hard to ruin this recipe. You can add whatever vegetables seeds, or other add-ins you prefer.

Ingredients

12 oz fresh tofu (firm or extra firm)

1 large shallot or small onion (app. 1 oz)

2 cloves garlic

1 red or green Chile – chopped fine

2T Silan (Date Syrup) or whatever sweet-ish sauce you have in the fridge (or the packet drawer)

2T Miso, Tamari or Soy Sauce

3-4 Basil Leaves, julienned

Your choice of salad vegetables: lettuce, sweet pepper, cucumber, & carrot

1T Sesame seeds

Optional add-ins: flax seeds, cubed avocado, cubed Kohlrabi, crunchy noodles

Instructions

  1. Cube approximately 12 ounces of tofu, cube it, and set it aside in a bowl while you make the dressing.

2. Make the dressing by chopping the shallot (or small onion), garlic and mixing them with the Silan, Miso/Tamari/Soy Sauce, Chile and julienned Basil.

3. Gently stir the dressing into the cubed Tofu and set aside while you cut the salad vegetables.

4. Chop Lettuce, Sweet Pepper, Cucumber and Carrots and place in a separate bowl large enough to hold everything.

5. Gently mix the Tofu (in dressing) into the salad bowl, sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy! (I also added Flax seeds.)

Let me know if you try this and how it goes!

Basic Vegan Sour Cream

Making vegan sour cream from silken tofu is more of an idea than a recipe; different iterations are readily available online. This is mine.

But first, the back story: While “veganizing” my favorite marble cake recipe requiring sour cream, I realized that I had no vegan sour cream on hand. I don’t like to buy it that often because whatever I don’t use immediately usually languishes in the back of the refrigerator. It occurred to me that there must be something that I had on hand that could be used in its place, and came upon a package of silken tofu. That was my “Eureka” moment, and I came to find a number of online vegan sour cream recipes based on silken tofu.

What could be easier than blending a package of silken tofu with one or two other ingredients for your own fresh vegan sour cream?

Ingredients

1 package firm or extra-firm silken tofu (12.3 oz / 349 grams)

2 Tbs white vinegar

1/4 tsp salt

Instructions

Combine ingredients in a jar deep enough for use of with an immersion (stick) blender. Doing this in a jar both avoids having to transfer the sour cream to a storage container and also prevents spattering.

That’s it!

Papaya Salad with Tofu

Thai-Style Papaya Salad with Tofu

This is a Thai-Style salad that I have adapted from the amazing Thai Vegetarian Cooking (1991) by Vatharin Shumichitr. I can’t claim that it is truly Thai; I did not follow the recipe exactly, both because of the ingredients that I had on hand, and our preferences. It was still delicious!

True story: During my time on the Visa line at the Embassy of London in Grosvenor Square – when dinosaurs walked the earth – I encountered my share of celebrities, including Mr. Vatharin Chimichitr. He needed an American Visa for his upcoming (non-vegetarian) US cookbook tour. Of course I approved his visa, and also informed him – with apparent seriousness – that the next time he wanted an American Visa he should publish a Vegetarian Cookbook. That was in 1989. Much to my surprise, within two years he published this amazing vegetarian cookbook. – it must already have been in the works. And it is just wonderful.

My slightly battered, much loved Thai Vegetarian Cooking (1991)

While we lived in Washington DC Green Papaya Salad was readily available in our local Vietnamese and Thai restaurants. Here in Israel it has been harder to find. So this week when our local organic farm Bein Hatlamim – translating literally to “Between the Furrows” – offered papayas and promised to pick out one of the most green for me, I jumped at the chance to try to make Papaya Salad at home. ( I have written before about this amazing farm here. )

Ingredients

1 Shallot, sliced

1 block of Tofu (app. 233 grams which is approximately 1/2 pound)

3 – 4 Tbs Oil for sautéing the Tofu

1/2 Under-ripe Papaya (app. 435 grams or is nearly a pound)

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Chopped fresh chilis or Chili Sauce (to taste)

3Tbs fresh lemon juice

3Tbs Tamari or Soy Sauce

1 tsp sugar

1 Tbs chopped toasted peanuts

1 Red Pepper (Sweet) seeded, sliced

Several large green outer lettuce leaves (Romaine works really well), trimmed and washed

Instructions

  1. Cut the tofu into rectangular slices suitable for topping your Papaya Salad (we like 1″ x 2″ slices.)
  2. Sautee the tofu and chopped shallot over medium heat until the tofu slices are golden brown on each side.
  3. While the tofu is browning, peel and grate the Papaya, and then place the grated papaya in a measuring cup or bowl. (Mine was green outside; after I peeled it I saw it was orange inside. The main thing is that it should be under-ripe.)
  4. Stir together the marinade: garlic, chilis to taste, lemon juice, Tamari (or Soy Sauce or Braggs Aminos – whatever you prefer), and sugar.
  5. Add the marinade to the grated papaya.
  6. Assemble your Papaya Salad: If you have a decorative serving dish you have been saving for something special, this is the time to use it! Line the serving dish with the outer lettuce leaves, layering the grated papaya in its marinade on top of the lettuce. Place the sautéed tofu and shallots on top of the papaya. Garnish with the (sweet) red pepper slices and sprinkle the chopped peanuts on top.

    Enjoy!

Vegan Tahini Fudge Ice Cream

Tahini Fudge Ice Cream with Granola

This is one vegan ice cream that delivers. If you are looking for a decadent double-chocolate ice cream that really satisfies – without dairy or added sugar – look no further!

Ingredients

400 ml / 14 oz Coconut Cream (1 can)

3/4 Cup Silan

1/2 Cup Cocoa

1 Cup Tahini

1 Tsp Vanilla

1 Tbs Vodka (to help maintain texture – optional)

50 grams / 1.75 oz Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped 

Directions

  1. Stir together all ingredients except for the bittersweet chocolate.
  2. Follow instructions for your ice cream maker, mixing the ice cream for approximately 20 – 30 minutes. Stir in the chopped bittersweet chocolate at the end.
  3. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, add the chopped bittersweet chocolate and freeze the ice cream for 45 minutes, stir and repeat until the ice cream reaches the desired texture.

Especially good with (GF) Granola!

Gluten Free (GF) Passover Granola with Quinoa Flakes

Substituting Quinoa flakes (available from organic / health food stores) for rolled oats makes for a delightful granola with no more work and great taste. Not exactly a miracle, but pretty exciting in my house!

Passover Granola with Quinoa Flakes Replacing Rolled Oats

We miss Granola during Passover when easy breakfasts without eggs, cheese or matzot are elusive. There are of course other Passover Granola recipes; I was looking for a way to make granola on the cooktop the way that I make it throughput the year without adding oil, and with little added sugar/sweeteners. I absolutely did not want to make granola with matzah farfel and was looking for something with a similar shape and crunch of rolled oats – a tall order I know.

And I am not the world’s greatest Quinoa fan, however I read about Quinoa Flakes and thought that was worth a try. Smaller than rolled oats, Quinoa Flakes have have a similar shape and a great crunchy taste. So yesterday evening I gave it a go, and this morning we enjoyed our Granola with Quinoa Flakes for breakfast.

Toasted Quinoa Flakes

Dear Reader, it worked! It is crunchy and delicious – no tails, no added fats and lower in sugar than recipes cooked inside the oven. For Passover I have omitted sesame and flax seeds and added additional nuts to mix and match based on your Kitnyot preferences. Some people who happen to live in my house think that adding raisins (or any other fruit) is a travesty, so dried fruit remains optional.

Ingredients

1/4 Cup raw sunflower seeds

1/3 Cup broken cashew pieces, walnuts, almonds and/or other raw nuts

1/3 cup chopped almonds

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1 1/2 Toasted Quinoa Flakes (I found these in a box at our local Anise Store)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 Cup shredded coconut (optional)

1/4 tsp. salt

2 T brown sugar

1/3 Cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional)

This recipe is easiest to prepare in a large pan with relatively high sides.  The ingredients have a tendency to scatter while being stirred, and a high-sided frying pan, wok or a wide sauté pan is ideal for keeping them in the pan.  

1.  Over low heat, stir together the cashew pieces, and sunflower seeds.  Stir for five to ten minutes, until the oats and cashew begin to brown.  If in doubt, taste a sunflower seed.  It should taste almost done. 

2.  Next, add the remaining nuts, and stir together with the toasted Quinoa Flakes.   Stir for another five to ten minutes, and stir in the cinnamon.

3. Add the shredded coconut and stir for two to three minutes. before adding in the salt.

4. Turn off the heat and add the brown sugar.  Mix well to evenly distribute them among the other Ingredients.

4.  Remove from heat and allow to cool before adding raisins or other dried fruit (if desired).  Store in an airtight container to maintain freshness.  Enjoy!

Vegan Caramel Sauce

Vegan Caramel Sauce

This recipe started out as a way to solve the problem of how to make caramel without butter, ie to make parve or vegan caramel for Vegan Chocolate Matzah Bark. It ended up tasting too good to be just a means to an end.

Ingredients

1 cup almond butter 

1/2 cup date syrup (Silan)

1/2 cup coconut sugar (can substitute brown sugar)

1/4 cup water 

1/4 tsp sea salt 

1 tsp vanilla 

Instructions

  1. To make the caramel mix the almond butter, date syrup(Silan), Coconut Sugar, and Water and bring to a boil over medium low heat, stirring constantly. 
  2. Continue to cook until it reaches the desired consistency (10-15 minutes) and then stir in salt and vanilla.  Remove from heat.
  3. Serve over fruit or ice cream.

Vegan Chocolate Matzah Bark

Vegan Chocolate Bark with Pecans and Almonds

Almost all of my recipes are variations on a theme and this is true especially for my Passover recipes. As our needs and preferences evolve, so too do our recipes and this is no exception. This variation is both vegan and a bit healthier at the margin – swapping out the butter for almond butter and cutting the sugar in half with the addition of Date Syrup (Silan). Still a little goes a long way. This is essentially candy for dessert; not meant to be eaten in large quantities.

There are many versions of Passover (Matzah) Chocolate Bark – most of them dairy – and you may be familiar with one called by another name. Shakespeare wrote that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Whatever you call yours, it should taste as sweet!

Ingredients

For the Vegan Caramel you will need the following:

1 cup almond butter

1/2 cup date syrup (Silan)

1/2 cup coconut sugar (can substitute brown sugar)

1/4 cup water

1/4 tsp sea salt 

1 tsp vanilla

Additional ingredients are:

5 Matzot

12 oz semisweet / bittersweet chocolate 

Optional: 1.5 cups chopped almonds, pecans or walnuts or shredded coconut

Vegan Chocolate Bark without Nuts

Instructions

  1. To make the caramel mix the almond butter, date syrup(Silan), Coconut Sugar, and Water and bring to a boil over medium low heat, stirring constantly.  Continue to cook until it reaches the desired consistency (10-15 minutes) and then stir in salt and vanilla.  Remove from heat.
  2. Cover 2-3 cookie sheets with baking paper or aluminum foil, shiny side down. Lay the Matzot on the cookie sheets, side by side without overlapping.
  3. Spread the caramel over the Mazot.
  4. Melt the chocolate chips and spread over the Caramel sauce.
  5. Sprinkle chopped nuts or coconut shreds on the chocolate (optional) 
  6. Place in freezer until firm, approximately 1 hour. 

Enjoy! 

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