Monthly Archives: December 2019

Good News Monday: You’ve Got Some Nervines!

Got stress? Lately I’ve seen several mainstream press mentions of nervines, natural herbs that are reported to help support the nervous system.

These include tonics made from organic skullcap and oat tops, mildly calming herbs such as catnip and chamomile, and stronger relaxants such as valerian root and hops.

Lavender and chamomile tea are pretty mainstream these days but here are several I didn’t know about, per a few websites. Many are staple folk remedies that have been used for centuries.

Have any of you tried any of these? I can’t personally vouch for them and since herbs aren’t regulated the way drugs have to be, it’s always wise to consult a physician about dosing and possible side effects. Still, I’m intrigued. Any recommendations?

Organic skullcap in bloom with purple flowers

  • Oat tops – Although they may not produce an immediate physical feeling of relaxation, oat tops are called a superfood for the nervous system, meant to support nerve functioning over time. Suggested for anyone who is overworked or relies on caffeine to get through the day, this herb is said to calm the nerves, reduce fatigue, relieve emotional instability, and help restore peace and tranquility to over-stressed and chronically upset people.
  • Skullcap – Helps relieve occasional tension and stress, circular thoughts, and nervousness. Can be used throughout the day during stressful situations or at night before bed to calm worried thoughts. I’m curious to try this one. Considered to have anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, herbalists recommend skullcap for muscle tension, insomnia, chronic headaches and relaxation.
  • Chamomile – A classic, relaxing nighttime tea, the herb is also helpful for relieving mild daily mental stress.  If you don’t like the taste, try adding a little lemon and honey.
  • Lavender – This lovely calming herb is often used in aromatherapy applications. Wonderful in the bath or shower, massage oils, pillows, room sprays, and fragrance.
  • Lemon balm – Sunshine in plant form, this citrusy herb helps with nervous exhaustion, gloom, and restlessness, while also providing pure aromatic pleasure. Rub a leaf between your fingers and inhale deeply for an immediate mood boost.
  • Catnip – Gentle, calming herb suggested for sleeplessness in children and the elderly. Are we all cats at heart?
  • California poppy – Used for its calming properties, this plant helps promote relaxation in those seeking rest. Picture that wonderful scene in The Wizard of Oz!
  • Passionflower – Considered helpful for relieving general tension, occasional nervous restlessness, and supporting restful sleep.
  • Hops – With a distinctive flavor and action known well by beer drinkers everywhere, this plant supports relaxation and helps calm a nervous stomach.
  • Valerian – When sleep seems impossible thanks to nervous energy and a brain that won’t shut off, this potent herb encourages relaxation. Caution: for some people, valerian can have the opposite effect, causing stimulation and even more anxiety.  If this happens, an herbalist can suggest something else.

Wishing you all a relaxing, stress-free New Year.  We all deserve one! xx Alisa

Regifting: Taboo or To Do?

“‘Tis the day after Christmas, and all through the land,

Folks are regifting the gifts they can’t stand…”

tabby cat lying under christmas tree with gifts

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An article in the Wall Street Journal argues that regifting is a perfectly acceptable practice and preferable to throwing away something the giftee doesn’t want or need.

(Reprinted here because the link forces you to subscribe in order to read the whole piece. I hate that.)

From the Wall Street Journal

A recipient wants items A and B (say, a hat and gloves) yet receives items C and D (say, a scarf and mittens). Another recipient wants C and D, yet receives A and B. The solution seems simple: The two recipients can simply pass along the gifts they received to each other.

The psychology, however, is more complex. People in a study published in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour, for instance, used such words as guilty, lazy, thoughtless and disrespectful in describing their feelings about regifting. Popular culture casts it as taboo, as well. An entire episode of “Seinfeld” highlights the stigma attached to giving away presents meant for ourselves.

Getting stuck with gifts we do not want is no small problem. Consider that the National Retail Federation calculated that the average holiday-season shopper in the U.S. last year spent more than $1,000 on gifts. In a survey across 14 countries in Europe, meanwhile, 1 in 7 said they were unhappy with what they received for Christmas, yet more than half simply kept the gifts.

Why can’t more gifts be passed along to people who appreciate them?

Our research with Francis J. Flynn, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, suggests the shame associated with regifting is largely unwarranted. Indeed, our research consistently tells us that people overestimate the negative consequences.

Next, we tried to shed light on just how serious the perceived offense is. We asked two groups—again, givers and regifters—to compare regifting a hypothetical wristwatch with throwing it in the trash. For the original givers, regifting the watch was a much less offensive act than trashing it. The regifters, however, wrongly assumed that the givers would find both equally offensive. The results were the same when regifting presents that the recipients didn’t like much.

Finally, given that the feared offense looks more imagined than real, we turned our attention to how people might be encouraged to break this taboo.

For this part of our research, we invited to our lab at Stanford people who had recently received presents, and divided the people into two groups. When we gave the first group an opportunity to regift that present, 9% did so.

When we gave the second group the same opportunity, we added that it was “National Regifting Day,” a real event that happens each year on the Thursday before Christmas. It wasn’t really National Regifting Day, but the group didn’t know that: 30% of them agreed to regift.

Everyone has received bad gifts in their lives, and we generally accept that we will receive more in the future. Yet for some (mathematically impossible) reason, we believe that we give only good gifts.

Our research offers a simple solution to the problem of unwanted gifts. This holiday season, consider regifting, and encourage recipients of your gifts to do the same if what you gave them isn’t quite what they hoped for.

Dr. Adams is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia. Dr. Norton is a professor at Harvard Business School. Email them at reports@wsj.com.

 

It’s Not Just You

According to a recent study, the average American can’t spend more than four hours with family during the holidays without getting stressed.

Lack of space and privacy, noise, too much togetherness, and family drama are some of the reasons. ‘Ya think?

However, knowing this, you might want to take a short walk around the block every few hours to clear your head and give you some alone time.  Happy holidays! xx

white and blue crew neck t shirt

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Good News Monday: Hello, Bison!

Now there’s more space for America’s national mammal to be at home on the range. (No, not buffalo, as the song would have it*: buffalo are indigenous to South Asia and Africa, whereas bison are found in North America and parts of Europe. 

In case you’re wondering what the difference is  (of course you were), bison sport shaggy beards and buffalo don’t.

The World Wildlife Fund reports that bison in Badlands National Park now have an additional 22,553 acres in which to roam. In 2017, over 2,500 donors to WWF and partner organizations raised nearly $750,000 to build 43 miles of a new fence that extends bison habitat in the park to 80,193 acres.

This October, the WWF released bison into the new area—the first time they’ve set hoof on this land since 1877.

photo of bison on grass field

Photo by Chait Goli on Pexels.com

*Let’s be honest,”Give me a home where the bison roam” doesn’t exactly flow.

What Hanukkah’s Really About

stainless steel candelabra beside clear wine glasses

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Last night, R and I watched a silly Food Network competition called the Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge, in which contestants reinvented traditional recipes with varied success.

This prompts me to address some of the misconceptions around the holiday, as well as its true meaning.

  • It’s not the “Jewish Christmas”, it’s an ancient holiday all on its own that just happens to occur in December.
  • Per the above, it’s historically not a big gift-giving event, so you won’t find massive “post-Hanukkah” sales on the Internet.  There are also no stockings hung by the chimney or anywhere else.
  • No trees are sacrificed, although you’ll occasionally find a “Hanukkah bush” in a Jewish home if someone grew up with a Christmas tree.
  • It lasts for 8 days.  If your relatives drive you crazy after one day of Christmas, just imagine.
  • Fried foods are traditional, commemorating the miracle of the long-lasting oil in the rededicated Temple, e.g., latkes (fried potato pancakes, pronounced laht-kuh(s), not laht-key(s), as the host of the Ultimate Hanukkah Challenge kept saying) and donuts (“sufganiyot” in Hebrew –pronounced soof-gahn-ee-oat). Latkes made from carrots or Brussels sprouts are all kinds of wrong.

So what is it?

Hanukkah (or Chanukah) celebrates the triumph of freedom over oppression.  Specifically, it commemorates a miracle that occurred during the rededication of the synagogue following decades of persecution and war.

When the fortress which guarded the Temple was finally captured by the Jewish rebellion, the soldiers found only a small amount of the pure oil that could be used to re-light the Temple menorah (branched candlestick).  Although there was only enough to burn for one day, the oil lasted for eight days, long enough for new oil to be prepared.

 

The history (per JewishHistory.org)

In the wake of Alexander’s appearance in and departure from Jerusalem, relations between Jews and Greeks were so good that an exchange of cultures took place. Each influenced the other. For the Jewish minority, however, what began as a small undertow of assimilation — such as giving children Greek names and speaking the Greek language — became a surprisingly powerful, high-speed rip current threatening to drag the caught-off-guard Jews out to the sea of complete assimilation.

Jews who embraced Greek culture at the expense of Judaism became known as Misyavnim, or Hellenists. Estimates are that a third or more of the Jewish population was Hellenist, including those who reversed their circumcision, ate pork, bowed to idols and even became self-hating enough to side with the enemies of Israel. Hellenism threatened to annihilate the Jewish world through assimilation in ways tyrants tried but could not do by force.

Had the situation continued as it was, the Greeks would perhaps have won the battle by default. However, they overstepped themselves.

Here Come the Greeks

At the beginning of the year 190 BCE, the situation between the two great post-Alexandrian empires, the Seleucid and the Ptolemaic, deteriorated badly. The Seleucids mounted an invasion that took their army through the Land of Israel, which was sandwiched in-between.

Whenever a foreign army comes into a country it changes the view of the populace. Instead of an attractive culture, the Greeks were now an occupying enemy. Instead of something to be imitated, now they became something to be resisted.

The Jewish people are very stubborn. The same person who is so stubborn that he will not observe the Torah in freedom will observe it with passion if forbidden from observing it. He becomes stubborn the other way.

A good case could be made that if the Communists in Russia had left the Jews alone they would have completely assimilated. However, once told that they could not be Jewish a certain percentage of Jews decided to be Jewish at great risk. That happened with the Greeks as well.

Progressively More Intolerable Laws

The Greek army exerted a very heavy hand against the Jews. First, they forced Jews to finance their war through collection of taxes. Then they forced them to quarter their soldiers in Jewish homes. Finally, the Greeks were determined to crush the Jewish religion.

First, they took the statue of Zeus and mounted it in the courtyard of the Temple. Next, the Greeks banned the observance of the Sabbath on the pain of death. Then, the Talmud (Kesubos 3b) records, there was a period of time which lasted a number of decades when the Greek officer in town had the right to “live” with a woman on her wedding night before her husband-to-be.

The Greeks also banned circumcision. Whoever circumcised his child was put to death; both child and father were killed. Then the Greeks demanded that altars to the Greek idols be established and that sacrifices be offered on a regular basis in every Jewish town. Finally, the Jewish educational system was entirely interrupted.

The Jews Rebel

About the year 166 BCE, a group finally stood up to the Greeks: Matisyahu (Mattathias) and his family, known as the Hasmoneans. We do not know much about them except that they were of noble descent from the priestly class (Kohanim), including those who had served as High Priests.

They lived in a small town called Modin, which was about 12 miles northwest from Jerusalem. (The town exists today, and is about 20 miles west of modern Jerusalem.) One day, a Greek contingent marched in, set up an altar, gathered all the Jews and forced them to sacrifice a pig to Zeus.

They then asked for a Jewish volunteer to perform the sacrifice. One stepped forward. As he approached the altar Matisyahu stabbed him to death.

Chaos broke out. The Greek army attempted to subdue the crowd, but the Jews were armed and slaughtered the entire Greek patrol. There was no turning back now.

The Maccabees

Matisyahu had five sons, all of whom were people of great organizational leadership as well as pious, committed Jews: Johanan (Yochanan), Simon (Shimon), Jonathan (Yonason), Judah (Yehudah) and Eleazar.

They ran to the caves and organized an army – not to fight an open war, but a guerilla war. Originally they organized of force of about 3,000 men. Eventually it grew to 6,000 and never reached more than 12,000 men.

The General of the Army was the great Judah, known to the world as Judah the Maccabee (or Judas Maccabaeus as he was called in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost). “Maccabaeus” is the Greek word for hammer, but the Jews took it, as Jews are wont to do, and made it Jewish by declaring that “Maccabee” stood for the first four letters in Exodus 15:11, meaning, “Who is like You, God?” — which was said by Moses and the people after the miraculous drowning of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds.

An enormous Syrian-Greek army, numbering almost 50,000 men, marched into Judea. Judah the Maccabee marshaled his forces and with guile and courage outmaneuvered the far larger Greek army, forced it to divide and then destroyed its various components, killing many thousands and forcing the survivors to flee north to Syria.

It took many years, but their hit-and-run tactics wore down three great Greek armies. However, the Jews paid a very heavy price in terms of blood. Matisyahu died in the early going. Judah Maccabee was killed in the third great battle. Eleazar died while attacking an elephant. Johanan and Jonathan were killed as well. The only Maccabee brother who survived was Simon.

The Miracle

The last famous battle was for the fortress of Antonius, which guarded the Temple. When Antonius fell, the Jews came back to the Temple. They shattered the statue of Zeus and cleaned the Temple to the extent that they could. Any priests who worked for the Greeks were sent away or executed.

They only found one small flask of uncontaminated oil with the seal of the High Priest. By Torah law, the flame of the Menorah (Candelabrum) in the Temple could only be lit with specially prepared pure olive oil. The amount of oil remaining in the one uncontaminated flask was only enough to burn for one day, and it would take eight days to produce a new batch of pure oil.

What could they do?

They lit it — and it miraculously burned for eight days. That is why Chanukah lasts eight nights (the festival was established a year later by the Rabbis).

What is Chanukah?

The Talmud does not say much about Chanukah. There are perhaps forty lines spread out in different volumes, whereas almost all the other holidays have an entire Talmudic volume about them. In addition, the few words the Talmud has to say about Chanukah are cryptic. Perhaps that is why Chanukah has been subject to reinterpretation, as it has been in our time. People make whatever they want to make out of it. However, that is a mistake, a tragedy.

In the Western world, it has the misfortune of falling in December. Therefore, in the homes of many Jewish people it has sadly became the Jewish version of the December holidays, a mixture of commercialism and non-Jewish traditions and ideas.

What the Talmud does say is that the important thing is to “advertise the miracle.” People have to recognize that a miracle took place. It is vital to keep the wonder in Chanukah. That is why the rabbis gave more emphasis to the miracle of the lights than the military victory.

Wars come and go. Even the glow of miraculous victory can fade. Young people today do not think that Israel’s War for Independence in 1948 was such a miracle. In 1967, Jews expected a second Holocaust. Now people brush the miraculous Six Day War off as nothing special.

History provides numerous examples of outnumbered forces defeating a superpower using guerilla tactics. Was the Maccabean victory so miraculous? That was the question Jews at the time must have asked themselves.

However, when the small flask of pure oil that could only last one day lasted eight days it proved that there was a miracle that happened there. The little flask of oil shed light on the big military campaign. “Not by the army, not by power, but through My Spirit, says God” (Zechariah 4:6). Chanukah is about the little light that sheds a great light.

There is an indefinable, spiritual, electric charge that binds the generations together that cannot be found in any book. It can only be had when parents and grandparents do things like sitting together with their children around the Chanukah lights celebrating, discussing and advertising the miracle; experientially getting in touch with the wonder of the past, the wonder of the present, the wonder of life.

What Ever Happened to the Hellenists?

Chanukah is a very popular, emotional and beautiful holiday. However, the necessity for Chanukah begins with the story of the invasion of Greek culture and the weakness of the Jews in responding to it. It originates from the growth of an enormous sect of Hellenists within the Jews, who even supported the Greeks during the war.

What happened to the Hellenists? Their influence all but collapsed in the wake of the defeat. They would never return again as Hellenists, because the war brought out their true colors as traitors and they lost whatever appeal they could have had to the Jewish people.

Most of them retreated to the city of Caesarea, which remained a Greek city (and later would become a Roman city). They were just not part of the Jewish people any longer.

The Real Significance: a Victory of the Spirit

Their demise punctuated the fact that more than a military victory, the miracle of the oil signified that Chanukah was a victory of the spirit of the Jewish people, a victory that granted them the right to observe the Torah. That is why its memory and the people who observe it have endured.

Style: What to Avoid When Flying

window view of an airplane

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‘Tis the season to be traveling. If your plans involve air travel — commercial, that is; you private plane people can wear whatever the hell you want — this timely advice (adapted from a post on WhoWhatWear) should come in handy. Click here for the full piece.

Tight Clothes

You want to avoid cramping and swelling caused by too-tight clothing and inactivity. Problems can range from the serious (DVTs) to uncomfortable bloating. An elastic waistband is your friend, and with a nice top layer no one needs to know you’re channeling Edith Bunker.

Anything Flammable

One more reason to choose natural fabrics! And cover your arms, legs and feet in case the unforeseen happens and you have to go down the emergency slide. A long-sleeved cotton t-shirt is breathable as well as protective.

High Heels, Backless Sandals, Flipflops

They make it difficult to quickly evacuate the aircraft, and could hurt others if they go flying off.  Heels could puncture the evacuation slide and they’ll sure make it a lot harder to run to another gate if necessary.

Meanwhile, that tiny airplane bathroom is even nastier if something on the floor gets on your toes. ‘Nuff said.  Opt for closed shoes such as sneakers, low heels or flats, or boots.

Studs, buckles, zippers, belts can set off metal detectors and slow you down. The same is true for bold jewely. And it’s better not to put your valuables on the conveyor belt; just store them securely in a small case in your purse or carry on until you’ve gone through security.
Not Enough Layers

Airplane cabins can be frigid, so wearing layers makes sense.  You can always remove a sweater or cashmere shawl if you get too warm.

Pack a change of outfit in your carryon if possible, too — fresh socks, a tee and underwear at a minimum. It makes life much more pleasant if you’re stuck on the tarmac in an emergency, or your checked luggage is delayed or lost.

Safe travels,

xoxo Alisa

Gift Ideas When Money Is No Object

While you’ve been agonizing over finding the perfect gifts, this post is sure to inspire a giggle or two.  It kinda gives new meaning to the phrase “insanely rich”.  Enjoy!

abundance bank banking banknotes

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