In Time for New Year’s Resolutions: “The Power of Habit” New Edition

By Hannah Lee

Do you make New Year’s resolutions, and are they like “piecrust promises” — as Mary Poppins says — and easily broken? If so, you should know that the paperback edition of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by the New York Times reporter, Charles Duhigg, will be released on January 7th.

In the book, Duhigg teaches techniques to free oneself from damaging habits, whether with health, diet, or finances.

In an interview, he recommended the three-step habit loop:

First, there is a cue that tells your brain to go into automatic mode. Then, there is the routine. And finally, a reward, which helps your brain learn to crave the behavior.

For instance, studies indicate that if you want to develop a running habit in 2014, you should choose a cue, like putting your running shoes next to your bed. And then, give yourself a reward, like a piece of chocolate, when you get home from jogging. That way, the cue and the reward become neurologically intertwined.

Eventually, when your brain sees the sneakers, it starts craving the chocolate, and that makes it easier to hit the pavement each day. And in a couple of weeks, you won’t need the treat any more — your brain will come to see the workout as a reward itself.

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/3652/in-time-for-new-years-resolutions-the-power-of-habit-new-edition

Book Chat: Like Dreamers

By Hannah Lee

The miracle of Israel’s Six-Day War in 1967 united a nation, and Jews all over the world celebrated its victory.  That members of the 55th Brigade of paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem then led lives that split its small nation politically as well as religiously is the heartbreaking saga on how we have not merited the Messianic age of global peace, Olam HaBa.

After 11 years of interviews and research on seven of these paratroopers, Yossi Klein Halevi has brought forth his newest book, Like Dreamers, to justified acclaim.  Born in Brooklyn, he first visited Israel that June of 1967 with his Holocaust-survivor father (who finally forgave God and re-gained his faith with Israel’s success) and he has lived in Israel for over 30 years.  The book’s title comes from Psalm 126: “When the Lord returned the exiles of Zion, we were like dreamers.”

While writing this labor of love, Halevi was troubled by the singular lack of voice; he thought it meant the book wasn’t speaking to him.  Then in an epiphany, he realized that the cacophony of voices from his interview subjects was what defined himself as an Israeli Jew, one with conflicting views.  He then constructed his book with alternating voices, allowing each central character to express his thoughts and views as they evolved over time.  He spoke on Sunday before a standing-room audience at Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr.

His cast of characters include the kibbutznik paratroopers and the religious Zionist paratroopers.  They served together and they exhibited a tremendous level of tolerance and cooperation.  One protagonist, the secular commander Arik Achmon, noted how the religious reservists, whom he’d ridiculed as dosim (religious nerds), were keen on proving their worth and how they rose a half hour earlier each day to pray.  Once when his soldiers were sent on leave but it was close to sundown that Friday, they chose to stay in camp rather than risk traveling on Shabbat.  He noticed approvingly that they didn’t ask to be let out early.  He then showed his respect by enforcing the kosher laws in the army kitchens (despite the paratroopers’ sense of being a law unto themselves), so that any soldier under his command would not feel uncomfortable.

The love was reciprocated: when a friend spoke about “religious paratroopers,” another central character, Yoel Bin-Nun, who taught Bible as a way to understand contemporary Israel, rebuked him, saying, “There are no religious paratroopers or secular paratroopers.  Only Israeli paratroopers.”  In another incident, when he was challenged by a kibbutznik, that if Bin-Nun could convince him that God exists and that there is a divine hand guiding the world, he was ready to become religious.   But if he succeeded in convincing the rabbi that it’s all nonsense, the rabbi would become secular.  “You’re asking me to give up my deepest beliefs,” Bin-Nun replied, with a smile.  “Let each person observe and interpret in his way, but the Torah belongs to every Jew.  Shabbat belongs as much to you as it does to me.”

The disastrous Yom Kippur War of 1973, when Israel was caught ill-prepared and lost over 2,500 men and over 7,000 were wounded, sobered the nation.  Some realized that Israel’s survival required moral renewal.  Two divergent paths emerged formed by those for whom annexing the territories of Judea and Samaria (captured from Jordan in 1967) was a part of the redemption process and those for whom withdrawing from the territories, termed by them the West Bank, was the hope for peace.  The liberators of Jerusalem were amongst the founders of the settler movement and the Peace Now movement.  Another of them, Udi Adiv, became so disenchanted with Zionism that he traveled to Damacus in 1972 to create an anti-Zionist terrorist underground.  He served 12 years in an Israeli prison.  Their narratives will in time coalesce into hardened political positions.

On Sunday, Halevi spoke of the two promises of Zionism: normalcy to end anti-Semitism and transcendence to serve as a light unto the world.  He sees the most interesting divide as the one from normalcy to utopia.  Thus, both the kibbutzniks and the settlers (who wish to populate the whole of Judea and Samaria) are in the same camp as utopians.

He then addressed the three failed dreams of Israel: the kibbutz movement, the settler movement, and the Oslo peace accords. Now Israel is bereft of a utopian dream.  Can it sustain itself without one?  My rabbi recently spoke about the Torah portion of parshat Vayeshev, in which Joseph is asked to interpret the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the baker and the wine steward.  The wine steward whose crime was a fly in the wine being served to the pharaoh was reinstated to his post, while the baker whose bread had a small stone was executed.  While a fly might be disgusting, it is not life-threatening, but a pebble would prove a choking hazard.  The lesson was that a threat from within could be greater than without.  A great challenge for Israelis now is to build unity from amongst their brethren.  When they respected each other and were united in their goals in 1967, they achieved miraculous results.  May Am Israel re-gain its sense of purpose and harmony and see peace in our times.

Chag Urim sameach.

Also published at http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/3624/book-chat-like-dreamers.

 

Book Chat: Tiny Dynamo

By Hannah Lee

How do you measure the wealth of a country? Economists calculate the gross national product, GNP, while the government of Bhutan has been using the quirky assessment of gross national happiness, GNH, since 1972.  Marcella Rosen proposes to rank the ingenuity of the country’s citizens among its natural resources, in her slim volume, Tiny Dynamo: How One of the Smallest Countries Is Producing Some of Our Most Important Inventions. In 131 pages, Rosen summarizes 21 inventions of Israelis that make our lives safer, more efficient and better. These inventions include the flash drive, pilotless drones, and anti-bacterial fabric coatings that do not come off in the hospital wash.

Environmental inventions include drip irrigation; floating solar panels; fish farming using bacterial filtration, to reduce the usage of water to two gallons per one pound of fish; and a semi-permeable membrane to desalinate ocean water. In fact, the city of Ashkelon has the world’s largest reverse osmosis facility, producing 320,000 cubic meters of fresh water a day.

Medical inventions include a robot for spinal surgery; a pill-sized camera to view the length of the small intestine (without endoscopy); and implantable tiny telescopes to treat macular degeneration.

Rosen writes in the breezy manner of a public relations professional and a self-professed booster for Israel. I would like more detail on the technological inventions, but I suppose some may be proprietary information, that the inventors do not wish to make public.

The world of investments moves quickly, so one footnote to the book is that Shai Agassi’s Better Place declared bankruptcy in May 2013, after going through $850 million in capital in trying to market its swappable batteries for electric cars. Other inventions detailed in the book, such as the cervical stabilization collar, are being positioned for a wider market. The appendix is a nifty timeline of 68 Israeli inventions from 1948 to 2012, including three Nobel Prizes in Chemistry (2004, 2009, and 2011).

Rosen maintains a website, that reports on news from Israel beyond the peace process, and a Facebook campaign that posts on inventions and scientific breakthroughs coming from Israel.

She cited the American-Israeli Friendship League, which reports that Israel, with a population of 7 million, launched 600 startups in 2010, compared with 700 throughout all of Europe with a population of 700 million. That’s one strong measure of creativity.

Rosen wrote:

The common perception about a country rarely squares with the life that’s actually lived in that place, and the people who live it. So if it’s true that you should judge a person not by what is said about him but by what he does, then it follows that you should do the same for countries.

 

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/3564/book-chat-tiny-dynamo

 

On a Memoir of Farm Life

By Hannah Lee

Memoirs allow me to live vicariously in others’ lifestyles and cultures. They have taught me about the diversity in people’s choices and values. I was first drawn to Suzanne McMinn’s new memoir, Chickens in the Road, because of the red barn on the cover, the mention of chickens, and the subtitle, “An adventure in ordinary splendor.” What I got was more than just a chronicle of “Do It Yourself” (DIY) self-sufficiency projects. McMinn’s journey, from being a city girl to a farmer, is also a road map for finding inner strength in the face of adversity. Fear had paralyzed her from making difficult decisions, but when she finally did so, the right choices were awaiting her.

McMinn begins her tale with her move to the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia, where her family had lived for generations. She uprooted her three children from their city life in Texas to live in the old farmhouse (dubbed “the Slanted Little House” for its uneven floors). There she learned to can food, kill raccoons with a .22 long rifle, and ignite the gas stove in the “cellar porch,” in a futile attempt to keep the pipes from freezing.

Later, she built a new home on a 40-acre farm with her new partner. It was so isolated that it could only be reached by fording three creeks in one direction, and a river in the other one. Poverty was another kind of isolation in Appalachia. They had neighbors who did not have a phone service, and still relied on an outhouse.

McMinn gathered around her a veritable menagerie of chickens, dairy goats, sheep and pigs, but they were more of a petting zoo than hardworking farm animals. The addition of a milk cow finally made her feel like a real farmer. The cow, although elderly, bony and ugly, was an abundant source of milk. However, the physical effort of milking was greater for the novice farmer: The first day, it took her an hour and a half to yield just three-quarters of a gallon of milk. Over time, her fingers, arms, and back got stronger, and she acquired more stamina. Then she ventured into making butter and cheese, but the first batch of cheese was inedible.

McMinn explained why she chose this lifestyle:

For some reason, there are those of us who leave the collective cocoon of public care, determined to test our grit against the challenge of individual self-sufficiency. Maybe it’s stubbornness. Maybe it’s arrogance. Maybe it’s the desire to meet and defeat challenge. Other people jump out of airplanes. Some climb sheer mountain faces. Still others race cars. It’s all about testing some deep place inside that the comfortable, secure world today won’t make you test otherwise. For me, it was surviving winter on a remote farm. That was my airplane, my mountain, my race car. My test.

I preferred Barbara Kingsolver’s 2008 memoir, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” for her narrative skill, and because it was first farm memoir that I have read, but one plot twist in Chickens in the Road made it worthwhile. McMinn made an emotional breakthrough, that could be a source of inspiration to all of us facing a difficult life decision.

Her partner was ready for any new self-sufficiency project, but he had a bizarre temper. While it was gut-wrenching for me to read about their fights, and the verbal abuse he heaped on her, it made the climax much more riveting.

She loved her farm, and she needed his physical strength to do chores. She could not manage to do those chores by herself on a remote farm with an inconvenient layout, that was cut off from civilization with the first snowfall. However, when their relationship problems came to a head, she surprised them both by moving out.

Two miracles occurred at this point. The first miracle was that McMinn quickly found another farm just 10 miles away. It came with a paved road, mail delivery, and a bus stop in front of the house, so no more overnight stays in town for her children when she could not get down the steep driveway.

The small but charming 1930s farmhouse had been restored and maintained, and it had gas for heating. A separate studio was suitable for classes and farm-related events, equipped with up-to-code plumbing. The farm had mature cherry and apple trees, and wild berry bushes.

Much of the 100 acres, that were flat, had been cleared and fenced, ready for animals to move right in. There was a faucet in the goat field for water (no more carrying water!). There was a good well, and public water too. To the delight of the teen daughter, there were a stable and a pasture for horses. With the accessible layout of the farm, the chickens could finally even go in the road.

The second miracle was almost mystical: For two years, the farm had stood empty, while the owners entertained several offers. One of them, who was a psychic, kept refusing to sell it to people who were “not the one.” And every time, as she predicted, the deal fell through. After McMinn’s first visit to the farm, the psychic told her two brothers, “She is the one.”

To McMinn, it was the only farm she visited, and she wrote that “It looked like it had fallen off the pages of a children’s storybook and it was everything I’d ever dreamed a farm would be.” The farm had lain fallow for two years, until McMinn was ready to step out on her own. A religious Jew would call that bashert (predestined).

The lesson for me was broader than the feminist message, of breaking away from her abusive partner. It stood for the times that we have to make difficult decisions, and we are paralyzed by fear: fear of the unknown and fear of change. God has a plan for us, and we have to trust in the timeliness of how people and events come into our lives at the right time. And that is a lesson for 5774, in which we face new challenges, for the good and the not-so-good.

Chickens in the Road will be released on October 15. It has an appendix of recipes: an iron skillet upside-down pizza recipe that came from a West Virginia Department of Agriculture pamphlet and one for making vanilla extract that will be a cost-saver for home bakers. Another appendix of crafts, includes instruction for making hot-process soap (faster than cold-process), beeswax lip balm, and laundry detergent.  Beyond the avid DIYer, this book would be useful for a school pioneer project, or a recreation of shtetl life. A blog by the same name is available at www.chickensintheroad.com.

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/3524/on-a-memoir-of-farm-life