Israel, the COVID vaccine pioneer: an insider opinion

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Disclaimer: all opinions and insight in this post are my own. I make no claims of statistic or scientific accuracy.

Some time ago, I wrote about my personal choice to wait and watch for a while before getting the COVID vaccine. Since I work from home, am not in a risk group, and am a natural introvert, this choice is viable for me.

But it is different for many other people in Israel. Quite simply, many will soon have to take the vaccine – regardless of their personal preferences or concerns – to keep their livelihood and avoid restrictions.

Israel has started its vaccination campaign in full force and, so far, has vaccinated about 1/3 of the total population and most people in risk groups. Despite this, COVID continues to spread rapidly, in a large part because of new variants that now target younger people and children as well.

There’s a big – and, in my eyes, very scary – trend of shaming and pressuring the people who are reluctant to get the vaccine for any reason. They are labeled uneducated, scare-mongerers, selfish, unwilling to “do their part”. Allegedly, vaccine refusers are the reason why we won’t be climbing out of this pandemic anytime soon.

There has been talk of making vaccination mandatory but, since legislation for this would likely cause an uproar, there’s an insidious movement to make people get a vaccine by existing legal means.

It started with a “green passport” incentive that’s supposed to give vaccinated citizens access to shopping centers and recreational activities, and escalated to organizations saying their workers had better get the vaccine if they want to keep their jobs. Teachers who have concerns about the vaccine are told “it’s your fault we can’t open schools, kids are missing out on their education because of your silly irrational fears”. I’ve heard local authorities declare that unvaccinated individuals will get no services, no counseling, no assistance when needed. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal, but the statements can give you a hint of the overall attitude.

Any concerns about the vaccine are systematically swept under the rug and any reports of possible serious side effects are dismissed as a coincidence. This week I heard a recording of an epidemiologist who had given a radio interview and very carefully and rationally explained why the vaccine might not be 100% safe for everyone. The interviewer, seething with fury, terminated the report midway.

The worst part? Leading authorities are talking about taking the plunge and vaccinating children and pregnant women before any clinical trials have taken place for these groups, because without these populations, Israel will never reach herd immunity.

I am still pretty positive about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. I hope that, in the end, it will prove the solution we’ve all been hoping for. But here’s the thing:

It should be illegal to try and coerce, force, shame, or manipulate anyone into taking the vaccine. It should be illegal to offer external incentives for taking the vaccine.

Any discussion on possible negative side effects should be open and transparent. People shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to ask questions, or labelled as senseless fear-mongerers when they do.

The demonization of people who are choosing not to take the vaccine yet has got to stop. It appears, so far, that being vaccinated doesn’t prevent someone from spreading the virus to others. Therefore, it has minimal impact on my neighbors and friends whether I’m vaccinated or not. We are not the problem. We were not the ones who caused uncontrolled spread through massive crowded events, parties, demonstrations and (ironically) funerals.

I never thought I would say this, but living in Israel has become scary lately. I have never felt such instability. Not during wars, not during terror campaigns.

I pray that we somehow make our way out of this without forgetting about democratic values like bodily autonomy, critical thinking, and freedom of speech. Because so far, things aren’t looking very hopeful on that score.

When little ones are sick: a re-post

I thought it would be nice to re-post this little throwback to four years ago.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

This week we’ve been struggling with a bout of flu that got all of the children in turn. As much as it pains me to see a little one sick, I consider this also an opportunity to slow down – which is especially important if I’m not at my best either – rest, unwind and do some quiet, enjoyable things there often isn’t enough time for:

Reading – listening to an interesting new story, or re-visiting an old friend of a book, is a soothing and relaxing activity that is perfectly suited for a day spent mostly in bed or on the couch. Older children can read quietly to themselves.

Crafts – drawing, stitching, beading and working with play-dough all stimulate the mind and creative senses without requiring too much physical exertion. Dress-up or building forts and hideouts with chairs and blankets are also fun.

Board games – pull out old favorites like Monopoly or Scrabble, or try something new. Forbidden Island is currently all the rage here.

Outdoor time – if the weather is nice, I see no reason to necessarily stay indoors. On the contrary, warm sunshine provides a cheering effect and may even help with nasal congestion. I do discourage sick children from “playing hard” – running, riding bikes, climbing trees, etc.

Outdoors we may also pick herbs to make medicinal tea and talk about their various healing properties, as well as of the importance of staying hydrated in general.

Movies – I like to restrict screen time, and especially so for sick children, because I find that prolonged staring into a screen is fatiguing, but a short cartoon or an educational video can be nice.

On days when the children don’t feel well, I usually dispense with school, but the girls may still choose to do some fun educational activities such as writing in their story notebooks.

The most important thing is to remember that this, too, shall pass. Slow down, allow everybody the time to rest and heal, and try not to mind the mess too much. There is always tomorrow for catching up with housework, gardening and lessons.

My 5 favorite herbs and how I use them

Herbs are some of the easiest things to grow, hands down. Proof is, even I am capable of keeping them alive and thriving. Many of them will spread like weeds if you let them, popping up every spring without any effort on your part. Herbs are usually pretty tolerant when it comes to soil type and sun and shade balance.

Here are my top five favorite herbs, which I use for tea, seasoning, remedies, or all of the above.

1. Mint

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With its refreshing, invigorating smell, mint makes delicious tea that is great either hot or cold. Mint is great for colds and digestive complaints.

2. SageDSC_0711

We had a glorious sage bush at our old home, but here, my poor little sage plant took some assaults from the chickens, who insisted on digging around it and trampling it for some reason (they don’t eat it, though – it’s a bonus point for chicken keepers. Sharp-smelling herbs are about the only thing chickens find unappetizing).

Anyway, my sage plant seems to be in recovery now, and is flowering. Which makes me really happy, because sage tea is a powerful decongestant and great for sore throats.

3. Rosemary

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My rosemary is still young, but its mother plant is a big arborescent bush.

Rosemary has some potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, and I just love it in cooking. It’s divine with oven-baked fish and roast potatoes.

4. Oregano (thanks to the readers who pointed out the correct name of this herb! It’s sometimes easy to get confused when the guy at the plant nursery assures you he’s selling you something which it is, in fact, not 😁)

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This is another herb I appreciate primarily for its culinary uses. It’s great either chopped fresh or dried and crushed – thoroughly air-dried herbs will keep almost indefinitely, retaining most of their properties.

I love it in bread, chicken roast, soup, and much more.

5. Lemongrass

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I adore the way this plant looks – like a giant spiky tuft of grass. It makes delicious tea, which I love to drink while breastfeeding as, unlike mint and sage, it doesn’t negatively affect milk supply.

If you’re planning a garden, herbs are one of the best places to start. I would say that at the very least, climate permitting, you should have the trio of mint, sage, and rosemary. They are perennial, hardy, easy to grow, smell delicious, and repel insects – what’s not to love?

Lavender lip balm

Who wouldn’t love to capture the smell of their favorite herb in a jar of healthy, all-natural skin care product? In this case, I used lavender, but it could also be rosemary, mint, sage, or any other herb.

I love the smell of lavender, and it also has calming, relaxing properties. We don’t have any in our garden yet, but I know an area in a local park with a large hedge of lavender bushes.

So, fresh lavender.

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Air-dry your lavender. This is done simply by tying it in a bunch in a shady, breezy spot. Drying the lavender will prevent spoilage and rancidity in the finished product.

Next, you will need some base oil without a strong smell, such as almond. I used grapeseed oil.

Pack the dry lavender into a glass jar and pour the oil over it, just enough to cover it. You can use both flowers and leaves. Place the jar in a sunny spot for a period of time from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on how warm it is and how powerfully infused you would like your oil to be. Smell the oil from time to time to decide when it’s ready.

Now filter the oil and discard the lavender parts.

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You could, of course, just add a few drops of essential oil, but I find something thrilling about the idea of scenting my own natural skin care products with herbs I had found and dried myself.

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Next step: weighing the filtered oil and beeswax. Combine in a glass bowl, 1 part beeswax to 4 parts oil.

I remember that last time I posted about using beeswax in skin care products, I got a question about substitutes for people who are sensitive. There are several options for plant-based wax, but I have never used them and can’t offer you first-hand experience.

Place the glass bowl into a small pot of water and gradually heat it over a low flame, stirring until the beeswax melts. Pour into containers and allow to set.

Use as lip balm, on dry rough hands, and on dry heels.

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The battle against sugar

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It seems that sugar cravings, at least in my case, get especially bad in winter. The cool, short, rainy days make me (and my kids!) long for a pick-me-up in the form of a sugary baking session of cookies, cakes, and sweet rolls. It’s so homey and fills the kitchen with a delightful smell, and arguably what you make at home is better than any store-bought sweets – but it’s still not the healthiest treat in the world.

The winter cravings can be explained on many levels. Not only do we stay indoors more, and so have more time, inclination and possibilities for a snack, we also feel sleepier due to higher concentration of melatonin caused by the diminished daylight hours (winter hibernation, anyone?), and so subconsciously long for something energy-packed to keep us going. We also tend to eat more, and more energy-high foods, when we’re cold. Finally, at least for me, in the summer we have all these wonderful juicy fruit that make such great dessert alternatives – melons, watermelons, mangoes, grapes – while in the winter we’re pretty much limited to apples, bananas, and oranges.

Read more in this informative article from Sweet Defeat: Sugar Cravings – Why We Crave Sweets and How to Stop It:

“Fighting and putting a stop to sugar cravings can be a challenge at start. Initially, you may notice that your cravings are in a vicious cycle that only causes you to crave sugar more often. However, there are some things  you can do to set your body up for success.”

Also check out other posts on sugar and food cravings:

Conquering Sugar Cravings

Food That Makes You Hungry

Nursing: the perfect excuse to rest

Image may contain: one or more people, people sleeping and baby
These days, nursing my fourth baby, I can say that one of the best things about nursing is the simple brilliance of it – how convenient it is, and how it allows a tired young mother to rest.

Breastfeeding can have its stresses and challenges – we’ve had slow weight gain, tongue-tie, plugged ducts complete with high fever, D-MER, and others can probably chip in with stories of their own. But basically it’s supposed to be pretty much straightforward, or our species wouldn’t have survived. Throw in the facts that nutritionally speaking, breast milk is perfectly composed to meet the baby’s needs, it’s free, and you don’t have to prepare and wash bottles, not to mention worry about hygiene when you’re out and about – and there you have why I love it so much.

Most of the time, on many busy days, nursing is what allows me to put up my feet and rest, at least for a little while, without feeling guilty. We often try to do too much, and find it difficult to switch to a different mode once we have a baby – and nursing is just the thing to force us to slow down, for our own good. It’s healthy, it’s natural, it’s simple, it involves sitting down for regular periods every day and cuddling a sweet baby. It doesn’t get better than this

For those of us who are used to have it all under control, it can be tempting to say to the husband (or whoever there is to help us out), “here, just hold the baby – and I’ll do those dishes”… but no. Someone else can do the dishes, but no one else can nurse the baby. And while sitting down, it’s nice to have a cooling drink of water or a little snack as a refreshment on a hot busy day.

I guess this is what some would call “being tied down by babies”. It has taken me some time to embrace this, but I’ve realized that “being tied down” by nursing is the best thing that can happen to a frazzled mom looking over a messy house. Because let’s face it, we need to rest, we need to slow down, whether we acknowledge it or not. There will be those moments, of course. There will be days when you feel you have done nothing but nurse the baby – but these things slowly and imperceptibly change as the baby grows older. There will come a time when by-and-by, some of the baby’s nutritional needs will be met by solid food, then a bit more… there will come a time when you are able to leave your baby for an evening and go out.

And there will come a time of a bittersweet goodbye, when, with a feeling of a job well done, you relinquish the bond of breastfeeding and continue to nurture your little one in countless other ways. So there’s no rush. Every minute of nursing and snuggling is precious time well spent.

Starting solids: our experience

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Image source: stuff.co.nz

I got a question about starting solids with babies; and while there are several ways to approach this, here is what has always worked for our children so far.

First off, we always introduce solids very gradually. Pushing solids is a bad idea, as is abrupt weaning/restriction of nursing to get baby to eat solids. Breast milk is a lot more nutritionally balanced than almost every kind of typical baby food.

We never bought ready-made baby food. I don’t see why anyone would buy those tiny, overpriced jars (unless you’re going on a long trip with poor refrigeration facilities). We never thought to look up recipes, either – we simply improvised. As you dive into it, you’ll see making baby food is easy and fun.

We usually start giving tiny tastes of mashed or blended fruit and veggies at around five months, though solids don’t make a full meal until around 6-7 months. Mashed banana makes a good first food, and babies love it (though a few years down the road, they don’t believe me when I tell them they once did!). After introducing each new food, we wait several days to make sure there’s no adverse reaction. After we try an array of foods, we start making mixtures and smoothies using a blender.

I know it is often recommended to give the baby cooked fruit, but generally, we gave it raw (apples, pears, plums) and only cooked/baked veggies (sweet potato, zucchini, pumpkin). I never saw that it disagreed with our babies.

Many grandparents and pediatricians think that cereals are a good choice for baby’s first food at 5-6 months, but at that point, the amylases in our digestive system aren’t fully mature yet and it doesn’t do good to overload baby with starches. Fruit and vegetables are far better as first foods.

As our babies grew older, we felt more and more comfortable to simply take a fork, mash whatever is on our own plate and give it to them. However, up to one year, we avoid foods that are considered allergenic (such as fish, eggs, peanut butter, etc).

When I make baby food, I don’t add salt or spices, but when we feed babies off our plate we don’t avoid salt, though we steer clear of very spicy foods and artificial taste additives. As much as possible, for as long as possible, we avoid giving foods with added sugar, and fake foods such as morning cereals. Sugar is addictive, and once kids have a taste of it, they grow into sugar junkies.

Gradually, our babies grew out of baby foods. Bit by bit, they moved on to soft finger foods, learned to use a spoon and cup, and joined the family table as equal members. I look forward to the expression of pleasure and interest that will appear on Hadassah’s face when she first tastes solids, but I do so love this special time of exclusively breastfeeding her.