Enter your email address to get our weekly email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life.
Musing for Meaning

Lessons from the Road to Health

January 29, 2012

About a month ago I wrote a piece on my struggle to lose weight. Yeah, well, I’m still at it . . . slowly but surely.

I have started to learn that when it comes to the biggest changes in our lives, often you get there step by step, or even baby step by baby step. But the end goal is not all that counts: the process, while most definitely challenging, is where the real learning and transformation take place. After all, if we could reach our goal too easily or quickly, we probably wouldn’t even appreciate it enough to stay there (thus the issues with yo-yo dieting and quick loss and gain).

“Free time” isn’t something I usually have in my vocabularySo, while my progress has been slow, it has—fortunately—been consistent. And not only has my weight been changing, but my lifestyle and eating habits have as well.

I think that the biggest learning curve is that I need to be conscious, at all times, of what I am doing and what I am eating. To be healthy requires planning, and it doesn’t come naturally. Or, maybe it comes naturally, but it certainly doesn’t come easily. Easy is grabbing the quickest thing there is. Sure, it could be a banana, but chances are it will be chips, a chocolate bar or some other attractively packaged danger zone.

And more than just eating healthy, exercise is required. Exercise means making the time to focus on your body. Trust me, no one has used the “But I have no time . . .” excuse more than I. And to be fair, I really mean it. I am lucky if I get five hours of sleep a night, and between raising four children, working a full-time job and traveling for speaking, “free time” isn’t something I usually have in my vocabulary.

Yet, few of us really do have that free time. We are all busy in different ways. And it is the rare healthy person who became that way from just having so much free time on her hands that she decided to get to the gym and make nutritious meals. Just the opposite: the less we have to do, the easier it is to become lazy. And once lazy . . . we all know what happens. This is why the Hebrew word for “laziness,” atzlut, is related to the word for “depression,” atzvut. When we don’t utilize our time well and ensure that we take time out for ourselves and keeping ourselves healthy, our laziness leads to depression.

The biggest learning curve is that I need to be conscious, at all times, of what I am doing and what I am eating.And, ready for the best part? The Hebrew word for “healthy,” bari, shares the same root as bara, which means “to be creative.” When we are healthy, we can produce, we can be creative. And nothing beats utilizing our creativity!

So, as I head down this long road to a healthier me, I am not only starting to see the changes, I am most definitely feeling them. And, from investing more time in me, I am actually gaining more time for all of those around me. It is not about what time we have, it is about how we choose to use it.

And my favorite new tip so far? I have discovered that at a fairly average pace I can walk on the treadmill and check my e‑mail, respond, and keep my breathing in check to make phone calls. So even when my day is insane and I may not have time for the workout I dreamed of, I can still track a few miles doing what I would anyway be doing at home stuck in front of the computer. Sure, if I was just walking I could go faster and work harder, but nothing beats multitasking and being active.

So, the next time you send in a reader comment, chances are I will be reviewing it in motion . . .

Hope to keep you posted with more good news on this journey. With wishes for us all to use our time in creative and healthy ways!

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

The Big Screen

January 22, 2012

Not long ago, I was the keynote speaker at a big fundraising dinner. There were hundreds of people spread throughout the expansive hall. In order to hear and see the speakers, there were large screens in each corner and alongside the back wall. This made it much easier and more pleasurable for the guests. I, however, was not a guest. I was the speaker.

When I stood at the podium and began to speak, I tried—like always—to make eye contact with those in front of me. The problem, however, was that there was not a single person looking at me. For a few minutes I couldn’t understand if they found me boring or were too tired, until I realized that while they appeared to stare off into space, they were actually looking right at me, indirectly.

There was not a single person looking at meWorse yet, I had to do everything in my power to avoid glancing at myself while I spoke. For starters, I really didn’t want to see myself on that big a screen. Undoubtedly, every insecurity would rise to the occasion, and I would lose my concentration trying to fix something on my face. More so, if I looked at myself, everyone would know I was looking at myself, and that would really be embarrassing.

So instead, I had to speak to an entire audience that was watching me quite closely (more closely than anyone should ever have to see someone), and yet no one was actually looking at me, which made connecting to my crowd quite difficult. And let’s not forget that the whole back of the room had their backs to me while they watched me on their screen.

It got me thinking. This scenario, in so many ways, resembled my relationship at times with my Creator. Throughout my life I have had those precious few moments where I have needed to connect, needed to speak, and was able to make that eye contact. I was able to look out, and know I was being looked at and listened to. But more often than not, I am there, standing at that podium, screaming, crying, arguing, debating, begging . . . and He seems to be looking away from me. Even worse, at times it appears His back is turned.

But in truth? He is seeing me, He is watching me, closer than I can even imagine. And while I either don’t want to see or can’t really see my true self, up close and personal on that big screen, He most definitely can.

He is seeing me, He is watching me, closer than I can even imagineFor my keynote address, I quickly learned that I couldn’t count on eye contact to get me through. So I did what I had to. I faked it! I pretended to be speaking to someone, and laughed along with the crowd after a joke, even though no one was directly laughing with me. And you know what? Not only did they not notice that they weren’t looking directly at me, I stopped noticing it too. Because the truth was, they were watching me. They were listening and they were learning. And that mattered a lot more than if they were actually staring into my eyes.

It can be hard to remember, and even harder to feel, but we are never alone and are always being watched. The question is not if He is looking. The question really should be: when blown up on that big screen, will we like what He sees?

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Surviving the Winter

January 15, 2012

My husband always jokes that ours is a marriage of caveman and surfer girl. He grew up in Vermont, where there are more cows than people, and would spend his days hiding out in the fields, reading. I, on the other hand, grew up in Los Angeles, and spent as many hours as possible at the beach.

And now we live in Philadelphia.

I cannot begin to describe how much I miss the ocean, the sand and the sun. While I have grown to appreciate the changing of the leaves, and for about three days of the year I enjoy sledding with my kids, I have a ways to go before I can say I really appreciate the East Coast winter.

I am convinced that warmer people are happier peopleLife is just so much easier when it is warmer. No layers; no bundling up kids who inevitably then need the bathroom; no wet, sludgy, muddy mess each and every time you go anywhere. But it is more than that. I am convinced that warmer people are happier people. When the sun is shining people smile more, take their time, greet one another. When it is cold, we are so busy trying to get wherever we need to go as fast as we need to go that we barely even look up (after all, your face is warmer when your head is down . . . ).

It doesn’t help that the cold begins to really hit around the time we change our clocks. So now I am not only dealing with lowering temperatures, but I am simultaneously losing my beloved sunlight. It was just a mere few weeks ago that we had the shortest day of the year, which is, of course, the day that winter officially begins.

Yet, as I rushed like a mad woman to prepare Shabbat in time for the ridiculously early start of 4:18, I noticed something. For the past few months, Shabbat was beginning earlier and earlier each week. But then, the very week it was at its earliest, it meant that we were now on our way back up.

Every week now, we are gaining a few more precious minutes to prepare for Shabbat. And while they may seem inconsequential when you look just at the numbers, when you need them you definitely know how every second counts. Just when we got to the least amount of light of the entire year, it all turned around and started moving upwards. And all those small changes soon enough add up to significant changes.

Isn’t that true of everything in life? Small steps to eating healthier, parenting better, communicating more successfully, etc. Each one on its own can seem like nothing, but as the time passes, we realize it is really making quite a difference.

Just when we got to the least amount of light of the entire year, it all turned around and started moving upwardsAnd while I am thrilled to be gaining more light each and every day, I can’t say the same for the weather. While the temperature will still be dropping for some time, it will no doubt also eventually start going back up. Perhaps little by little, but it won’t be that long before the sun returns and warms Philadelphia once again.

In the meantime, I am trying to learn how to take advantage of what each situation offers. After all, an early Shabbat means being able to get to sleep earlier and catch up on those much needed zzzz’s. An early end to Shabbat means the opportunity to have a family outing, which would never happen on a Friday afternoon, no matter how late Shabbat would begin. And the cold weather? Well, maybe this year I will actually try to learn how to ski or snowboard or something snow-related. My husband is from Vermont, after all . . . So since I can be pretty sure the snow isn’t going anywhere, I guess it’s about time I figure out how to have some fun with it!

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

The Working Mother

January 8, 2012

If you really want to get a group of women reacting, make a comment regarding mothering. I should know, as what I thought was an innocent Facebook post recently got quite the conversation going.

There was this great image (great at least according to me) of a member of the Italian parliament holding her seven-week-old baby in a sling on her body while raising her hand in vote. I loved this image, since I felt it showed the fragile yet beautiful ability to be involved and impact the world while cradling one’s baby.

If you really want to get a group of women reacting, make a comment regarding motheringAnd thus began the stay at home vs. stay at work debate. Which, of course, gets translated into the good mother vs. bad mother debate. And this is where the claws come out. We can handle a lot, even a lot of criticism, but once you involve our children, watch out. Now you are dealing with Mama Bear.

Clearly, I am a working mother. If I wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Or TheJewishWoman.org, for that matter. And, for the record, the fact that I work is not necessarily by choice. I work because I need to. Because I have to. Because our family depends on the support I bring. But . . . I love my work. And a part of me is quite grateful that I was never so fortunate to be able to choose if I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. Since it was not an option, it was not something I needed to decide on, which definitely lessened the guilt. I was also blessed throughout the years with a flexible schedule. One that allowed me to nurse all four of my babies throughout my workday, and for the most part to always be home when they arrived back from school. I am aware that so many mothers are not able to do this.

I don’t think there is a mother in this world who doesn’t question if she is doing the best for her children. Every decision we make, we ponder and we worry. And no matter what we decide, we will always wonder if it was the right way to go. This applies to the women who have to leave their children to go to work, and the ones who leave their work to stay home. To me, a physically present mother alone does not a good mother make. A child also needs a loving, supportive, attentive, passionate mother.

A woman is called the akeret habayit, the foundation of the home. But that does not mean that her role is fulfilled exclusively when she is literally inside the home. It means that she is the home. That the home is always her focus, whether she is outside of it or inside of it. The Talmud tells us, “beito zu ishto,” that a man’s home is his wife. No matter where she is, she must create that home environment. A place where she feels at home and where she makes others feel at home.

We always question whether our actions are selfish or selfless. But I think we also need to look beyond the actions, to the motivations behind them. If I leave my baby to go to the gym in the morning, so that I can come home energized and healthy and focused, so that the time with my baby is then positive and loving rather than drained and resentful, I am being selfless. Sure, I am going to the gym, but I am going to the gym for the sake of my child. On the other hand, if I go to the gym when the kids get home because I don’t want to deal with them, and I am looking to escape helping with their homework, or because ultimately I care more about my body image and my workout than other needs, I am being selfish. It is not because I am going to the gym, but it is because I am doing it at the expense of my children rather than for the sake of my children.

We can never settle for what is comfortable, because life is not comfortableWe need to know ourselves; we need to know our strengths and our weaknesses, and then push ourselves and strive to do better. We can never settle for what is comfortable, because life is not comfortable. Life is about moving and growing and stretching. And as women, we have enough challenges. The last thing we need is more infighting. I think we put down others to feel better about our own choices or situations. If I chose to stay at home and give up my career, then it better be the best thing in the world for my child! In order for me to feel good, I need to make what you are doing bad.

But really? Is that what it is all about? Let’s dispel the myth. All mothers are working mothers. Some work in the home, some work outside of the home. But we are all working. Motherhood is work! But more importantly, let’s focus on what really unifies us, which is the “mother” part of the statement.

We need to make sure that our children are our focus. Our passion. Our goal. Does this mean we can’t find fulfillment and satisfaction and inspiration from our work? Not at all! But it should be for the sake of being a better woman and a better mother. Just as we know that our potential to love grows exponentially with each and every child (otherwise the big argument would be whether it is bad mothering to have more than one child, because then your love and time would have to be divided . . .), so too, let’s give women some credit. Our time, our energy, our focus and our ability can also grow exponentially.

We can be productive, involved, impactful women in society, in our careers and in the world at largeWe can be productive, involved, impactful women in society, in our careers and in the world at large. But it shouldn’t be in spite of our children, but for our children. And in the meantime, let’s stop judging other mothers, and instead focus on being the best we can be. We have no idea what another mother is dealing with, the choices she has to make or the circumstances behind her decisions. But you can be sure that, just like you, she is doubting herself and worrying if she is a good mother. And the last thing she needs is our criticism. She needs support, understanding and, when possible, a helping hand.

We may never become that perfect mother. But the more we focus inwardly while striving to raise healthy and happy children, the closer we will become to the perfect mother for our children.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.

Missing Mr. Bill

January 1, 2012
Mr. Bill
Mr. Bill

For the last two years, every morning when my kids cross the street to school, we have been greeted by Mr. Bill.

Everyone loves Mr. Bill. He always has a smile on his face, asks each and every child how he or she is doing, and waves to the parents as they pass in their cars. He even keeps his pockets stuffed with dog biscuits, so you can hear the excited barking as the dogs approach with their grateful owners.

But for the past two weeks, Mr. Bill hasn’t been there.

The first day I assumed he might not have been feeling well, or perhaps had decided to take a day off. But then another few days passed, and I grew concerned. I asked the friendly replacement crossing guard (friendly, yes; Mr. Bill, no!) if he was okay, and she told me that he was having problems with his knees, and that is why he hasn’t been there.

I never really thought about the impact he made, until he wasn’t thereI hope that is all it is, as we are missing him. A lot.

I never really thought about the impact he made, until he wasn’t there. But I now see how Mr. Bill has ensured that every morning we saw a smiling face and someone genuinely happy to see me and my children.

Every morning, even if we were rushed or running late, we would get a big “hello!” followed by wishes for a great school day. It took only a few words, but no one could pass Mr. Bill without smiling and feeling that much better.

I have always loved how the first thing a Jew says in the morning is Modeh Ani. While still in bed, eyes closed and barely conscious, Modeh Ani is what we say. The Modeh Ani prayer is where we thank our Creator for giving us back life and restoring our soul. Jewish philosophy teaches that sleep is one-sixtieth of death, so we are grateful to have woken up in the morning.

But we don’t say the phrase in the usual order, which would mean, “I thank You,” but rather, “Thank You I.” It doesn’t seem to make sense grammatically—but it makes perfect sense.

When we wake up, before we are to think about ourselves, and certainly before we talk about ourselves (I had the weirdest dream, I had the worst sleep, I am exhausted . . .) we first say “Thank You.” Thank You that I am breathing. Thank You that I am alive. Once we express our gratitude, then we mention ourselves.

Now that Mr. Bill has been absent for a few weeks, I am realizing that he was the continuation in our mornings of this Modeh Anilesson. His job is a crossing guard. He spends his mornings and afternoons—rain, sleet or snow—standing in the middle of the street to ensure that our children can cross safely. It must be a physically taxing job, yet he does it with a smile on his face.

He is not thinking about himself or the cold or the wet; he is looking at the children as they run to or from school, filled with promise and potential. And he ensures that, no matter what their morning was like, they enter that school building with a smile on their face. Likewise, as they leave school, he is the first one they see as they head home after their long day.

He ensures that they enter that school building with a smile on their face. I am very much hoping that Mr. Bill returns soon. I know I am not the only one who misses him. But until then, I guess it is my job to fill in for Mr. Bill. I need to make sure, no matter how late we are running, no matter if my kids forgot to pack their lunches, put away their homework or find their missing shoe, that my children (and husband) not only start their day with gratitude, but leave the house with a smile and a blessing for a great day. And, needless to say, that when they return, they are greeted with that genuine smile as well.

In the meantime, we miss you, Mr. Bill, and hope you will be back soon. And until then, rain or shine, I hope to fill your very big shoes!

P.S.: Mr. Bill returned this week to school. He had knee replacements, but is smiling nonetheless. We were all so thrilled to see him!

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
Related Topics