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FF Trend Watch

Behind the scenes, do we really practice what we preach? We challenge 4 FF writers to dare to improve their lives

At Family First, we always try to teach you how to live your best life: Try this therapy. Buy this gadget. Check out this amazing life hack. But behind the scenes, do we really practice what we preach? We challenge 4 FF writers to dare to improve their lives. Does the buzz live up to the hype?


What a Meal Prep
Hadassa Swerds

Meal preparation, also known affectionately as “Meal Prep,” is the process of planning and preparing meals ahead of time.

For the uninitiated, one who is attempting Meal Prep prepares a week’s worth of dinners on Sunday. It’s supposed to save time, effort, and money, and that’s a great idea because who wouldn’t want to save all those things? People who are passionate about Meal Prep swear that they now have time to frolic in the nearby meadows and pursue all their forgotten hobbies in the time they have saved by cooking for the week on Sunday.

This sounded worth a try, but I have to admit, I was less than optimistic. I mean, I’ve known my kids for a while now. I was present at that historic moment when one child asked for a slice of frozen pizza and before the pizza had a chance to fully defrost, he’d changed his mind and wanted a grilled cheese sandwich instead. And I’m supposed to prepare supper for these kids a week in advance?

Sounded like a disaster to me, but I was willing to give it a shot.

Shocking absolutely no one, it went exactly as expected. Sunday was dedicated to mapping out a menu, buying ingredients, and cooking. I sliced, sautéed, baked, and fried.

Monday: They opted for scrambled eggs and toast instead of chicken.

Tuesday: Let’s be real, pasta made in advance is kind of gross. I can admit this now.

Wednesday: Despite it being their favorite meal of all time, no one was in the mood for meatballs. Somehow, frozen fish sticks and tuna were more appealing, leading me to consider getting DNA testing done to see if these really were my children or if they were switched at birth.

Thursday: I gave up and ordered pizza. Two kids asked for the chicken from Monday night instead.

Are we winning at this Meal Prep thing or what?

Upon reflection, this trend actually stole a whole bunch of time, effort, and money. My entire Sunday turned out to be a lot of investment for almost zero return.

Maybe I had meal prepped wrong? I checked in with my friend Meira and asked her if she had ever prepared her meals a week in advance. She said, “I could have saved you time by letting you know how it worked for me, which is not at all. Basically, all I did was lose an entire Sunday cooking food I no longer wanted to eat by the time it was time to eat it.”

At least I’m not the only one who finds it impossible to bask in the smugness of meal preparation, and I do feel a bit better knowing that I’m not alone.

If meal preparation seems so impractical, why are so many people such fans of this practice?

I did some more research. Turns out that one of the main benefits of meal preparation is to make sure your meals aren’t repetitive, because if they are, you’re depriving your body of nutrients that it needs.

I’m pretty sure my kid who eats grilled cheese for supper most nights would disagree with that premise.

Well, if this trend works for you, that is amazing, and I wish you continued hatzlachah. All life hacks matter.

If you feel that it might be a total bust for you, you’re in good company.

In fact, meal preparation had backfired for me to such an extent that I’m considering using the term “Meal Prep” whenever I want to describe something that took time and effort with no results.

You took your teenage daughter shopping for four hours and came home with nothing?

What a Meal Prep.

You had to drive two hours to get to an interview that was not actually for the job they had advertised?

What a Meal Prep.

I could go on, but I’ve got to stop writing so that I can clean up a bit around my house.

And we all know that since my kids are all still awake, that’s probably going to be a total Meal Prep.


Sarno Will Guide You
Esty Heller

I have a crick in my neck.

I have a crazy painful crick in my neck, and I gripe about it to anyone who’s willing to listen.

Unschooled in the art of active listening, my audience jumps to problem solve.

“Fermented garlic,” says my friend.

“Therapy,” says my neighbor.

“Dousing,” says my cousin.

“Kupat Ha’ir,” says my sister-in-law.

After I assure them that I’ve tried all of the above plus a whole bunch of other tried-and-not-true approaches, someone — a very assertive someone, because she’s talking to the Queen of Skepticism — offers my last ray of hope.

“Sarno,” says my very assertive acquaintance conspiratorially. “I used to suffer from chronic headaches. Nothing helped, until I started following Sarno’s method. I never got a headache again.”

Immediately, I get a headache.


Because it’s not true.

How do I know?

Because I’ve tried it. Once, after I threw my back out, I woke up and told my back, “You don’t hurt. It’s all in your spine.”

And guess what?

It did hurt.

It didn’t care about my reasoning. Baby that it is.

But now I’m told that the reason it didn’t work for me is because I went about it all wrong. There’s so much more to Sarno than telling your pain stories. It’s deep, psychological work, and if I embark on the emotional journey with the correct tools, I will overcome all that ails me.

Oh. Wow.

My very assertive acquaintance explains it like this: “The crick in your neck is a distraction for a different area of pain, an emotional pain that your subconscious mind determined would be harmful for you to be aware of. Ask yourself what that thing is. What’s really making you suffer?”

I think for a moment. “Bananas.”

My very assertive acquaintance patiently waits for me to elaborate.

“I experience intense pain when I discover a bunch of brown bananas on the windowsill in the morning.”

She urges me to go on. To dig deeper.

“They were dark green the night before. My kids love bananas, but if they’re that perfect yellow for all of fifteen minutes during their lifespan, and those fifteen minutes of ripeness occur at three a.m., where does that leave us? I’ll tell you where: facing a bunch of bleeding brown bananas swarming with fruit flies.”

“Yes!” my very assertive acquaintance cries. “That’s it! Now explain this to the crick in your neck, and you’ll see, it will go away.”

Newly inspired, I agree to give it another shot.

I begin first thing in the morning, when my body refuses to part from my bed because it rightfully demands that I give it more than the four hours of sleep I gave it.

“Body,” I tell my body, “you’re not tired. The fatigue you’re feeling is a distraction, a pain syndrome created by my mind because it thinks it’s harmful for me to remember the nights I spent wailing as a newborn because my pacifier fell out of my mouth.”

My body groans in response.

I snooze my alarm clock.

What Sarno won’t accomplish, nine minutes will have to.

When I eventually make it out of bed feeling anything but alert, I hop on the scale. I stare down at the number. In the physical sense, my eyes make out the shapes of those digits. The numbers add up. High. Too high. So high that I’m about to burst into tears, because I did 30 reverse crunches last night, and I had salad for lunch. Salad.

But I quickly snap into consciousness. I mean, subconsciousness. Whatever the protocol calls for.

I’m doing Sarno today. Which means, there is no physical sense.

“Number,” I tell the scale severely, “you think you’re this crazy, outrageous number. But no, that’s only how my eyes physically perceive you. You are shaped by the scars of that time when I lost six precious tokens to the slot machine in Kids’n’Action that never once, in the history of kids in action, lifted a stuffed alligator in its claws before the hopeful eyes of a gambling child. Six tokens. Which I could’ve instead risked on the Jackpot and (not) won a hundred tickets that I could’ve redeemed for one sticker tattoo.

“I won’t be fooled, Number-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. You are a distraction. In fact, you are fifteen values lower than you think you are, and I see straight through you. I will not allow your physical presentation to deter me. You cause me no pain. I am not anxious. What do I even need a sticker tattoo for? I will go eat my chocolate Danish now.”

I eat my chocolate Danish. It’s delicious. My very assertive acquaintance is on to something.

With my weight under control and my Danish savored, I’m ready to plow on to my next pain point of the day: buses.

Here’s the thing with buses. Either you make them, or you miss them. It’s that simple.

So on most days, we make them. But, like, just about. And that last 13 seconds, when the suspense of will we make it will we make it we’re not making it we’re going to miss it is at its peak, I need a quick, concentrated, doused dose of fermented garlic and all of Kupat Ha’ir’s promises, but no, therapist, go home, I have this, watch me.

“Bus,” I tell the bus that whizzes past my house without my kids on board. “You think you just whizzed past my house without my kids on board. But you’re merely a distraction, distracting me from my inner child who so badly wishes to be skinny, and the kids I see before my eyes who belong on your faux leather, potato chip-coated seats are totally sitting in those seats, and I only think they’re hyperventilating in my kitchen over their missing shoes. And you — I’m looking at you, missing shoes, except if I would only know where you are my kids would be wearing you and sitting on faux leather potato chip-coated bus seats and not hyperventilating in my kitchen — are not even really missing; you’re a cruel, conceited distraction for the stress that sits in my stomach when I think how my sister’s kids’ shoes never go missing, plus how behind with Pesach cleaning I am compared to her. Bus, go away. I mean, come back. I’ll send them in Shabbos shoes.”

This is where I get a little stumped, because after my long, fiery speech, I rub my eyes, but there’s no pixie dust in the space where my kids just stood, there are actual kids, who belong in school, and I’m the one who needs to figure out how to get them over there.

So I don’t have time to continue practicing Sarno today. I have places to go, people to un-see. I just want you to know, you are a distraction. I see straight through you. You think I suffer from deep-seated, subconscious stress and repressed thoughts, but no, I am fully and consciously aware of every last Machanayim game my team unfairly lost, as well as the many times my cleaning help left me high and dry. And despite all that, my back still hurts, my chocolate Danish clings to me, my bananas have turned to honey again, and although I love my very assertive acquaintance dearly, I’m late to work because of the whole bus trick you tried to play on me.

Stop creating pain syndromes. Stop determining that the long-buried memory of awful camp food is the reason I’m feeling sleep-deprived. I am sleep-deprived. In fact, being sleep- deprived is the feeling I’m working so hard on repressing.


See? It worked.


Mastering a New Language
Raizy Jotkowitz

I’ve been married for two decades, have raised teenagers, and between my husband and 17-year-old daughter, have had more screaming matches than I can count on all my fingers and toes. It feels like it’s about time to go back to those days when I knew everything theoretically and see if I can put some of that knowledge into practice.

You see, I read The Five Love Languages back when I was in seminary, when reading self-help books and dating books and marriage books and parenting books was all the rage. I devoured every single tome on those topics in my seminary’s library, and every dog-eared paperback that made the rounds in the dorm. I became an expert on relationships, on dating, marriage, on child raising. I probably could have opened my own coaching practice from my unmade top bunk bed somewhere in Bayit Vegan.

Too bad none of the advice I read worked with my roommate; what with her mood swings, she was just too unreasonable to get along with. Nor did it work with my chesed kids, probably because they were such spoiled brats, having never heard the word no from their mother. But I knew with absolute certainty that my recently accumulated wisdom would work with my future chassan — he’d have sterling middos, and the only swings he’d know about would be the ones he’d push our adorable future children on when he took them to the park on Friday afternoons so I could take a nap.

Then I actually got married. And had children. And no, my husband didn’t want to take the children to the park on Friday afternoon while I frantically sautéed onions for the cholent — he wanted to take a nap. And no, telling my toddler that I wished I could hold him now and I couldn’t because I needed to make Shabbos didn’t stop him from screaming and pulling at my skirt even though How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk assured me it would.

But could I rechannel my once-wiser self? I decided to find out.

So I reread The Five Love Languages. Okay, who am I kidding? I watched the summary video clips on the author’s website. The animations are adorable, and I could watch them from my computer at work during lunch break — so much easier than trying to keep my eyelids open in bed at midnight and read lines and lines of psychobabble.

As I watched the clips, which told me that there are five love languages — physical touch, acts of service, gifts, one-on-one time, and compliments, and that each person has a strong preference for one of those — I came to the conclusion that my husband married a gem. I mean, my love language is compliments. Why, I could have been one of those women who only appreciates a Tiffany necklace that he thoughtfully selected from the display, personally chose the wrapping paper for, and emptied the contents of the bar mitzvah-and-wedding savings account to pay for. Instead, all he has to do is overlook the fact supper was burned and too salty and tell me my cooking is Michelin level, and it’s as if he brought home a diamond bracelet! What more could a man ask for?

Turns out it might have been easier for him to buy me jewelry. He just couldn’t get the pronunciation of Michelin right. And he looked like he’d swallowed too big a spoonful of mashed potatoes while he was saying it. Really, you’re allowed to stretch the truth for shalom bayis, aren’t you? And whatever happened to Mitoch she’lo lishma ba lishma?

Well, my ears needed to hear what my mouth had just said, or more like what my fingers just typed. Because after doing the quiz, I discovered my husband’s love language is acts of service. I think that I knew that deep down. Ever since we were first married, I’ve seen how he looks mortally wounded when he has to scrounge through the dirty laundry hamper for the pair of socks that smells the least, how his eyes light up when I make him a coffee and put out a plate of freshly baked cookies (I did that once, in shanah rishonah, and am still waiting for my Nobel Prize nomination), and how he likes it when (um, expects that) I put a plated supper in front of him at the dinner table.

So I try. I really try to do it with a full heart. The problem is that doing Acts of Service awakens my inner rebel who very much resents having to step into the role of 1950s housewife, and wants to say pleadingly, “I’m hungry and tired, too. And I was also at work all day. Can’t you put your food on your own plate? Please, pretty please?” What was it that I said before? Mitoch she’lo lishma ba lishma? How long does it usually take to happen?

I try the love languages with my kids, too. And realize that the toddler who always tries to climb on me is looking for more physical affection. And the 12-year-old who always asks to drink a cup of tea with me at bedtime isn’t after the three spoonfuls of sugar he puts into his cuppa (well maybe he also is), but wants to spend quality time with me. And my teenager who circles all the things she wants me to buy from the local circulars isn’t just materialistic and doesn’t know the value of money; she just feels loved when we gift her with things.

After a solid month of relating to my family through the five languages, I’ve learned a number of things. First off, there’s no such things as quick fixes. Even magical advice takes effort to implement!

Second, doing three loads of laundry a day so my husband doesn’t have to scrounge for socks makes the morning routine, and the evening routine, and Erev Shabbos, and Erev Yom Tov, so much smoother.

And third (from spending lots of one-on-one time drinking tea and chatting with my science-nerd 12-year-old), that giraffes are 30 times more likely to get hit by lightning than people are. Who knew?


My Best Friend-In-Law
Erin Stiebel

AS we journey through life, we encounter new friendships that broaden our horizons and connect us in unexpected ways. One of the most remarkable connections is a term my friend calls, “the best-friend-in-law.” The best-friend-in-law is your very close friend’s friend; you truly have nothing to do with her, yet you know everything about her. You feel unnaturally close to this stranger. Sometimes, you get lucky, and your best-friend-in-law becomes your best friend, too. In my case, she turned out to be someone truly extraordinary. Let me tell you about Betty.

My friend Chana ’Liza would gush about Betty. She would brag about her efficiency and creativity in the kitchen, always complimenting her on her simplicity, depth, warmth, and electric personality. I knew I had to meet this culinary genius. Suffice to say, I was over the moon when the invitation came for dinner at Chana ’Liza’s, with Betty at the helm in the kitchen. Little did I know, this encounter would change everything.

From the moment I tasted Betty’s cooking, I was spellbound, and decided to invite her to my home, too. Whether it was whipping up pizza puffs or crafting pancake masterpieces, she amazed us with her ingenuity. But it wasn’t until she tackled breakfast that I realized Betty was no ordinary cook.

Her pancakes weren’t just pancakes — she would make one gargantuan pancake, topped with syrup and then sliced into perfect triangles. She called it pancake pizza. Oh, Betty! And her scrambled eggs? How she browned them so evenly on all sides and kept the whole dish so moist will forever be a mystery to me. With Betty, even the simplest meal became an epicurean adventure.

And on Motzaei Shabbos, Betty truly outdid herself. From grilled cheese sandwiches with perfectly crunchy, buttery bread to nachos with melted cheese that defied logic, she left us speechless. And don’t even get me started on her cookies — gooey in the middle, perfectly crisp on the outside. Flawless.

And not only was she a fantastic cook, it turns out we had way more mutual friends than I realized. Betty and I quickly hit it off, and well, the rest is history. Soon enough, Betty became a permanent fixture in our lives — from daily cooking sessions to joining us on family vacations.

With each culinary triumph, Betty’s legend grew. After several years, a publishing company deep in the heart of Boro Park heard about Betty and published a book of her masterpieces. It’s not quite an ArtScroll biography, but it’s close. Of course, I purchased a copy for Chana ’Liza, with heartfelt appreciation for bringing Betty into my life.

Yet, despite Betty’s culinary prowess and our seemingly inseparable bond over cooking, our friendship hasn’t extended much beyond the daled amos of my kitchen. Is it because she’s always getting heated? Maybe. She cools down just a few minutes after she unplugs, true, but she can be sensitive. Like that time my kids called her Wacky Mac “disgusting,” or when the smoke alarm went off after we forgot about the veggies she was roasting.

So many memories.

Betty, let me thank you for the quick and easy meals, for bringing new traditions into our home, and for taking risks in the kitchen even when you knew my kids would boycott dinner. (Of course I’m referring to the tuna patty incident.) I’ll forever admire how you fed Chana ’Liza’s family during those many months of her home restoration and never asked for one word of thanks. You may be red in the face from all of this praise, but know that you’ve forever changed our lives — one delicious meal at a time.

To my new best-friend-in-law, Betty Crocker.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 886)

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