Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guess I can be a MasterChef, too

Even after promising myself I wouldn't start watching new show, I'm fully into MasterChef. Basically, I had no choice since I adore Gordon Ramsay. Since discovering him during the first season of Hell's Kitchen, I've watched all his shows -- all seasons of Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, and now, MasterChef. MasterChef is a reality competition show in which amateur cooks compete against each other for the title of, what else, "MasterChef." What makes this show different is that these contestants are real amateurs. They have occupations that do not involve the food industry (except for two servers). They cook for fun, for their families, etc.

They have real skill in the kitchen. There are many disappointments in each episode (after all, they aren't professionals) but there are also a few of them that could be competing on Top Chef or Hell's Kitchen. However, last night was just ridiculous. During last night's episode, I had a revelation... I could be a MasterChef too.

They had an elimination game in which the contestants had to identify foods based on sight, touch, and smell. They couldn't taste them. They had 25 ingredients to identify. The highest number identified was 11. ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  I could identify at least 15-20 just from seeing them on TV. Just some examples: Golden Raisins, Nectarines, Butternut Squash, Catfish, Papaya, Salmon, Filet Mignon, Rosemary, Starfruit, Blue Cheese, Brie, Rhubarb, and Black-Eyed Peas.  Yes, there were about 5 or so ingredients that seemed foreign to me. But, for the most part, anyone who visits a supermarket, let alone is vying to be a masterchef, should be able to identify the majority of them. The guy who lost, couldn't identify starfruit. No, really. He couldn't name starfruit.

WHAT? I should be on that show. I could lose every cooking competition and still avoid elimination against these people. Actually, based on their cupcake challenge, I probably wouldn't lose every cooking competition. Plus, as a bonus, I could meet Cat Cora! Yes, she was the guest chef last night.. lucky amateur horrible chefs!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's called a Killer Whale, people

Oh, Shamu!

As a child, I would go with my family to places like the Miami Seaquarium and watch all the live human-animal interaction shows. Trainers were swimming with dolphins, doing tricks with killer whales, playing with sea lions, etc. These shows fascinated me. I loved animals, and getting to watch a woman swim with a whale evoked my own desire to interact with these creatures. Killer whales are beautiful and, as my child mind deduced from the live shows, cuddly and playful. Just like a puppy!  But, I was a child when I had these thoughts. These shows are meant to capture the emotions of children and help them develop a connection and love for animals.  And that's really important! As an animal lover, I feel its so important for children to grow up with a sense of connection to the other animals in the world. The love of animals instilled in people as children is what helps motivate them as adults to conserve and protect the environment, help living things in need, and prevent species from going extinct.

That being said, as an adult, though hopefully one's love of animals remains, one's perceptions of animals as living things should change. Adults should realize that elephants do not wear green suits and gold crowns like Babar. Instead, they are giant animals who have the power to easily trample a person if they feel the need to defend themselves. Bears do not dress up in bow-ties and cuddle in bed with us like so many of our stuffed animals did as a child. Bears can attack and kill you. It is best to stay away from them. After all, when you go camping, everyone knows to tightly pack up your food to avoid a bear encounter. You do not leave out food to attract them. And killer whales.. well, killer whales are called that for a reason. They can be trained, of course, but they also have massive teeth and more than enough strength to kill a person, intentionally or not. They are not guests for your pool party.

And so, that brings us to the attack at Sea World. In February, a trainer was attacked by an orca (that's the real name for these beautiful creatures.. wonder why they got nicknamed killer?) and unfortunately did not survive. It's sad, it's tragic, and it happens. Anybody with enough knowledge to work at Sea World, I'm sure has enough knowledge to understand that they are working with large, predatory animals. No matter how obedient and well-trained an animal is, there is always a risk involved. And when you choose to work with large, predatory, wild animals, that's a huge risk. Anyway, the government fined Sea World because it says Sea World "exposed" its employees to these animals. Here is an excerpt from the OSHA statement: 

"SeaWorld recognized the inherent risk of allowing trainers to interact with potentially dangerous animals. Nonetheless, it required its employees to work within the pool walls, on ledges and on shelves where they were subject to dangerous behavior by the animals."
HELLO?? Am I missing something here?  Isn't that THE JOB?  Isn't that what these trainers signed up for?  Wasn't that part of the job description?  If SeaWorld deserves to be sued, then so does the fire department. So does the military. So does Nascar. So does every national sports league. So does the police department. There is a risk with all these occupations, just to name a few. Every employee of these organizations is required to work and interact in a potentially dangerous situation, and to be subject to dangerous behavior by others. Each head of these organizations do recognize the inherent risk of these employees to perform their jobs. So, unless the government plans on fining every zoo, every theme park, every sports organization, every police department, every fire department, etc., it should really lay off Sea World.

Don't get me wrong, what happened was a tragedy. So was Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash. So is the death of every policeman, fireman, and soldier killed on the job. So why don't we sue Nascar and the government itself?  We don't because that's the job. If you sign up for a dangerous, potentially fatal job, there is always that chance of something horrible happening. But, people need to be responsible for their own choices. If you aren't willing to take the risk, don't sign up for it. And I'm sure less people get killed from working at Sea World than from any other profession I mentioned above.

Next thing you know, your heavyweight champion will be walking out of the ring with a championship belt and a subpoena. After all, he beat somebody up. And you'll all be yelling, "It's called boxing, people!"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Watch

"I am eternally grateful for my knack of finding in great books, some of them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no matter what else might be going on."

I love to read. Books inspire me. Books relax me. Books rejuvenate me. A good book is almost as refreshing as taking an actual vacation to a faraway place. I said, "almost." ;) I've thought about buying one of those "nooks" -- those handheld devices that is kind of like an ipod, but for books -- so that I can easily take any number of books with me in my purse, and it'll be weightless and easy. But, I decided not to. I love the actual, physical book. To me, it's part of the whole experience. You have to smell the freshly printed pages, experience the turning of each page as  you advance through the story and fumble to find your place when you accidentally close the book and you haven't dog-eared the page.

From time to time, as I find precious gems of literature, I will be posting them here as a "book watch." To start, here are two of my all-time favorite books: The Little Prince and The Tao of Pooh. These are two of the wittiest and wisest books I've ever read (and I read a lot!). I've added a few quotes from each to give you a sample:

The Little Prince by: Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

"I have had, in the course of my life lots of encounters with lots of serious people. I have spent lots of time with grown-ups. I have seen them at close range.. which hasn't much improved my opinion of them."

"Grown ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: 'What does his voice sound like?' 'What games does he like best?' 'Does he collect butterflies?'. They ask: 'How old is he?' 'How many brothers does he have?' 'How much does he weigh?' 'How much money does his father make?'. Only then do they think they know him."

"If you tell grown ups, ' I saw a beautiful red brick house, with geraniums at the windows and doves on the roof..,' they won't be able to imagine such a house. You have to tell them, 'I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs.' Then they exclaim, 'What a pretty house!'

"If I commanded a general to fly from one flower to the next like a butterfly, or to wrote a tragedy, or to turn into a seagull, and if the general did not carry out my command, which one of us would be in the wrong, the general or me?

'You would be,' said the little prince quite firmly.

'Exactly. One must command from each what each can perform,' the king went on. 'Authority is based first of all upon reason. If you command your subjects to jump into the ocean, there will be a revolution. I am entitled to command obedience because my orders are reasonable."

"One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eye."

The Tao of Pooh by: Benjamin Hoff

"When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun."

"You'd be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are."

"From the state of the Uncarved Block comes the ability to enjoy the simple and the quiet, the natural and the plain. Along with that comes the ability to do things spontaneously and have them work, odd as that may appear to others at times. As Piglet put it in Winnie-the-Pooh, "Pooh hasn't much Brain, but he never comes to any harm. He does silly things and they turn out right."

"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything."

"Whether many people realize it yet or not, man, the Inferior Animal, has by now proved himself incapable of keeping his own species - and others - alive for very much longer.  So the earth has begun its own plan to set things right."

"But isn't the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable than the knowledge that doesn't? It seems fairly obvious to some of us that a lot of scholars need to go outside and sniff around - walk through the grass, talk to the animals. That sort of thing."

"Now, scholars can be very useful and necessary, in their own dull and unamusing way. They provide a lot of information. It's just that there is Something More, and that Something More is what life is really all about."

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Year Resolutions

December 31 is one of the best days of the year. New Years Eve parties are my favorite. All the glitz, the festive mood in the air, the renewed sense of optimism shared by everyone. However, when it comes to making serious New Year resolutions, I leave that for Rosh Hashannah.

There is a big difference between my Rosh Hashannah resolutions and my "New Year" resolutions. First of all, if I even make a Dec. 31 New Year resolution (which I haven't done in a couple of years), it's always something pretty shallow. Go to the gym more. Eat less junk food. Save more money. You know, the usual, pretty universal self-promises. But, I make resolutions EVERY Rosh Hashannah. And these are the ones that matter. This is the time I actually self-reflect and take stock of who I've become and where I am in my life. I do a true self-study and evaluate what needs to change and what realistic changes I should start with.

I usually try and make two major resolutions. One has strictly to do with observance. Last year, it was to try to daven every day. I chose Mincha as my prayer. My other resolution is still definitely part of observance, but it follows the theme of what most would call "being a better person." These kind of resolutions fall along the lines of giving charity, not speaking ill of others, forgiveness, etc.

As Rosh Hashannah draws near, it's once again time for self-reflection. Every year I find triumphs - times when I've been gracious, kind, helpful, and giving. Of course, being only human, there have also been times of which I'm embarrassed. Times when I've gossiped, acted selfishly, didn't help others when I've had the opportunity. Unfotunately for me, those are the things that stick in my head. Every helpful moment I've had can be overshadowed in my mind by the time I had the opportunity to help others but did nothing.

So here I am, Rosh Hashannah roughly two weeks away. What are my resolutions this year? Well, my first resolution is still to daven more. Unfortunately, I let that one fall through the cracks last year. But, I learned a lesson. I can really always find half an hour a day to say some prayers. Sure, there will be some days that are just crazy. But for the most part, nothing is so important that it can't wait half an hour. Furthermore, when I say prayers, I feel so much better inside, that it allows me to enjoy the rest of my day much more than if I skip them. The half hour spent on Mincha actually doubles the meaning and enjoyment of the other 23 1/2 hours of the day.

The second and equally, if not more, important resolution centers around charity. I already try to donate money. But this year, I want to give more than that. Sure the money is necessary and important, but I want to get more involved on a volunteer level as well. Donating time and energy is crucial to the success of so many causes. Personally, I tend to donate money to human charities. Mostly helping poor people or contributing to disease research. This year, I want to take it one step further and use my time to physically volunteer for a cause. But for this part, I'm going to focus on animals. As human beings, we have an added responsibility in the world. We must help care for all living things. So I joined No Paws Left Behind and I'm looking into other local animal rescue organizations to see where I can be most helpful.

Wish me luck on these endeavors! May we all have a Shana Tova U'Metukah!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Photography Spirituality Family

Timing is everything. As is often said, you find things or they find you as needed. How fitting then, that just as I begin to make changes in my own life, Eat Pray Love should be in theaters. I went to the movie last night and I couldn't help but relate to the journey and feelings of the main character. As she went through her three phases of Eat Pray and Love to find her true self, I came to the realization that I have my own three elements that help me find my balance and stay true to myself - photography, spirituality, and family. Lucky for me, I don't have to buy any plane tickets ;)


I love taking pictures. My friends jokingly refer to me as "paparazzi." My photography habit started mainly because I am, by nature, a very sentimental person. I love having pictures of people, places, and things that made me happy. I love memories and I love capturing special moments. Because, as we all know, nothing lasts forever but looking at a picture can instantly bring back the feeling of that time, place, and who you were then.

However, lately photography has begun to mean even more to me. Instead of using it just to capture my own memories, I use it to capture the beauty I see in the world. By focusing on taking pictures of breathtaking scenes in nature, I have been put in a state of awe as to the wonder of it all. From the smallest flower blossoming through a crack in concrete to a dolphin jumping out of the water to a magnificent sunset overlooking the horizon, photographing nature is a reminder of how truly small one person is in the grand scheme of things. It removes feelings of egoism because you realize how truly small you are. The world is gigantic, full of an unimaginable array of life, and truly awe-inspiring. That being said, you also realize that everything is connected. Each living thing, including you, is one piece of the puzzle - a gigantic gazillion-piece puzzle - that needs every single piece to be complete. Once you realize that, you take comfort in being a part of this great, big, wonderful world and you are filled with gratitude for being part of something so much greater than yourself.

One more thing, to everyone who gets annoyed when someone wants to take picture of you, remember this: It is a compliment. A photo says, "You were so important to me that I put down everything else to come watch."


I believe in G-d. My faith has never wavered. My connection and observance of my faith.. well, that's a different story. Make no mistake, I have no doubt that what I believe is true. But for some reason, I've been having real difficulty putting my thoughts into actions. This can't be good for the soul because it's trapped in your body and they're at odds. Without going into too much detail on this particular subject, I will say that once again, timing is everything. How fitting is it that I am reevaluating my life when Rosh Hashannah is right around the corner. I plan on taking full advantage of the High Holidays by reevaluating myself and allowing my soul to guide my actions. After all, "You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."


The one thing in life we have absolutely no control over is our family. What makes that so comforting though, is that you know, that since you had no control over it, you were born into the exact family you were meant to be a part of (no matter how crazy they seem to be). When all is said and done, family is all you got. They are the ones who love you unconditionally. My family is my backbone. Because of them, I have been able to fall and pick myself back up again, time after time. As you go through life, you need other people to share it with - people who are loyal and love you. There's no greater love than that of family.

And don't get me wrong, family is not just limited to blood. I am so blessed to have a few friends that I have been close with for as long as I can remember. We have seen each other through everything, all the ups and downs of growing up. We've all made mistakes and we've always forgiven each other. We always will. We're are a secondary family. We truly do love each other. We understand each other. We're sisters and brothers with different parents. And that's family.

Remember this, "You go through life alone. But you'll have many visitors. Some are long-term. Most aren't." Those long-termers... hold on close to those and realize you're blessed to have them!

Friday, August 20, 2010

My First Post

I've finally decided to begin this blog. As I near my 30th birthday, I've decided to take a step back, reflect on my journey through my twenties, and finally focus on changing my life. I'm transitioning from the carefree, fun-all-the-time person that I embodied this past decade to a person devoting herself to making the life changes needed to embark on a truly fulfilling adulthood.

To start, I recently discovered which is full of different "meetup" groups in areas all around the world. These groups are a great way to meet new people who share your passions in life. So far, I've joined a photography group, a dog rescue group, a book club, a cooking group and a couple of Jewish groups within the community. These groups organize "meetups" where you can meet a ton of locals that share your interest and participate in various activities ranging from classes, to trips, to nights out. I'm looking forward to attending my first events and I'll let you know how those go.

While I'll be using this blog to reflect on my journey through this time in my life, I'll also be sometimes just using it to share various random thoughts I'm having or talk about trivial things like a certain new song/musician I discover, a great new article of clothing I like, or random musings about celebrities and entertainment.

I hope whoever comes across this blog enjoys and checks back for updates!