Wonder by R.J. Palacio – Review

“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind” – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Wonder is a beautiful bestselling novel (and a movie in the near future) about 10-year-old August Pullman who was born with a previously unknown type of mandibulofacial dysostosis caused by an autosomal mutation in the TCOF1 gene, which is located in chromosome 5. August has had 27 surgeries on his face since the day he was born but he still looks what most people would call “deformed” (but I don’t like that word now).

In Wonder, R.J Palacio skillfully narrates the story of how a boy who looks different is placed in a Middle School for the very first time and how other kids react. I usually don’t like books where the characters are way younger than me because I feel like I passed that stage, and usually everything they talk about is hard to identify with and could seem superficial, but I have to say Wonder was very different. In Wonder even the chapters narrated from 10-year-old August are consuming and so easy to read. I like that despite the difficulties, the characters are very good-humored and have like good personalities that will have you rooting for them. Of course there are the bullies and everything but that just makes it more real.

I like how it portrays human reaction to people who are different, I like how it portrays what it is like to be the parents of a child who is different, and even more interestingly: the sibling. In an earlier post about my semester in Israel, I write about how I volunteered in a place where we took care and gave attention to kids that have a brother or sister battling cancer. I write how important I think it is since sometimes the parents aren’t able to give them that attention. When I met Olivia “Via” Pullman I understood it even better. It was delightful to read about how she perceived things from the sibling part of the story. I also love how it shows what a difference the education a person gets at home can make in the way they behave towards others.

What I learned:

  • Every day you have three choices, you either choose to be kind to others and make this world a better place, you choose to ignore those who need your kindness the most and you let your indifference help tear this world apart, or you choose to make a shameless contribution to the destruction of mankind by being mean. In my experience you (and the rest of the world) will be better off if you choose kindness.
  • I learned some more about genetic syndromes. When we think of genetic syndromes, Down usually comes up because it’s the most common. In the case of August Pullman, his syndrome doesn’t have any influence in the functioning of his brain and we observe how he thrives academically. I am bothered by the misconception that people like him are “special needs” people. I think all humans are created equal to God’s eyes and just because of the way a person was born looking like, or because of an extra chromosome that delays or partly blocks the development of one’s brain, we have no right to limit them and believe that they cannot achieve great things.
  • There is always more than one part to the same story. Because whether we want it or not we all perceive the world in a different way, so the same event can look completely different to everyone who experiences it.
  • Everybody makes mistakes and forgiveness is one of the most difficult but important things any of us can do as humans. that being said we have to be careful with our word because they have more impact than we might think.

“Always be a little kinder than necessary” – J.M. Barrie

So I absolutely recommend you read this book whenever you have the time and watch out for the movie starring Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts (U.S Premier is Nov 17th, 2017) I promise you will not regret it, it is one of those stories that will stay with you long after you read it.

Love, Knowledge Empress

 

Fruit for Breakfast: Benefits and Ideas

One of the most common tips you’ll ever hear about nutrition: “have good breakfast”, “don’t skip breakfast” or the classic “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”. I agree, you should never ever skip breakfast, and believe me as a former breakfast hater I understand the struggle. When I was in school I use to skip breakfast every single day, but over the last few months I have started to realize how important it is for my body and my mind to have a nutritious breakfast. Not only to be healthier, but to function better. There is a lot of debate on what you should be having for breakfast and whether or not it should be packed with animal proteins or with carbs. In this post I will write about my approach: a whole lot of fruit.

I will start by telling you the benefits of a fruitful breakfast and then I will give you my favorite recipes. So here are some of the reasons you should start having fruit for breakfast:

  • Enhance the Detoxification Phase:

Between 7 and 11am, the body is going through the heaviest phase of detoxification. Eating fruit will help contribute healing energy to this detoxification process, instead of hamper it by filling your body with anti-detox foods like fatty animal products that are hard to digest.

  • Stimulate the Digestive Track:

Eating fruit for breakfast infuses the body with beneficial enzymes, fiber and probiotics that help stimulate digestive juices in the stomach and push out old waste matter from the day before. Fruit fiber cleans the colon like a broom, leaving you feeling light and refreshed.

  • Wake Up the Body:

Natural fruit sugars are just the thing the body needs upon waking up. Instead of reaching for your coffee, trying making a coffee replacement smoothie that will help keep the brain sharp and energized. Remember, the brain runs off glucose, so if you want to stay focused throughout the day, then eat a nice big water-dense fruit meal for breakfast

  • Excess-Weight Loss

Fruit provides the body with quality nutrition and also helps release excess toxins by pushing out old waste matter from the intestines. Eating plenty of fruit in the morning (and throughout the rest of the day) gets rid of excess toxicity and waste storage, which ultimately leads to weight loss in the end. Most people think that if they eat a heavy animal-protein rich meal in the morning that they will eat less later in the day – but this, in fact, has not been found to be true. People who consume a heavy meal in the morning also tend to eat heavier later in the day too, which contribute to inevitable weight gain.

  • Boost your Immune System:

A smoothie for breakfast compared to eggs or bacon is a lot better for your immune system and overall health. Fruit is high in vitamin C and antioxidants, which strengthen the immune system and ward off any invading bacteria and microbes.

  • Create an Alkaline Environment for the Body:

The first thing people think when they eat fruit is that it is too acidic – this is in fact not true. Lemons are actually one of the most alkaline fruits on the planet. They may be acidic in form, but once they reach the stomach, the minerals (like potassium and sodium) disassociate to make it alkaline (via a variety of metabolic processes). All fruit is alkaline, so make sure you eat plenty of it in the morning.

  • Strengthen the Heart:

Fruit is packed with beneficial vitamins, minerals, crucial phytonutrients and antioxidants that contribute to lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure – both of which contribute to a healthier, stronger heart and prevent against cardiovascular disease.

Read more at https://livelovefruit.com/eating-fruit-for-breakfast-completely-transform-your-health/#k7x56URkYqhtEM8W.99

These are all benefits I saw in myself after weeks of having fruit filled smoothies every morning. But more than anything it just tastes so good! I used to have a lot constipation and bloating and it is gone now, I got a flatter tummy and loads of energy.

If your concerns when having a fruitful breakfast are not eating protein, then fear no more. people don’t usually have protein deficiency, we spend far too much time worrying about our protein intake when we really don’t need as much as advertised. Fruit has protein and so do other plant-based foods. There is no need for you to have yogurt, eggs or dairy to get that protein. Everything is better in moderation. Eating too much protein also isn’t good, it has been linked to kidney disease, cancer, osteoporosis and kidney stones. http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vsk/vegetarian-starter-kit-protein

The Focus should be switched from protein to fiber, we are not getting enough fiber and that is causing us to have more stomach problems. Fiber is good, fiber is your friend! obviously don’t go overboard here either, fruits have calories so check that, but don’t fear fruit. So okay we must eat fruit everyday but why for breakfast?

Fruit should be eaten alone or with other fruit on an empty stomach.

This is because when fruit is eaten, the digestive process works very quickly and our body uses different enzymes to digest the fruit. The simple sugars contained in fruit need time to be completely absorbed by your body. When fruits are eaten alone, your stomach can more easily process all of the nutrients, fiber and the simple sugars contained in the fruit. This is the optimal ‘proper way’ to benefit from the fruit you eat. If you eat fruit close to a meal, especially right after a larger meal and combine with other foods, it’s held in the stomach too long along with other foods and will rot and ferment in the gut. If you experience indigestion, heartburn, burping and other digestive discomforts and you blame on the meal – it could be the combination of the food, the fermentation with fruit that causes your upset stomach. If left uncontrolled it could lead to other health problems that stem from the digestive tract.

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-4970/The-Major-Rule-for-Eating-Fruit.html

According to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should consume between five and 13 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This is equivalent to about 2 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups daily, depending on the amount of calories you need to consume for your weight and level of activity. On a recommended diet of 2000 calories a day to maintain my weight (if you want to lose your diet should be of fewer calories) this are my ideas for a fruitful breakfast:

My go-to Smoothie (420 – 462 calories) or approx. 7 servings

  • 2 ripe medium bananas (210 calories)
  • 10-15 frozen strawberries (40 – 60 calories)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of blueberries (41 – 63 calories)
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (approximately 112 calories)
  • 1 passion fruit without seeds (17 calories)

*sometimes I add a few pieces of pineapple or a peach if I don’t have blueberries

Fresh Fruit Bowl (470 calories) or approx. 7 servings

  • 1 cut up medium banana (105 calories)
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries (53 calories)
  • 1 cup of raspberries (65 calories)
  • 1/2 cup of blueberries (41 calories)
  • 1 cup of pineapple chunks (82 calories)
  • 1 cup of grapes (62 calories)
  • 1 cut orange (62 calories)

As for now these are my go to recipes for breakfast, I’ve been having them every morning for the last month and somehow I still wake up excited to have my fruit every day. I will eventually come up with more fruity breakfast ideas, and write a follow up post on that, and if you have any suggestions for me to try I’d be very happy to do so and maybe feature them in my next post. Thank you for reading and I hope you go fruit yourself!

Love, Knowledge Empress

 

 

 

 

Why I Quit Drinking Cow’s Milk and Eating Cheese.

Have you ever wondered why humans drink something designed to be baby calves growth food? Why don’t we drink… I don’t know… giraffe milk instead? Why don’t other animals go to cows and drink their milk? Why is it that our stomachs should be prepared to digest a milk that comes from an animal, when human mothers produce their own milk?

Well, if I’m writing this post you can guess I have asked myself those questions and I have done some research to try to find answers. Was that liquid they make us drink as kids, really providing my bones with the calcium they needed, and thus making them stronger? Or was this some weird thing we picked up a long time ago that really has no health benefits whatsoever? What if it is actually bad for me?

Now this post isn’t a request for you to stop eating dairy, I just thought I would share some of the reasons I personally have decided not to consume it anymore.

Cow’s milk is custom-designed for calves:

Thanks to our creative ingenuity and perhaps related to our ancient survival needs, we adopted the dubious habit of drinking another species’ milk. Nobody can dispute that cow’s milk is an excellent food source for calves. Weighing around 100 pounds at birth, a calf typically gains approximately eight times its weight by the time it is weaned. But unlike humans, once calves are weaned, they never drink milk again. And the same applies to every mammalian species on this planet.

So yeah humans don’t need cow’s milk any more than they need a giraffe’s milk.

(https://saveourbones.com/osteoporosis-milk-myth/)

Most people are lactose intolerant:

Nearly three quarters of the world’s population are estimated to be lactose intolerant after the age of weaning and therefore do not tolerate the consumption of milk and other dairy products well.

(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1602030/)

Approximately 70 percent of African-Americans, 90 percent of Asian Americans, 53 percent of Mexican Americans, and 74 percent of Native Americans were lactose intolerant.1-4 Studies showed that a substantial reduction in lactase activity is also common among those whose ancestry is African, Asian, Native American, Arab, Jewish, Hispanic, Italian, or Greek.

(http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/what-is-lactose-intolerance)

Milk increases the risk of fracture:

“Consumption of dairy products, particularly at age 20 years, was associated with an increased risk of hip fracture in old age. (“Case-Control Study of Risk Factors for Hip Fractures in the Elderly”. American Journal of Epidemiology. Vol. 139, No. 5, 1994).

And the 12 year-long Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that those who consumed the most calcium from dairy foods broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk. This is a broad study based on 77,761 women aged 34 through 59 years of age.

Populations that consume the most cow’s milk and other dairy products have among the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fracture in later life. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1602030/)

Dairy is linked to many different types of cancer, especially those associated with your hormones:

Harvard’s Physicians’ Health Study followed 20,885 men for 11 years, finding that having two and one-half dairy servings each day boosted prostate cancer risk by 34 percent, compared to having less than one-half serving daily.

Milk does other mischief. Its load of calcium deplete the body’s vitamin D, which, in turn, may add to cancer risk. Most dairy products are also high in fat, which affects the activity of sex hormones that play a major role in cancer.

(http://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/milk-and-prostate-cancer-the-evidence-mounts)

The following Data shows how dairy is linked to increasing risk of colon and breast cancer.

(http://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1002/ijc.29466?r3_referer=wol&tracking_action=preview_click&show_checkout=1&purchase_referrer=onlinelibrary.wiley.com&purchase_site_license=LICENSE_DENIED_NO_CUSTOMER)

For women who have had breast cancer, just one serving of whole dairy a day can increase their chance from dying from the disease 49%, and dying from any disease 64%

(https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/105/9/616/986948/High-and-Low-Fat-Dairy-Intake-Recurrence-and)

It is dangerously addictive:

Cheese is made mostly of casein, where most of the liquid whey found in milk has been filtered or strained out. But all dairy products contain casein, not just cheese. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, says through his studies he has found casein to be the most relevant cancer promoter ever discovered.  Because casein digests so slowly, natural morphine-like substances in casein known as casomorphins, act like opiates in the body as they enter the bloodstream. Just minutes after you eat a dairy-based food, the casein protein begins to break down. This releases the drug-like casomorphins, which attach to opiate receptors in the brain, and cause severe addictions to dairy products (hence the reason they keep people coming back for more.) Casomorphins trigger such an addictive response that they’ve been compared to heroine in terms of their strength to cause food addictions and mood disorders.

(http://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/casein-dairy-protein-and-your-health/)

Opiate-like casomorphins liberated from the cow’s milk protein, casein, are accused of participating in the cause of such conditions as autism, crib death, type I diabetes, postpartum psychosis, circulatory disorders, and food allergies.

(https://nutritionfacts.org/video/cows-milk-casomorphin-and-autism/)

Human breast milk also has casein but only 2.7 g per liter, when cow’s milk has 26 g casein per liter. that is almost ten times more. If human breast milk was custom-made for humans how come we are drinking a substance with nearly 10 times as much casein?

To be totally honest with you I still eat an occasional ice cream or chocolate that contains milk, but for all these reasons I have stopped cooking with dairy products or adding milk to my cereal. I have started using unsweetened almond milk and it is delicious! It really tastes good.

I hope you liked this post and you are considering alternatives to a dairy filled diet. If you can’t get rid of dairy, I do recommend you start lowering the amounts you are consuming. You might notice benefits like less acne and constipation which are always a plus. Good luck with whatever you decide.

Love, Knowledge Empress

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Alice by Lisa Genova – Review

Not long ago I wrote a post about Alzheimer’s disease. I discussed how it was a tragic loss of self, and I included some information about the Alzheimer’s Association. However, after having finished this beautiful novel by Lisa Genova today, I have a better image of what it is like for someone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, particularly early-onset. A few years ago I saw the movie for this book where Alice was portrayed by the talented Julianne Moore, and I was very touched, however when I read this book I got a completely different feeling.

This is not just a book about illness. When I saw it in my bookshelf knowing what it was about I thought “oh yeah that’s the book about Alzheimer’s”, and while is it pretty much the theme, I understood after reading it that it is also a book about family and about love. It is a book about awareness, and it is a book about understanding. When you see a person with a physical handicap, or someone who you can visually tell is fighting cancer, we see someone who is brave, someone who is a hero. For some reason when a person suffers with mental illness or with a cognitive disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia in general, the word people tend to use is “crazy”, their fight is undermined and they are thought to be frustrating and hard to cope with.  Alzheimer’s is a very serious incurable and quickly progressive disease and the people who are diagnosed with it have an unimaginable internal fight. A fight to remember. To remember the people they love and that they love them, to remember their name and who they are, their accomplishments, their struggles, or even where they live.

 Background:

Dr. Alice Howland has been a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard for over twenty years, she is an world-renowned expert in linguistics and a published author or many articles and a book. She is a mother of three and has an equally smart and successful husband. She is proud of the life she has built. A little after her fiftieth birthday she starts noticing symptoms of forgetfulness that she disregards as simply menopausal, but after that comes a diagnosis that will change her life and that of everyone around her forever.

What I learned:

  • Give importance to the present. we often dwell on the past or think about the future, but we fail horribly in embracing the moment. “My yesterdays are dissapearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live for every moment. Some tomorrow soon I will forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I’ll forget it tomorrow doesn’t mean I didn’t live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that does not mean today didn’t matter” Unlike Alice we will probably remember today so we might as well make today worthwile.
  • It is important to build a life we are proud of, but our career and our work shouldn’t keep us from realizing what is the most important part of life. It is family and it is love. We need to have people in our life that love us unconditionaly and will always put us first, and we need to make sure to always put them first and love them unconditionally in return. At the end of the day when we don’t have a career anymore, the relationships we build are what will bring us utmost and true happiness.
  • Lastly I learnt that I should always do my best not to limit people who have either physical or mental handicaps. They are the ones suffering and we are the ones with the responibily to empower them. Also never undermine the pain or suffering of another person, don’t look away and fear them, and whatever happens do not judge.

I really recommend this book and I hope you all decide to read it as some point. If you really don’t read I recommend you at least watch the movie which I believe is currently on Netflix. And whatever you do don’t forget to cherish your today and to love unconditionally.

Love, Knowledge Empress

Hydrogenated Fats: The Horror Story

We’ve all at some point seen the words “Trans Fat” in the nutrition facts of food. We associate the word “fat” with unhealthy and we completely ignore the “trans” part and what it stands for. In this post I would like to raise awareness about partially or entirely hydrogenated fats, which have been deeply integrated in the food industry today. And as much as there have been new regulations to cut them out they are still hiding in our everyday diets.

Food fats naturally occur in three general types:
1. Saturated (e.g., butter, lard, coconut oil)
2. Monounsaturated (e.g., olive or canola oils)
3. Polyunsaturated (e.g., omega-6 oils like sunflower or safflower oil, or omega-3 oils like fish and flaxseed oils)

Hydrogenation (or, more accurately, “partial hydrogenation,” as the process is incomplete) is the forced chemical addition of hydrogen into omega-6 polyunsaturated oils to make them hard at room temperatures, primarily as a cheaper and less perishable substitute for butter in crispy bread products. Common hydrogenated fats include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated cottonseed, palm, soy, and corn oils, but theoretically almost any polyunsaturated oil can be hydrogenated.

The chemical structure of artificially hardened hydrogenated fat is, however, different from either that of a naturally hard saturated fat or naturally liquid unsaturated (mono- or poly-) oil. For this reason, hydrogenated fats are difficult for the body to “grab onto” and metabolize, and can neither be incorporated into cell structures nor excreted in the normal fashion. Thus, hydrogenated or “trans-” fats tend to remain “stuck” in blood circulation, becoming oxidized and most importantly, contributing significantly to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and possibly also cancer.

Trans fats work against the body in many ways. They increase bad cholesterol –low-density lipoprotein, or LDL — and decrease good cholesterol — high-density lipoprotein, or HDL. Furthermore, they block the production of chemicals that combat inflammation and benefit the hormonal and nervous systems, while at the same time allowing chemicals that increase inflammation. This means that trans fats promote inflammation and negatively impact cholesterol levels.

Harvard School of Public Health notes that trans fats promote immune system over-activity and inflammation and are linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes, among other chronic diseases.

The FDA labeling Loophole

In 2015 the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) recognized the dangers of partially hydrogenated fats, and they ordered food processors to cut it out, but the agency has given food processors three years to transition to other ingredients. What a lot of people don’t know is that there is a loophole in the rules that allows processors that include 0.5 grams (or less) of this synthetic trans fats, to label their foods “Trans Fat Free” or have a 0g of trans fat in the nutritional facts. This means that a lot of food labeled free of this poison, actually contain a small amount of them that adds up through the consumption of more than one of this products a day. Partially hydrogenated oils will usually still be in the ingredients list, this is why it’s important to read both the food label and the ingredients list.

Also, The FDA rule does not prevent food processors from using other hidden sources of trans fat, such as refined oils, fully hydrogenated oils, emulsifiers, flavors and colors.

The Common Trans Fatty Foods:

  • margarine
  • vegetable shortening
  • packaged snacks
  • baked goods (especially premade versions)
  • ready-to-use dough
  • fried foods
  • coffee creamers (both dairy and non-dairy)

Hydrogenated oils go hand in hand with food preservation, so hydrogenated fat often ends up in packaged foods.

The EWG Food Score Solution.

As always at the end of my posts I like to offer viable solutions for the problems I present you with, in this case I found an initiative by the Environmental Working Group. During the phase-out period and afterwards, consumers should use EWG’s Food Scores to search for foods that are truly free of trans fats. Food Scores highlights foods that contain ingredients likely to carry trans fat and warns consumers when an item may harbor hidden trans fat.

The EWG Food Scores are available online and in app form. Besides helping you detect hidden trans fats, it also gives you an overall rating of over 80,000 products with detailed health concerns. I have found it very helpful so far and I definitely encourage you to give it a try at:  http://www.ewg.org/foodscores or download the EWG’s Healthy Living app in your app store of preference.

Sources

 

 

Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt – Review

I don’t judge books by their covers, but I have to say that some covers just scream at you to buy them at the bookstore. I’m happy this one did, because very rarely do I find such a beautiful and engaging piece of literature. One thing I got to say, my sleeping schedule is not happy with this book because it kept me up until 5:28 a.m. on Friday. Some books you really just need to start and finish the same day because they won’t let you sleep anyways.

Midnight Blue was originally written in Dutch by Simone van der Vlugt and it was thankfully (and very masterfully) translated to English by Jenny Watson. It is set in 17th-century Holland (1654-1655 to be exact) and it is a beautiful portrayal of life there at that time. Midnight Blue is a work of historical fiction, but the historical context and even some of the characters are historical events and figures that are very much real. I especially recommend this book if you if you have an interest in art history, but really even if you have no previous interest, this might awaken one.

Background:

1654. following the death of her young husband, Catrin Barentsdochter takes a job as a housekeeper in Amsterdam. As she assists her mistress with painting lessons she dreams of developing her own skill as an artist. But when her past catches up with her, Catrin must leave behind the comfortable security of her new home for the smaller city of Delft. She dreams of a life in which her secret stays buried, but in a world of tragedy, epidemics, gossip and suspicion that is not always easy. Women’s rights at the time were not a thing and being a woman with no husband (or with an abusive one) wasn’t an easy reality. This story of forgiveness, hard work, perseverance and love is guaranteed to inspire women to chase their dreams and recognize their true power.

Characters:

Catrin Barentsdochter: Born in the little village of De Rijp, Catrin a 25 year old widow wants to move to the city. Most see it as running away and it rises suspicion, but she needs a second chance in life, especially since her late husband Govert was an alcoholic who beat her daily since the day they got married. Catrin is a very talented painter and a very beautiful woman. She is innovative, smart and pious. She has very dangerous secrets that haunt her and people who would like to see her end. Catrin is the narrator, and this is her story.

Jacob: He is the farmhand of Catrin and Govert until she leaves the village. He knows things. He is resentful, ambitious and determined. When he wants something he will find a way to get it, even if it means hurting anyone in or out of his way.

Matthias van Nulandt: Matthias is in his thirties and is very attractive. He has no sense of commitment and would like to conserve his freedom. He is a traveling businessman for his brother’s company and he loves it. He is a kind man but he is also a heartbreaker.

Adriaan van Nulandt: he employs Catrin and is a very kind master. He lives in a beautiful house in Amsterdam filled with art treasures of the time. He is very successful in business, but no so successful at pleasing his wife Briggita, they stay married despite the lack of love, but he is a good husband to her.

Briggita: She is a well to do lady who married Adriaan because Matthias didn’t want to get married. She lost all lust for life after she couldn’t have children and now all she does is paint. She doesn’t have talent and she is critical of herself. She is often sick and on meds. She is kind once she gets used to someone but she is not a warm person.

Evert van Nulandt: Evert is the older brother of Adriaan and Mathias. He lives in Delft and owns a pottery there. Evert is a widower himself and lost all his children as well in a fire. He is a very good boss and a kind man. He is loved by the people in Delft.

The list of characters is very long and there are many important characters I didn’t include in this list simply because it would take forever.

Thank you for reading my review on this beautiful book, I hope you consider it as a possible future read, and if you have already read it let me know what you think and whether I did justice to it.

Love, Knowledge Empress

My Semester in Israel

Ever since I can remember it has been a dream of mine to spend some time living in Israel. This year thanks to G-d and my parents I had the opportunity to do it for a semester. After researching seminaries and other educational institutions for a year, somehow I applied, got accepted and enrolled in Midreshet Tehillah, a small seminary in the Neve Yerushalayim campus. The program had started in September and I was arriving at the very end of December, just in time to spend Hanukkah in Israel.

Everyone had a lot of questions, and for the sake of making friends I was more than happy to answer and try to engage in friendly conversation with these girls. I didn’t know that a few months later I would be calling them sisters. It was both easy and difficult to adapt, easy because the people were so helpful and friendly and difficult because well I just couldn’t imagine any of them sticking around after the “welcome to our school” and the basic questionnaire, in all honesty I couldn’t find my place in the social life at first. It was also difficult because I had to start going to class which started at 9 AM and ended at 9 PM (with breaks obviously).

I had gone on many trips before but this was the first time I was living abroad and that meant respecting a budget. What I didn’t know was that the food was going to be difficult to eat (that’s as nice as I can put it). So on my second day there I went on a shopping spree and spent more than half my budget. Then when it was time to afford food and other basic necessities I found myself using all my birthday money at the groceries store. Thankfully by the start of the next month when the budget renewed I had a much better financial plan.

On the first few weeks I noticed that this was going to be my most difficult health challenge I had ever had. Junk food followed me, and we barely had any way to cook. I ate close to nothing from the dining room, and I was starting to get really sick from the quality of “food” I was consuming. Snacks drenched in monosodium glutamate, preservatives, hydrogenated oils, food coloring, GMOs and other weird chemicals I can’t even pronounce. I was violating all my food standards and I was suffering the consequences I was becoming bloated, constipated and all my energy was drained. On top of everything I was not working out and that’s just like a recipe for doom.

Week three came and I decided I hadn’t come to Israel to become a slug, and as addictive as those Cheetos and Doritos were I had to cut it out. I replaced the nasty junk with delicious and healthy snacks like peanuts, walnuts and pistachios. I found an electric burner in the dining room and I bought a pan and some eggs (and a can of canola oil I thankfully lost and replaced with coconut oil and olive oil). I started buying whole roasted chicken from the groceries store and eating it with the rice from the dining room. I bought a lot (like a lot) or fruit. I started getting into fruit shakes until I became addicted. All this changes made my days drastically better. I was more energetic and could wake up easier for class. The fiber from all that fruit helped with the bloating and the constipation. I did at some points have chocolate, ice cream and other sweets, but I did so in moderation and with care.

My classes were amazing and mentally stimulating, I had very good teachers and I really cannot complain in that area. I did miss class sometimes, I tried not to but as much as I love learning it got a little too much sometimes. My favorite part of the week was when Thursday came and it was time to go to volunteer. Ever since the first time I set foot inside Zichron Menachem I knew that was the place I wanted to go to every week. Despite the fact I have very poor Hebrew and there was a communication barrier with the children, I had an amazing time every single week. Zichron Menachem is a foundation that works with children that are battling Cancer and their families. I went for a few hours in the afternoon and just basically played with the siblings of the ill kids. It is known that every child requires a lot of attention and I know the wonderful parents of this children would love to give them all their attention but it is really hard when you have a kid that needs to go through chemo and surgeries. It was very fulfilling and it made me really happy just being there.

The most important part of my seminary experience were no doubt my gorgeous friends. I never knew I could meet such amazing people and get to call them my friends, it was beautiful to see how different we all were and how we managed to go beyond tolerating each other and creating loving bonds. I felt very encouraged, respected, loved and cared for. And I deeply thank all the people who were there for me during this whole journey, you made it incredible. Thank you for inspiring me to grow and chase my dreams, and thank you for supporting me in everything I do, you are now part of my family and I hope to see you all very soon.

I’m so happy I took a chance on seminary, and I’m so happy I ended up in Midreshet Tehillah. I encourage you to take a chance on your dreams, don’t let the people around you put you down because it is different and out of what you are used to. The best things in life happen to you the minute you step out of your comfort zone.

Love, Knowledge Empress.