Teaching an Old Gal New Tricks #RachelleAyala @Mimisgang1 #mgtab

Today (January 13) is my 62nd birthday and strangely enough, I feel younger than I did 20 years ago. My face might be more lined and I have a few more gray hairs, but I’m learning new tricks and trying new things and happy that I’m still around.

It’s never too late to try something new. Here are a few things I learned this past year.

  • Improving my Photoshop skills by using a pen tablet. I don’t know why I didn’t try this earlier, but drawing with a mouse or on a touchpad while holding it down with another finger is so antiquidated. But it was all we had twenty years ago, and that’s what I learned on. Who remembers mouses with those balls underneath on spongey mousepads? I remember using AmigaDraw with my Commodore Amiga computer to make simple graphics. How time consuming was that? So last year, in 2021, after a prolonged session of Photoshopping using the infamous Lenovo red button resulting in painful index finger and wrist pain, I bought a Wacom One Drawing Tablet. It’s about the size of a small laptop. It has an electronic pen and it fits on my lap while plugged into my computer. Night and day! Now, I can draw shapes and select objects with no problem. I can connect dots, do those Bezier curve handles, and ink in sketches as easily as using pen and paper. As for signing my name? Piece of cake. Why did I wait so long?
  • I finally converted to using Scrivener writing software. For years, I was a Microsoft Word gal. After all, before Word came out, I used LaTex, a non WYSIWYG word processing solution and “vi” to create the files. After my Amiga died, I got an MSDOS machine and have been with Word forever and never took the time to learn any of its advanced features. When Scrivener first came out, I bought a license but it was too complicated so I put it away. Early last year, Scrivener sent me a survey and while filling out the survey, I wondered if I could get more organized by using it. After all, I was constantly revising my writing AND saving off copies of my drafts. Up to 20 drafts with dates appended to the filename. Scrivener made it easier to organize my deletes. I can now simply create a folder for each chapter’s deletes and copy over deleted text with a note on why I deleted something. This way, if I ever want to resurrect that text or storyline, I only have to drag it back to the manuscript and insert. I’m sure there are a hundred more reasons why Scrivener is useful, but for me, keeping track of all my “deletes” makes it worth using.
  • Intermittent Fasting. This is an “old” thing that is becoming “new.” Back in the day, before microwaves and trail bars and snack-sized treats, we ate three square meals with no snacks and nibbling in between. If we were hungry between meals, we went outside to play instead of sneaking into the cookie jar. Snacks were not a thing. They would spoil your appetite. Parents thought nothing of sending misbehaving children to bed without their dinner. No one would starve by skipping a meal, at least back in the days before microwaves and juice boxes. In the late eighties when the price of microwaves dropped enough to be commonplace, people started eating all the time. Snacking became a thing, and families stopped eating together at the dinner table. Along with all the eating came the massive increase in weight gain. I, too, joined this eating pandemic as my weight crept up steadily during my thirties, forties, and fifties. We just believed it was part of getting older. Little did I know that snacking constantly, especially on so-called healthy snacks like trail-mix bars, smoothies, and flavored yogurt, that I was putting myself on a constant elevated insulin state. My body was always in “grow” mode, where sugar enters the blood. Insulin comes in and mops up the sugar, stuffing it into cells, and the cells store the extra energy as fat. Because I was snacking and eating continuously, I didn’t allow my body to have a chance to burn off any energy since it was always available. It turns out that fasting, or not eating for a long stretch allows your body to go into “burn” mode where insulin is no longer in control. You don’t enter this state until 4-6 hours after your last meal. Once you are in “burn” mode, glycogen is depleted first. After about 20-36 hours, your body switches to fatburning mode. If, however, you feed yourself at anytime before entering fatburning mode, you are instantly back in “grow” mode, where food is mopped up and stored for future use. The problem with eating all the time is that the majority of time, your body is in “grow” mode and eventually, if you fill your body with too much sugar [even excess protein gets turned into sugar], you will become insulin resistant. It isn’t the fact that you don’t make enough insulin [assuming you’re not a type 1 diabetic], but the fact that your cells are FULL of sugar and they are barring the gates to more sugar entering them. This excess sugar ends up in the blood, floating around looking for a home and the end result isn’t pretty. [Note: I’m following Dr. Jason Fung who wrote several books, among them, The Obesity Code, The Diabetes Code and The Complete Guide to Fasting. He’s also on YouTube with many videos explaining intermittent fasting and the science behind it.] What I learned to do this year is to stop snacking and eat only at set times. I started intermittent fasting with a 18/6 schedule where I would eat only between 10 am and 4 pm. After I got used to it, I would go on a 24 hr fast two days a week. Go from 10 am to 4 pm as usual, and the next day, not eat until 4 pm. Resume the following day from 10 am to 4 pm. Eventually, I want to get to 42 hours where I can go from 4 pm, skip an entire day, and resume at 10 am. But I would only do this once or twice a month. I’ve already dropped all the weight I gained over the holidays, and I only wish I’d known about this technique earlier. Of course, I’m not sabotaging myself by overeating during my eating windows, and I’m not eating sugar or junk food because I don’t want to stimulate insulin. But I’m glad I’m going back to my roots. No snacking and no nibbling. I want my body to swing between “grow” and “burn” mode evenly, the way God designed us to be.

Well, these are the new things I tried out last year that worked for me. I hope I didn’t bore you, but I will continue to live and learn as long as the good Lord allows me to.

Please check out my Birthday Email chock full of giveaways, freebies, and discounted paperbacks by clicking/tapping on this link or the banner below, and I wish you all the best in living and learning in 2022.

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Travel with Mona, visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land

Many trips to Israel and the Middle East had often been canceled or postponed because of political turmoil or instability. When a Canadian friend told us about a group from Montreal organizing a guided tourist visit to the Holy Land in March 2010, my husband and I found it an excellent opportunity to finally travel safely through the region.

We flew from New York to Amman, Jordan, where we met the eighteen people coming from Canada. The next day we boarded our comfortable bus and visited Petra that I described in a previous blog. From there we continued along the King Hussein Bridge between Jordan and Israel. The security was very tight with x-ray scanning, questioning and bag searches and passport control.

Monastery of the Temptation
 The sycamore-fig tree or  Zacchaeus tree

We stopped for lunch in Jericho, commonly known as “the oldest city in the world” (8000 BCE) and the world’s lowest city (1200 feet under sea level).” Jericho is a Palestinian city in the West Bank, an important historical, cultural, and political center located northwest of the Dead Sea. It is truly a place where the ancient past comes in contact with the immediate present and where the fragrance of oranges and citrus permeates the air.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon at the Dead Sea shore. The sea water is rich in minerals and salt, and so muddy. The mud is cleaned and sold as an anti-wrinkle facial cream at $90 the small jar. [Yes, I bought a jar. It didn’t erase a single line.]

The Dome of the Rock or Masgad El Aksa. A cabinet within the building houses a hair from the prophet Mohamad’s beard. Another tradition suggests it’s the mountain where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac.
A view of Jerusalem from Mount Olive

Finally we entered Jerusalem in the early night and checked in our hotel that was fully booked for the week. For our bad luck, millions of Christian pilgrims and orthodox Jews had flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate the Catholic Easter, Orthodox Easter, and Passover that all occurred on that same week in the year 2010. The hotel manager had programmed the elevators to stop at each floor in respect for the Jewish patrons who were not allowed to operate the lift. Imagine the slow traffic, going up and down.

In the morning we boarded our bus and headed to Nazareth where we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation and in the lowest floor an ancient house that tradition says is the site of the angelic announcement. Not far from it, we visited the Church of St. Joseph, the site of the Holy Family’s house and St. Joseph’s workshop. Later we had lunch on the Lake of Tiberias, and then drove through the verdant hills of Galilea, where we visited three more churches.

Lunch of fish on the Lake Tiberias known for its rough waves.

We spent the evening on the shore of the Jordan River. Many pilgrims wore a white robe to be baptized or renew their baptism vows in the Jordan River.

Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Tiberias, through which the Jordan River flows.

The next day, we stopped by St. John the Baptist Church, built over the house where he was born. We climbed 154 steps to the Church of the Visitation. Inside the church, 41 plaques, each in a different language, bear the Magnificat.

We visited the Museum of Jerusalem and saw the Dead Sea Scrolls, then admired a small model –maquette– of Old Jerusalem, with the Temple, Pilate’s fortress, Herod’ s Castle, and the walls of Jerusalem.

We continued to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity.

The Church of the Nativity is built above a cave which may have been the place of Jesus’ nativity.
The church was built by Queen Helena in 329, and renovated by the Crusaders. The cave includes two lobes, one with a star marks the place of Jesus’ birth, the other marks the place of the manger.

We passed by the Shepherd’s Field where the sheep and goats used to grate.

Later the hotel offered us a tour of Jerusalem by night, with a stop at Mount Olive. We crossed some villages, stopped by Victoria Hospital and Masada. We saw a temple, built by an American philanthropist on the model of the initial Temple of Solomon. It is said that the Masgad el Aksa, the mosque with the golden dome, was built on the location of the former temple.

On Holy Thursday, we returned to Mount Olive, visited a Jewish cemetery, walked by the Eastern Wall, and the Wailing Wall.

A Jewish crowd
A Christian crowd

We spent Good Friday walking through the Via Dolorosa and visiting old churches, and spent Friday evening and Saturday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre .

Strolling along the narrow lanes of Via Dolorosa
A view of the Church of Holy Sepulcher
from Mount Olive
The Chapel built on top of Christ’s Tomb in the center of the Holy Sepulcher

It would take ten blogs to describe all that we’ve seen and learned during that week spent in Jerusalem and its surroundings. An amazing trip that will remain imprinted in my memory forever.

My latest published books are part of the Love Plans.

SAILING AWAY PLANS ; DATING PLANS ; RESCUE PLANS ;

WEDDING PLANS ; BABY PLANS

Family Christmas

In elementary school, one of our teachers used to ask the class to write a paper about the meaning of Christmas. What does Christmas mean to you? This sentence still echoes in my ears after so many years. I had no trouble filling the pages, writing how my grandparents organized Christmas for their family of six children and families. Christmas meant getting together with the many cousins, enjoying a fun time, a delicious dinner, innumerable cookies and desserts. “Christmas is family time,” my grandmother often repeated. Yet she always added to her guest list the friends and neighbors that were on their own on Christmas day.  

And then my grandfather passed. A year later, my mother took over. The Christmas get-together moved to my parents’ house, with my grandmother’s menu and a few new recipes. By then I was married with small children. So were the invited cousins. The reunions continued, with thirty guests attending, all related — my children playing with their relatives, creating life-long bonds of friendship within the family.

When my dad passed, Mom lost the desire and energy to prepare big gatherings. It was my turn to maintain the tradition that came with a lot of work but so much joy for children and parents. For the last thirty years, I’ve been starting the cooking and baking three weeks before Christmas. Even after we retired and moved to Florida, our children and relatives kept visiting for the holidays. This year, I will entertain twenty-five guests on Christmas Eve, relatives and a few lonely friends. My daughter will handle the Christmas Day dinner. The family reunion continues with my grandchildren befriending the cousins’ kids.

Christmas meant family togetherness for church, dinner, and play, when I was a school kid, and it still has the same meaning. My grandmother must be smiling from up there at my grandchildren and her many descendants bonding together.

Yes, the holiday preparations can be exhausting. What do you do after a long day of preparation? Wouldn’t it be nice to lounge in front of a fire or curl onto a couch or even in bed with a sweet romance novel, forget the latest lousy news and escape into a warm Christmas story that would cheer you up and reassure you there is still love in this world?
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Here are a few warm Christmas stories to lift your heart:

 

 

Travel with Mona, visit the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal–A Story of Eternal Love

Often described as one of the wonders of the world, the stunning 17th Century ivory-white marble Taj Mahal was a mausoleum built between 1632 and 1643 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth, as a proof of his eternal love. The Taj Mahal is located on the right bank of the river Yamuna in the Indian city of Agra. 

Docking in Mumbai

We boarded the Princess Cruise ship in Civitavecchia–two hours away from Rome– and cruised the Mediterranean Sea to Naples where we spent a day, and then stopped in Santorini, Greece, before entering the Suez Canal and reaching Akaba on the Red Sea. Following six days at sea, we docked in Dubai and Oman, and then crossed the Indian Ocean, and arrived in Mumbai, India, where we took a bus tour of the city.

Old Indian-architecture in Mumbai
Modern residential building in Mumbai

Our Hindu guide explained that Mumbai hosted the wealthiest billionaires and the poorest of the poor. He also described the habitants as being the most tolerant on Earth, respecting all religions and granting citizens equal rights. In 2012 when we visited India, high ranking government officials included Hindu, Muslims, Catholics,…When we saw cows ambling on the sidewalk and monkeys jumping between trees, our guide explained that no one in India would ever hurt an animal.

The top floors of this high-rise are the penthouse of the wealthiest man in Mumbai.
A typically crowded street in Mumbai

Traveling to Agra

The next day we boarded an Air India plane and flew to New Delhi. We left our five-star hotel at four in the morning and walked for twenty minutes to reach the train station. In the early morning the streets were almost as crowded as during the day, with homeless roaming around, early workers carrying piles of newspapers on their bicycles, or vegetables on their wooden carts. After a three-hour train ride we arrived in Agra and took a bus that dropped us at the entrance of the Taj Mahal. A heavy fog–which apparently is a daily occurrence–veiled the famous mausoleum, but slowly faded as the sun rose higher.

The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. The Taj Mahal is constructed with impeccable symmetry. Minarets flank the domed tomb, and a central pool reflects the main building.

Notice the different colors at different times of the day. The gardens—an earthly representation of paradise—are divided into quadrants, and twin red sandstone buildings (an east-facing mosque and a west-facing guesthouse) give the mausoleum complex a balanced harmony. 
I am standing on the terrace at the entrance of the mausoleum. Notice we had to remove our shoes. The acoustics inside the main dome cause the single note of a flute to reverberate five times.
The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, as the actual graves are located at a much lower level.The sarcophagi are enclosed in an eight-sided chamber ornamented with pietra dura (an inlay with semi-precious stones) and a marble lattice screen. 

The shopping in India is amazing. Vendors boasting their merchandise– jewelry, silk scarves, incrusted boxes, and others, waited for us at the door of our buses , ready to accept any bargain.

After a fabulous day in Agra, we returned to New Delhi and visited a Maharaja castle, and then flew to Cochin, in the South of India where we caught up with our ship and continued our cruise to Thailand and Singapore–more stories for another time.