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( Full Disclosure: I am a long time Laker fan, having rooted for them since the days of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. I have stuck with them through the highs- Magic, Worthy, Kobe, Shaq – and the lows – Kobe’s final years. I admire the Warriors for their unselfish style of play which reminds of the glory years when Magic was battling Bird and the Celtics.  I detest Lebron because of his arrogance and selfishness and his me-first attitude and am thankful to Golden State for raining on his parade).

Now that the Warriors have swept the Cavaliers, Kevin Durant’s detractors have come out in full force. Over and over again, I hear him labeled ” a coward” and ” weak” for having joined a 73 win team in order to get a championship ring. These same people hate the Warriors for making the NBA championship a foregone conclusion. Many of them are also Lebron supporters who rail against the ” unfairness” in Lebron having to play, all on his lonesome) against a team with four All- Stars and a deeper bench. To which I say ” Bosh!” and I don’t mean Chris Bosh.

These critics seem to have forgotten that it was LeBron himself who, eight years ago, orchestrated the idea of a ” super-team”, one with three All-Stars when he enticed Chris Bosh to join him in decamping to Miami and teaming up with Dwayne Wade. There have been other super teams before but they were put together by GM’s through the draft and through trades. This was, as far as I know, the first time that players took it upon themselves to form a super team. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, suffered for seven years in Oklahoma City with the ball-hogging duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook before being recruited by Stephen Curry and a bunch of Warriors players. Who can blame him for not wanting to continue playing with Westbrook, a player  like Lebron whose ego is even bigger than his admittedly great skills. Besides, in coming to Golden State, Durant not only took a huge play cut but subjugated his skills for the good of the team. It was only when Curry and Thompson misfired that Durant unleashed his one-on-one skills for the good of the team. The Warriors are only too aware of the sacrifices that KD has made and that’s what makes them such an unselfish team and a joy to watch.

Lebron is a terrific player with unbelievable physical attributes, definitely in the conversation for the Greatest of All -Time for fans who are interested in such things. He is also a selfish player who demands the ball, a flopper and a whiner who gets more than his share of calls because of his reputation. In recent years, he has expanded his game and is a threat from anywhere on the floor but I dislike his ball -dominant style of play where most often he barrels over defensive players and gets the call when he should actually be  called for an offensive foul. If he does not have a good supporting cast, it is partly because he insists on getting his full market value leaving very little for management to recruit other players with. He also drives away teammates with his selfish play. Kyrie Irving demanded a trade inspite of  reaching the finals three times and winning a Championship with LeBron. According to one report, he was tired of seeing Lebron hog the ball for most of the 24 second possession , being unable to do anything with it  and then passing ( to Irving) with only  2 or 3 seconds left . Irving would then have to hoist a desperation shot with the shot clock winding down, missing more often than not and getting the blame. Finally, LeBron undercuts team mates and the coach and often acts as a de facto GM insisting on trades and then moaning about the lack of support when things don’t pan out.

In the first game of these finals, LeBron played a fantastic game and I felt for him when the Cavs lost due to J,R Smith’s bonehead play. I was feeling more in sympathy with him after the final game and he had to stomach yet another defeat. Then he had to come out and talk about his self inflicted injury and detract from the Warriors win instead of keeping quiet about it and giving them their due. Reminded me of Serena Williams, who never lost a match without making excuses for it.

Now that the finals are over, there is a lot of speculation about where LeBron will go next. The possible landing spots are Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston. I don’t care where he goes or whether he stays in Cleveland… I just don’t want to see him join the Lakers. LA has a  young team , and in Luke Walton, a coach in the Steve Kerr mold. They are fun to watch and with the addition of a superstar or two could challenge the Warriors and the Rockets. But not with LeBron. His me-first attitude would destroy the team’s chemistry and would impede the progress of the youngsters. Furthermore, LBJ has played so much basketball that he is older than his chronological age of 33. His skills will ,be on the decline in the next year or two; if he is given a long term max contract it will tie up valuable cap space much as happened in the final years with Kobe. I hope the Lakers don’t make that mistake. I loved Magic as a player but as a GM he is still an unknown quantity. I was unhappy with his drafting Lonzo Ball because of his crazy dad. Giving LiAngelo, a tryout was inexplicable. Please Magic, take a pass on LeBron.

 

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(On Friday mornings at 11:30, my wife conducts a meditation session at our clubhouse. Usually about 20-25 people attend and, as we all sit in a circle, she plays a meditation tape from a free app called Insight Timer. It guides us through a meditation exercise which lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. There follow ten minutes of gentle music or, sometimes, silence.  The entire session lasts  thirty minutes and has been described by some participants as the best part of their day as it soothes and refreshes the mind.  Additionally, the act of sitting together engaged in a common pursuit enables us to connect and creates a sense of community. Lately, I have been closing each session with a short talk, usually a teaching story from something I’ve read or a personal experience. Here is an example).

Twenty years ago, words like” Mindfulness” and phrases like ” being in the moment” were still exotic. Nowadays they are mainstream; one hears them in the oddest places. Yesterday, I was reading an old issue of New York magazine when I came across a little filler, a paragraph about how habits are created. According to researchers at MIT, habits are formed as the result of a three step process: Cue, Routine, Reward. For example: “You feel bored” ( Cue). You pull out your iPhone ( Routine) A few moments of empty stimulation (Reward).

But, all too soon, you are bored again. What is to be done?

Solution: Choose a reward that contributes to your feeling of well being. Two of the best rewards, happiness wise: Staring a conversation with a stranger  Or Being more present in the moment.

What do these two things have in common?

In both cases, you consciously remove yourself from center stage. You become the observer, not the central character. You do not think of I.. I.. I.

This too is an aspect of mindfulness, one that I don’t think is stressed enough.

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Summer Fruits

A couple of weeks ago, the New York times critic Pete Wells listed his Top Five Fruits of summer. They were, in ascending order, as follows.

5. Raspberries

4. Peaches

3. Blueberries

2. Cherries

1.Watermelon.

His choices were based on not just on the fruits eaten out of hand but on their versatility in various preparations. It was an interesting list and started me thinking about my own. My first act was to see the complete list of summer fruits. There were 25 of them listed in many sites and I thought that was too inclusive. Many like Boysenberries, loganberries, and gooseberries are not widely available. Some, like grapes, are available throughout the year and don’t really come under the category of summer fruits.( In my book, summer fruits are those available primarily in the summer months, from June to September.) Guavas are delicious in tropical countries but a sore disappointment in the U.S. They’re out. And , as for zucchini, I don’t consider it a fruit.

My Top 5 list and my reasonings for elevating these above all others is given below, in ascending order of desirability.

5,. Honeydew melon. I love the fragrance and the delicate taste. Great eaten chilled on a hot summer day  but also wonderful when made into a smoothie At this point, I’ll also mention that, on my list, honeydews edged out watermelons, the number 1 choice on the NYT list. Watermelons, it is true, are synonymous with summer but I find them one-dimensional.  Very often, they are not very sweet and perhaps I am turned off by their ubiquity. I admit they are more versatile than honeydews but that is not enough.

4. Blackberries.  They are larger, plumper and usually sweeter than raspberries. The latter are more attractive to look at but they also spoil quickly. Too often, I have had to throw raspberries away because I left them in the refrigerator for a couple of days instead of eating them immediately.

3.Peaches, when they are at their peak, are really really good. I remember attending the U.S. tennis Open at Flushing Meadows for many years with my father and my friend Bill. At the time, fans were allowed to bring in outside food ( I don’t know if it is still the case). I would bring the ham sandwiches and the water bottles. Bill would bring peaches, and what peaches they were! When I bit into one of them, the juice would run down my chin . And as for sweetness, they were unbelievably sweet. I’ve never had peaches elsewhere that were half as good. Usually, they are hard and bland, almost a different fruit. I do like the peach flavor though in ice cream, in peach melba and in peach pies.

2.Mangoes might have been in the top spot except that the varieties available in the U.S are not as good as those I’ve eaten elsewhere. The Alphonso mangoes available in India are in a class by themselves and the variety of  mangoes on offer there, each with it’s distinctive character, is mindboggling. The Kent mangoes, which are widely available in the U.S, are not bad but they lack flavor and are often fibrous. Still, a so-so mango is better than most other fruits.

1. Cherries carry, for me, a certain mystique. I’ve seen peach trees, blackberry and raspberry bushes and mango trees but I’ve never seen a cherry tree. All I know is that in late June and early July the supermarket has bins of the luscious black fruit at affordable prices. I like the sweetness of cherries but also their firmness. I could happily eat them year round but, alas, after a scant two months they disappear just as suddenly as they came on the scene. I like them fresh and eaten out of hand but also in cherry pies and clafoutis and, of course, in cherry vanilla ice cream. At the doctor’s office, one lady ( who was a diabetic) was plaintively bemoaning the doctor’s command that she not eat more than six cherries at any one time. ” Six !”, she moaned” “After six, I’ve only just begun”. I sympathize with her and I hope it never happens to me.

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“You really have to try this.”

“No way. Absolutely not. You know I don’t eat fish.” I reply.

“Try it just once. You’ll love it. Just once and you will be hooked.”

I tried it. Then I tried it again. And yes, soon I was hooked on sushi.

I think my experience parallels that of many other Americans. In the early eighties, most people confronted with sushi had the same reaction “Raw fish …Ugh!” That perception changed steadily over the years and now there are sushi restaurants in even the smaller towns in N.J.

What is it that I like about sushi? It’s everything… the aesthetics, the textures, the variety, the taste and, something I find amazing when I think about it… it does not smell like raw fish.

When Shula and I go to a sushi restaurant, I like to get a table that allows me to watch the sushi chef work his magic. Such a pleasure to observe an expert at work and, believe me, these chefs are experts. I am entranced as he selects the prime cuts of fish or seafood, the sureness of his hands and his motions as he slices it , lays it and the other ingredients on a bed of rice on a sushi mat, then rolls the whole, firms it up and slices it into six rolls. Other times, he molds the rice into an oblong and carefully tops it with a thin slice of fish or clam or a piece of shrimp. Once he has prepared our order, the sushi are placed with a mound of pickled ginger and a little wasabi on a distinctive rectangular plate with upturned corners. It is brought to our table and we revel in the different shapes and colors.

I pour some soy sauce into the little rectangular saucer, mix in a little wasabi and I’m ready for my sushi experience. A delicious moment of indecision and anticipation… which one shall I try first? Finally I make my choice. I top it with some pickled ginger, dip it in the wasabi-soy sauce mixture and pop it into my mouth. Sheer bliss as I savor the taste and the texture, the coolness of the fish, the faintly vinegar tang and firmness of the rice. I try to make my mouthful last but, alas, all too soon, it is gone and I am reaching for another piece of sushi, a different one, and another and another. At the end of the meal, when every last piece has disappeared, we are content, sated but not stuffed.

I do not want to give the impression that I am a connoisseur of sushi. Far from it. A true  connoisseur would be horrified to see me in action. For instance, I use too much soy sauce. Instead of dabbing it on the fish, I dunk the bottom of the roll, the rice part, in the soy sauce. Positively barbaric! I will also eat only some types of sushi. I stay away from the stronger tasting types of fish such as mackerel though I am trying to expand my range. I once read a piece on the proper way to eat sushi. It was by Ruth Reichl, the one- time NYT food critic and editor of Gourmet magazine, and it was a revelation. I became painfully aware that my palate is not sufficiently refined to appreciate the finer nuances of sushi. And it never will be, either. I was happy however to find that the proper way to eat sushi is with the fingers. Great news for one who has never mastered the art of eating with chopsticks.

Sushi anyone?

 

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A woman in her forties walked up to the library help desk and asked for help finding true-crime books. She was tired of reading mysteries and detective novels, she said, and wanted to try something different, non-fiction rather than fiction. The librarian gave her the names of some authors in the true-crime genre and showed her where the books were located in the stacks.

A few months later, she told the librarian how the switch had affected her reading habits.Each night, she said, she would climb into bed with a true crime book and  a bowl of popcorn and read for about forty five minutes, then hop out of bed and make sure that all the windows and doors were locked before going back to sleep. All those years she had been reading detective novels she had never been worried about her safety but now she was overcome with fears that some degenerate killer might break into the house and assault her.

But she continued to read true- crime books.

Which begs the question… Why do we like being scared? What is the attraction that scary books , and movies, have for us? Why do we go bungee jumping or ride on roller coasters?

As for coasters or bungee jumping, it’s to ” prove” ourselves, to show that we are brave,  unafraid to do things that others can’t bring themselves to do. Ditto for scary movies, which we see in the company of others. But books? Reading is a solitary activity. No one knows (or is interested in knowing) what we read. there is no question of impressing others. Those who read books that scare them probably do so because they like the feeling. For the life of me, I can’t understand why.

 

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Taystee

Until four years ago, we were living in Edison NJ and making frequent pilgrimages to the Taystee Subs shop. Indeed, if it had not been at the other end of Edison we might have done so more frequently. Established in 1963, the sub shop located in what is little more than a shack has a well deserved reputation for its scrumptious subs ( or heroes, or hoagies, if you prefer). When President Obama made a short trip to Edison in the early years of his presidency, he stopped at Taystee to sample their subs. No surprise, because they ARE good.

On the face of it, there should not be that much difference between Taystee subs and the rest. After all, a sub is a very basic preparation. A variety of sliced deli meats and cheese piled on a long roll, cut in half lengthwise ( usually white bread , though wheat is available for 40 cents extra), topped with shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes and onions, sprinkled with oil and vinegar ( or slathered with mayonnaise if you prefer or both). Nothing could be simpler… and yet Taystee subs are head and shoulders above the rest.

If I had to choose the one factor that elevates them, I’d have to say it’s the bread. The fresh sliced meats are very good but the bread is what puts these subs over the top. It is just the right combination of soft and firm that is able to cushion the meats and other fixings without becoming mushy.

I was surprised to find a branch of Taystee Subs fairly close to where we  now live in Somerset. Who am I kidding? It is twenty minutes away from us, but the subs are worth the drive. There is usually a line stretching out the door when we get to the shop but I don’t mind. It’s fun to watch the assembly line of deli guys ( and gals) assembling the sub. The first in line takes your order ( whole or half?), slices the meats and cheese and layers them on the cut loaf. The next person adds the fixings and cuts the long sub into halves ( or quarters if you prefer) and passes them on to be wrapped in white paper. The last person takes your money ( 5% off for cash) and hands you your prize. It is a supremely efficient operation and it takes about 3 minutes for each sub from start to finish. The deli personnel are polite and really make you feel pampered.

I usually get the #5, the super sub with ham, salami, cappacolla and proscuittini, light on the lettuce please, tomato and onion, and both mayo and oil and vinegar. It’s the most expensive sub on the menu and costs under $ 11.  I ask for it to be cut into fourths and it’s enough for both my wife and me. What a bargain ! She has been making noises about trying the tuna salad sub next time but me I’ going to stick to the # 5. Why mess with perfection?

P.S I wonder whether President Obama also had the # 5. I must ask the guys at the counter next time.

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I was reading an interesting excerpt from Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD about how our sleep patterns are the key to a much longer life. According to him, we are not sleeping the way our distant ancestors  did, the way Nature intended us to.

Walker states that in olden times, in hunter-gatherer societies, people enjoyed a biphasic sleep pattern, seven or eight hours in bed at night resulting in about seven hours of sleep , along with a 30-60 minute nap in the afternoon. Furthermore, the nightly slumbers usually began 2-3 hours after dusk, around 9pm and lasted until dawn. No doubt, this was because those early cultures did not have the benefit of electric light and even firelight represented a drain on scarce resources.

Nowadays, in the post industrial age, we have been forced into a mono-phasic sleep pattern in which we sleep  for less than seven hours a night. Typically, this begins late at night though we still wake up quite early. And ,of course, modern office hours don’t permit the taking of an afternoon nap.

In support of his argument, that this enforced monophasic pattern is harmful to health, Walker points to a study of people who had to switch from a biphasic to a monophasic sleep pattern. Previously, they had office hours that incorporated an afternoon siesta but  were then forced to fall in line with the rest of the world and work regular 9 to 5 shifts. This study showed that over 6 years, these people suffered a 37% increased risk of death due to heart disease. Another statistic: People on the Greek island of Ikaria were four times as likely  to reach the age of ninety as Americans did.

When I began to read this excerpt, I did so with an open mind, but the more I read the more my doubts began to mount. Firstly, even if a biphasic sleep pattern is ” natural”, most of us never enjoyed it once we started our working lives. So how could we feel deprived of something we never had? Just as some factory workers, medical staff and others  get used to working the night shift, is it not likely that a monophasic pattern is becomes the new standard for us? In any case, what choice do we have? There is no way we will be able to shift back to a biphasic pattern. Even nations that enjoyed a siesta are switching to a 9 to 5 schedule.

As for those people in Ikaria who have a four times greater chance of living to the age of ninety, can this be attributed solely to their biphasic sleep pattern? These people are mostly farmers or shepherds; they work hard, live in an unpolluted environment,  eat a healthy Mediterranean diet and have a less stressful lifestyle. Is it not likely that these factors all contribute to their longevity?

I think so.

I also think that , as long as one gets a minimum of seven hours of sleep daily, it doesn’t matter if it occurs all at once or in two or more installments. When the mind and body need rest, the person craves sleep. As long as that need is satisfied, you are fine. I find that, with  most of my friends who are retired, an afternoon nap is an imperative, partly because they tire more easily and partly because they no longer get seven hours uninterrupted sleep at night. One of my friends who is in his eighties wrote me to say that the day’s activities are now accomplished ” between naps”.

So… never mind about terms like monophasic or biphasic.  Just listen to your body and all will be well.

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