Finding My Inner Beach Ball

"The matzo ball is flying around the house!" the mother of one of the children who attends religious school at my synagogue messaged me, referring to a matzoh-ball-patterned beach ball her first grader had won in a contest of sorts.


Confused? I can explain.

I belong to the only Jewish congregation in a small city in Indiana. It’s also a small—and dwindling—congregation. As with any small organization, some of us take on multiple roles. One of mine is religious school director.

We have five children. All come from interfaith families and many get their dose of Judaism only during two hours on Sunday morning.

With Passover coming up, I decided that the children would learn the Ma Nishtana—the four questions traditionally asked by the youngest person at the Passover seder, or service—in Hebrew. Most of the children are just learning to read English, so this would be quite a feat.

To move things along, I provided incentives. (Or bribes, if you like.) I got a selection of incentives—a roll of Jewish holiday stickers, squirting frogs, a walking matzoh ball, matzoh ball Hacky Sacks, flip frogs, and the aforementioned beach ball—and put them on display.

“When you can sing the Ma Nishtana to me,” I told them, “you can select a prize.”

In addition, there were personalized stickers saying “_____ Knows the Ma Nishtana,” plenty of applause and praise, pictures were taken, etc.

“M” wanted that beach ball. Even at the tender age of 6, she was shrewd enough to know that, if she didn’t learn the Ma Nishtana early enough, somebody else might take “her” beach ball.

She even called me at home Sunday morning to sing the Ma Nishtana so I’d know she had succeeded in learning it and deserved that beach ball. She had a goal and she pushed herself to reach that goal so she could get the reward she wanted.

It got me to thinking about goal-setting and rewards for myself. I need to lose weight. I need to get my HbA1c down. I like to go on cruises.

I usually just go on a cruise about every year no matter what. But what if I don’t allow myself to go on another cruise (after the one in May, of course) unless I, say, lose 50 pounds and get my HbA1c below 6.5%? And how about if it isn’t just any old cruise, but one I’ve been dreaming about for a while, such as one that goes through the Panama Canal or to cities in Northern Europe? (Hey! We all have our version of a beach ball!)

That reward is serious enough that I think I might just do that. Just the idea of no cruises alone until I achieve my goal should get me headed in that direction.

But I believe I also need some interim goals and rewards, and that’s a little more problematic. Obviously, if I want to lose weight and improve my HbA1c, a promise to treat myself to a Chocolate Thunder from Down Under (my favorite eat-out dessert) is not an option.

A trip? That could be problematic, too. I love San Francisco—and its sourdough bread. And New York City, with its cheese danish and real bagels (as opposed to the fluff they have in the Midwest). However, I do like to travel, even when a cruise ship isn’t involved. Chicago doesn’t conjure up any favorite foods, nor does St. Louis or Louisville.

I don’t care that much for clothes, so a new dress doesn’t do anything for me. Nor do shoes, especially after having had four surgeries on one of my feet. A massage? A day at a spa?

What should my milestones be? After every 10 pounds? Twenty-five, 15, and 10? Twenty, 20, and 10?

Help! I need ideas!

In the meantime, I’m off to read cruise brochures. I need to find my beach ball.

Editor’s note: For safe, effective weight loss tips, check out the articles “Tried and True Weight-Loss Techniques” and “Tips for Healthful Weight Loss.”

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  • chuck

    has anyone tried the Extend Bar to control blood sugar. sounded like a good idea

  • cyndi ramsey

    I believe small attainable goals in a reasonable amount of time are the best way to do what you want to accomplish. What I have done in the past was to say when I accomplished a goal, then comes your treat. I decide upon what it will be when the goal is reached. (What I want today may not be the same as what I would want when I reach the goal) No limit, just has to be something that would not hinder reaching the next goal and fit within my budget at the time. This might work for you as well.

  • knifethrower

    My treat to myself (along with a running test to see if I can abide my blood sugar management) is to do Passover at my brother’s house- cooking for a herd, dodging Matzo Balls, kugel, matzo brei with syrup for breakfast, and of course- bagels. I do my reward in reverse… I bring my glucometer (I am pre-diabetic) and “stick” to it as best I can. If I can’t muster the self control, I don’t get to go back next year and my little nephews suffer the absence. Who could let a kid down? Better yet- who is going to be a good example at such a carb-centric time in a family full of huge, voracious eaters headed down the diabetes path?

    We are not supposed to put out health in jeopardy on a fasting holiday as Jews, but the reverse is true, too- we must be okay with not eating what is commanded but is potentially harmful, too.

    My goals are also to run off any matzo-related offenses I incur… If I succeed, I get a new pair of Nikes when I get home from NY.

  • lorraine

    Hi Jan, love your column and think you should reward yourself at 10lbs. Know what you mean about passover. If you want a real BAGEL you would have to come to my home town of MONTREAL QC CANADA. Best of luck with your weight.

  • Ann

    Here are my thoughts on carb-free rewards:

    Fresh, seasonal flowers — especially highly scented ones — are a good short-term incentive for me.

    And music. I love to hear live music. I was raised listening to classical music, and live in a city with a good orchestra and music school, so there is plenty of classical music around. I treat myself to a special concert when I reach a goal. (Of course,if you prefer some other kind of music you could use that instead.)

    And books. I LOVE to read. I have many books that I bought as a special celebration of some small achievement.

    And long-distance phone calls with far-away friends.

    And a walk in a beautiful natural setting with someone I love.

    Those are my top carb-free rewards.

  • David Spero RN

    Thanks for bringing up rewards. I think that’s a great topic, and I think we should reward ourselves every chance we get. To be effective as a reinforcement, a reward has to be given very soon after the act you want to reinforce.

    I think hot showers, massages, flowers, and of course sex are great rewards. I’d love to hear about others.