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Leah Dunaief

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions going? Do you even remember what they were? If you are sticking to them, heartfelt congratulations. You are one of few with the discipline and tenacity to hang on. But if you are in the majority for having slipped or temporarily abandoned your resolves, here is some help. It’s called habits.

Habits can be a valuable tool to change your life, both for the better and not. By that I mean, we can slip into some unwelcome behaviors and they become habits almost before we realize it. Or we can consciously take control and set out to break or redefine or make new ones, and as they become part of a routine, they become easier to follow.

This is all far simpler than it sounds, of course. There is a whole branch of science dealing with habits, the unconscious behavioral patterns formed to deal with actions. “We do not so much direct our own actions as become shaped by them,” wrote Jeffrey Kluger in his introductory chapter for a special edition from Time Inc. called “The Power of Habits.”

He points out, by quoting Léon Dumont — the 19th century French psychologist and philosopher — that “a garment, after having been worn a certain amount of time, clings to the shape of the body better than when it was new. There has been a change in the tissue, and this change is a new habit of cohesion.” That is certainly true of the old, comfy pair of slippers that, despite their age, you hate to replace them, and the old pair of pants that have come to fit you like a glove.

Accordingly, the manner of our actions “fashion for themselves in the nervous system more and more appropriate paths.” Kluger here is again quoting Dumont, who studied the science of laughter, of gratitude, of empathy and, for our purposes here, the science of habits.

William James, the American philosopher greatly influenced by Dumont, suggested that people were little more than “bundles of habits.” The point of all this is to build on the idea that if we can shape our brains and the rest of our nervous systems the way we shape a pair of pants, we can control and redirect our lives to follow the actions we wish to take, namely our resolutions to be better.

Think about how many of our daily moves are just programmed in. We get up in the morning and automatically brush our teeth, take a shower, dress, put up the coffee, get our keys, slide behind the wheel of the car, place the coffee cup in the holder, drive to work, all probably while thinking of something else. Occasionally we are surprised to find we have arrived at our destination without consciously paying attention to the route. Almost all of that execution was the result of habit.

Well, suppose you built another step in there, like running 20 minutes on that treadmill or stationary bike collecting dust in your basement before you got into the shower. You like to watch the morning TV shows? Jog along with them as you watch. If you repeat that action for awhile, it could become a habit and presto! You are doing the recommended minutes of exercise a week without the ironclad discipline seemingly required each day.

It just becomes as much a habit as brushing your teeth. If you are forever locked into dipping into the candy jar in the evenings, and you find you are gaining weight, substitute chilled blueberries or red grapes from a cut-glass bowl within reach of your fingers. Of course you have to remember to buy the blueberries or grapes beforehand, wash them and keep them in the refrigerator at the ready.

Complex habits, like procrastination or chronic lateness or smoking are harder to unlearn — but not impossible. We can rewire ourselves, using substitutions or rewards, splinting a bad habit onto a good one for support or hanging out with those whose actions we would like to emulate.

Here’s the bottom line: We can do it. It will just take time for a new behavior to feel part of our routine, an average of two weeks or so. To become a habit will average 66 days.

By Michael Tessler

Today marks one year since my weight loss journey began. At my heaviest, I weighed 356 pounds and had transitioned from an already uncomfortable diagnosis of morbid obesity to the dreaded diagnosis of extreme morbid obesity, thus making me the literal opposite of an extreme sports athlete. You might have a food problem when the phrase “quitting cold turkey” makes you a little hungry.

In all seriousness — at just 24 years old, I was living a frightening reality. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, occasional chest pains … my body was telling me I was going to die, and it was going to happen fast if I didn’t change soon. Doctors told me the same thing and despite being successful in regularly helping others, I seemed absolutely incapable of helping myself. 

Michael Tessler with his beautiful little motivator, Lilly Rose Tessler. Photo from M. Tessler

My weight was controlling every aspect of my life. Time and time again I embarked on unhealthy and unrealistic efforts to magically lose all of my weight. Each time I refused to actually change my lifestyle. These attempts were focused on instant gratification, and I refused to consider or acknowledge the reality of my food addiction and where these weight problems likely stemmed from. 

Crash diets, feel good unused gym memberships and diets of deprivation wasted years of my life and wreaked havoc on my body. Each time I’d not only gain back the weight I had lost, but I would become heavier than I was when I had started. This was self-sabotage at its worst.

Finally, I had my aha moment. One family member staged a silent intervention. Without speaking a single word she set me down a radical new path — one that I can comfortably say has saved my life. My niece was less than 2 months old when my sister-in-law asked me to watch her for an hour or two. 

Baby Lilly didn’t weigh much at all. Despite changing her diaper and feeding her I couldn’t seem to make her happy. So I picked her up and starting singing. We danced around the living room and I rocked her back and forth. Her crying subsided as we passed a big mirror hanging on the wall. I didn’t recognize the man holding my niece in the reflection. 

His face was red, sweaty, and the simple act of holding a newborn child had him panting for breath. He didn’t even look like me … but this was my reality. Holding Lilly, all I could think about is all the memories and experiences I’d miss in this little girl’s life unless I did something drastic, unless I was really willing to do whatever it’d take to change. 

So rather than waiting another day I got to work. I cleaned my pantry and refrigerator right then and there and went for my first walk that night, adding more and more steps each time. 

I began some serious research, reached out to an amazing therapist (special thanks to Jill Haire) and dedicated myself to not just combatting my obesity but understanding why and how I got to that point in the first place.

Losing 54 pounds, going on daily walks/runs and showing myself that I could truly change my lifestyle, I made a big decision. After consulting with my doctors, I came to the conclusion that the best way for me to permanently maintain this weight loss would be with the assistance of bariatric surgery. This would be a tool and not a solution to help me maintain my healthy lifestyle. 

It has required constant vigilance and a commitment to health and transparency — but as of March 5 I’ve lost a total of 140 pounds and, thanks to little Lilly, am finally living the life I deserve. My dreams and life are no longer sedentary as I hike in the hills of Hollywood. So to whoever you are and whatever your struggle, keep moving forward! Don’t wait for tomorrow to start living your life.

Catch Open Mike on a monthly basis in TBR News Media’s Arts & Lifestyles.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

When my daughter drives to a crosswalk and a pedestrian is crossing, she feels terrible if the person on foot starts to jog or sprint, pushing him or herself to move more quickly so my daughter can continue on her way.

My daughter also gets annoyed if the person suddenly slows down.

Life is full of those “just right” moments. If our hot chocolate is too hot, we risk burning the roofs of our mouths. If it’s too cold, it doesn’t have the desired effect of warming us up. 

It’s what makes the Goldilocks story so relatable. The father’s bed is too hard, the mother’s is too soft, but the baby’s bed is just right.

When my family searched for new beds, we collapsed into one mattress after another, imagining a good night’s sleep, just the right book or a good movie with perfectly balanced sound.

Most salespeople spend their careers trying to find the right fit for someone, whether it’s a shoe, bed, car, house or any of the myriad items that fill my email box overnight while I sleep.

Life involves the constant search for just right. If we won every game we played, the competition wouldn’t be strong enough and we wouldn’t push ourselves to get better. A movie with absolutely no adversity can be charming, but it can also wear thin quickly, as the lack of suspense can lead us to wonder whether a dystopian conflict is pending.

Even in the world of friendships, we search for just-right friends. We generally don’t seek friends who want to talk to us all the time, or who can barely make time for us. We also don’t want friends who agree with everything we say. A few people, public figures and otherwise, seem eager to find people who reinforce their brilliance regularly. I would prefer to find people with viewpoints that differ from my own, which force me to defend my ideas and allow me incorporate new perspectives into my thinking or behavioral patterns.

Just right for any one person can and often is different from just right for someone else, which enhances the notion that we can find someone who is a great match or complement for us.

Ideally, the non-just-right shoes, weather, girlfriends, boyfriends or jobs teach us more about ourselves. Why, we wonder, didn’t that work? Once we figure that out, we have a better chance at understanding what does.

Sometimes, like the bed that doesn’t feel comfortable at first but eventually becomes the only one that affords us a quality sleep, we grow into a role and find that the previous tasks or conversations, which had seemed so odious initially, are a much better fit than we originally thought, as a result of the changes in ourselves.

And, as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There’s the rub.” The pursuit of just right in any context can change as we age. Our high school tastes in music, clothing, cars, houses, jobs or any other choices can and do change with each landmark reunion, making it more difficult to know what we want or what we’re searching for.

While I share my daughter’s guilt when a pedestrian rushes across the crosswalk to let me go or prevents me from running down that person, I’m not as frustrated by someone who slows down. I try to determine, watching that person pause in the middle of the street, how this might be a “just right” moment for the pedestrian.

Mayor Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson on March 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is the time of mixed seasonal emotions. On the one hand, the deep cabin fever that sets in with February is still with us. Winter is upon the land, the trees are skeletons, the bushes just sticks and the lawns an anemic greenish brown. Even the evergreens, instead of being a lusty hunter green, are more like a drab olive, branches hanging dutifully but limply, to remind us that all color has not entirely disappeared from view.

That’s probably also an apt description of our souls, suffering from winter’s darkness and yearning for color and warmth. Patches of snow, remnants of the recent storm, have also lost their luster and serve only to nudge us that winter still has us in its grip. So do the ever widening potholes.

But — and this is only a tiny “but” — March is here. That means we have made it through the coldest, darkest months. This weekend, we will switch to daylight savings time, so those who work past 6 o’clock in the evening will not be stumbling out from their stores and offices into the darkness. There will still be evidence of some day left. Remember, though, to drive with extra care during the week following the change, for statistics tell us there are more car incidents after losing even one hour on one’s biological clock.

Mill Creek in Port Jefferson on March 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

With the advent of March, if we hold on three weeks, comes the official start of spring. Now we know that Mother Nature doesn’t check the calendar, and we can get wicked snowstorms after spring officially begins. But that likelihood is less and would be a grand finale rather than the beginning of a long siege. So there is the smallest whiff of hope for the return of better weather. Also if you look closely at the bushes, you can see buds. Buds! That means flowers will be coming, and leaves, the bright green leaves of early spring. If we really want to get delirious about color, we can trek to Philadelphia to drink in the world’s oldest and largest indoor flower show, now happening at the Pennsylvania Convention Center until Sunday, March 10. This year’s theme is Flower Power, celebrating the contribution of flowers to our lives.

Sometimes on a winter day when the sun is shining, the sky is cloudless and intensely blue and the air, with its low humidity, crisp and invigorating. For those who ski downhill or through the woods, snowshoe or ice skate or even take a walk on a country road, the scene is poetic, an artist’s dream. To come inside after such activity and be greeted with the scent of hearty soup or freshly baked chocolate chip cookies is a treat most keenly appreciated when the temperature is low.

As the season turns, and we think about putting away the shovels and salt — not yet though! — we can also cheer ourselves on a bit by conjuring up the benefits of winter. What are they, you ask? Well, no mosquitoes for one. And the ticks have disappeared. No lawn to mow, although we do sometimes have to shovel snow, so that’s probably only a trade-off at best. We can gain a few pounds and hide beneath our tunics and sweaters until the change in wardrobe forces us to acknowledge the slothful truth. There are no emergency calls to fix the air conditioner in winter. But the boiler is no angel either. It always seems to give way on the coldest nights. A dark and cold winter night can be cheered with a crackling fire, as we sit before the fireplace sipping a favorite beverage and exchanging deep thoughts with a loved one. Even the dog seems to enjoy the warmth and glow, curling up at our feet.

But we are willing to cast all that away for the excitement of spring, with its birdsong, flowers and warmth. The return of light, longer with each day, is a magical salve for our moods. Just for a little while longer, dear friends, hang in there.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Before February’s Black History Month moves away for another year, I would like to share with you the exciting story I read in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Leadership: In Turbulent Times,” with lessons from four presidents as leaders: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. Now you might be thinking that’s not the sexiest subject to be writing or reading about, but in her storytelling hands, it is a page turner. 

We all know too well that Johnson, the Democratic vice president, became president when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. At that time, Kennedy’s progressive legislation was totally bogged down in Congress, going nowhere. What might not be so well known is that LBJ, as he was fondly known, was a “master mechanic” of the legislative process for he had come of age in politics in Congress. “It was his fierce resolve not simply to dislodge Kennedy’s stalled agenda but to realize a society built on racial and economic justice far beyond the [FDR’s] New Deal and [Kennedy’s] New Frontier,” Goodwin wrote.

Taking advantage of the short burst of sympathy and support that he expected to realize from the nation, Johnson, a Texan, wanted to get the contentious civil rights bill, designed to end segregation in the South, enacted. “We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for 100 years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law,” he told Congress in his address to the nation on Nov. 27, 1963. 

But first he needed some congressional momentum to oil the rails and cleverly called for Kennedy’s tax cut to pass. Less divisive than the issue of civil rights, the bill had passed in the House after 13 months but was opposed by Virginia Sen. Harry Byrd, a conservative Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Conservatives then adamantly believed in a balanced budget. The idea of tax cuts came from liberals.

Johnson was able to work out a deal with Byrd. If he could get the proposed budget down below $100 billion in 1965, Byrd would bring the bill to the floor for a vote. With great effort, Johnson did, the bill was voted on and the Revenue Act of 1964 was passed into law on Feb. 26, barely three short months after the assassination. 

Now came the bigger challenge: civil rights.

Once the tax cut bill passed, promising more revenue from increased business that could be spent on social services, Lyndon Johnson focused his
attention and his legislative expertise on securing the mandate of law for civil rights. 

To say the least, Southern Congressional Republicans, many of them Johnson’s friends, adamantly opposed his effort. He liked to tell them his personal story about his longtime black employees, his housemaid and butler, Helen and Gene Williams, and his cook, Zephyr Wright.  

Each year Johnson asked them to drive his extra car from Washington, D.C., back to Texas, a three-day journey. One year Johnson asked Gene to take along his affectionate beagle as well. It was then that Johnson learned how difficult such a trip was for those of color: almost no places on the road to stop and eat, almost no bathrooms in which they were allowed, few places to sleep. “A colored man’s got enough trouble getting across the South on his own, without having a dog along,” Gene explained. Now, all these years later, the winner of the best picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards, “Green Book,” tells us the same story about traveling through the South in the 1960s with its unjust system of segregation.

Johnson knew his passionate advocacy for this bill would separate him from the South and from his Southern friends and colleagues. 

Johnson confronted those in Congress with how wrong segregation was and tirelessly worked the legislative system for passage of his bill. He challenged Virginia’s defiant Judge Howard Smith, a Democratic congressman and chair of the House Rules Committee by resorting to the discharge petition, a rarely used procedure, to blast the bill out of committee with the help of a majority of representatives. He rallied those outside the House to pressure their elected representatives to free the bill. The strategy worked, as leaders all over the country organized to do just that. 

Once out of committee, the House passed the strongest civil rights bill since Reconstruction. 

Next came the Senate. Johnson took on Richard Russell (D-Georgia), Senate leader of the Southern opposition, in a pitched battle that proved history is the result of individuals in the right place at the right time. Only a son of the South could have persevered at that juncture. Johnson managed, with the help of Republicans, and especially Senate minority leader, Everett Dirksen (R-Illinois), to break the Southern-led Senate filibuster. The bill then passed in the Senate. 

On July 2, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. He ended by saying, “To the extent Negroes were free, really free, so was I. And so was my country.”

Girl doing school work in classroom

This year, more than ever, Long Islanders are about to find themselves in a jam when it comes to taxes. 

It’s been a little more than a month since employees received their 2018 W-2 forms. While that extra $20 or maybe $60 in each paycheck felt great to pocket in January 2018 due to passage of President Donald Trump’s (R) Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, it probably doesn’t feel quite so good now. 

Thousands of middle-class residents are facing a sobering reality upon calculating their 2018 tax returns. Many are finding out their anticipated tax refund has turned into an IOU to Uncle Sam. It’s in part thanks to the elimination of several federal deductions of moving expenses, home equity loan interest or, particularly, the $10,000 cap on state and local taxes deduction. 

It’s the SALT cap that is playing a major factor in reducing or elimination people’s anticipated federal tax return. The average property taxes for Suffolk homeowners is $9,333, according to a 2017 analysis by ATTOM Data Solutions. It’s even higher for many property owners along the North Shore in Setauket, Huntington and Smithtown. Now, there’s nothing to help offset Suffolk’s high taxes. 

For the average Suffolk homeowner, 60 percent of their annual tax bill is due to educational costs, according to the 2017 study. Or, more than half can be attributed to your local school district’s tax levy and annual budget. 

As many North Shore residents come to the realization their property taxes alone exceed the SALT deduction limit of $10,000, school districts are starting to unveil their first drafts of the 2019-20 budgets. While most districts, if not all, anticipate a proposed budget that stays within the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, any increase in taxes no matter how marginal will continue to put an increased burden on residents. 

It is an undeniable truth that providing our children with a good, solid education in a safe setting is of the utmost importance. We must beg the question — is there some way to do it in a more cost-effective manner? We’re not asking school administrators to cut corners but think creatively when drafting their 2019-20 budgets. 

Whether the state-mandated tax levy cap is 1.83 or 2.58 percent, we’re asking you to think of cost-saving measures — for example, collaboratively purchasing goods and services cheaper in bulk — to help keep the school taxes increases far below that cap. If we were to think of the state-mandated tax cap as a ceiling, we want to ensure there’s adequate space or gap between the budget’s ceiling and the annual increases. 

Everyone has to pull together to keep living on Suffolk’s North Shore affordable, one part of which is keeping taxes as low as possible. As school district taxes make up the largest portion of our taxes, we have to ask districts to please tighten your belts a little more and keep those tax levies low.

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We’ve all had moments when we wonder: Is this good enough?

The answer depends, in part, on the importance of the outcome. If we’re a cardiac surgeon and we have our hands inside the chest of someone who needs a new valve or stent, good enough doesn’t cut it. We need to make absolutely sure we’ve done everything we can because no one wants to open up someone’s chest a second time to correct a small error or to retrieve something we should have removed.

If we’re driving a car on a slippery road, a turn that’s good enough on a sunny day may not be sufficient in the rain or on ice. We may need to slow down enough that we don’t need to hit the brakes as we head into the turn.

Those are, of course, more extreme examples. Fortunately, most of us live in a world where what we do doesn’t seem so critical. We might be writing a paper about Shakespeare, filing legal briefs, collecting receipts for tax purposes or shoveling snow from our driveway. Each of those tasks, in and of themselves, may not seem to require our best because we have better things to do, we want to get through the class, or we’re tired and we need to give ourselves a rest.

Nonetheless, the smaller efforts can, and do, add up. When we’re shoveling snow, good enough might miss a slick patch of ice that our wife or best friend might slip on while they’re walking to the car. Going beyond good enough could prevent the discomfort or injury from falling.

Even an essay about Shakespeare may require us to think more deeply about what it means to be in love. Down the road, that might help when we’re considering ways to express our admiration or appreciation of a partner, giving us wisdom and words beyond our years. Great words boost the power of our sentiments, just as the sight of a whale breaching transforms a trip to the beach into a memorable outing.

Of course, operating at full strength or beyond good enough for everything may be so physically and mentally draining that we might spend too much time on activities we consider trivial, leaving us with fewer resources to tackle bigger challenges.

So, how do we determine the difference between an activity that requires us to be good enough and another responsibility that mandates something more?

For starters, we may not be capable of more than a few extraordinary efforts in a day. That may be a product of how much sleep we get, how much we can control in our day or how we feel, especially if we’re battling a head cold or some chronic condition.

Keeping ourselves healthy and making sure we have enough energy can and will give us the ability to vault us over the good-enough threshold.

Good enough can become a habit, just like so many other efforts. We can run a mile every other day or we can go a bit farther each time. We may find that good enough for others, or even for former versions of ourselves, is just a start. We may raise the bar for the expectations we set for ourselves to the point where good enough today is so much better than earlier efforts.

Routine or even mundane activities likely don’t require perfect performance. Doing them well, or even beyond “good enough,” keeps us sharp and focused for our more important tasks and also sets a good example for our children, who are watching and listening.

We can and will improve our lives when we decide to raise our own expectations for good enough.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Presidents Day, as we honor those we hold on a pedestal, is a time for inspiration. Here are some inspirational sayings, some humorously so, that have been culled from the internet. 

1. Don’t talk, just act. Don’t say, just show. Don’t promise, just prove.

2. Good things come to those who believe, better things come to those who are patient and the best things come to those who don’t give up.

3. Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it, time will pass anyway.

4. Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together. (Marilyn Monroe)

5. What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create. (Buddha)

 6. Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom. (Jim Rohn)

 7. Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. (Frank Outlaw)

 8. Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. (Herman Cain)

 9. Rule No. 1 of life. Do what makes you happy.

10. No matter how you feel … get up, dress up, show up and never give up.

11. If you can’t change the circumstances, change your attitude. Funny thing is, when you do, you’ll find that the circumstances often change.

12. Hustle in silence and let your success make the noise.

13. Home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically.

14. The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present. (Alice Morse Earle)

15. Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

16. You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go and see what happens. (Mandy Hale)

17. When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you. (Lolly Daskal)

18. Follow your passion. Listen to your heart. Trust the process. Be grateful. Life is magic and your dreams matter.

19. Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.

20. The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new. 

21. You should never regret anything in life. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it is experience.

22. For every minute you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness.

23. Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.

24. One: Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two: Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it. Three: If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away. (Stephen Hawking)

25. Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.

26. Be with someone who knows exactly what they have when they have you.

27. Money talks … but all mine ever says is goodbye.

28. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

29. Marriage is like a deck of cards. In the beginning all you need is two hearts and a diamond, but by the end you wish you had a club and a spade.

30. An entire sea of water can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside the ship. Similarly, the negativity of the world can’t put you down unless you allow it to get inside you.

31. Yawning is your body’s way of saying 20 percent battery remaining.

32. What do you call a bear with no teeth? A gummy bear!

Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.

By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

What is bourbon whiskey? Bourbon whiskey is a distinctive whiskey of Kentucky made from a grain mixture of a minimum 51 percent corn and aged in new, charred oak barrels.

Where is it made? Technically, bourbon whiskey can be produced anywhere in the United States, although in practice over 90 percent is made in Kentucky. Bourbon is also produced in 48 states, but not in Hawaii and South Dakota.

Is bourbon made in Bourbon County, Kentucky? Yes, even though Bourbon County is a “dry county,” where alcohol can’t be sold, Bourbon whiskey can be made there.

Where did the name bourbon originate? Back in the 1700s practically all of Kentucky was a part of Virginia and a large part of the region was called “Bourbon County.” In 1785, it was named by settlers in honor of the French royal family — the Bourbons, who helped the colonists win the American Revolutionary War.

However, another account says the whiskey was named after Bourbon Street, the entertainment district in New Orleans. Bourbon whiskey was being shipped to New Orleans and eventually people asked for the whiskey sold on Bourbon Street.

When was the first bourbon whiskey made? In 1783 at the Old Evan Williams Distillery, a Welshman named Evan Williams, an early Kentucky settler and pioneer earned his permanent role in American history when he built the area’s first commercial distillery on the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville.

In 1789, a Baptist minister, Elijah Craig, made a distilled spirit by combining spring water, corn, rye and barley malt. Craig is often erroneously credited as the inventor of bourbon whiskey.

What are the ingredients? Federal regulations require that bourbon whiskey be made from a minimum of 51 percent corn; however, 65 to 75 percent is generally used. The blend of other grains is dictated by the distiller’s own private formula; barley, oats, rye and wheat can be used.

How long is bourbon aged? There is no minimum amount of aging for non-straight bourbon whiskey, and technically a distiller could pump the clear distillate into a new charred oak barrel and then immediately empty it.

What about straight bourbon whiskey? For bourbon to be labeled “straight,” it must be aged a minimum of two years. If it is released before the fourth year of aging, it must be stated on the label. In addition, no alcohol, caramel coloring or flavoring can be added.

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR bkjm@hotmail.com.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

As we marinate in the warmth of the holidays, we have a chance to spend time with friends and family.

We’ve chosen most of our friends ourselves. OK, maybe that’s not exactly true, as we inherit friends from our parents when we’re young: “Oh, why don’t you play with Timmy, who is the son of my best friend whom I met when I was your age”; and from our children when we’re older: “Hey, dad, can you hang out with Allisa’s parents while we wander through Great Adventure theme park.”

Despite the somewhat limited pool of people from which to choose our friends, we often pick those people who share similar values, a sense of humor or a tolerance for politicians.

We don’t have the same luxury with our families. We have nutty family members who say and do all kinds of things that make us cringe, that cause us to laugh long after the events are over or who simply make us scratch our heads.

We often think it’s the other family members who are the oddballs but, in truth, we’re all pretty strange.

Long before people voted each other off shows or islands in situations that seemed completely contrived in reality TV shows, family members confronted the awkward moments when they saw each other, year after year, at holidays, birthdays, special occasions and, perhaps, uncomfortable or less-than-ideal moments.

Families provide us with opportunities to test ourselves and our theories without worrying about losing a job, losing a friend or losing our minds. We can challenge ourselves and our families with ideas percolating in our heads, but that may not be exactly what we believe.

Our families receive the best and the worst of our impulses, as we step forward to help each other, but also encourage independent growth and development.

As older members of families, we hope to lead not only by our words but by our examples. Failing that, however, we hope that our spouses, children, parents and siblings can see us for the range of our contributions to the family, and not just for that ignominious moment that we’d just as soon forget.

Families offer reality checks on the myths we create for ourselves. “No, Dan, you didn’t win that horseback-riding ribbon because you had such a great ride. You fell off the horse and the judges felt sorry for you when you landed in horse manure. Good try, though.”

These moments when families hold up mirrors to us can help ground us, keeping us from becoming too proud or mighty. On the other side, however, when we’re feeling down, families can serve as the perfect counterweight, suggesting that we have succeeded in more difficult circumstances and that they are certain of a positive outcome, even if we harbor significant doubts.

Movies about families often run the gamut of emotions, from slapstick, to comical, to serious and even bruising, as rivalries that run amok can become the origin of dysfunction even when we step away from these familial contacts.

Certainly, therapists often start and end with the family dynamic, drawing an understanding of habits we may not know we have until we look back at the lives and roles that brought us to this point.

At their best, families can inspire and encourage, while suggesting that we can and should believe in ourselves while we pursue our goals. Ultimately, families who demonstrate unconditional love and support, even if they do laugh at us periodically, set the kind of example that makes the accomplishments of the next generation possible. Here’s to everything we give, get and laugh about from the people we call family.

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