Grow Your Own

8 06 2012

One of the great things about this time of the year is the access we have to fresh produce. And while there is plenty to be found at the grocery store, local farm stand and farmer’s market, I need to go no further than outside my door to begin enjoying nature’s bounty. We have several small garden’s going this year and delicious organically grown veggies are quickly on the way.

I recently tried one of our homegrown strawberries. It was tiny but packed such an amazingly intense and sweet flavor, I could not believe it. The giant strawberries purchased at the store have nothing on these little wonders. Since I can remember, I have always loved strawberries. They are my favorite fruit. My grandmother told me a year ago or so that when she and her mother immigrated to the United States from Italy in the 1930’s, they initially went to work picking strawberries. So you see I’ve been genetically programmed to love them. it’s in my blood. I really hope though that we get a decent yield because the few that we have gotten so far have been an absolute (and fantastic tasting) tease!

Speaking of grandparents, mine have their garden in full swing again this year. This means that when I go over to visit them, I always leave with fresh, home grown produce. My grandfather, though in his 80’s, spends a huge amount of time in his garden. It is his pride, joy and therapy. I’ve been enjoying some of their sweet leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, and several other varieties. I also am adding fresh dandelion to my salads. While I admit that i’ve never been much of a fan of it, since going plant-based I now try to eat a wide variety of different things in order to keep meals interesting.

The only downside to all of this fresh produce is the washing. I think I had to quadruple wash this latest batch. The piles of dirt at the bottom of the sink were the proof that all of the effort to clean had been necessary.

There is a certain satisfaction that comes from growing your own food both in the taste and the quality. I know that in our garden, the use of compost, compost tea, occasional garden maintenance and regular conversations with the plants goes a very long way towards bigger yields. And the act of gardening itself can be a really nice stress reliever. Admittedly,I have not been the guy who has toiled out in our garden this year. But when I have gotten my hands dirty, I have continued to find a peace that comes with it. As if the generations of landscapers and gardeners of my family have smiled down on me. My great grandfather used to say “a cool breeze is God’s air conditioner”. I think of that often when a slight wind picks up in the midst of harvesting our bounty on a hot summer’s day. I’ll probably never be the gardener that my grandfather is or that his father was before him. But I’m happy to grow what I can. I’m fortunate at the age of 37 to have three living grandparents. Growing your own food and enjoying vegetables and fruits was one of the great things I have learned from them.

Grinding On…it’s Gut Check Time

5 06 2012

And so begins Week 24 of my switch to a plant based diet and increased exercise. I’m slowly on the road back, shedding three of the four pounds I gained last week. But I’m writing this after a night out with a bunch of friends that included three slices of pizza with the works and one fabulously made (from scratch) Bloody Mary. It’s alright to do this once in awhile but it’s not the way to really make the weight come off.

And that’s kind of where I am at lately. The first 65+ pounds came off relatively easy. I worked hard but my body gave up the weight freely. I wanted it and I stuck with it. Now the process has slowed. I know that if I want to see real gains made in my progress I need to turn the intensity, dedication and determination up big time.

I’m not losing ground lately as much as I am just hitting a stagnation point. In the journey of weight loss, I find myself in a deepening valley. I know that how I get out of this valley will be a predictor of how successful this overall journey will be for me.

The initial push of wanting to lose the weight and getting healthy cannot be allowed to fade. Everyday I need to wake up and WANT it as bad as I did on Day # 1. I need to WANT it like my life depends on it because IT DOES. I need to WANT it bad enough to cut out the foods that will harm me. I need to WANT it bad enough to make time for daily exercise. If I don’t do these things, then these are all just flowery words on a page. I need to push through this and get to the other side. These are the times in a journey that test the metal of a man. It’s gut check time. I’m not happy with my progress or my effort lately and it’s time to see how bad I really want this.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share your story of struggle here or email me at

Make Something Happen!

6 05 2012


Using Art to Capture Art

4 05 2012

I’ve had a lot of different opportunities to snap pictures lately. It’s something that keeps me feeling grounded and allows me to tell a story through my art.   My art is often taking pictures of other people’s art.  It’s so inspiring to try to capture someone’s passion!

Being creative is a good outlet for me and taking pictures definitely improves me well being. Lately my camera has been tweaking pretty hard and is in need of a major tune up – problem is that I have photography gigs lined up and can’t afford to be apart from it for 6-8 weeks. Maybe once June rolls around I’ll be forced to take a break. Either way for the time being the camera is limping along and getting progressively more dysfunctional. It’s a good challenge though to try to take the best pics I possibly can.  Even when it goes haywire (as seen in the second pic below), it can sometimes be made into art.

Two nights ago I had the honor to see an amazing live musical performance by Mike Watt, J. Mascis, Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile and a bunch of other talented folks. It was my great pleasure to be able to capture some pics of it all as it went down. I used the built in flash at times because real flash photography was not permitted.  The pics still came out pretty good.  Here are some of my favorites:

The show was in support of Watt’s new book: mike watt  on and off bass.  This book is full of Mike’s photography of his hometown (San Pedro, CA) as well as written excerpts from his tour diaries and interviews.  There is even some of his poetry in there.  The book really does well in capturing a part of who the man is.  You can order the book here (I highly recommend it – it’s fantastic!):

Brother Watt is someone I have a great deal of respect and admiration for.  A few years ago I payed him a compliment online and he offered to add bass to a song that my band had been working on/recording.  That meant the world to me and was one of the highest honors I could have as an artist.  In the end, Mike’s bass track got a bit muted when our album when out to mastering.  It’s there but not as up front as I would have liked.  This will always be a huge personal disappointment.  One day we will remaster that track and fix it.  for now though, it’s still decent and the demo (which uses his bass track) rocks.  i posted it on here several months ago.  The search box up top will help you if you are interested in hearing it.

Mike is a very busy man but it never prevents him from corresponding with me.  He is sometimes a sounding board and I appreciate it.   When he is on tour, I try to see him when possible.  After the show the other night he told me I was doing well on my “mission”.  That made me feel good.  It inspires and makes me want to pick myself up when I fall.  It inspires me to work harder at getting healthier.  Mike and I will be doing an interview here in the future.  In my mind at least, he is a bit of a philosopher.  So we are going to talk about art and life.  I look forward to it.

An Interview with Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh

20 03 2012

Early in my college experience I became aware of the thought provoking teachings of  Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Vietnamese  Zen Buddhist master, an author, poet and teacher.   Having published over 100 books and having been featured in many films,Thich Nhat Hanh is an extremely important figure in the ongoing development of Western Buddhism and likewise in the growth of  Buddhism throughout the world.  In 1967, he was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize.  He continues to this day to advocate for peace and write extensively about ways to reduce anger and fear both in the world and in our own lives.

My initial introduction to the work of Thich Nhat Hanh came through way of a meditation audio tape entitled “Touching The Earth” which generally focuses on gratitude, mindfulness and coming to peace with some of life’s difficulties.  I don’t remember where I picked it up but I have always had a copy close at hand since initially listening to it.  This sometimes poorly recorded talk and meditation inspired me so much at the time that I began making copies for many people I thought might find it beneficial.  I remember listening to a portion of it with my brother while we were driving one night.  After listening to the main section of it, he said that in minutes what he had heard was more powerful than anything he had learned through our many years in Sunday school and in church.  I agreed that much of what a person could benefit from spirituality and emotionally could be found here on this short tape.  It encapsulated so much into a very short mindfulness mediation.  Years later I would buy it on CD and mp3 just so that I would always have it nearby .  This work (and a few others) became the initial jumping off point for me into the world of Buddhism.  And in more recent times I have enjoyed his very voluminous biography of the Buddha as well as his books on Christianity and Buddhism and the power of prayer.  The teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh are timeless.  They  are far reaching over broad spectrums of people with diverse beliefs, backgrounds and experiences.  I find them truly relevant in helping to solve some of the most vexing problems of today.

It is with this in mind that I reached out in early February to the students of Plum Village in southern France where Thich Nhat Hanh resides when he is not traveling , in hopes that they would help facilitate a short interview with him on the proper mental states of eating and dieting.  I recently received word by email that the students had brought my questions to their teacher  and had transcribed Thich Nhat Hanh’s answers for me.  I am very thankful for their willingness to do this for me.  The following is a selection from that communication.  (Some very minor edits have been performed for continuity purposes and greater ease of comprehension) :

JS: I have recently adopted a plant based diet as a way of trying to naturally reverse some health problems.  Historically I have had a poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle.  When eating, what should be my proper state of mind?

TNH: We are very happy to read and to know your effort to live healthier.  When we eat here, we maintain our mindfulness, in contact with the people around.  (We) eat in such a way that the happiness and joy can be maintain(ed) during the whole time of eating.   We also eat in a way so we can build brotherhood and sisterhood, to nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

JS:  Are there any other eating practices at Plum Village that westerners could adopt?

TNH: We would like to invite you to come and eat with us, this is the best explanation we can give you.

JS: When faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge (in my case losing a tremendous amount of weight) how is it best to proceed? (Here I was again thinking of mental states but perhaps my question was not worded artfully enough and so I was given a literal answer which is still very good advice and probably timely considering my fixation on losing weight as quickly as I can)

TNH: Corcerning loosing weight, likely we need to do it slowly so the body will adapt to it slowly.  If you do it too quick then it will create a shock for you(r) body.


Reflecting on the answer to the first question has been interesting.  I think of how often I consume food just to consume it.  The monks at Plum Village though see it as an opportunity to “break bread” and be present in community with one  another.  I think that here in the west we often miss out on a lot of that.  I think of  my own meals and how I am often not fully present with those around me.  With the exception of going out to lunch with my brother once every month or two, every single lunch at work is a working one.  When I work late, the dinners are this way too.  When I work early, so are the breakfasts.  These are solitary experiences, spent in front of a computer monitor, often not giving much thought to what I am eating or how I am eating it.   For meals at home, you can frequently find me on my smart phone or with my head buried in a magazine or newspaper.  Even as I type this, I have eaten my dinner alone at the computer.  Not only alone, I have yet again failed to concentrate on eating at all but rather on typing.  Not very mindful, yet done while typing an interview about being more mindful.  Ironic.  It reminds me of the ancient saying “ideas like a horse and a mind like a monkey.”  Habits are hard to break….

Well now I need to figure out how I’m getting to France.  How amazing would that be?

Many thanks to Thich Nhat Hahn and the monks at Plum Village for their time and wisdom.  What a great honor and joy.

The CD/mp3 of “Touching the Earth”can be found through Sounds True or itunes among others.  I can’t recommend it enough. Thich Nhat Hanh’s books can be found at booksellers everywhere.

There is NO Substitute for Determination

12 03 2012

And so begins week 12 of my plant based lifestyle change.  I’m hesitant to use the term “diet” anymore because diets are something that people try frequently but often don’t have long term success with.  There is a new one every 6 months and the people who develop them cash in.  I’m not saying they won’t work, I’m just saying that they are hard to sustain in the long run.

Although I may modify what I eat a bit here and there in the future, I will continue to eat mostly plant based foods.  There are too many benefits to ever return to the processed garbage I had ben eating in the past.  The increased energy alone has made me a believer.

I lost an additional 3 pounds this week which bring my total weight loss to 53 pounds.  That is a little more than my 7 year old daughter weighs.  When I think about that, it really puts this journey into focus and stuns me at the same time.

People have been asking me “how are you doing it?”.  Unfortunately there is no magic bullet that will bring you long lasting success.  There is no diet, pill, surgery or gym that will work without constant determination.  And frankly, I’ve had little of that up until this point.  I was fortunate enough to get very sick and realize I needed to change.  I knew long before I got sick that my weight was out of control but sometimes a problem seems too big to even know where to start to address it.  That must seem like a copout but that is truly how I felt.  And so getting sick was a huge blessing.  It didn’t feel like it at the time, but isn’t that the way it is with a lot of life’s challenges?  We get past them and see the trials in our rearview mirror and realize they have made us who we are.

For me it was a flick of the switch in my mind.  I just decided one day that I was done with living this way.  And while food was and is one of my biggest joys it was not going to steal away the other parts of my life that I should be enjoying.  I wanted to be active.  I wanted to be able to do things that “normal” sized people could do.  I was never going to go back.  When you get there in your mind, you will know that you have found the very things you need to get you over whatever obstacles you face – willpower and determination.  Once you have found them you will then be well on your way.

Maybe you are not there today and that is okay.  I know what that is like.  Don’t let it stop you from beginning though.  You can start today.  Set a goal to lose one pound.  Just one pound.   Stop eating processed foods.  Incorporate many more plant based foods.  Begin exercising.  You can totally do this. When you get there, go for another pound.  And keep going until you’re getting to where you want to be.  And it is hard, but don’t wait until your body starts to fail you to make the change.  Do it while you can.  Do it now.  I have a long, long way to go.  I have to set mini goals of 5 and 10 pounds otherwise it would seem too great a challenge to face.  Remember anything is possible with enough determination.  When you want something bad enough, you will find a way to get it done.  There is no other substitute for your determination.

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