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Inspiration

It All Started with a Seed

Or a pit.

As winter came and all my outdoor herbs and leafy greens started to die, Kay and I started growing a few plants indoors. At first it involved simple tasks like bringing my basil and oregano plants inside and buying a $40 grow light. But it became a bit more complicated when I decided to take a leftover avocado pit and grow it into a tree. Yes, an avocado tree… Here in New York.

At first, I watched this pit do nothing but sit in a cup of water, so I decided to try it again. Kay and I have been eating avocados in salads and smoothies so we have a lot of pits to spare. I set up 3 cups with pits which eventually became 6 cups with pits because… why not? Just in case some failed I would have backups. Well, pretty much each and every one of them, with a little bit of patience, has turned into a small baby avocado tree.  We even gave both our mothers small 2 foot avocado trees (with fluorescent grow lamps) as Christmas presents.

Now there’s no guarantee these trees will bare fruit, but it got me thinking: if it was that easy to grow a southern fruit plant up here in the north (in a cup of water!), why couldn’t I grow all of my fruits and vegetables indoors? All you need is the right temperature (heated house), light (sunlight or grow lights), and fertilizer for nutrition. So that’s exactly what I did. I started growing a bunch of herbs such as basil, chives, rosemary, oregano, and more indoors. Kay and I started on this “clean food” diet, trying to rid ourselves from the harmful chemicals and pesticides that larger businesses use in their food, and this was the perfect way to do it: grow our own food.

Then came the experiments with garlic, onions, scallions, and more… Most with success (still waiting on the garlic but it’s looking good!) Then it dawned on me, I could use my spare room as a “greenhouse” (or a “greenroom” to be a bit more literal) and provide not just myself but maybe friends, family, or heck even local restaurants and grocery stores with herbs and leafy greens all year round. Next thing you know I’m writing a business plan and registering a new company with the state of New York.

Currently I’m growing over 100 herbs and leafy greens, over a dozen tomato plants, and some garlic, scallions, and onions. Some in soil, and some hydroponically. I just seeded sage, beans, carrots, peas, and sweet peppers.  Most of these plants will be my “safety” crop that is guaranteed to grow. I also have my “experimental” crop like the avocado trees and more recently my new Lemon, Lime, and Pomegranate trees that are being shipped in from California. The other experimental part of this is that I’m slowly testing out and expanding the hydroponic part of the operation. There seems to be many benefits to it including less bugs, diseases, and uncertainty. Studies have shown that the plants grow better and are actually healthier because they get more nutrients through liquid fertilizers.

I’ve even already found a local restaurant who is interested in purchasing my first harvest. I’ve started contacting grocery stores and was approved to sell at the Stormville Flea Market this summer. Who knows, maybe by this time next year I will be selling locally grown avocados and pomegranates from my Greenhouse in New York!

Below are a few pictures from the early stages of development:

Seedlings1

Seedlings in early January

Dutch Bucket System1

Building the bato bucket hydroponic system for tomatoes.

 

Avocado Pits

Different growing stages of the avocado pit.

Avocado Tree

A small avocado tree grown indoors.

 

Hydroponic Towers1

Building the vertical hydroponic growing system.

 

In the next few posts I’ll explain the soil and hydroponic systems I’ve set up, including the vertical tower system (above) which is finished and up and running. It holds up to 80 different herbs and leafy greens!

 

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Round the World Expedition

I woke up in the middle of the night recently with a very vivid dream. I started a Kickstarter Campaign to fund a Documentary about a Round The World Road Trip. Somewhere around 2003 I had this idea to drive around the world. I researched the Eurotunnel from England to France, and the 50 miles of the Bering Strait which freezes over in the winter between Russia and Alaska. As I embarked on more and more cross country trips, the desire to go on this journey increased and made its way on to my Bucket List.

But the seed that caused that recent dream may have been planted in my head because I recently found out that Zach Braff (who I actually used to be neighbors with) funded his latest movie through Kickstarter. Obviously he has Star Power (and by that I mean celebrity, not the Super Mario kind), but part of me wonders if I could pull funding this trip off similarly.

I created a Spreadsheet to try and itemize and tally the full cost. My goal would be to start in the United Kingdom, drive through Europe and Asia, then ship my car to Indonesia, Australia, and then Alaska. I would then drive down and across North America to the East Coast. (Part of me wanted to drive the full circumference of the Earth by driving  from China into Siberia and crossing the Beiring Strait while it froze over, but I don’t think that’s realistic without an incredibly modified and expensive vehicle).

RTW Visas

RTW Shipments Update

RTW Gas

Just calculating the required Visas, Gas, Shipping hard drives of footage back home, and only one of the three major Vehicle Shipments, the cost already comes to $9,156. I still have to factor in things like Vaccines, Tolls and Ferries, Insurance, Lodging, Food, and more. I’ve read about this kind of excursion being done twice. One by a former AP reporter who did it solo and cost him $50,240 (including $6,700 for an old Land Cruiser). The other was a group of people with the goal of driving the whole circumference of the Earth. They even outfit an expensive vehicle (think Tank) for driving over the Bering Strait when it was frozen over if I remember correctly. That or for the Siberian and Alaskan Tundra. They eventually got stuck and had to helicopter the vehicle for a small portion of it.

Diomede Islands

The Diomede Islands between Russia and Alaska

Anyway, some of this information will be useful sooner rather than later as I hope to spend two weeks in Europe relatively soon. Hopefully in 2016.

Okay, back to work…

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Creative Routines

The other day I discovered a chart called “Creative Routines” which showed the daily rituals of some of the most creative people in recent history. You can view it in large form here.

daily-rituals

At first glance you’ll notice how much “Primary Work” and “Social & Meal” time is listed, at least I did. I then decided to make one of my own to see what may daily weekday ritual is like:

Daily-Routine-for-web

Left : Legend.
Right : My daily weekday schedule.

 

Sleep : 11PM to 8AM
Pack Lunch then Commute : 8AM to 10:30AM
Work : 10:30AM  to 2PM
Lunch : 2PM to 3PM
Work : 3PM to 6:30PM
Commute : 6:30PM to 8:30PM
Dinner and Social : 8:30PM to 11PM

I portrayed commuting as “other work” and reaffirmed that I do that way too much. Ugh… I also need to get some blue in there, which I only do on the weekends. Last year I finally started eating breakfast, which I now do by drinking a smoothie and eating an apple as I start my workday. Well, now I know where I spend all my time!

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Splinters in Your Eye

One day an evil troll (called the devil) made a magic mirror that distorts the appearance of everything it reflects. It fails to reflect the good and beautiful aspects of people and things, while magnifying their bad and ugly aspects. This devil teaches at a “devil school.” He and his pupils take the mirror throughout the world and delight in distorting everyone and everything. The mirror makes even the loveliest of landscapes look disgusting.

One morning they try to carry the mirror into Heaven with the idea of making fools of the angels and God, but the higher they lift it, the more the mirror grins and shakes with delight. It slips from their grasp and falls back to earth, shattering into millions of pieces. These splinters, some no larger than a grain of sand, are blown around and get into people’s eyes and hearts, freezing their hearts like blocks of ice and making their eyes like the troll-mirror itself, seeing only the bad and ugly in people and things.

On a pleasant summer day, a little girl and boy who live next door to each other were looking at a picture book in their window-box garden when suddenly splinters of the troll-mirror get into the boy’s eyes. The boy becomes cruel and aggressive. He destroys their window-box garden, he makes fun of his grandmother, and he no longer cares about the girl who he befriended for so long, since all of them now appear bad and ugly to him.

The following winter, the boy goes out with his sled to play in the snowy market square and (as was the custom back then) hitches it to a curious white sleigh carriage, driven by the Snow Queen, who appears as a woman in a white fur-coat. She takes the boy in her sleigh to her palace near the North Pole, where he is contented to live due to the splinters of the troll-mirror in his eyes and heart.

The little girl, who misses her friend so much, travels the land in search of her long-lost friend. When the young girl reaches the Snow Queen’s palace, she is halted by the snowflakes guarding it. She finds her friend alone and almost immobile on a frozen lake, which the Snow Queen calls the “Mirror of Reason”, on which her throne sits.

The young girl runs up to the boy and kisses him, and he is saved by the power of her love. She weeps warm tears on him, melting his heart and burning away the troll-mirror splinter in it. They boy bursts into tears, dislodging the splinter from his eye. He becomes cheerful and healthy again, with sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks.

From there they walk back to their home, “the big city.” They find that all is the same at home, but they have changed: They are now grown up, and they are delighted to see that it is summertime.

The end.

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That is a very brief synopsis of the fairy tale “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen, to which Disney’s movie Frozen was based on. (Edited down from Wikipedia.) I found the premise of the Splinters to be very relevant to how some people are in society today. In almost everything and everyone you meet, you can see the good or bad in them. We all have a certain amount of splinter in our eyes, but if, whether as a society or as a couple, we can help remove the splinter from someone’s eye, we could make the world a much better place.

 

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Trivia : While the story deviates from the original fairy tale, four of the main characters’ names are references to the author Hans Christian Andersen: Hans, Kristoff, Anna, and Sven.

How to Remove Toxic Chemicals from Your Life

After participating in the Real Food Challenge that Kay turned me on to, I decided to see how else I could remove toxic chemicals from my life. The next area where I feel chemicals are most prominent is cleaning supplies. The other day I glanced at a bottle of surface cleaner and saw this:

Cleaning Ingred

I love the part that says “OTHER INGREDIENTS : 99.916%”

That could be water, or that could be incredibly toxic chemicals the company is not mandated to list because they are “inactive”.

JUST HOW TOXIC
After doing some research online I found this great website by the Environmental Working Group. They have a section where you can research different products, and the site will list the ingredients in them and what horrible side effects they have.

Take the typical bottle of Original Tide Detergent. There are concerns over its effects on the respiratory system and skin. More importantly though, chemicals in it have been linked to developmental and reproductive issues as well as cancer, and the amount for this product is high:

EWG Tide

After doing some research on safer and greener household products I came across Seventh Generation. Their products are mostly plant based and much less toxic in the event that its chemicals get into a person’s body.  I started to compare their liquid detergents (which received D ratings) and their powder detergents (which received A ratings). Eventually I settled on one of the safest and easiest kinds of detergent in my opinion, the Detergent Packs. Seventh Generation’s received an A rating whereas Tide’s packs (or pods as they call them) received an F rating and where pretty high in cancer-causing chemicals.

EWG 7th

 

LOWERING THE PRICE


LAUNDRY DETERGENT

As with many products, from food to household cleaners, the healthier it is sometimes the higher the price tag. (Not saying it’s not worth it!) Luckily I’ve found a way to lower its costs. I’m ordering a bulk package of it on Amazon, and signing up for their subscription service (once every 6 months, or however often you chose). By doing that it’s lowering the cost from $29.98 to $28.48. Then, if you subscribe to 5 or more items you’ll get 15% off the total which lowers it even more to $25.48.

When you compare the price of one load with Tide Detergent Pods (with subscription and 15% discount) at .21 cents, and then one with Seventh Generations packs (with subscription and discount) at .25 cents, it’s not that bad, especially considering the healthier and safer aspect of it all. If you do one load of laundry a week that’s like spending just $2.08 more a year (or $4.16 if you do two) to remove unsafe chemicals.

(I also don’t understand why anyone would not want to use packs, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t start using them sooner!)

 

DISH DETERGENT
In looking at the liquid dish detergent prices:

Seventh Generation
Six 25 once bottles for $15.25    (2.54 per bottle)

Dawn
Five 25 once bottles for $15.21    (3.04 per bottle)

It’s 50 cents more per bottle. Usage obviously varies by household but I’d imagine 12 bottles a year is a bit overkill for a single person, and maybe average for someone with a family. But still, I’ll add an extra $6.00 more to my yearly bill to be using a safer detergent. Here, Seventh Generation’s powder received an A rating, but since I do my dishes by hand I’m using their liquid detergent which received a C rating. (Dawn sells detergents ranking from C to F.)

There are two brands listed in EWG’s guide that received an A rating because they are better for the environment, but:

1) They aren’t listed on Amazon’s Subscribe and Save service.
2) The reviews aren’t great.
3) They actually are slightly more harmful in the reproductive and cancerous categories.

 

CLEANING WIPES
And lastly, regarding the cleaning wipes:

Seventh Generation Disinfecting Wipes
320 wipes = $26.47         (.08 cents a wipe)

Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
225 wipes = $12.27        (.05 cents a wipe)

Lysol Power & Free Multi-Purpose Cleaning Wipes
105 wipes = $20.20        (.19 cents a wipe)

I’m not sure how many wipes I’ll be using. I currently use a spray with a paper towel, but based on my current subscription of two bulk deliveries a year, we’re talking about an extra $19.20 to $121.60 a year here if I were to receive the same amount of wipes amongst three brands. A pretty high cost. EWG’s results are surprising to me:

- Clorox received a D rating and the only concern was asthma/respiratory related. Problem here is there is no data on developmental and reproductive toxicity, as well as cancer. That’s a big risk. I’m surprised at this rating.
- Lysol received a B rating on a specific kind of wipe, the “Power & Free Multi-Purpose” version, where concerns are asthma/respiratory and skin related.
- Seventh Generation received a D rating due too all of the above plus some minor concerns over a few cancerous chemicals in the product. Not cool. Seventh Generation explains EWG’s not-so-great ratings of certain products on their blog.

I looked at products that received an A rating and they aren’t sold on Amazon in bulk, such as Whole Foods “Mission” organic spray cleaner. The Lysol ones are too expensive in this case. Sucks. I’m going with Seventh Generation on this one unless the Lysol ones come down in price.

WRAP UP

So I’ve discovered that by spending an extra $27.28 a year I’ll be using safer laundry detergent, dish washing liquid, and disinfecting wipes. (Only $8.08 if you drop the wipes.) I’d also like to note that you can change Amazon Subscriptions at any time. Amazon allows you to change the date, skip a shipment, or even cancel after one order. I’m sure I’ll end up with too much of one of these products and end up pushing a shipment back by a little. Not a big deal.

Hopefully over the next few months I will be weeding out as much harmful chemicals as possible in my food and cleaning products. By signing up for bulk shipments of dish soap, cleaning wipes, laundry detergent, garbage bags, and pet supplies twice a year through Amazon, I’ll be using safer cleaning supplies and increasing my annual spending by a mere 27 bucks. Totally worth it!

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An Inspirational Letter

West CoastAbout ten years ago (my God), one of the most influential Guidance Counselors I’ve ever had handed me an envelope with a note and $100 in it. On the face of the envelope were doodles of a road lined with Redwood Trees, the Oregon shoreline, the Seattle Space Needle, and other prominent features of the West Coast. (The $100 was a loan which she never allowed me to pay back.) She told me to take time during our three week break and travel, because she knew that’s what I needed.

It was a phenomenal trip. I drove from Los Angeles to Whistler, Canada which is a town right above Vancouver. On the way I also stopped by San Francisco and Sacramento, drove through the Redwood Forest, visited Portland and Seattle, and even drove up Mount Saint Helens.

My pictures don’t do it justice because at the time I was experimenting with just taking video, and using still frames from it as pictures, so the quality is not that good. But recently I discovered a roll of film, tucked away in my draw for over 10 years, that I never had developed. The film contains some pretty bad pictures. Some are just horribly taken, and others may have just degraded over time, but one stood out to me though:

Drive Thru Tree

This is the Chandelier Tree, named for its distinctive limbs at the top that bear resemblance to a chandelier. Found in the town of Leggett, Northern California, it’s a 315 foot tall Redwood tree so large that you can drive a car through it. The base measures 21ft in diameter and has a 6 foot wide by 6 foot 9 inch hole at the base that allows cars to drive through it.

The trip was my second major solo adventure of significant length, but the one that spurred many more to come, and I have to thank my former guidance counselor for that.

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FitBit Force Review

For my birthday Kay bought me the new Fitbit Force. If any reader is unfamiliar with “Tracking” devices for exercising or health monitoring, most of these you wear clipped on your clothes, as a bracelet, or armband. The Fitbit Force this a very sleek looking bracelet that monitors your movements throughout the day, and even night.

 

When using the phone App, the home screen will look like this:

Within each individual category are more specific stats. Here are a few:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in Sleep Mode it can tell if you’re Awake, Restless, or Asleep.

With the above pictures, each one was assigned a Goal such as taking 10,000 Steps, Burning 2,500 Calories, or being Very Active for 30 Minutes per day. Through the iPhone App (or on the web) you can even input the water or food you eat and the amount of calories you’re ingesting. You can even type in “banana” or “potato chips” and it’ll provide estimates of calories for those items.

The bracelet syncs to your iPhone via Bluetooth fairly seamlessly. Since I keep Bluetooth Off, I’ve noticed I have to have the App closed, turn Bluetooth On, then open the App for it to sync. (The App cannot be opened first.) You can set it to sync every time you open the App, or in the background periodically if you keep Bluetooth On. The overly-cautious person that I am is a little worried about wireless waves and radiation this close to me, so I turned that off. I did a little research online and found that the Fitbit emits radiation 10 times less than that of a cell phone. Unfortunately it does this via Bluetooth every minute (although cell phones do it with stronger wavelengths every few seconds.) One commenter in a forum calmed me a bit by mentioning that the radiation emitted is less than the typical amount of radio waves “floating” through the air everyday anyway.

I’ve contacted costumer support with questions and they’ve been very helpful. I actually wrote them on their Facebook page twice and received detailed responses very quickly.

Overall I really like the Fitbit Force. I’m a little over a week in and very interested in improving the amount of time I’m active and decreasing my restlessness during sleep. Hopefully a device like this can help, and it looks like it will.

UPDATE 07/24/2014:

It seems this page has been getting a lot of hits through Google. I just thought I’d write an update about my experience with the Fitbit Force.

Due to the recall announced by the company I returned it. I thoroughly enjoyed wearing mine from mid December through the end of February, nearly every day. I logged almost 200 miles using it and kept a record of almost everything I ate with the iPhone App that came with it. It was lightweight and I barely noticed it was on half the time. One of my only gripes is that you can not turn the Bluetooth function off. The radiation emitted from it, albeit small and supposedly harmless, scared me. When the next model comes out I will most likely purchase one, although a few considerations come to mind:

1. Will you be able to turn Bluetooth off?
2. Will it connect with the iPhones upcoming Healthkit app?
3. Will Apple release its own smartwatch by then?

But if you are given a Force or come across one on the cheap, I would definitely recommend considering it. It really made me aware of the lack of movement throughout my day, and even the amount of nutritional food I was taking in, and motivated me to do something about it.