Say it isn’t so … I’m not ready for summer to end

 I’m soooo not ready for fleece and socks chrisandgil

   We scarcely have a month left here in Northern Nevada where we can jump into Lake Tahoe without our hearts stopping from the shock of ice-cold water. Yup, the end of August always signals the end of the Coppertone season.

    This week if took me longer to get to work – kids are back in school crosswalks. And when I went up to the box store to replace some potted flowers that I forgot to water; they only had orange and maroon fall Chrysanthemums and the patio furniture was replaced by Halloween decorations.  My garden is in its full crazy ignored mess with cilantro gone to seed, overloaded tomato vines and massive dark green squash hiding … lurking.

Even before we moved to a four season climate, it would always kill me to be home on a summer weekend. My husband’s the same – if we don’t have sore muscles from water-skiing or marathon paddle-boarding (to a bar on the lake), we’re not having a “good” summer.

I grew up with parents who loved the water. As a kid, most weekends were spent at Lake Berryessa, in Northern California. It was a little less than a two-hour drive in our wood-paneled station wagon, windows closed, AC going, with my mom and dad chain-smoking their Winston’s. Most trips one of us, actually I think it was always me, would throw up. If it wasn’t the windy roads, it was the name of the marina before ours,“Sugarloaf,” that got me every time.

We had a single-wide Fleetwood mobile home, perched on a hill directly above the lake. The air smelled of oak trees and hot baked dirt. My mom would shoo out the daddy long-legs that liked to gather in our bathtub before sending us out to adventure in our crispy, old Keds with the toes cut out.

All the appliances were avocado colored and there was a huge dark green deck that ran on two sides, protected by an aluminum awning (that my dad built). From this deck we’d watch the whitecaps on windy days and the numerous ski boats on calm days.  There was one fish as huge as a Marlin, that would jump out of the water on our arrival, only for us, every season. We’d get out the old binoculars just in time to see his fin disappear. One time, my dad got the timing just right and said he had glasses on like the Incredible Mister Limpet. I swear, it’s true.

In the heat of the day, you could hear the weeds crackling, like they were so hot, they were breaking.

My brother and I were pretty young when we’d leave to fish from the dock on our own, for hours at a time for Crappie and Bluegill that we’d bring back for the nuns at our elementary school. My mom would tell my seven-year old brother to “take care” of his little sister. Even after a man in a car stopped and asked if we wanted a ride and some candy and my dad alerted the sheriff, we still were allowed to go off alone, as long as we were “extra cautious.”

Our first stop was the mysterious and wonderful bait and tackle shop, where we’d first check out the live minnows, frantic in the wooden tanks – which we never bought. Instead we’d buy squirmy night crawlers and top off the hook with one stinky salmon egg. That was our secret recipe. There was always cool things to look at, dust covered cans of Chili Con Carne and Deviled Ham and 99 cent flip flops and fisherman’s hats with the lake’s logo on them.

   Our strategy was to sneak onto one of the deep water docks in the cove –
where the sign said “no fishing, no diving, slip owners only.” Inevitably, someone would leave the gate unlocked. Feeling that first tug, seeing the initial shiny glimmer at the end of the line, I always wondered, could this be the time that I caught the unknown
shark or whale that surely lurked in the depths of Lake Berryessa? Could my Popeil Pocket
Fisherman handle the weight or would I be dragged down?

chrisandgil2We’d stop back there after our fishing to get a black and white Polaroid picture posted on the wall, with our stringer full of fish. We’d lay down “two bits” for a  Push-Up or an orange and vanilla Creamsicle for the dusty walk back home. (As you can see by the picture on the right, we didn’t miss too many ice creams).

If we weren’t fishing, we’d go down to the little park on the lake and hunt through the trash containers.  We’d create quite a fort with old carpet, broken lawn chairs, cardboard boxes and any other treasures we could find. We were inseparable during those years. And we weren’t alone all the time – really, the best part of the day was when my mom would show up in her yellow bikini, with her big toothy grin and freckled face, and swim with us.

The smell of Coppertone, lake clams, fumes from an outboard, warm mud in stagnant water (the best place to catch frogs) – these aromas are like vintage perfume that I’d recognize in a second. Oh, and Lifebuoy soap. My dad didn’t swim (although that didn’t prevent him from going out in our little runabout). He’d walk down the steep 150 wooden stairs down to the beach; put a couple of cans of Coors in the water, tie a rope around him and float. No kidding, he’d have us toss him a bar of orange Lifebuoy soap and he’d bathe in the lake. My husband says that it must be a Portuguese thing (we share this heritage).

When I think of my childhood summers, I think of that time. Before the big drought came and dried out our fishing cove, before my dad died when I was 13 and before my brother and I didn’t want to hang around with each other anymore, and you know, everything changed, for all of us.

Maybe that’s why every year I try and recreate the time up at the lake, because it was really magical.  And that’s how I choose to remember my family.

Go out and play  — and get the most out of the end of summer.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Are Millennials “Short on Brains” or are We Too Old To Understand This Generation?

Will the casinos of today become irrelevant in the future?  Does it make sense to invest in this future customer now? Or is this discussion just a waste of time?

The loud buzz at conferences and in gaming publications, is about the future of brick and mortar casinos in relation to this group of consumers, ages 17 to 36 … the millennial generation.

The dilemma of how to best invest dollars today in “future” customers, while keeping current guests and investors happy, is not unique to the gaming industry.  However, many believe that casinos have been traditionally slower to adapt technology compared to other enterprises. And the fear is that the current cash cow for casinos specifically outside of the Las Vegas Strip, slot machines and table games, will not be of interest to this future group.

Gaming executives are very much divided on this topic. Many believe that it is a true waste of investment and of breath to speculate on a group that won’t have the discretionary income for several years down the road. One reader commented,   “Remember when we built water parks at casinos for the new generation? How did that go?” Others believe that acting now, is the only way to stay solvent in the future.

When industry leader Steve Wynn* spoke at the International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking said that he was “one of those old white guys” who thinks Millennials are “sort of short on brains.” He also said that, “They (millennials) get older later so maybe when they’re about 60, we’ll have a chance to get some common sense out of them. In the meantime, we’re doing well with the little darlings in our nightclubs.” He might not understand this age group, but he certainly appreciates the non-gaming revenue.

Gency, our 29-year old marketing manager (pictured right) at Raving laughs when shegency-warren sees this big headline about “being short on brains” on my computer screen as I’m writing this article.

She’s our “token millennial” that we run things by for her unique generational perspective.

A very unscientific gathering of data

With Gency’s help, I gathered feedback of a total of 10 “kids” from different parts of the country to get the scoop on their thoughts on casinos. All, except one, had their bachelor’s degree and one had their medical doctorate.

Similar to what Mister Wynn has discovered; all of my interviewees go to casinos occasionally for reasons other than gambling: restaurants, bars and concerts and always with groups of friends. None of the respondents would go to a casino as a resort destination.

And if you think that Wynn’s comment of “short on brains” is harsh, this is what Russ (24, estimator, Reno) responded with to my question about what turns you off about casinos:

 “Most of the people at casinos gambling are low-lifes who I never want to spend time around.”

OUCH.

Looking through all the feedback, I can’t say that I am going to share anything that most casinos operators or even the general public, don’t already know. The complaints aren’t unique to this generation either: smoke, crowds, noise, and expense (specifically of clubs and restaurants).

When these young folks did gamble while they were on property for another reason, table games were mentioned more frequently. Gency likes video poker as she’s familiar with “basic strategy” and can “stretch her $20 longer.” She summed-up other slot games with, “I don’t like playing slots. Just hitting a button over and over again to see what pops up is boring. Makes me feel like a test rat that gets addicted to hitting a trigger because it results in cheese, unpredictably and randomly.”

Mary Rose, 29, sales, Portland replied that her ideal casino would be “user friendly, i.e. have rules posted so I wouldn’t look dumb when I tried to learn a new game.”

Mitch, 25, estimator, Reno, said that he avoids, “slot machines and doesn’t gamble alone.” What he likes the most about casinos is “meeting people.”

Sophia, 27, production associate, Reno, said her ideal casino would have “beginning and advanced tables.”

Russ, (the same guy that said most people gambling were “low-lifes”), shared that if he did play, he liked blackjack and craps as the “odds aren’t terrible and the energy is definitely more fun than machines.”

Will casinos ever be the choice hangout for millennials? Is it too early to tell?

There’s this theory of the “third place” (coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg) which is a place, other than home (1st place) and work (2nd place) where we spend the most time. He suggests that these are coffee shops, bars, restaurants and other gathering places that people frequent for community and connection (which we know is important to Gen Y). Some of the components of this space, he suggests is that they are:

  • Free or inexpensive
  • Food and drink, while not essential, are important
  • Highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance)
  • Involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there
  • Welcoming and comfortable
  • Both new friends and old should be found there

One of Gency’s answers checked off several of the “third place” boxes.

When asked what her favorite casino was, she said our locals’ downtown gambling joint calnevahere in Reno, the Club Cal-Neva (also Mitch’s favorite). Just this past weekend she and some friends gathered there for karaoke. On the Cal-Neva blog, one of their tags is “get drunk and eat.” They’re known for their beer pong, bikini baby-oil wrestling, 50 cent coconut shrimp … you get the picture. So, why would she go there above others?

“Because dollar beers! It’s a lowbrow joint and the people watching is pure gold. So, maybe I like the Cal-Neva for all of the wrong reasons. But I’ll also say, it’s welcoming. You fit in exactly as you are. The staff isn’t the friendliest, you can tell that they’re hardened, but if you treat them right, they treat you right. And when any of my non-gambling friends wants to dip their toe into the world of table games, it’s a perfect place to take a newbie. It’s comfortable, non-threatening, and their table games have low minimums. The dealers are hit and miss – you get a friendly/funny one sometimes, or someone who hates their job (or just hates us) at other times.”

So, are millennials really short on brains? Or are we old farts?

They’re a generation accustomed to exponential technological progress. They communicate in abbreviated language with two thumbs. They also might carry more long-term debt (excluding mortgage) than other generations, due to the higher cost of education, thus impacting their future buying power.

And as one of the largest generations moves into its prime spending years – we’ll most likely see their technology driven preferences force cable companies, television manufacturers and other brick and mortar businesses (like our casinos) to get with the times or close their doors.

So no, I don’t believe they are short on brains, just different from those of us hovering around 50 (or older) that saw the microwave as one of the best technological advancements in youth and did not start fully utilizing email for personal use until we were 30!

As long as the silent generation, baby boomers and Gen-Xers will accept traditional gaming and its smoke and its noise and its sometimes surly dealers, would you agree that casinos should take as slow a course of action as possible so not to impact their short-term profits?

When the day comes that millennials have meaningful disposable income, will casinos discover that they have moved way too slowly? And will their gaming product go the way of daily newspapers?

When is it really time to start worrying about the millennial that cares about $1 beers? Should the casino industry leave it to the coffee shops and pubs to invest in creating that “third place” and table this conversation, at least for now?

And there’s the rub …

Original article published by Raving Consulting

 

 

 

 

Posted in Casino, Casino Gaming, Marketing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Special Tribute – What You Didn’t Know About Native American Code Talkers

Even Hitler feared their skill – how Native American’s used their own language to save lives in WWI and WWII

Every Memorial Day, I have the privilege of writing for Raving Consulting and going off our gaming topic and honoring those who served our country.

Earlier this year, a submission for Raving’s Tribal Spirit of Giving Awards from Lucie Roberts, Human Resources Director, Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel, caught my attention.

Her entry was about the annual Veterans Appreciation Dinner (watch their video here) that they’ve hosted for almost two decades. However, her story began long before that, describing the role that the Meskwaki Code Talkers played in WWII.

5-30-16Meskwaki Code Talkers - Provided by Meskwaki Casino Bingo

Lucie shared, “In 1941, 27 members of the Meskwaki Nation enlisted in the Army together, which, at that time, was 16% of the Tribe and nearly a year before Pearl Harbor. Of those 27, eight went on to become Meskwaki Code Talkers. The Meskwakis were sent to North Africa, where their skills were used to communicate sensitive information across enemy lines. The Code was never broken. [Not until] 2008, were these eight men honored and awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to their families for the services to our country.”

Most of us are familiar with the Navajo Code Talkers, but did you know that several Tribes helped in their special role during both WWI and WWII to save the lives of thousands of Allies? In fact, according to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), Code Talking was pioneered by the Choctaw and the Cherokee in WWI! (American Indians didn’t get U.S. citizenship until 1924, years after WWI had finished; yet more than 12,000 fought).

According to the CIA, after WWI, Germany and Japan sent students to the United States to study Native American languages and cultures, such as Cherokee, Choctaw, and Comanche. It’s even noted that Hitler, prior to the outbreak of World War II, fearing these communications specialists, discreetly sent a team of up to 30 German anthropologists and writers (or agents disguised as) for this purpose.

During WWII, more Native American Code Talkers were utilized across many theatres of action. Various sources, including the Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008, recognize the Assiniboine, Chippewa and Oneida, Choctaw, Comanche, Cree, Crow, Hopi, Kiowa, Menominee, Meskwaki, Mississauga, Muscogee, Navajo, Sac and Fox, Sioux, and Seminole.

As stated on the NMAI website, the “Many American Indian Code Talkers in World War II used their everyday tribal languages to convey messages. A message such as, ‘Send more ammunition to the front,’ would just be translated into the Native language and sent over the radio. These became known as Type Two Codes. However, the Navajos, Comanches, Hopis, and Meskwakis developed and used special codes based on their languages. These became known as Type One Codes.

More than 12,000 American Indians served in World War I – about 25 percent of the male American Indian population at that time. During World War II, when the total American Indian population was less than 350,000, an estimated 44,000 Indian men and women served.”

Thank you to Lucie for reminding us about the forgotten history of the many American Indians who fought for our nation as Code Talkers.

Today we honor all American veterans we have lost, as well as acknowledge the nearly 1.5 million Americans currently deployed throughout the world.

Special thanks to all of those organizations in the gaming industry, like Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel, that honor our vets through various programs throughout the year. Also thanks to the Meskwaki team for their submission and video: Dan Stromer, General Manager, Jon Papakee, Assistant General Manager, Dirk Whitebreast, Assistant General Manager.

To read previous articles I’ve published about veterans, click on the following:  Remembering Our Fallen, Our Lack of Connection With Those Who Serve, and A Very Special Memorial DayOrganizations Putting Veterans First.

This article originally published by Raving Consulting

Posted in History, Profiles, Uncategorized, Veterans | Tagged | 1 Comment

If kitchen walls could talk

Remembering a kitchen – and thanking the parents that made it a home for me cf-perspectives-5-5-16

By Christine Faria

For years, a funky thermometer hung on the side of the refrigerator. From it, extended the wire that originally held it to some tree outside. You had to be careful going by it, as it might snag your sweater if you rounded the corner too sharply into the galley kitchen. It was a weird hazard that no one had ever thought to move.

I had spent hours and hours in this particular kitchen in my best friend Jenna’s home; from the time we met at 15, even through my adulthood. And to this day, she makes me laugh ridiculously like no other. Her entire family is the only one that calls me “Chrissy.”

Her parents, Sandy and Dennis (Ma and Pops), took me on a family vacation to Disneyland when we were 16. I spent every Christmas Eve at their long-running, annual open house while my single-mom was working; I even went with them to parent/teacher nights in high school. Our time around their kitchen table was spent talking and laughing until we cried about the merits of the many boys we had crushes on or some other drama of high school. We confessed more adventures the older we got, protected by the fact that Ma and Pops couldn’t ground us anymore.

That unsightly thermometer became legend when Jenna’s blind date, Matt (arranged by me), got tangled in it, becoming thoroughly frazzled while meeting her parents for the first (and last) time.

Hard to believe that Ma and Pops were just 40 when I met them. They were easy to be around even with their high expectations of us to “act like ladies” and take school seriously (which, for the most part, we did). I dunno’, they always seemed engaged and entertained by our silliness. There was always room at their kitchen table for me and there was always laughter. They encouraged me in my photography and in my journalism; they trusted me at 16 to ferry their daughter around in my gas-guzzling 1970 Ford Mustang to and from school and even to the beach two hours away. Their home was the place to hang out.

I never saw them argue or witness any great disharmony – well, only when Pops was trying to get his family out the door for a road trip. From my perspective, their family, complete with their younger son, seemed blessed. It gave me faith that marriages could last the test of time and that not all dads left from divorce or death (I had lost my dad just a few years before).

When I met my future husband Jim in my early 20’s, he joined the Christmas Eve tradition at their home. And although he didn’t get caught in the thermometer, he made a name for himself eating practically an entire Pyrex tray of Ma’s cheesy casserole made with potatoes o’brien, Campbell’s cream of chicken soup, and topped with corn flakes and butter. After that, Ma planned for Jim’s appearance and never ran out of her special potatoes again.

On another Christmas Eve, we were all leaning against the kitchen counters, and in typical “Chrissy” fashion, I  incorrectly explained that my brother Gil recently had surgery for his sleep apnea and had his vulva removed (instead of his uvula).  We still lose control with laughter thinking about it.

A few weeks ago, I traveled from my home in Reno, NV, to the San Francisco Bay Area to spend time with Jenna, who was in from the East Coast to spend some time with her parents. I hadn’t seen them in three years, I’m embarrassed to say, and not since Ma had started showing signs of Alzheimer’s and then having a minor stroke.

Last year, they had sold their beloved two-story family home and moved into a condo in a town nearby – a practical decision due to Ma’s changing health.  They had also stopped their Christmas Eve party after nearly 40 consecutive years. Jenna coached me that her mom still had her same spirit, but to expect that she would cry a lot.

We ended up all sitting around the kitchen table, like so many times before, telling stories that we’ve told a million times that still made us laugh. Ma laughed too, although it wasn’t as big of a laugh and she didn’t contribute to the storytelling, she just tried to follow along. She had several moments where she couldn’t come up with the right word (but shit, that happens to me all the time, so that wasn’t at all disturbing). The woman across from me was the same lady who treated me like a daughter for so many years, who filled in as a parent when my mom just couldn’t be there.  But something was slightly off. Like she was an actor that no longer had passion playing her part. Later, Jenna needed to help her get ready for bed, as even something routine, like deciding what shoes to wear, can be overwhelming with this disease, even in an early stage.

That next morning, we had a long drive home, both of us silent for awhile. I was thinking that there may not be more talks around the kitchen table. My heart broke for Jenna, whose role was steadily changing with her parents and who was dealing with her mom disappearing in front of her eyes.

It never fails. When catastrophic illness and death affect those close to us, it’s a personal reality check.  What if this disease happened to us? How much time do we really have left that we’re healthy enough to do all that we want to do?

Gets you thinking, right? … if there is anything we should be doing right NOW, to make sure that we have an overflowing bucket full of memories to laugh about around our own kitchen table? And, have we invested enough of ourselves to ensure that we will have friends to join us there?  Do we regularly thank the people who have made a difference in our lives – especially our elders?

Hey, anyone want to get together over at my house tonight? My kitchen table is open.

Sincerely,

Chris_sig_small_2
Chris

PS – Do you have someone close to you that is experiencing memory loss? Don’t leave their stories to chance. Check out an article I wrote about an easy way to record the memories of your loved ones

Originally published by Raving Consulting

Posted in Family, Feel Good | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Really? You don’t like my homemade cranberry sauce? Oh, yes, it’s Thanksgiving again

Really? You don’t like my homemade cranberry sauce? Oh, yes, it’s Thanksgiving again

Last night, husband Jim told me that “everyone” preferred the store-bought jellied cranberry sauce over my homemade sauce. He’ll deny that he said it exactly like that. He might even deny that he really meant it. But, I was in a severely cranky (and maybe hormonal) mood and it floored me.

I mean, I’ve known all these years, that his family does prefer canned, but I still insist on serving mine. Because after all these years, I still think I can convert them. And I believe, after 27 years of Thanksgivings, Jim should say that my sauce is superior and join me on my mission. Just because. Don’t you? I think he lost his primer on what you can and can’t say to your wife, especially when it’s around the holidays.

Oh well. The holidays. They are, at least with me, a bi-polar combination of great expectations, stress, loving moments and melancholy .  This year I’m thankful to be home, with Jim’s family coming over; and I’m especially happy that my brother will be joining us.

I wanted to share a post I did a few years ago about Thanksgiving to give you a laugh and maybe some perspective while you down a bottle of wine or two if you’re having a stressful time of it.

Another White Trash Thanksgiving

Very Happy Thanksgiving my friends. Wishing you the very best tomorrow and every day forward. And thank you for your continued support of my writing by reading my posts.

 

Posted in Family | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Traveling with the Ghosts of World War II

How two travelers from east bufu Reno connect with Nigerian priests, Bavarian beer drinkers and Syrian refugees and the ghosts of WWII

My husband, Jim, and I are sitting at the kitchen table of friends, a couple of weeks ago, inpoppenhausen a small, 800-year-old village of  Poppenhausen , about an hour and a half northeast of Frankfurt. Their extended family has occupied this exact plot of land for much longer than our nation is old. Over traditional afternoon coffee and apple dessert, I’m asking questions of our friend’s parents, both in their 80’s, who speak only German, about what their life was like during WWII and their relationship with the Americans during the occupation. Their teenage grand-kids are my interpreters.

I guess I should back up a bit as to how we ended up at that table.

Back in 1990, I was working for an international import company. I enthusiasticallydorisandchris volunteered to make housing arrangements for a German intern who would be working for us for three months.

Her name was Doris. Her family had owned a  candle making factory  since 1899, which was destroyed in WWII by the Allies and then rebuilt. The summer of her arrival, the East German military officially began dismantling the Berlin Wall.

We were both 24.

My then boyfriend (the same Jim) helped her find wheels (a 74 VW Beetle of all things).  prostOne of my first memories is of her looking at our washer and dryer and confessing that she’d never done her own laundry. Jim, always ever so direct, nicknamed her the “German Princess,” and despite that, and making her watch, what she thought was a ridiculous skit on Saturday Night Live called Sprockets  about Germans, the three of us immediately resembled long-lost siblings.

The following year, I waited at SFO for another intern. I confess that I thought Doris was germansinwolfpackunique; after working for a German-owned company with German-speaking bosses, I figured her warmness wasn’t “typically” German. I feel small admitting to that. Martin came out of the gate, a huge smile on his face, with a heart so huge that he left his mark on so many of us during his six months in the U.S. (Martin on the right with his son in Reno Wolfpack gear).

Jim fixed HIM up with transportation, an old Yamaha motorcycle, which Martin, in his leather jacket and scarf, rode to explore the West Coast, favoring “Highway Number One.” Martin’s nickname was the “Time Sergeant,” as on any trip he planned, he kept his companions on a regimented schedule so that they wouldn’t miss any attraction. (The same happened this October).

Immediately after Doris and Martin’s internships, we were THE “California” connection and hosts of their friends and family who made the “great U.S. road trip,” including Martin’s cousin Gregor, whose kitchen we were now sitting in 25 years later. (His nickname is the “Mayor” as because of his family’s presence in the town for centuries everyone knows him wherever we go).

I grew up with a mom, who, until the day she died, had nightmares about the maimed
soldiers  she treated, sent home from battlefields in Europe. And uncles who would never speak about what they saw when they fought Germans in Italy and Africa. Likewise, our German friends grew up with active U.S. military bases  in their backyards, and rubble from Allied bombings and elders who had fought Americans.

All of us were born 20 years after the end of WWII, yet our conversations to this day are fuldacastlestill delicate; with our friends, there’s a shame that they’ve somehow absorbed as their own when they talk about the Nazis. At the same time, their families have a passion and a love for the Americans who saved them from the Russians so many years ago. Throughout the years, Jim and I have talked privately about our visits to Germany – and the tendrils of grief we all carry, from a war that ended nearly seven decades ago.

Fast forward 25 years and we find ourselves at that kitchen table, three generations. Just that morning we had crossed over the old East German border – without really knowing it. Seems like we should have. We’d visited Point Alpha , an earlier observation point of the U.S. during another type of conflict, the Cold War. Not everything that day is focused on war; we also visit Kreuzberg Monastery, where monks have brewed their own beer since the 1700’s. We also did some mighty fine alpine coasting in the same historic area.

Throughout our week in Germany with the Princess, the Time Sergeant and the Mayor’s family, we talk a lot about the huge humanitarian effort that Germany is doing on behalf of Syria. Just about a quarter of a mile from Martin’s house, there is a temporary shelter for refugees. Using old buildings, schools and military bases, Germans have already accommodated hundreds of thousands of refugees, and are expecting over 1.5 million more by the end of this year. More than any other country in Europe.

Our friends unilaterally support their Chancellor’s steadfast policy, as the “right thing to do.” We found that kindness and great humanitarianism throughout all three groups of friends, even though they are from different areas in Germany and of somewhat different incomes. You could argue that our friends are anomalies; whatever they are, I’m proud of them, as well as the history that their country is making now.

Throughout our three-week adventure  in Germany and Italy this past October, through every conversation with locals and fellow travelers, I was reminded of how much we are all alike rather than different, regardless of our age, sex, class, education or country of origin.

This was evident while I was eating lunch with a group of rowdy Dominican priests from BavariansNigeria, and interviewing an elderly native Venetian woman along a canal over a cappuccino, and sharing travel tips with blokes from Edinburgh over cocktails in Campo di’Fiori, Rome, and swiggin’ beer with Bavarians wearing dirndl and lederhosen (ah, yes, we did). Laughter, compassion, curiosity,  a taste for adventure  … these are the qualities that bring us together, that help us to forgive , if not forget our sometimes twisted and shared histories.  There is a “connectedness” that surpasses recent history and has bonded us for millions of years.

These are the qualities that prompt us to reach out to strangers, whether immigrants or interns, because I do believe, from the bottom of my heart, that people are amazing and truly good.

And it’s through travel, through getting to know people who are not in our same circles, who will not always agree with our points of view, that will teach us the most. And, you’ll just never know when you’ll meet that next lifelong friend .

Wishing you the opportunity of adventure.

Chris

PS – I’ll be writing more about my interviews and adventures, like what it was like to grow up on a sinking island and the challenges living in Venice today; driving a supercar Ferrari through Italian country roads; and if Bolognese sauce really tastes better in Bologna, from this trip.  Make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter by emailing me directly at chris@christinefaria.com or submitting your email to the subscribe form on the right.

Originally published by Raving Consulting

Posted in Career and Life, Family, Feel Good, History, Travel, Veterans | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Remembering Our Fallen

I’ll never forget your smile: How we can honor the fallen and have compassion for our returning veterans this Memorial Day.

It’s 1983, and a group of us teenagers are piled into the back of a small pickup truck. It’s Randynight and we’re keyed up after teepeeing a few homes. I’m scared about getting caught and feeling guilty; this will be my first and last acts of “vandalism.”

Sure enough, about two miles from the scene of the crime, red flashing lights appear.

Our classmate, Randy Guzman, is our getaway driver, and I bet he was coerced into doing it. He’s tall and really skinny; probably from running cross country every hour outside of class. He’s always worn really big glasses … almost as big as his toothy smile. If anyone’sguzman_randy186x186 going to get us off, it’s this innocent looking kid.

I can’t hear what the cop says to Randy. As they talk, we shove the remaining toilet paper under our legs. After a couple minutes, the cop drives away, telling us to “call it a night.” Later, Randy said the cop wanted to make sure that we weren’t drinking (which we weren’t). The band of straight-laced hooligans is spared from juvey!

The next distinct memory I have of Randy, must be the summer of 1991. A small group of us gathered in our hometown at the parents’ of another friend, Jordan Chroman (bottom picture). Both ROTC, Jordan took the Army route and Randy the Marines, and they’re back from the first Persian Gulf War. Jordan’s parents have thrown a BBQ for the “old gang,” and my future husband, Jim, and I are sitting with Randy on the step on the deck outside. I think this is the first time that Jim has met Randy — and he’s struck by his warmth, by his thoughtful demeanor.

Randy looks the same, with the exception that his once feathered hair is now a buzz cut. He’s not the same goofy kid though. He takes off his big glasses and presses his fists to his eyes. What he experienced over 7,000 miles away, catches in his throat. He commanded a rifle platoon in Kuwait.

I don’t see Randy’s face again, until his picture appears on TV and in the newspaper, in his Marine uniform.

See, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Randy Guzman (two top photos) was among 168 people killed on April 19, 1995. He was working as the XO, overseeing the Marines’ recruiting station in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. When the bomb went off, he was sitting at his desk. He was just 28. (Sadly, the Marine reservist who found Randy five days later, died on September 11, 2001, while saving the lives of victims at the World Trade Center attack).

A few weeks before the 20th Anniversary of the bombing, I’m on the phone with Jordan, a

Col. Jordan Chroman

Col. Jordan Chroman

scheduling accomplishment, as he’s in South Korea, a 15-hour time difference from Reno. He’s now a Colonel and commands the 403rd Brigade headquartered in Daegu. I tell him that I’m working on my annual Memorial Day piece to support the troops, and that day with Randy in his parents’ backyard has been on my mind.

We talk about returning veterans and the struggles that so many of them face. We talk about the movie American Sniper as an example, and he says that although much of it was “Hollywood,” a lot of it painfully hit home.

He’s very emphatic about the message that he’d like me to share with all of you. “Tell your readers that these soldiers don’t need to be pitied or have excuses made for them. What they need is patience, they need compassion, they need time, they need help.”

He reminds me that less than 1% of the U.S. population serves in the military (compared to 12% in WWII). Meaning that very few of us have any real connection with or comprehension of the life of a soldier. Very few of us can say that our daughter or son, our niece or nephew, our mother or father has boots on the ground.

And with that disconnection, even though through the Internet we have “more access” to what’s happening overseas, most of us are not engaged on a personal level. Nor do most of us understand the real impact of what’s happening politically. Just because soldiers are sent home, it doesn’t mean that the remaining forces that are left, say in Afghanistan, are in a better situation.

So when a vet comes back, they are asked, “Aren’t you happy that you’re home?” “Sure, we’re glad that we’re home,” Jordan tells me, but he also explains that “being home” in civilian life doesn’t always feel “safe or normal.” So that expectation that any veteran can resume “where they left off” doesn’t apply to everyone. Welcoming them back at the airport is just not enough.

We talk about Randy again, and the emotion of that day. In the 30 years since Jordan has

Me in my mom's WAC uniform and Jordan circa 1983

Me in my mom’s WAC uniform and Jordan circa 1983

been in the military, I’ve never seen him wipe his eyes, and probably never will. That’s what Jordan is trying to get across to me; that every veteran is different in how they process what they’ve seen, some healthier than others.

We’ve been on the phone for nearly an hour, a rare thing. I’m frustrated that I don’t know how I can help when he’s the only soldier in my life now. And I wonder too, if his exhaustion or something else is making him so fervent in this conversation about compassion. When I ask again how I can make a difference, he says that even if one or two of our 5,000 subscribers has a connection with a soldier and understands this message, then I’ve helped.

Here’s to remembering Randy and all of our veterans this Memorial Day. Thank you for your service.

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Originally Published by Raving Consulting

Posted in Family, Feel Good, History, Profiles, Uncategorized, Veterans | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Journey of Spare Change, the Homeless and My Brother

“Can you spare some change?” the homeless man asked? “Sorry,” I say, “I’m looking for my brother.”

My husband, Jim, and I were on East Fourth and Record Street, just a few blocks off casino row in downtown Reno. Known as an area of crime and prostitution, it’s also the location for the homeless “campus,” which includes the shelter and St. Vincent’s food pantry, thrift shop and dining room.

We started at the St. Vincent’s administrative offices, where we asked for help. I knew my brother, Gil, got a bed in the shelter. I wanted to know what services were available to him and where to find him. Honestly, I wanted someone to tell us what to do. And despite all of our efforts, financially and emotionally, he still ended up in this place.

I also wanted absolution.

I wanted someone to tell me that it wasn’t my fault that he was in one of the most despairing places I’d ever seen. I wanted someone to tell me that this was his choice; there was nothing I could have done differently. I wanted someone to tell me that bringing him back to our home, like we’ve done in the past, was the wrong thing to do. That giving him money for a motel, like we’ve done in the past, was the wrong thing to do.

That didn’t quite happen. But something did.

The gal at St. Vincent’s didn’t look at our clean and neat clothing; she didn’t ask why a sister would let her brother come to a place like Fourth Street and Record. She didn’t ask me why I was crying. She said, “I get it, you need to understand how your brother got here and how to support him.”

She explained that St. Vincent’s would provide dinner each day, except for Sundays, and a monthly coupon for clothing and toiletries. The shelter, a separate entity, would help Gil replace any lost documents (social security and ID cards) in order to apply for medical assistance, food stamps, and employment. He’d meet with a counselor once a week to help transition him “out.”

About two weeks earlier, while I was down at a conference in Las Vegas, a month after getting an eviction notice, Gil left all of his possessions, even his toothbrush, and drove on empty to the homeless shelter. He left everything. He could’ve loaded his 30-year-old Toyota with his tools or the few personal pictures he had left. He could’ve called us to have us store his belongings, like he did in the past. He didn’t. He took his dog. After spending two nights in his car, scared and cold, he took Skip, his 11-year-old Lab, down to the no-kill shelter. He couldn’t get a bed and have a dog too. He spent two more nights in his car waiting to get a bed. He was lucky that he did.

We walked down the block, towards the shelter. I hadn’t seen Gil in over three months or more, since he lost his job. I didn’t know if I was ready to see him or not; I was scared. With every step closer, I reminded myself to breathe.  Jim just kept on saying, “Take it easy, Chris.”

In the last few years, Gil would rarely communicate —  most times when he needed money. This summer, I thought I saw him one morning while I was driving to work. There was a man, sitting cross-legged on a street corner, with his head hung low, by one of those weekly motels. A woman passed him, and patted him on his shoulder. My heart stopped. I made a U-turn and drove slowly past him. He looked up, his eyes sunken, a thin face, but no, it wasn’t Gil. I did the same thing about three times over the next couple of weeks with different men who looked at me suspiciously, and finally decided to take a different route to work.

The man asked me for change, but when I told him I was looking for my brother, he nodded his head. We spotted Gil’s beat-up car in the parking lot. There were many people just hanging out, around the services building. Women, men, children. Jim asked, “Should we go in?” and as I tried to get myself together, just then, Jim said, “There’s your brother.”

He was wearing knee highs, a bright red T-shirt, and some gym shorts. He looked up at us in surprise, smiled, and we hugged a long time. I couldn’t say anything; I just cried and hung on. He kept on repeating, “Chris, I’m okay. I’m really okay.”

The weird thing was, he was okay. He looked better than I’d seen him in years. He didn’t look like those men I thought were him on the street. The T-shirt and shorts, from St. Vincent’s, were the right size, a medium; he didn’t look diminished, as he had when he wore his old XL clothes. He had grown a thick beard. His eyes were not sunken, he actually looked … healthy.

All he asked us for was a lock to put on his small cabinet that he kept his few belongings in. He had no money, but he didn’t need food or clothing.

The next night we drove down to the shelter and entered the gated lot to pick him up for dinner; again, folks just hanging out outside. One man was shouting and tried to talk to Gil; Gil said, “hey, man” and jumped in the backseat. He explained that the guy was a whack-job on drugs, but for some reason he gravitates towards him. Although our truck is ten years old, it’s nice. I felt self-conscious. We could drive away and leave this place. We could afford the gas and the insurance. We had jobs.

Of all impossible things, that dinner was one of the best nights I’ve had with Gil, probably since the last time I wrote about him two years ago. He was the most engaged I’ve ever seen him. He was, I dunno, just more alive. He had been such a recluse over the last several years, and now he’s forced to engage with people. Workers and shelter-mates who I know understood him better than I ever would.

He told us about the other people in the shelter — the “career homeless” who would disappear once a month after their social security checks came in. They’d get a motel room, buy their drugs or alcohol, and then show up again once they had spent it all. Or they’d leave to do “the circuit” to another shelter, in Oregon or San Francisco. He figured most of them were mentally ill. Then there were people “like him” who just wanted to get the hell out. Who couldn’t find a job.

He told us about the violence there — a fight would break out almost every night — due to drugs, alcohol, or mental illness. He said the food kitchen had gotten a deal on ham. He had salty, fatty and greasy ham for every meal. He’d never eat ham again when he got out. He said he’d gained fifteen pounds since he got there.

He told us that it was like prison; he had to check in every night and be in by a certain time; if he didn’t, he’d lose his bed. He told us about how a common problem was that some of the “inmates” would shit in the showers, and that the workers there would yell at all of them not to. One night, one of his “roommates” slipped on his own feces and cracked his head wide open. “No one felt sorry for him, as he was a mean asshole.”

Despite not wanting to engage with anyone, a few men insisted on befriending him, wanting someone “normal” to talk to. They found safety in numbers. One of those men, Gary, gave Gil a notebook to record the interactions he had there; after they were “out of this place,” he wanted to write about their experience and submit an article to the local newspaper. Another man, Cedric, was also part of their “posse.” They’d often help him up after the police would drop him off at the shelter. He’d spill out of the police car, not only drunk, but unable to get up off the sidewalk because of his advanced MS.

Funny how the universe works; my brother was a bigot. Now his two closest friends, Gary and Cedric, were black.

One day, local high school volunteers distributed highly prized socks and goodie bags. Gary and Gil got excited, thinking that the goodie bag had candy in it; no, just tampons and toothpaste. On another occasion, they all got brand-new tennis shoes. The local Christian ministry bathed the feet of the homeless before they got their new shoes. Gary, a Christian, said it reminded him of a baptism, or of Mary washing Jesus’ feet. Gil didn’t want his feet touched; he just wanted the shoes. He said, “I couldn’t believe they were touching their feet; do you know how disgusting they were?”

I sat across the table from him, torn between crying and laughing. I did start to cry, and both Gil and Jim yelled at me for bringing it down. Here we were, eating dinner in a Mexican restaurant, like everything was “normal.” Like I had a “normal” relationship with my older brother all these years, my only remaining family. He had hit bottom again. And despite telling me two years before that he’d kill himself before he was so low to go into the shelter, he wasn’t dead. He said he was “too scared to kill himself.” He had survived. He was motivated to get the hell out of there.

Within less than a month, the counselor helped Gil replace his social security card, which would allow him to work. He was put on Medicaid and got a month’s supply of insulin, which he’d been off of for over a year. He received food stamps, but really didn’t need them in the shelter. He got to know the bus system, as he didn’t have insurance or gas money.

He had three months to get back on his feet, or he’d be out on the streets at the beginning of winter. During this time, the only thing I offered to pay for was a bus pass, so he could go to job interviews. Prior to that, he said he was putting on at least seven miles a day, by foot, in crappy shoes. (I was in therapy by this point, trying to figure out my role in his journey and what was appropriate to help him with).

One week before his 90 days were up and his bed would be gone, he found a job as a housekeeper’s assistant at a local casino. He was discouraged, knowing at less than $8 an hour, it would be hard to get ahead, and he hated the menial job before he even started.

Remember Gary who wanted to write the article? Gary got out a month before Gil did and rented an apartment. His teaching credentials came through and he was not only subbing elementary school, but teaching adult ed. He offered Gil a room with another roommate from the shelter. The universe strikes again: Gary said he’d help Gil get his GED.

For the first time in years, we didn’t have Jim’s family over for Thanksgiving — they were dispersed in California. Jim went and picked up Gil, Gary, and their other roommate, Chris. Both Gary and Chris have “had it all” — relationships, kids, and wealth. They’re educated too. And they both lost everything. We didn’t talk about how or why they ended up on Record Street. Both Gary and Chris talked about their goals and what they wanted in the upcoming year. My brother was quiet.

We did our own “triathlon” — playing darts, ping pong and basketball (we didn’t play H-O-R-S-E this time; we played a shorter game of P-I-G, as it was cold outside). We ate, Gary and I drank champagne, then Jim drove them home.

Remember when I said that I was looking for absolution? I was desperate for someone to tell me how to help my brother, as all of my efforts seemed to be only temporary fixes — just like my mom, before me, before she died. Gil told me recently, “Why should I try, when Mom and you would always bail me out and give me money?” I really wanted to end this painful relationship that we’ve had for years, this cycle — wanting a brother in good and bad times; not being the mother who would worry herself to physical sickness.

Sounds simple — like all I had to do all these years was to say “no”? What a dumbass, right? To say, “You know, maybe you’ll go hungry tonight, because you’re not trying hard enough.” I couldn’t do it. We’d want to believe that he was doing everything he could to help himself. How could we judge? How could we abandon him? We’d rather pay his car insurance than have him be without a car, because without a car, he couldn’t get a job. Jim and I would rather pay than ever see him on the streets. Because we’d have nights like this that “all was normal” and all those bad memories would disappear. We’d forget that there was a reason why things were the way they were.

Well, what has been so remarkable about this journey in and out of the shelter was realizing that everything that Gil has today, a roof over his head, a job, medical care, insulin, and food stamps, is because he ended up at the shelter and because he made his way out of there. On his own.

The biggest lesson so far — I got out of the way and let him face the consequences of his choices. It’s weird that it wasn’t until then that he ended up getting the resources he needed.

I thought that I understood the term “enabling” all these years; but what I thought was love, repeatedly giving him money, offering time to help, bargaining,  was just a continuation of what my mom had done since he was a teenager and dropped out of high school.

After Jim got back from driving them home, we decided that it was one of the nicest Thanksgivings we’ve ever had. It was about that night only. It was about having fun with a brother who I didn’t think I’d see again. Having fun with people who wanted to be there, who needed not to think about what they had lost. I didn’t think about what could have been, the years we’ve missed, the relationship we haven’t had. I didn’t think about future Thanksgivings, as I know that I have no control over what happens tomorrow. I don’t know what choices he’ll make, if he’ll believe in himself, or what the universe will come up with.

Sometimes, in the darkest of times, it’s really hard to find things to be grateful for. But that night, I was grateful. Today I am grateful. I am blessed. I hope that today, you too can find something to be grateful for.

Very Happy Holidays,

Chris

PS — About a month ago, I met the Marketing Director of the Northern Nevada Catholic Charities at an American Marketing Association luncheon. She said that people assume, because of their name, their efforts only help Catholics, and they throw away the direct mail piece. A week later, Jim got a letter in the mail from this nonprofit agency. This time, I didn’t throw it away.

Originally published by Raving Consulting

Posted in Family | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Finding Your Superpower to Choose the Right Career (and Happiness)

What’s your “superpower”?
Choose your career path based on what you do best, not what you think you’d like to do.

Our sales dawg, here at Raving, Amy Hergenrother, admits that she’d kill herself if she had to organize the millions of details involved in running a Raving Conference. My husband, Jim, would shut the door and hide if a group of fifteen folks came to our house unannounced. I would gladly invite them in, have a dinner made with what I could find in the cupboard, candles lit, and table set before they got through their first cocktail. Yeah, me and Martha Stewart. Both Amy and Jim (lovingly) call me a freak.

I’m also freakishly bad at many things. I get an ulcer thinking about asking a vendor for money to exhibit at a Raving Conference, and would probably give a booth away for free (even though I know they’ll see a huge return). Whereas closing a deal for any amount of money, is seriously fun for Amy, and she lives for it. I can barely open a box, let alone put together a multi-part bookshelf or piece of equipment, whereas Jim would excitedly dive into it like a Christmas present of Legos.

If we HAD TO do each other’s tasks in an emergency, we could figure it out, but it would be a friggin’ miserable and long process.

How about you? Do you have people at work or at home who love the jobs that you absolutely hate? Why is that, and should you take a higher paying job or one with more status, when the skills required are not in your wheelhouse?

Choosing to spend my career in small start-ups, I’ve never been exposed to personality type tests, such as the ones that the corporate world is so fond of. Recently, however, one of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, offered a personality master class course through her new start-up, Quistic, based on C. Jung and I. Briggs Myers type theory. You can take the test for free by clicking here. What Penelope does through her live class is make the personalities come alive and be actionable for folks as employees, managers, parents, and with our partners.

My goal of taking this live, online class was to help me figure out:

1.    How can I better deal with some relationships in my life that bring me great frustration?
2.    How can I utilize my strengths in order to evolve at work?

(And honestly, I’ve got a crush on Penelope. If you’ve ever read her blog, she’s damn smart and a total trip. Her candid, “take no prisoners” style of writing inspires me to write honestly for Raving and my own blog).

As a newbie to the testing, and to have the opportunity to spend over four hours face-to-face in Penelope’s living room for three evenings, I got every dollar’s worth. If you’ve gone through this testing before and had a facilitator who was a rock star like her, this might be repetition for you. For me, it was inspiring and this is what I learned:

Utilizing personality types can help you:

•    As an employee — acknowledge your superpower, so you can choose jobs and projects that you’ll succeed at, and thus feel great about
•    As a manager — play to your employees’ strengths, so you can ultimately get them to perform to their utmost ability
•    As a friend or a partner — demonstrate more compassion, so you can better understand their motivations and adjust your own expectations for the relationship

Penelope put it best in a follow-up email from the class:

“The feeling of being overworked is not related to how much work you do, it’s related to how much is outside your wheelhouse. If one person is getting energy by doing stuff they’re great at and the other is feeling like they’re going to die because they’re doing things that are depleting them, you have a recipe for disaster. Divide tasks by what each person is awesome at, and don’t make people do things outside of their strengths.”

Like my example above, Amy and I both have our superpowers. I’ve never thought of our skill sets in such a positive, unique way. I have always thought that if it’s super easy for me, then it must be a super easy task, and easy for most everyone else. Not so.

The cool thing is that our unique “superpowers” can be applied to any industry; these skills make us the superstars in whatever organizations we work for.

For the heck of it, I had the rest of the Ravers here in Reno take the test. The results were pretty spot-on.

We’ve always known that Dennis is the “big idea guy” — and didn’t need a test to tell us that. He scored as an ENTP (The Visionary). He has an incredible way of looking at the gaming industry in broad, strategic strokes that are spot-on. He can see a “need” immediately, and offer a solution that makes people smack themselves in the head and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” However, he’ll be the first to admit, he doesn’t want to get wrapped up in the day-to-day details in order to see that solution come to fruition, as he’s off to other big ideas in the meantime. What the test validated for me is that most ENTPs don’t like being around people who won’t listen to or understand their ideas. Many times, I don’t get what his big picture vision is and ask for details that he can’t give. We end up frustrated with each other. Maybe we can stop taking it personally and communicate better?

I scored as an ESFJ (The Caregiver). I didn’t like this, so took the test four different times, through four different sites. Each time I scored the same. But it fits me — I get energy from organizing groups of people; harmony is extremely important to me. Looking back at my career, the jobs that I’ve enjoyed most are the ones where I’ve had a team that enjoyed immense camaraderie.

The biggest takeaways:

1.    Focus on your natural skills — choose a profession that speaks to your core talents. Don’t get caught up in finding your “one passion, your one perfect job.” We all have many passions, but not all of them pay the bills.

2.    Challenge yourself by perfecting and developing those skills to their highest levels. With that, you will become the superstar in your organization.

3.    From Penelope, “… if you do the work that meets the core needs of your personality type, you will feel passion. Because you will be engaged in your work. If you refuse to pay heed to your core personality, you will always feel that you’re searching for something elusive in your career.”

4.    Recognize how you think about things, how you approach a project, which might be unique to you, and only you, in your organization. If your co-workers, boss and employees are not responding to you, you just might not be speaking their language. If you figure out where they’re coming from, what’s of value to them, then you’ll get the results that you want.

In a roundabout way, this class reminded me of this: ultimately, we all want to spend our time doing what makes us feel good, doing what engages us, and developing meaningful relationships. Fulfillment won’t come from one singular aspect of our lives. It’s a combination of all those things — relationships, career, and hobbies.

Thanks Penelope Trunk  for introducing me to the “superpower” theory!

Sincerely,

Chris-signature_first
Chris

PS — I’m sure you already know what your superpower is, without having to take a test.  It’s not the only tool in your quiver and you can slant your results depending on your own truthfulness. But just maybe, it will give you one new idea, one new perspective about your life, your career, and your relationships.

 

Original version published by Raving Consulting

Posted in Career and Life, Feel Good | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You know it’s time for a change when even your underwear is too tight

 

Fat Kid, Fat Adult; Overcoming Fresh Veggiesthree decades of misinformation — Part II

Original published by Raving Consulting

In PART I of this series, I covered introducing more “real food” into our diets, and how a history of comfort and convenience foods and misleading marketing has contributed to a fat America. These articles aren’t just for folks who struggle with their weight like me — healthier food can help folks, even those at “normal weight” who lack energy and strength, and are prone to pain.

Is this you? This has been me, several times.

“I’m going to start eating better this Monday,” you say to yourself. You’ve been watching P90X infomercials and you’re a BELIEVER. You tell yourself that you are going to start eating right, and then you’ll join a gym or start walking, whatever, after you take some weight off.

At the store you recognize Slim-Fast and Lean Cuisine; they’ve been around forever, right, so they must be good? You see labels that say, high-protein, low-carb, low-fat, organic, GMO, and gluten-free. You remember reading about the miraculous, one-week juice cleanse diet, and what about Atkins (bacon! bacon! bacon!)? Feeling a panic attack coming on, you resist abandoning your cart. So you fill your basket with expensive, diet packaged foods and a gigantic bag of baby carrots; you’ll figure it out later.

You hope the checkout lady doesn’t ask you about how you are going to fix the organic kale — you have no clue, but read that it was good for you.

Come Monday, you wake up, stare into your fridge and realize that you’re not sure what you are going to eat. What diet am I on anyway? South Beach? Paleo?

So you decide that the “NOT EAT DIET” for the first day is the right strategy. Lose weight fast and then figure out the right foods to eat. Fasting is good, right?

By 10 AM, all you can think about is food and your raging headache. You either succumb to your hunger pains and go off to the employee EDR and make the largest salad at the salad bar (that’s healthy, right?), or you manage to starve yourself the whole day, but are too weak to go and work out. By 8 PM, you are so hungry and obsessed with food, you’ve eaten four Lean Cuisines, all the protein bars, and a bag of almonds. The next day you step on the scale and you’ve gained four pounds.

How can you avoid fads and unhealthy marketing messages like “Lose 20 pounds in one week” and “Lose that stubborn belly fat forever!”?

Dennis found great success in going to a nutritionist after getting the news about his diabetes. Most general physicians have access to nutrition plans if they don’t have an in-house specialist, or they can make a referral. His nutritionist put him on a “real food diet” that combined several small and healthy meals per day. His meals don’t seem to vary — but the routine works for him. And that is all that matters — finding a plan that works for you.

If you are playing the “I don’t want to go to the doctor before I lose weight game” (that would be me), plan, shop and pre-prep for your week’s worth of meals before your workweek starts. You might get snickers from unsupportive folks in your household saying that you are going overboard, but YOU WILL FAIL without it.

A good online website to track your calories and the types of food that you are eating is www.livestrong.com, or on your mobile phone, calorie counter and diet tracker by MyFitnessPal. It’s surprising how many calories just a small handful of “healthy” nuts, dried fruit, or a glass of wine has.

Go back to the REAL FOODS principle; go back to the store with your week of recipes in mind for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the entire week. Have it in your head that “white stuff” — sugar, flour, pasta, bread, crackers, pretzels, bagels — shouldn’t be on your shopping list, even the whole-grain type, until you have control over your portions and understand that not all “whole-grain” products are equal.

Do I really need to pay for ORGANIC?

zucchiniongrillWhen you go back to the store, you might wonder if you should be buying ORGANIC.

Remember, doctors will say that ANY addition of fruits and vegetables and lean meats like fish and chicken is a huge improvement. Don’t get hung up on whether you can afford organic chicken or produce. Choosing broccoli and a grilled chicken dinner over going out to your favorite Mexican restaurant three nights a week or fast food for lunch, is a huge step in the right direction.

With that having been said, since you WILL BE eating a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables, become familiar with how these real foods are grown and processed — plant and animal, and if that makes a difference to you.

According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group), some foods have been found to have more residual chemicals. On their website they have broken down the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. If you’re concerned about this for yourself (and in particular, children, who are more vulnerable to pesticides), try to stick to this list.  I still don’t have the list memorized, so I pull it out every time.

chrisgardenOne of the listings on the dirty side is grapes, which is a bummer since we eat so many of them during the summer.

According to Real Simple, “Because grapes ripen quickly, tend to mold, and attract insects, growers hit them with multiple applications of various chemicals. The worst are Chilean grapes, which are treated with as many as 17 of them. (Ninety percent of the grapes eaten in the United States from January to April are Chilean).”

Non-organic grapes grown in the U.S. are also exposed to pesticides — so just because it says “grown in the U.S.,” doesn’t mean that they are chemical-free. At  least, wash all of your fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and peel any that are on the dirty dozen list that you don’t buy organically. Confession — sometimes I eat half of the grapes on the way home from the store without washing them. I’m still proud that I opted for grapes instead of my favorite Chex Mix.

Do you need to care about happy, frolicking cows?

During the last year, I’ve tried to buy organic according to the Dirty Dozen list. I see all of the chemicals that are sold at the big-box stores to battle bugs and blight, and can’t imagine putting that in my own garden. It’s more of a challenge to garden without chemicals (you have to pick off bugs with your fingers, plant deterrent plants [see picture above], and swear a lot), but I know that I’m not ingesting anything I can’t pronounce.

When it comes to meats, however, I can’t afford to replace my 10-lb package of frozen chicken breasts (yes, we eat a lot of chicken) that I get at Costco. And there’s some marketing sneakiness going on here, too. Know what these labels mean:

  • Grass-fed
  • No added steroids or hormones
  • Cage-free/free-range
  • Wild/farmed fish

Take chicken. A lot of what we see on the label, like “no hormones added,” is a given. All brands in the U.S. have this in common. The National Chicken Council breaks it all down here. Worth reading.

There’s tons and tons of research out there, and it appears that animals that are raised by strict organic standards AND have space to roam and frolic are healthier. They are leaner and they have more “good fat.” Well, that’s common sense, right? Just like us humans. However, just having an organic label doesn’t ensure that the meat is risk-free; organically raised chicken is still susceptible to salmonella.

You may choose organic for other reasons though. According to Livestrong, “In general, the USDA acknowledges that organic agriculture is gentler on the environment than conventional agricultural practices. In the areas of waste management, greenhouse gas reduction, soil and water quality, preservation of biodiversity and conservation of energy and water resources, organically produced chicken is usually the more environmentally sensitive option.”

This is starting to stink AND cost a lot of money

At forty something-something, I just grilled my first tilapia the other night — I felt like I was growing feathers from all the chicken that we’ve been eating. It’s a good source of protein, but there are some drawbacks, too. Yup, what’s better? Farm versus wild? What’s healthier for the body and what’s healthier for the environment? It really depends on the fish.

For many of us, buying specialty raised meat or all organic produce is just too damned expensive. I grow and preserve as much as I can in my short-season garden. I want to be a good citizen of the world and support farmers and suppliers who are conscious of their environmental footprint. Sometimes my choices depend on my checkbook, sometimes it’s convenience, sometimes it’s about community.

First things first, right? Making REAL FOOD part of your daily diet comes first, and that’s hard enough. Read my buddy Doctor Tracey Delaplain’s blog for ideas on what to do with all of those vegetables!

chrisapril2014In Part III of this article series, I’ll be talking about how some businesses are helping their employees practice healthier lifestyles. Stay tuned.

Just remember, if you fall off the wagon, start back up again immediately, without beating yourself up. This is a lifelong commitment … but worth every effort.


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