Senza Gluten: An Interview with Chef Jemiko L. Solo

Are you gluten-free? Do you dream about having chicken parmigiana and fresh Italian bread while you enjoy a glass of wine with friends? How about chocolate cake or tiramisu or any of the other myriad of desserts you’d write love letters to if you could? Well, then;  I’m pleased to announce that your dream has indeed become a reality! Senza Gluten in NYC is an amazing–and completely gluten-free–Italian restaurant that is bound to delight! I surprised my mother with a trip there two years ago, and we both came away enamored by the cozy atmosphere and excellent food. Since then, it’s become a family favorite–gluten and non-gluten family members alike! By chance and funny coincidence, an old friend was able to connect me with Chef Jemiko,  and he was kind enough to grant me an interview. Allow me to introduce you his wonderful restaurant; Senza Gluten.

Tell me about yourself. How did you get into cooking?

My father was an executive chef – kind, dedicated, hard working, professional. He loved hosting parities at home. He would invite close family and friends, greet them with a warm smile, and cook for them with such passion and love. I was his pride. When we made dinner together, I would stand proudly next to him as we received expressions of gratitude and praise. I watched him cook and I wanted to learn from him, wanted to be just like him. It was shocking and unbearably painful when he suddenly past away at the age of 49. I was only 13 years old and all I wanted was to make my dad proud any way I could.

Shortly after, I began my culinary career at Marco Polo resorts Metechi Palace Hotel in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia and worked there for 7 years, starting with peeling vegetables and learning knife skills. There I learned from and cooked alongside some of the greatest chefs in the world. I was so young – they gave me a chef’s hat taller than I was! I kept a journal and recipe book with dozens of recipes I had learned or developed myself, the margins flooded with notes about ingredients and techniques. Even in my young age, I had very clear goals, a passion, and a drive. For many years, I worked as an executive chef in several great restaurants in the city. I moved to the United States with the goal of studying pastry arts professionally. I have a great passion for baking and graduated from the Art Institute of NYC in 2005, specializing in Pastry Art. After completing my studies I worked in various Manhattan restaurants, and my love for Italian cuisine grew. I always dreamed of creating my own Italian restaurant and bakery, and my dream finally became a reality with Senza Gluten.

I am very thankful to all my colleagues and the great chefs who shared their knowledge and passion with me. I worked side by side with professionals who are now my dear friends. I would like to give a special thanks to my first chefs, David Regueiro and Massimo Stecchi, for their professional knowledge and kindness. Without their guidance and support I wouldn’t be the person and chef I am today.

I’d love to know how this whole “gluten free Italian restaurant” idea got started!

I have several friends with celiac disease. They often had difficulties eating out at restaurants because so many places couldn’t accommodate. My friends would tell me about all of the foods they missed the most, and I would surprise them with a homemade gluten free variation. Seeing the spark of joy on their faces was incredibly rewarding, and I knew I had to help bring this food to others. We opened the Senza Gluten restaurant in NYC in 2014 and Senza Gluten Cafe & Bakery in 2018.

What would you consider your food philosophy to be?

Everyone deserves delicious food they can eat without worry. Safety is our number one priority. It’s a wonderful thing to see customers visiting for the first time and realize they can eat everything on the menu.

How is it that you’re able to make such wonderful gluten free Italian food? Or is that top secret? 😉

Gluten free flours have very different properties compared to wheat flour. In order to create a similar taste and texture, we use a specific combination of gluten free flours and incorporate that into our traditional cooking/baking techniques. It’s very much a science. I would say the main ingredient is love.

What is one of your personal favorite dishes to make?

I love every dish on our menu – they are all my favorites! When I have an idea for a new menu item, I work away until it is perfect, until it becomes my favorite. Only then do we add it to the menu officially. Though I am quite proud of our Georgian-style cheese bread at Senza Gluten Cafe & Bakery. It’s a very unique dish with excellent flavor combinations.

Gathering around the dinner table is a tradition that goes back a long time. Do you think this is still important today? If so, why?

I believe this is important on many levels – it develops a sense of community and provides time to truly enjoy food. Everything is so fast paced in today’s society that we sometimes forget to connect with loved ones in person or we’re racing through meals on the go. There is nothing better than enjoying good company and conversation, while also taking the time to appreciate the flavors, textures, and layers of the food we eat.

Tell me some of your favorite customer stories!

We love connecting with our customers. It’s a joy to hear from visitors who come from all around the world just to try our food. Many people tell us they haven’t had a bread basket or tiramisu or lasagna in years, and seeing the happiness on their faces is so rewarding. It makes all of our hard work worth while.

If you’re looking for a wonderful Italian place where the food can be enjoyed by all–or–if you’re gluten-free and visiting the city from out of town, make sure to make a reservation! You’ll have a lovely time!

PS. Don’t forget to order dessert! 😉

Follow Senza Gluten on Facebook here, Twitter here, and Instagram here!

Visit the website here: http://senzaglutennyc.com

Use Open Table to make a reservation or call here: 212-475-7775

Helpful Hint Before You Go: the restaurant takes only cash or American Express.

My assistant.

Lara the Runaway Cat: One Cat’s Journey to Discover Home is Where the Heart is

Almost two years ago exactly, I endeavored to start this website—unawares of what shape it would take or where it would lead. At this time, I was desperately sad as my faithful cat had just passed away, and I was missing her terribly. I’ll never forget seeing the ad for a book called Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard. I was irresistibly drawn to it, and something told me I just had to read this book. I bought it the day it came out and I laughed and cried and read in wonder at the heartwarming story of such a unique bond between animal and human, and it helped me heal and be grateful for my own special connection with my beloved cat. I enjoyed the book so much that—on a whim—I wrote to the author to tell him so, as well as to ask him for an interview and… amazingly—he said yes! I was ever so excited, and Finding Gobi became the very first article posted on deskofjdogood.com. Since then, I have interviewed other incredible people and have made dear, dear friends; but that first article will always hold an extra special place in my heart. Dion recently came out with a new book and cheerfully corresponded with me again! His latest is about Gobi’s feline sister and is titled: Lara the Runaway Cat. If I could say one thing that I’ve learned from all of this, it is to listen to that small voice inside you that is pulling you towards a certain something. It could be something as simple as a book; or in Dion’s case—a little animal that suddenly starts following you! I’m forever grateful to Dion, Lucja, Gobi, and Lara. Allow me to introduce you to their first novel!

It’s great to see Gobi again! How is she doing?

Gobi’s doing great, she’s about to turn 5 (on 20th June) and is happy and healthy. We are currently living in Chamonix France which is a beautiful village in the Alps and Gobi has loved the winter and all the snow that came with it. Gobi is really living the dream and loving her new life, its so wonderful to see her adventures and the journey she’s been on since being a stray dog in the Chinese Gobi desert.

What made you decide to write a book about her sister, Lara the cat?

There was a lot of interest in how Gobi a stray dog settled in to her new family life in Edinburgh and how she bonded with her new sister Lara the cat. Lara is a rag doll cat who has lived inside her whole life so this was also a huge moment for her to deal with after being the boss of the house for the last 11 years so I thought wouldn’t it be great to have some fun with a story from Lara’s point of view of Gobi coming into her life.

It seems as if many people are either dog or cat people. I love that your little family includes both. What would you say are the best characteristics of each?

Its so funny to see the two of them chasing each other up and down the hallway one minute to sleeping on the bed together the next. I think Gobi has been good for Lara and given her a new lease of life and Lara has been good for Gobi as she’s had to adapt to understanding that its not just about her all the time.

Why should people should get your latest book?

Its a really fun read on how Lara (feeling unloved from all of the attention Gobi receives) decides to put her comfortable life at risk by taking on an adventure leaving home and is forced to decide between her family loyalties and need to experience her own adventure. I think all of us live this decision everyday trying to get the work/life balance right, and I think Lara’s journey will strike chords with readers of all ages.

How’s the ultra marathoning going?

Whilst Gobi is officially retired from the longer distance racing, I’m still running around the world. I recently won a 200 mile non stop race in Australia and am running 4×100 mile races in the USA known as the ‘Grand Slam’ over the summer, along with competing in the Leadman series in Leadville.

Wow. Excuse me for a moment while I pick my jaw up off the floor from that answer. Congratulations and good luck this summer! Ok, back again. Any news on the Finding Gobi film?

Yes, Things are happening behind the scenes. The screenplay had been written, directors and producers are signed up. But 20th Century Fox who has the movie rights was recently bought out by Disney so we don’t know whats happening for the moment on the next steps. Fingers crossed they love the story and want to continue to make the film.

And finally, any other updates that your fans can look forward to?

We’ve just released Finding Gobi in the French language and this year we will reach 20 languages globally with Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Croatian, Slovenian, and Russian coming throughout 2019. Pretty amazing to think how Gobi’s heartwarming and inspiring story has touched so many people around the world.

Lara the Runaway Cat makes a playful catlike leap from Finding Gobi’s non-fiction style to an adorable fictional tale. A perfect gift for the animal lovers in your life, and a great book companion to accompany you to the beach or pool this summer!

One’s a true story. One is a fictional story. Both are all heart!

Get your copy of Lara the Runaway Cat here.

If you haven’t read Finding Gobi yet, stop what you’re doing right now and buy it here.

And of course, don’t forget to keep up with Lara and Gobi on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter here: @findinggobi

You can follow the J. Behind the Desk of J. Dogood on Twitter and Instagram at @missjennifermcd 😉

Big Wild Thought: An Interview with Laura Bowling

When the film Free Willy hit theaters in 1993, it quickly became one of my favorites. Long story short, the movie is about a bond between an Orca whale who was forcibly taken from his family, and a foster kid who’s having a hard time. The most thrilling part of the movie is when the whale jumps over an impossibly high barrier to freedom. Watching it as a child brought me so much joy, as well as a fondness for Orca whales that lasts to this day. I’ll never forget my dad getting me a stuffed toy Orca—one of my most treasured toys as a child—which may or may not still be stowed away in my closet somewhere…

Free Willy—I believe—stated something that kids innately know; animals are wondrous creations, and as humans we have a responsibility to protect them. As adults, our schedules are crowded with so many other things that it’s easy for the animals that enchanted us in our youth to be forgotten.

One company that is making sure that doesn’t happen is Big Wild Thought. Born and bred in Sheffield, England; they make beautifully embroidered items—with 10% of the proceeds going to a charity benefitting that specific animal. Get a cup of tea and read on as I introduce you to co-founder Laura Bowling, as she tells me about her wonderful company!

I’d love to know more about the genesis of your company! Tell me how Big Wild Thought got started.

Me and my partner (Liam) both have backgrounds in design, and I have always wanted my own clothing line but wanted it to be different from everything else that is out there at the minute. We both have a passion for wildlife and the outdoors and thought while we were putting the business plan together, we would combine the two passions and produce a range that you can ‘Wear and Care.’ There are so many wonderful animal charities out there doing so many amazing projects for endangered and vulnerable wildlife; we wanted to help in any way we could. Regarding the plastic-free packaging—while we were planning the clothing range, we were lucky enough to be up visiting family in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland last year. When we were on the beautiful beaches, we stumbled across so much plastic waste than had been washed up that it made us realise that even in the most remote parts of the world; plastic waste is everywhere. From this, we came to decide that we didn’t want to be a part of this problem and that we would use recyclable packaging.

How do you go about deciding which animals/charities to highlight?

The range started out with three animal designs, an ORCA, a SLOTH and a BUTTERFLY and we chose these because they are personally our favourite animals (I’m slightly obsessed with ORCAs.) And from there we had some other charities contact us wanting to get involved. That’s how we expanded and now are selling 7 animal designs. We wish we could help every animal. There are so many charities out there that need help too!! We do aim to release an animal design for every single animal that is out there—that’s the dream!

What are some ways people can help endangered animals besides buying your cozy merchandise?

There are plenty of ways to help! On our website we have a charities page, which list the charities we support and weblinks to their websites! The charities we work with organise a lot of events for everyone to get involved in. For example, the WDC organises beach clean ups at local beaches across the UK which all the family can get involved it! Also, as bees are declining rapidly, we always advise people to plant as many wildflowers as possible in their gardens. You can buy some Wildflower Seeds off the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website as well as bee posters and books! These are just a couple of ways you can help, but head over to the charities websites and see what else is happening in your local area!

Any advice to others who wish to start a company that gives back?

Make sure that the charities or trusts you decide to work with share the same views as you. This makes you work harder because it’s something you both feel passionate about!

Anything new and exciting coming up that your patrons can look forward to?

We will be releasing some very popular African animal designs soon, and the 10% donation is going to a special UK charity. Additionally, we have been getting a lot of requests for a Shark range, which we have been working with an amazing trust and that should be available later in the year! Also, we will be launching new products this year—from stationary to rucksacks!

Big Wild Thought makes shirts and sweatshirts you can happily wear, knowing they make a fashionable difference for animals in need. It’s almost like taking your stuffed Orca toy with you! 😉 Get yours today!

Follow Big Wild Thought on Instagram here, Facebook here, and Twitter here!

Order your Big Wild Thought merchandise here: https://www.bigwildthought.co.uk

 

Your humble correspondent modeling the Orca T-shirt in white. Pay no mind to the crazy hair! 🙂

Keep up with my work by following me on Instagram and Twitter as @missjennifermcd!

Pound Dog Found Dog: An Interview with Peggy Kinahan

Are you looking for a small, furry companion? Have you always wanted to adopt a dog, but was nervous about making the commitment? If so, there’s a lovely rescue in Barnegat, New Jersey that may just be the perfect fit for you! Peggy Kinahan’s adoption philosophy is one that wants everyone involved to be happy: human and canine alike. Allow me to introduce you to Peggy Kinahan and her little rescue with a big heart: Pound Dog Found Dog.

 

I’d love to know how Pound Dog Found Dog was “found”ed. 🙂 What was its genesis?

After working within the rescue community for almost 20 years, I felt it was the right time to open my own rescue. This way I could rescue the dogs I feel need it the most – older dogs, special-needs dogs, and dogs I like to call my “skinny, scrawny” ones who would ordinarily be overlooked in shelters. I wanted to open my home to the “underdog.”

Why should people adopt and not shop?

Sometimes those of us in rescue assume that everyone knows to adopt, not shop when looking for a companion animal; but too many people are not aware of the statistics. Every year millions of dogs and cats find themselves in shelters, mainly because of overpopulation due to lack of spay and neuter practices. A percentage of those animals are adopted and a percentage are reunited with their owners. But the rest (about a million healthy, adoptable dogs) are euthanized simply due to lack of space. Many people believe they can’t find a great dog in a shelter, but nothing is farther from the truth. Not only are there hundreds of thousands adoptable dogs in shelters and rescue groups, but also one-third of those dogs are purebreds. And a reputable rescue or shelter will allow a potential adopter to do a trial period with a dog to make sure it’s a compatible match. Pet stores won’t do that. Shelters and rescues are held to a higher standard than pet stores and breeders. “Backyard breeders” who breed solely for profit are held to no standard of cleanliness or quality of care.

Tell me something that is particular to the small dogs you specialize in fostering.

I take small dogs by necessity. Bilateral knee replacement several years ago allows the larger dogs to drag me face down while on a walk! Our little ones each have a unique backstory. Sometimes we don’t know about a dog’s background, and sometimes we’re glad we don’t. Sometimes a dog’s past is easily reflected in their eyes. Either way, once in rescue it’s amazing to see the transformation of a “pound dog” to a “found dog,” thus our name. We currently have two special needs dogs in our care, one who has seizures and takes medication which keeps them from recurring, and one who has heartworm disease but once treated will be ready for adoption.

Daisy is looking for her forever home! Could it be you?

I love your policy of a one week grace period to make sure owner and pet are happy with their new situation. Can you talk about that?

Once we receive an application for a dog, we contact their vet references (if the applicant has a dog), and we also contact their personal references. We then contact the applicant to arrange for a “meet and greet” and home visit. If all goes well with the home visit and it looks like a compatible match, we allow a trial period with the potential adoptor and the dog. At the end of the trial either the adoption is finalized or the dog is returned back into the rescue. During the trial we remain in contact with the family to help work out any issues or answer any questions they may have. Nearly 100% percent of our dogs are adopted after the trial because we strive to find the best match possible for our dogs based on their needs and whether a potential adopter can provide for those requirements.

Besides adopting, what can people do to help Pound Dog Found Dog?

We never ask for monetary donations even though we exist solely on donations and adoption fees. But we are always in need of the supplies we send off with our adopted dogs – leashes, collars, beds and toys. But more than that, what we need most are temporary foster homes so we can save more lives. The more homes we have the more we can save. Are you on the fence about adopting a dog? Foster one and find out if you’re up to the commitment. Want to teach your kids to respect every living thing? Foster a dog and set an example. Want to learn more about our foster program? Visit our website at www.pounddogfounddog.org or contact me directly at pdfdrescue@hotmail.com. Fostering is free, it’s easy, and you’ll be saving a life!

What piece of advice would you give to someone that’s never had a dog before?

Do your homework! Investigate which breed is best suited to your family’s lifestyle. And have patience with puppies! They are hard work.

Anything else on your heart you’d like to talk about I didn’t mention?

I understand that while rescue is my “thing”, it isn’t everyone’s “thing”. But I can assure you that fostering a dog and saving a life, is one of the most rewarding things you can do – for yourself, and for the one you save. Actually, when you foster, you save two dogs- the one who comes temporarily to your home, and the one who takes its place in a shelter. As the saying goes, fostering isn’t a lifetime commitment, it’s a commitment to save one life. Please consider opening your home, temporarily, to a dog in need.

If you’re interested in adopting, fostering, or donating supplies; email Peggy at pdfdrescue@hotmail.com.

You can keep up with Peggy and her furry friends on Facebook here, and Instagram here.

Saving Cinderella: An Interview with Faith Moore

Did you grow up loving Disney? Did you see yourself in the iconic princesses Ariel, Belle and Cinderella? Did you have the dolls, sing the songs, and dream the dream of a happily ever after? As you grew up, were you told that Disney had lied to you? Had sold you a false bill of goods? Had made you admire helpless women in ridiculously fragile shoes? Sighing, did you believe the critics and hang your head in shame? Well, have no fear! Faith Moore has written the rebuttal to this argument that will shield you (nay!) armor you with the knowledge to take back the Disney princess from the clutches of people who…well…just don’t get it. Curious? I was too! Why? Because I did love them, and I did sigh, and I was made to believe that to love those stories meant I was only someone who wished to be rescued, and not heroic at all. Read on and join a conversation that—while at first glance might seem silly—is actually very important. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Faith Moore and her excellent book; Saving Cinderella: What Feminists Get Wrong About Disney Princesses and How to Set it Right.

I’d love to know about how you ended up becoming a “Disney Princess Addict!”

I had the great good fortune to grow up during Disney’s renaissance, which began in 1989 with The Little Mermaid. I was six when that film came out and I remember seeing it in the theater and loving it. But it wasn’t until Beauty and the Beast came out in 1991 that I really fell hard for Disney princesses. Something about that story just latched onto my heart and hasn’t let go. I got to see all those great Disney renaissance movies in the theater when they first came out: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King. I grew up with them. And I knew, even then, that something had changed when I watched Pocahontas and then Mulan. It was only as an adult that I realized what had happened to Disney princesses — that this vocal minority of feminist critics that I call princess critics — had shifted the princess narrative toward “feminism.” And then, well, I had to stand up and fight for these stories I love!

You talk about the history of fairy tales in the book. Can you talk a little bit about their importance and legacy?

The thing that really gets me about the feminist rejection of fairy tales is that fairy tales are actually women’s stories. Princess fairy tales, in particular, are all about a beautiful, and morally strong, woman at the center of a narrative. And they were, in many cases, created and told by women. What could be more “feminist” than that?! Fairy tales are allegorical stories designed to teach a universal truth about life. In many cases they were told by mothers to explain or warn their children about things in life that are difficult, or hard for children to comprehend. Princess fairy tales, in particular, were often ways for little girls to come to terms with the (sometimes frightening) changes of puberty. Many fairy tale narratives, like “Cinderella,” appear in nearly all the world’s cultures and date back, sometimes, thousands of years. The notion that these stories are outdated relics that ought to be done away with completely disregards the fact that they have resonated with human beings for, in many cases, longer than any classic work of literature.

The word feminism has gone through many iterations over the years. Can you tell me what you mean by “feminist” as it applies to your book title?

This is a really astute question. The problem with the term “feminist” is that it now bears no resemblance whatsoever to its original definition. Feminism came about in reaction to actual inequalities between men and women that needed to be addressed. It simply stated that women ought be viewed as equally valuable to society as men, such that, if a woman wanted and was able to do something that was traditionally only open to men, she could. And many women who call themselves feminists today are still referring to this definition. The problem, though, is that the movement — as represented by the media — has morphed into something more sinister. These days, the feminist movement has come to embody the oppressive tactics which used to be associated with “the patriarchy.” The movement is now about women telling other women that, in order to be successful and achieve “equality,” they must act like men. These are the feminists I’m referring to in the book’s title, because it is film critics and other cultural commentators who call themselves feminists who have gotten Disney princess movies so wrong.

What is the most glaring error feminists get wrong about Disney princesses?

The entire feminist misunderstanding of Disney princess films — and fairy tales in general — stems from the fact that they take them too literally. Feminists don’t understand that fairy tales rely almost entirely on symbolism. Because fairy tales are designed to be very short narratives expressing complex but universal truths, they operate within a symbolic language that’s consistent from story to story. In my book I call this concept “fairy tale shorthand,” but other people have called it other things (mythographer Marina Warner calls it a “symbolic Esperanto,” for example). So a forest, for example, always represents the protagonist’s inner turmoil. And a princess represents the ideal of womanhood. She is high-born and beautiful not because we must all be those things, but because those things represent her inner grace and beauty. Feminists don’t get that. They think Cinderella, for example, is a story about a girl whose clothes were so pretty that a rich and powerful guy decided to marry her. But that’s so obviously not the case! The story is about a girl who is given the opportunity to wear her inner goodness on the outside so that a man of worth can recognize instantly what kind of person she is. It’s this literal interpretation of fairy tales that has completely derailed the Disney princess narrative.

I love the idea that femininity has its own strength that is completely different than a man’s—yet just as strong. Could you talk more about that, and about how the feminist movement encourages women to abandon feminine traits to be (ironically) more like men?

Men and women are different. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement but it is. And their differences cause them to be better at, or more interested in, different things. Men are physically stronger than women, and they’re more interested in action, adventure, and getting things done. Women are more focused on emotions, relationships, planning, and nurturing others. None of these traits is inherently better than any others. But, because men have historically had power over women, feminists have adopted the mistaken notion that masculine traits are superior to female traits. Or, put another way, that if women want to wield the power men have historically enjoyed, they must adopt the traits of men. But that completely sells women short! Women are strong, brave, and powerful. It’s just that their strength, bravery, and power come from different places and look different to men’s. Insisting that a princess is more feminist if she wields a sword than she would be if she cleans a house negates the very real strength, and discipline it takes to be a homemaker.

As you mention in your book, there are recent Disney princesses that you don’t think are ideal role modes for young women. Can you talk about one of them and why?

The worst example of this, by far, is Merida from Brave. Brave is a perfect example of what happens when people who don’t understand fairy tales try to tell a “feminist” fairy tale. The movie uses fairy tale tropes — particularly the imagery and narrative arc of Beauty and the Beast — and tries to make them be about mothers and daughters instead of men and women. The result is a pretty creepy mess. Because the film is actively trying to make a case against marriage and men, Merida’s arc — which ought to be away from her mother and out into the world to follow her dreams — sends her right back to where she started, a child in her parent’s sway. Merida makes a whole bunch of terrible and selfish choices and never seems to understand that her issues came from trying to change her mother and not herself. The whole thing is a Freudian psychiatrist’s dream. Ick!

What would you like to see from Disney regarding princesses in the future?

There are two things I think Disney needs to acknowledge if it’s ever going to create good female role models and stories again. The first is that women can be strong and brave in ways that are different than men. And the second is that romantic love doesn’t make you weak. If they could keep those two ideas at the core of a new narrative, I’d be okay with them branching out into some new types of princess stories.

And last but not least, who is your favorite Disney princess and why?

That’s easy: Belle. I love the story of Beauty and the Beast particularly because it shows how, by never compromising her true self for anyone, a woman can inspire a man to become worthy of her love. Belle is bookish and quirky (like me) but she never even tries to behave like the people around her, even though they’re all pressuring her to be less “odd.” And, in spite of that (or, really, because of that) she finds a man who loves her for her true self. It makes my heart sing.

In a day and age where conversation and debate have virtually disappeared and been replaced by disrespectful lecturing, it’s refreshing to read Faith’s case for why something as innocuous as a fairy tale matters. In every chapter, she braves to defy the “princess critics” and their current assessment of how princesses are out of date and less than extraordinary. With excellent writing and humor, she casts her spell; and as far as your humble correspondent is concerned, rescues her princesses from a fate worse than a poisoned apple or everlasting sleep—but from irrelevance. It certainly seems she has no intention to yield her argument and “Let it go!” 😉

Buy Faith’s book here.

Check out Faith’s website here: https://faithkmoore.com

Follow her at Twitter here: @FaithKMoore

Join her Facebook group Disney Princess Addict here:

Faith also has a great YouTube channel called Princess State of Mind. Catch it here!

The Order of the Crystal Daggers: An Interview with C.S. Johnson

C.S. Johnson spins stories of adventure and fantasy. With several books and series under her belt already, she seems to be a non-stop writing machine. In her Order of the Crystal Daggers series, she says she seeks to inspire people to think about truth. What is it? Is it absolute? And while her books are for everyone—young and old alike— she specifically hopes that her works will help quell the fears of young people as they face the slings and arrows that come with growing up. Also, she wishes to make heroes that are more relatable, joking that “Superman doesn’t do laundry!” In between keeping up with her antics on Twitter, I was able to speak with C.S. about her latest trilogy, just before the publication of the second book; Prince of Secrets and Shadows.

How did you get into writing?

I started writing very young. I really liked reading and writing as a kid, and because I was shy and more than a little quiet, writing provided a way for me to order my thoughts and put them down so others could read them. One of my constant complaints from teachers was that I “didn’t speak up enough,” because they always liked to hear what I was thinking when they made me. I have to laugh at this some, because when I finally started talking, people were astounded to hear exactly what I thought – and they were amazed at what I remembered, too. More than one person was caught off guard when I would talk to them and ask them about things from our elementary grades.

Writing stories became more important to me as I grew older, and I wanted to both figure out what I was experiencing, and also share it with others.

Your book is set in a particular place and time. Could you tell the readers more about where you set your book and why?

I set the story in Prague, in Bohemia, around 1870. There were—as there usually always is with me—a variety of reasons for it. My family’s heritage played a large role in the story itself since my father’s family has ties to the Czechoslovakian and Polish areas, with my mother’s family more from Western Europe, with Scottish, Irish and English bloodlines. That was part of it. The other part was largely that I love Victorian literature—who doesn’t, really? It is a very popular genre, but most of it—like almost 99% of what I have read—is set in London. I get that, because it was the home of England and it remains the place where the British Empire began. But I wanted to work in a world that had its own flavor, and while London can seem fairy-tale-esque at times, especially in the Victorian setting, I wanted a more fairy-tale appeal. Prague is actually known for this today, as it has kept a lot of the history and built around its past with modern times.

You’ve got quite a few books and trilogies under your belt already. What makes The Order of the Crystal Daggers series special?

There are a couple of unique features about the book series, for sure.

The first distinction is that the series is more of a coming of age trilogy for girls (though boys will be entertained as well). When I first started out writing, I wrote the Starlight Chronicles mostly for boys. At the time, I was teaching high school and noticed that boys had a harder time finding something they liked to read, so I wanted to write something for them, and something that would speak to them as they grew up. Some of my girl readers (because while that series is for boys, the girls are also entertained) were asking about a series for them. So, that’s part of it there. The story is written in first person, with the world being delivered to the reader through Ella’s eyes; offering her perspective and her reactions and reflections to it, and it carries a little of her unreliability—as she becomes more certain, the world around her does, too.

I specifically wanted to draw in the question of truth, since as a culture, there are so many [people] saying we live in a post-truth world. I see it as more of a chasm than a conclusion, especially because—if we live in a post-truth world, that means that statement in itself would be nullified.

So for the book, the idea of putting a girl in a position where she had to live in perpetual second-guessing and distrust means figuring out the truth becomes a survival skill for her. I like to think my readers, even if they don’t notice that sort of teaching element, will be encouraged not only to think about other people’s perspectives, but also to help them find the real truth, too.

The story draws on Cinderella. Tell me about that.

I really love the story of Cinderella. Among fairy tales, it is a favorite of mine, and I like it for personal reasons almost as much as I have problems with it for personal reasons.

When I was three, my dad (with whom I have had a complicated relationship, thanks to both his depression and my own) went out to buy it for my third birthday. He had to go to three stores just to find it, and I remember this story as my heart aches. Having my own husband now, I am so happy that my daughter sees him as a hero; I did not have that many times in my life, and this one particular instance—on so special an occasion—remains one of my favorite stories about him.

While I do like the story, I do have problems with some of it. My main problem with it is not in the story itself, but that when people think of it, they don’t realize that the majority of the story takes place over like three days, tops. Cinderella spends ten years of her life working hard, dealing with people who are supposed to be looking out for her but instead are abusing her, and suffering as a result of losing her father and mother. It is a tragic situation, and one that is glossed over for the majority of the story. Cinderella has worked, both at keeping her household clean and her heart hopeful, for a long time before her life changed in three days. That’s a lot of investment and determination to pour into three days.

So when I wanted to use the story as a fairy tale adaptation, there is no easy transition between real life and allegory. In Kingdom of Ash and Soot, Ella’s own transformation takes place over several weeks. Her character development—while it does follow more of a fairy tale arc in terms of seeing her inner-princess self come to be realized on the outside—includes the development of trust in relationships, confidence in her actions, and moral ambition to not only discover what she is made of (because she knows that) but to what degree. Her goal is not to be a literal princess—although that connection is hinted at—but to be free. I liken that to several levels, including the political, the personal, and the spiritual in the book series.

I know you have a few characters that pay homage to people you admire in real life. Would you like to tell the readers who and why?

Haha, yes! I do have quite few people that have real-world connections. While Ella’s story is not my own, a lot of those who have helped me personally be free and find love have been added to the story. When I set out to write the story, I did not write to please anyone but myself with it—most of it is an homage to my heritage, after all. I was actually pretty surprised when a publisher expressed interest.

The one connection I am most open about is Amir’s character. I absolutely loved Nabeel Qureshi, and I wrote this book partially just to have a character based on him. I started writing this while he was sick with his cancer back in 2016. I was so desperately hoping that I would be able to send him a copy and tell him how grateful I was for his work and his life. His memoir, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, remains one of my favorite books. I have the audio book and I cannot listen to it without crying. While Amir is definitely his own character, and there is only a little overlap, I wanted a mentor figure for Ella that allowed her to see there was more to fighting when it becomes a matter of fighting for truth and love. There are others, of course, whose elements have inspired different characters. I don’t consider myself a very “fun” person, so the idea of screaming, hopping up and down, and asking for autographs is largely foreign to me. But there are exceptions to this, and the other side of my personality is more than a little embarrassed about it.

If you could boil it down to one thing, what do you wish to convey to your readers through this adventure series?

Freedom is complicated. Being free means taking responsibility for your own life, and that is something I have so struggled with; it’s actually embarrassing. It’s so easy to blame the world for your troubles, and legitimately, it does lend us problems; but while life is unfair, it is unfair in the best and worst senses, and it remains up to us individually to decide whether or not we will be fair to others in return.

What would your advice be to aspiring authors who are starting out?

I have two and a half major points of advice for new writers:

1. Take courage … and take a grammar refresher (1/2). Reading as much as I do from the internet, I know that alone will not a grammar expert make.

2. Know—and I mean, really know—who your friends are. Professional jealousy is one of my more prominent emotional barriers as a writer, and it, quite frankly, sucks. The best way I have learned to deal with it is to know who your real friends are. When you have a lot of writers in your circles as I do, it can be hard to remember that not all of them are your friends, and it can be even harder to remember you don’t need their approval. Several of my best friends are writers, and I know for a fact they are my real friends because I am genuinely happy for them when they succeed, and they are happy for me when I do. In contrast to this, I know too well how it feels to find out others would prefer you fail.

When will book three be available?

Hopefully, book 3, Heart of Hope and Fear, will be out sometime in the summer of 2019. It might have a later date, but I will definitely let everyone know (if they don’t hear me screaming it from my rooftop that I am finished with the book!)

Anything new and exciting your fans can look forward to?

This year is already shaping up to have a few new books and different things out. I’m working on my first non-fiction book, and I have a couple of series I’m hoping to finish, and a couple of new series I’m hoping to start. The Princess and the Peacock is going live January 25th. The companion novella to The Order of the Crystal Daggers—where we get to see more of Amir’s relationship with Ella’s mother—will be out in late February.

This humble correspondent can’t wait!

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Get book one today!

Arden + James: An Interview with Bri Brant

Sitting down with Bri Brant at Chadd’s Café, I was struck by the amber, honey-colored eyes looking back at me. With her face also framed by long copper-colored hair, I couldn’t help but think of the parallel between the natural beauty of the artist and the leather bound creations that she is famous for. Designing bags and wallets of the highest quality vegetable tanned leather, she describes her work as a blend of industrial and craft-based design—informed by natural materials. Bri was gracious enough to sit down with me over coffee to talk about her award winning company; Arden + James, as well as her family’s newest passion project: the Chadd’s Ford Barn Shops.

Photo by Parikha Mehta Photography

How is working with leather different to other creative disciplines?

It’s really expensive, so you have to be really careful! If you make a mistake, you make that piece into something else. You can’t afford to have any waste. I only work with natural materials, so no matter what you do, it’s always beautiful because the material itself is beautiful.

Do you have any favorite custom orders that you’ve done?

Yeah! The Brandywine River museum, their founder Frolic Weymouth was having an exhibit of a bunch of his paintings—it was in the Spring when they had it— and they asked me to do a special bag with Virginia bluebells, which were his favorite flower. He also has this really famous painting with Virginia bluebells, so I did a special bluebells design thatI etched onto the leather, and they sell them at the museum. I also do special botanical bags for Longwood Gardens and those are really special. And then, everything on my website is semi-custom, so people are getting exactly what they want. They’re choosing their own options— like their sizes, colors and strap style. That’s really fun being able to give people something custom and made-to-order, but still being able to be in control. It’s not something I can’t make or hardware that I don’t have. It’s like, here’s your A, B, C, D, but it’s still a super custom bag that nobody else is going to have, but I can handle it as a one person business.

You’re a mom. Is making your craftsmanship part of your routine helpful in balancing the busyness of raising young kids?

You have to be really flexible with your schedule, because you never know what they’re going to need, and they always need something! Now both my boys are in school from 8:30–3:00, so that’s how I’m able to do this. It’s like a nice vacation!

Bri also makes lovely beeswax candles that smell heavenly.

Any advice to anyone who wishes to start working with leather, but is a little bit nervous try it or be creative in that realm?

You have to really love the material—whatever material you’re working with. Whether it’s leather, clay, paper—anything—you just really have to love the material, because that’s going to inspire you. Otherwise, you’re just going to be bored, you know? So you have to really love the material! Not loving the final product that somebody else makes—that’s not going to inspire you. You have to love the material yourself and come up with your own design. So, it’s that first. Then with leather, you can buy scraps if you go on Etsy or even eBay. Buy scraps of really good stuff and work with the good leather, because that’s going to give you better results.

I’d like to know more about the Chadds Ford Barn Shops and how your family is bringing it back to life. How did it get started?

Well, I grew up down the street and my first job was in a Wawa in Chadd’s Ford— so I worked there and it was like the town general store. I got to know everybody in town— basically all our neighbors were the only ones that ever came in because it was like the smallest Wawa ever! So, I got to know everybody and it was so fun—I enjoyed it so much and it really changed me as a person. When the Wawa closed 10 years ago, I always missed it and the whole community really missed it. We never saw each other anymore. So, it was always in my head that we needed a gathering place.

So then, when our family started the rejuvenation project on this little village a couple years ago, it was always our plan to have a café, because we knew that the only way to get people to really come and hang out is with coffee! So, we did that, and I put my store in the front there so that I could be part of the whole thing too.

The Barn Shops have been here for almost 50 years— next year it will be 50 years. And when they were built, tour buses would come in; they’d go to Longwood Gardens or the River Museum—and Chadd’s Ford became a shopping destination. Then, people stopped coming over the years and started going to different places when all the malls popped up. I think people are ready for this again. The past couple years—it didn’t need anything major, it was always nice. We just wanted to bring the attention back to it, so we have been adding things in, like the cafe and more stores to bring people in and have a reason to make it a destination again.

It was more of like a marketing project. Everyone goes really fast down Route 1 and totally forgot that it was here. So, we just had to remind them, that’s all. So, I’m like all Instagram and Facebook and everything’s getting the word out, and I’ve done that for a bunch of different businesses. This is my home town so I really wanted to put my energy into this.

What’s really interesting is that there is this community of artisans on Instagram that are super supportive of each other. For me, I tended to think of the negative side of social media for a while, but there is this wonderful, awesome upside to it too! What has that been like for you, to interact with customers and people that love your work?

Social media is amazing, as long as you always keep it positive. And if you do, people pick up on that positivity and you attract the right crowd. You don’t get the kind of people I call ‘time wasters’—you know with all the junk. We’ve been able to attract so many people. My business completely started on Instagram. That’s how I got every one of my wholesale customers and got the word out on everything. But you just have to be consistent about it and post all the time. But as long as you’re being honest about it, and putting your true self out on social media, then you attract the right customer. You get the results that you want. You get the customer that you want, not a customer that’s not great for you—which is almost even worse than no customer at all. For my bags, I’m always attracting people who understand my brand, because they can look at my Instagram and see what the mood of it is, and the style and the materials and they can know all about it without even ever having seen a bag in person. Versus, if you’re putting advertising stuff out there or paying for ads and all that, you attract a customer that’s not necessarily right for you, and they’re a customer that may not be happy with what they get.

So just to keep it simple, you have to be really authentic and put your authentic self out there—and that’s true with everything. Otherwise, you end up with a life that you don’t want. You just have to be honest and authentic and then you’re fine. That’s what this[café] is too. This café is authentic to the Barn Shops. It’s nothing more and nothing less. That’s why it’s called Chadd’s, because we’re not trying to be fancy. We’re not trying to be hipster. We’re not trying to attract any particular group. It’s a café for everyone. The Barn Shops are for everyone. We’re not trying to be exclusive or fancy or any of that stuff. That’s why I think people are responding to it, because it’s a happy place and everyone feel comfortable.

I think a lot of places, especially restaurants, you almost feel uncomfortable with who they’re trying to attract or the image they’re trying to portray. It’s almost insulting in a way. You feel like you’re not worthy of being there or eating there, and it attracts a strange customer that thinks that they are worthy of being there. Do know what I mean? That customer—we don’t want that customer! You know, like they like deserve to be waited on[hand and foot.] It is what it is! It’s self-serve for the most part. You know, here’s what we have, we have to keep it simple. It’s like a barn! That’s how we feel, and it’s family and friends that work here—you better be nice to them!

Within an easy distance of both Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine River Museum, The Chadd’s Fords Barn Shops are well worth a visit with it’s cozy atmosphere, wonderful coffee and unique shopping items. I know this humble correspondent can’t wait to go back!

Follow Bri on Instagram here and Facebook here.

Design your own bag by Bri at http://www.ardenandjames.com

And don’t forget to head out to Chadd’s Fords Barn Shops and follow them here!

Not Another Cooking Show: An interview with Stephen Cusato

Stephen Cusato’s Youtube channel; Not Another Cooking Show is as delightful as a home cooked meal. The title proves to be true; as it is as warm and inviting as the host himself. A wizard of food and photography, he eschews the idea of a “perfect meal,” and instead encourages people to cook with love. Mr. Cusato was generous enough to chat with your humble correspondent about his roundabout journey to creating his wonderful show. Bon Appetit! 😉

Stephen Cusato has always loved watching food. Growing up at a time when the Food Network was barely a thing, he would fall asleep to reruns of Japanese Iron Chef, and remembers being fascinated with watching the short order cooks across the counter at the local diner.

“Food wasn’t something that I was obsessed with, so I just assumed that I would study business and work in advertising like my dad. My dad worked in advertising in a day where people had offices with Nerf guns in them— it was a cool kind of world to work in. My dad worked on the Hess account, so I would always get  Hess toy trucks every year. He asked me one year to be in a Hess commercial and I was like, “No, God, No!” I wish I did it now!” he says laughing.

While at Fairfield University, he studied abroad in Florence his junior year, and says the food culture  left an impression on him. After graduation he headed into advertising, but the business had changed a lot since the time he was a kid.

“The reality of the industry by the time I entered the workforce in 2008—with the financial crisis— companies weren’t doing well. Advertising was changing with social media. I quickly realized, this is not the golden days of advertising. This is totally changing.”

After three years at the company, he ended up giving his two weeks notice after he got a permit approved by the Parks Department to operate a food truck. What was next on the menu? Grilled Cheese!

“I decided to get into food and start a food truck. I also started a food blog while I was developing it  to build my name. My food truck ended up being called Food Freak’s Grilled Cheese. I wanted this dichotomy of a weird name matched with this tastefully designed, cute little cart—with really thoughtful food that was not grotesque in any way, but refined. I wanted to be very mature, like we’re a restaurant inside of a food truck. What I loved about that was the service aspect. One of my big food influences is Danny Meyer, (the restaurateur legend who owns Union Square Café, Grammercy Tavern, and Shake Shack) and he wrote a book called Setting the Table. Hospitality has always been a big thing for me, so I just loved interacting with customers and showing them we really cared. I knew when our customers were on vacation or when they were sick. We did that for a while—it was great—as well as huge music festivals, other events and catering.”

The Food Freak Grilled Cheese food truck even had its share of paparazzi, when Anne Hathaway stopped by on the day she got engaged, along with her fiancé! The food truck’s days, it would seem though, were numbered.

“We were stretching ourselves thin and not really building anything, and after a few years the city changed regulations on the cart sizes that were legal. When our permit ran out, we were faced at a crossroads; and we decided to stop. That was pretty hard for me. I had loved it and hated it. We were working 14-17 hour days, and it felt like we were shackled to it in some way, but it gave me cooking chops. My two partners were formally trained chefs and had base knowledge, so I was exposed to the basics and proper technique. And though I never went to culinary school, it’s like—you don’t have to.”

I know what you’re thinking. What’s being served up next? Here’s a clue: “Say cheese!

After spending some time trying to figure things out, a former advertising colleague asked him if he could take photos for their client, Tribe Hummus.

“They knew I could work with food, so they asked me, ‘Could you stage some photographs ? And I was like, ‘Yeah. Sure!’ I wasn’t a photographer or anything like that.  I did a few things and they were pretty good. So I decided to figure out how to use a camera. I went on YouTube and learned as much as I could.”

And just like that he went from making—to photographing food!

“I would do 10 photo shoots a month for them, and worked with them for four or five years, along with some other clients. Over time, I did thousands of photo shoots that developed my camera skills and they got better and better. Then video became a big thing, and I was like, ‘I have a good eye for photography, it makes sense that I could also do video.’ Video is a different skill, but I find it to be more interesting than photography .You can do more with it.”

He found that doing a Youtube show was just a natural outgrowth of all his experience thus far.

“I found getting a camera was the final puzzle piece, I think. What’s funny is, when I was growing up—I forgot to mention—for some reason, I also wanted to be a director. I was obsessed with Steven Spielberg and Jurassic Park and all these movies. So what’s funny is—I’m 32 now, and lo and behold, I’m sort of like a director working in food, you know what I mean? The show is literally an extracted pure version of who I am. And what I’m most proud about is, it’s allowed me to just fully embrace my identity in a way that I probably never have before. It’s just me telling the world who I am: I’m the guy who loves food and films it.”

When asked what he thinks is special and timeless about sharing a meal around the table, he says, “ I think it’s important because it’s one time where you can just slow down with your day. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re famous, or if you’re middle class, lower class, upper class—everybody eats every day. And you know, everybody has people in their lives that we don’t spend enough time with. The purpose of food is to bring people together. It’s just not the same if we do it alone; it’s so much better when you share it with other people. There’s just nothing better than a home cooked meal.”

He says what makes his show different is his goal to make food the star of the show; not himself.

“When I look at traditional TV cooking shows, especially on the Food Network; to me, it seems like everything around the food is perfect and scripted, and the food is more of an afterthought. So for me, I wanted the food to be perfect— and everything around it to be a little rough around the edges.”

“There’s just something about cooking to me that I think people are missing out on so much! And  I’ve had people over to eat, and everyone says, ‘Oh, you eat like a five star restaurant every night.’ Through this show, I’m showing people it doesn’t take that much. It’s not like I’m doing anything that other people couldn’t do.”

“We’ve  stopped cooking like a Grandma has, you know? There’s no love or attention or care in it—everyone wants to be fancy and show off. That’s why I focus on the basics; because nothing is more impressive than when you can absolutely nail a pasta. One of my favorite things that I made on the show that I love to eat is the Cheesy Gordita Crunch Taco Bell tacos. There’s just something about it that is so good because you made it yourself, and you can enjoy it knowing that it used to be something that was so bad for you.

He says one of the gratifying things about doing  his show is being 100% in control of the content.

“I think that’s why I’m flourishing now, because for so many years, I would work for other people’s approval. And what’s cool about the show—and YouTube in general—is,  if you approach it genuinely, it sort of exposes you, and you gain a better understanding of who you are in a weird way.”

“What’s funny is, I realized halfway through making the show that I was literally mimicking the same user experience  that I had when people came to visit me on the food truck. There was a cutting board, and you had to kind of lean down to get on their level. And so I would lean in and talk through a square rectangular frame and talk to people casually.

What I love about Not Another Cooking Show is that its specific cinematography and friendly style give confidence to those who are a bit nervous to try their hand at cooking. As for Stephen, he’ll be continuing to put out videos that instruct, inspire…and make us hungry!

Follow Stephen on Facebook  here,  Twitter here, and Instagram here.

Catch his awesome food show here!

You can support his Patreon account here, and also buy his great merchandise here!

Fear is just a thought; thoughts can be changed: An interview with Josh Perry

Josh Perry’s journey has had as many ups and downs as a BMX bicycle. From reaching his dreams and riding with his childhood heroes around the world, to brain tumor diagnoses and back again–his story proves that it’s not about the cards you’re dealt; it’s how you play them. Allow me to introduce you to Josh Perry and his wild and inspiring ride.

Could you tell me about yourself? How did you get into biking? When did you know it could be more than just a hobby?

So, I was born and raised in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. And like most kids on Cape Cod, you get into T-ball—little league is really big where I’m from—and then that totally progressed to playing basketball, rollerblading and skateboarding—and that led me to the skate parks. Later on, I learned that BMX bikes ride the same ramp. I saw some older kids and I saw X Games on TV and was just really interested in it. I asked for a BMX bike for Christmas one year and happened to get it. I started slowly playing school sports less and riding more. And then just solely focused on riding. I found myself getting into the local beginner and amateur contests for BMX. Then, that progressed to regionals and that progressed to the top 10 amateur riders in the country. It started to take over my life at that point and I became really passionate about it. It became an outlet for me in all aspects of life. At the same time, as I got into 15, 16, 17 years old, I was landscaping for a friend of the family who owned his own landscaping business. I went to a Technical High School to be trained for landscaping to take over the business. I got an ultimatum from my boss one day about taking too many days off of work to go ride at these contests, and I had to pick between work and BMX; that’s when I went all in on the BMX dream.

What is something that people looking from the outside in might not know about BMX?

I guess they typically think it’s just a bunch of kids or younger adults that are crazy—which, to a degree, we kind of all are! But there’s a lot of dedication and goal setting within action sports—and determination because we deal with failure and pain on a regular basis. The first couple years, you’re learning and you’re falling a lot—and you’re getting back up and trying again. So, I think one thing that people miss is how hard working action sports athletes are—it’s all self motivated— there’s no coach, there’s no team. It’s just you have a goal, you have a vision and you get up and you try.

Could you walk my readers through your diagnosis and subsequent journey with your brain tumors?

So, I moved to Greenville, North Carolina when I was about 17—I think it was 2007–and in 2009 I rode X-Games and had already been on the pro tour. I was living the dream! I had some sponsors and was traveling internationally to do demos and compete; and it was in March 2010 where I crashed and hit my head and got a concussion and had to go get an MRI. Now, leading up to that point, I had been going in and out of the emergency room complaining of these migraines; vision loss, vomiting—all these classic brain tumor symptoms—and I kept getting denied scans and turned away to go home with pain pill prescriptions. I was told that, “You’re young. You’re healthy. Your blood work checks out, paperwork checks out—you just have headaches—a lot of people do. Just take these to help manage it.”

I was very ignorant at the time and just believed the doctors. I was like, “They’re the doctor, they know best.” And so now, moving forward to March 2010 and my crash, that crash saved my life because now that concussion REQUIRED an MRI to look at my brain and make sure there was no swelling or bleeding. That’s when they accidentally found the brain tumor taking up a good portion of the left side of my brain, and wrapped around a main artery and optic nerve. It was that moment where I was told that, “You know, Josh, you’ll, probably never ride again—you’ll be lucky to walk. And if so—it’s going to take you a good bit.” But then also, “If you want to save your life, you only have one choice: and that’s to have surgery.” And you know, at that point I’m sitting alone, I’m 21, I’m by myself at the urgent care office just going in for a concussion report, and I never thought that that would be the outcome. And so that first diagnosis and those words that that doctor said to me were really crushing. I felt super alone and devastated because I just recently became a professional athlete in the sport of BMX. I’m living that dream and am friends with my idols—and it’s about to be taken away from me. And instantly the victim mentality set in of “Why me? Am I a bad person? What could I have done to cause this?” And so that was the first diagnosis. And throughout the following weeks—it was about three weeks later—I got rushed into surgery. But through those weeks, it was a transition of taking that fear and that worry and victim mentality, and using my mom’s story of battling colon cancer to be great today; and then people like Lance Armstrong; he’s a cycling athlete—a little different than what we do—but to learn about his story and combining that with friends and family. Also, the BMX community around the world was reaching out to share love and support. I noticed this shift from fear and like, “Oh man, life’s over.” Because that’s initially what I thought when I was diagnosed. I thought my life was done. You never really think you’re going to be told you have a brain tumor—let alone that young. And as the week went by, I started to shift into focusing on my riding and visualizing what I wanted in my future, and using it for fuel and motivation to know I’ll be okay. Like, if these people can do it, you know, my mom got past it; Lance Armstrong did it multiple times and on a much more severe level than where I was at—I’ll be okay. And then, of course, all the love and support helped. And so I went in for the surgery April 2010, and it was supposed to be four hours—it took six because of the artery and the optic nerve complications—but successfully it was removed and I woke up for the first time in a while without pain. I could move all my limbs— hear, see, smell, taste—all that stuff after signing papers saying I could wake up paralyzed; could not wake up, or wake up and not be able to have certain senses; the whole list of complications. It was probably one of the most amazing days of my life waking up and seeing my brother, my mom and dad, and my grandparents and just being—alive.

So, that was the first diagnosis and surgery. And then moving forward two years later, a routine MRI showed two new growths on that same side of the brain, and my surgeon said it was the complications of the artery and optic nerve. I was actually in India and I had two days left to my trip—I was doing BMX demos with a group of friends when I found out. So he said, finish up your trip, come home, and we’ll talk— but I want you to look into radiation since surgery is out of the question. I didn’t really like the sound of radiation and did a lot of googling and found a technology called Gamma Knife radio treatment. It had a lot of great success; outpatient procedure—very low in side effects. And so I chose that. And I went through with that in November 2012 in Boston at Tufts Medical Center. And for about four years those two tumors were shrinking, and now they’ve become stable so we just monitor them every year to two years—but they’ve been fine.

Josh getting Gamma Knife radio treatment

Now, the first and second diagnosis pushed me into an area of interest with how to prevent the tumors from coming back and how to take care of my health. I watched a documentary when I was recovering from the original surgery that put me on this path to making changes in my diet and lifestyle, and then the second diagnosis and going through Gamma Knife increased that interest and turned it into a passion. I came across a school called the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. If you live in New York you can go to the school, but it’s offered as a one year online module based course to become a certified Holistic Health Coach. I really wanted to learn more; I wanted an organized manner rather than jumping all over the internet to endless amounts of black holes and I ultimately wanted to be able to help people with what I was learning at the same time. So I went through that course and it taught me a lot of conflicting theories—they wanted to teach you how to think rather than what to think; and it was really, really great. I came across a doctor called Dr. David Perlmutter; read his book Grain Brain and then came across a gentleman named Mark Sisson—you know, the Primal Blueprint guy—and the two of them were all about low carb/high fat. Perlmutter focused specifically in regards to the brain, and that’s where my passion was. Mark Sisson talked about body composition and energy and neurological effects as well—mostly focused on athletes. So, I started experimenting; lowering my carb intake and of course, processed foods and sugar and alcohol and really getting into a higher fat diet. As the years went by I was learning a little bit about this thing called ketogenic, but it wasn’t until about 2016 where I started having fat coffees toward the end of the year. And then, you know, learning about Dave Asprey’s work; and the ketogenic diet became more prominent in what I was reading in Perlmutter and Mark Sisson’s newer books. So, I just started messing with things and implementing fasting—even lowering my carbs to where I was like 50 grams or less and raised my fat intake.

Then February 2017, a routine MRI follow-up showed two new masses on the opposite side of my brain—so totalling four currently. They think I have a neurological or genetic disorder that creates brain and spinal cord tumors. But you know, great in my eyes is I only have the brain tumors—which is odd to say. But if I had spinal cord tumors I probably wouldn’t be able to ride or workout like I do, so I’m pretty full of gratitude for that aspect. [The ketogenic diet] has become a really big interest and passion of mine to where I implemented it, and then a year later another follow-up showed no progression of the tumors. Long story short, I live with 4 tumors today now after three different diagnoses, and I follow a ketogenic diet as a way to combat that and enhance other areas of my life.

The refreshing thing about Josh’s health journey is that it is completely devoid of the superficial.

My journey hasn’t been about body composition. And I struggled for a minute in thinking I didn’t have value to share my story with others because I was never super overweight. I, of course improved my body composition now that I’ve implemented this way of eating the last few years, but my focus was always on the brain. So even yesterday when I gave my talk at Dr. Westman’s summit, one of the things I mentioned is my mission of sharing to the younger generation: don’t judge a book by its cover—as corny as that is! Because if you look at me, you would never think that I had anything wrong with me health-wise, but I live with four brain tumors.

That’s what put me on this path. It’s not about weight, it’s not about body composition. It wasn’t even really about performance, it was about saving my life, protecting my brain and healing my brain. A majority of people are finding out about the ketogenic diet because it’s become fad status now, because it does have significant benefits and effects. And if you do it properly you can sustain it, and then create longevity out of it. But ultimately, you know, I look at it as a very, very important tool to help the brain. One of my clients who’s 23: two years of brain surgeries for a tumor he has and different meds for controlling his seizures—no progress. We work together for five weeks—he went from three to five seizures A DAY to now he’s had one in the last two to three weeks. That’s amazing, and that’s just from changing his diet to a ketogenic diet. And, you know, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a medical professional, but I’m using my experiences and studying all these wonderful doctors, scientists and researchers to help people in that aspect. It’s all geared around the brain. And then because of that the by products are: improved energy, sleep, recovery, body composition, cravings are gone and you’re not hungry. You get a better peace of mind and less stress and more time for your day. And it’s really amazing because it’s not about vanity, it’s about health—and specifically brain health. And once you get that as a priority, the other stuff just clicks so easily.

I know that you’re in this period of transition where you’re moving into speaking, and health coaching. I mean, for you, it’s got to be this amazing time in your life where you’re switching over to helping others because of all the information that you do have.

So, when I started the 2016 series season, I was coming off an ACL surgery and I had about four months of rehab. Then, I had about a month and a half of actual riding and training before the contest season. So my goal was to make top 12 at every event. I ended up 10th overall. Now that was ending my 2016 series. Then, moving into the next year, I had a sponsor that was going to take care of all my travel and hotels, but then they were going to pay me a salary the following year and continue sending me around the world to compete and represent their brand. Then two things happened; one: my bike sponsor at the time let me go because of financial issues on their end and that was a huge obstacle—but also the greatest thing that happened to me because it put me on this path. Then, leading into 2017, I have this plan with the nutrition sponsor— paid salary /travel budget and I had just done so well last season; then they changed ownership and dropped everything—my contact after five years got let go. It was devastating. Like, “Okay, well, what do I do now?” Because I can’t afford to fly myself around the world to compete. And, you know, the big prize purse isn’t large enough to compensate. So now moving forward, I’m in my late 20s and I’m just like, “Man, I don’t know—this doesn’t seem right. I don’t know what to do. Who am I if I don’t compete? But I can’t compete.” I started doing a lot of PR; like podcasts, and going to these events, and meeting people and doing these interviews and blog articles for some pretty major media coverage that was just like a dream come true. Ultimately, I was helping people by just sharing and showing up and having conversations like this. And so then I was like, I need to do something with this. And that’s when I decided to start my business at the end of the year with the health coaching.

With girlfriend Jackie

We all have a choice in life with positive or negative events. We can pick how we move forward. It was like, these are two things that could cripple me, but maybe it’s a good thing because it’s showing me where my purpose is, and where I need to put my energy. So today, I have a bunch of private clients, I’m working on creating an online video module course to help people that has a weekly group coaching call for extra support. And then, motivational speaking. It seems to be lining up the way it’s supposed to. I was kind of stubborn at the beginning—trying to live the same way I was living before just because it’s what I enjoyed. But it was also just what I knew. So, those two negative events weren’t really negative.

All these things in my life have given me clarity about what I want to do with my life when I didn’t have any clarity before. I didn’t know really know who I was, although we’re always learning that— it’s always changing. I didn’t have any idea where I wanted to go beyond BMX, and I’ll be 30 this year and I think I’m more fulfilled on this path now; and BMX is still part of it. It’s interesting, because if I wanted to compete and if I had the opportunity to where I had a sponsor helping out and and it was beneficial—I could. I still train, I still ride at the same level, just not as often because I’m pursuing other things now. But I think I’m more fulfilled on this path of speaking and coaching.

To fill you in on my three core beliefs: the first one is: perspective and gratitude are essential for life. I use my story of—everything we’ve just talked about leading up to right now—being grateful to be alive, and understanding it’s okay to want more in your life. But nine times out of ten, it’s not going to happen unless you’re grateful for the things you have now, because without gratitude, you can’t expect the universe or God or whatever you believe in to provide more of what you’re not appreciating now. And so, that’s a game changer. And then number two is “ health is internal.” It’s not numbers on a scale or a piece of paper. It’s not physical, it’s not how you look, it’s really what’s happening inside. And I learned that the hard way. And third, “Our reality is a manifestation of our choices. We all have the choice of how to react, how to think, how to move forward —or not. That’s why I love sharing and doing things like this and getting into speaking; I never thought it’d be a thing. It’s such a rad feeling knowing that something you’ve experienced and learned and shared helped someone in one way or another, whether it’s on a large scale or small scale. That feeling can’t be bought. So, that’s a huge reason why I’m so focused on doing what I do.

My last question is, is there anything else that’s on your heart that you’d like to say? Something that you’d like to mention that I didn’t ask you?

There’s four things I represent or try to represent as much as I can; and the first one’s medical imaging, because had I not fallen and hit my head that day, I wouldn’t have got an MRI—even though I paid for health care and asked for any kind of imaging of the brain—I was denied it. So the first thing I represent is medical imaging. And if you think you have a problem and your doctor’s not trying to work with you, they’re trying to say they know better —go to another doctor. Get that MRI. So, like I said, if I hadn’t hit my head that day, I’d be dead. I wouldn’t be here today. So—medical imaging.

And then number two is Gamma Knife. And I want to make that more well known as a treatment option for inoperable brain tumors. If I had got the MRI when I originally asked for one, the tumor may have not as been as large as it was when I was diagnosed. And therefore I could have possibly used Gamma Knife—we’ll never know because I never had the scan— but that’s something I really want people to be aware of.

And then of course, number three is the ketogenic diet. It has a lot of anti inflammatory effects but also has a lot of metabolic effects on the brain and being able to help support it.

The fourth thing is the Athlete Recovery Fund, which is a nonprofit 501C3 that is designed to help action sports professional athletes with medical care. So, when I got diagnosed originally in 2010, they flew my parents out, they put them in a hotel, and then they helped me with any kind of medical care that I needed after my health insurance stopped kicking in. We’re working together now on a project called Brainy BMX, which is a BMX show that tours around and does BMX demos, but the twist on it is we’re also doing fun workshops with cooking and yoga and meditation and fitness. I don’t know the time frame yet. We’re working on that, but like a two to three, four hour fun day of sharing information, having activities, kicking it off with a BMX demo and music. But the goal of it is to raise funds for direct brain tumor, brain injury, and brain cancer patients so they can apply to get help with anything they need. That’s change that I want to create.

Your humble correspondent can’t wait to see what Josh Perry is up to next!

Follow Josh on Facebook here, Instagram here and Twitter here.

Check out the athlete recovery fund here:

https://www.athleterecoveryfund.org/josh-perryp

Interested in having Josh as a health coach? Go here!

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From the Desk: Holiday Gift Guide 2018

As we all look forward to the holidays and the gift giving season approaches, sometimes it’s difficult to come up with ideas for those we love. Here are a few suggestions from creators and small businesses I admire.

For the animal lover:

Finding Gobi by Deon Leonard

This book is a wonderful and heartwarming gift for those who love animals–especially dogs! Spoiler alert: I would never suggest an animal book that makes you cry your eyes out at the end. 😉

Get Finding Gobi here.

For the jewelry lover:

Northern Roots Jewelry is a lovely company run by the lovely Amy Stephens. She has beautiful and one of a kind items–as well as varying prices.

Check out Northern Roots jewelry here.

For the wine lover:

Dry Farm Wines is a wine company like none other. They hack the precise alcohol content and it is also sugar free–making their wines hangover-proof and delicious. You can choose to give a subscription of 6 bottles every month or every other month, and if there are any problems, their customer service is second to none. Cheers!

Get your Dry Farm Wines here.

For the history lover:

Patrick K. O’Donnell’s book The Unknowns is an extraordinary account of World War I and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is an incredibly beautiful tale– and very different from other books on history.

Get The Unknown’s here.

For the watch lover:

Jord’s wooden watches are beautiful time pieces that are totally unique. If you are at a loss for a gift (particularly for any of the men in your life) this is a really cool gift to give.

Check out Jord watches here.

For the historical fiction lover:

Tracy Rees’ new novel Darling Blue is a beautiful tale woven during the 1920’s. If you’d like to go back farther, her excellent book Amy Snow is set during Victorian England.

Get Tracy’s books here.

For the art lover:

Vincent DiGerlando creates beautiful artwork on driftwood, as well as other artwork as well. If you’d like to check out his work, you can go here.

For the newly weds:

Authenticity 50 sheets are not only beautifully handcrafted and get softer with each wash, but they are made in the USA–from seed to stitch! That’s right, from beginning to end they are made in the United States, so you can feel good supporting a company that wishes to bring back textile jobs back to the USA.

PS. Act fast, they are currently having their only sale of the year. 😉

Get your Authenticity 50 sheets here!

For the purse lover:

Bri Brant of Arden and James makes the highest quality leather bags and wallets. You can design your own bag on her website, but can also check out her specially commissioned bags for Pennsylvania landmarks Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Check out her beautiful items here!

For the broken hearted:

The holidays can be particularly hard for those experiencing miscarriage or infant loss. My Pretty Peggy creates peg dolls that help parents who are grieving. Her custom peg doll orders are full for the holiday season, but she has stated that she will always have time to make support gifts for those who have lost little ones.

If you know someone who may need extra love and support this holiday, contact My Pretty Peggy here, or direct message her on Instagram here.

Wishing you all a very Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

Sincerely,

J. Dogood 😉