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 😉

Darling Blue: An Interview with Tracy Rees

Like most great stories, Darling Blue has an ensemble of characters that delight with varying degrees of charm and intrigue. Tracy Rees’ newest novel spans a year in the the life of Ishbel “Blue” Camberwell; an aspiring writer and socialite. When her father makes a boisterous toast at her 21st birthday party, it sends Blue on a path of self discovery which includes… love letters! With gorgeous detail, the author paints a picture of the four seasons in Richmond, west London; and takes you on a journey that is well worth reading. Tracy was kind enough to grant your humble correspondent an interview, and I am happy to report that she is as lovely as her novels are.

This book incorporates the art of letter writing into the fabric of the story. Though it’s becoming a bit antiquated, why do you think it is still so special to receive a letter today?

It’s true that letters are far more rare these days. But there just IS something so romantic about a letter, isn’t there? Email, texting, Whatsapp and all the rest are great for quick, easy communication, for pragmatic stuff, like arranging where to meet. Or professional stuff, like corresponding with people in other countries, when you need an answer quickly. For anything practical and expedient you can’t beat the new methods.

But for a love letter, or a letter of friendship, or to say something meaningful like offer an invitation or send a thank you, I still think paper and pen is special. When I was a teenager there was no email! I had tons of stationery sets, with pens and stickers. Part of the letter writing process was selecting which paper and which decorations I was going to use. Then, every letter was a personal process, carefully thought out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad there are quicker alternatives now, but I still get a special thrill when I receive a handwritten envelope and pull out a letter or a card that mark a special occasion or a special message.

Your novel takes place in the wonderfully glamorous 1920’s. What is something surprising about that time period that you came across during your research?

There was so much about the 1920s that fascinated me. It was a period I didn’t know too much about before I started researching Blue and I connected with it from the first. There were some things I already knew, like the mixed attitudes to women remaining in the workplace after the first world war, and the divide between rich and poor, which were compelling to study in more depth. Then other things were quite new to me, like the wit and humour that seemed to fill the writing of the day – both journalistic and literary. They weren’t afraid to be clever, to show off their intelligence in glittering phrases and quips, so I tried to recapture something of that flavour in the book. I was also taken by the developments in home decoration! That was the decade of the electric toaster, the refrigerator, and art deco design! I hadn’t realised how much change of that sort there was then and how it was a really big thing to be “modern”. I had fun with that when I wrote about Midge’s redecoration project.

Your main character struggles with her longing to be a professional and find love. Do you think there is still a dichotomy today?

I think to a degree there is, yes. We’ve come a long way and the division of roles between men and women is far more creatively distributed now. But for all of us, male and female, the world is pressurised and high speed and doesn’t lend itself easily to romance (the lack of time to write letters being a case in point!). I know that when I work I’m very whole-hearted about it – but then I’m quite an all-or-nothing person anyway. I’m quite driven and I love what I do so I can get lost in writing and effectively leave the premises when I’m working on a book. This is all great, but as several of my friends have often wailed over the last few years, “But what about your personal life???” (“What’s that?” was my usual reply.) It’s great to find satisfaction through work but we’re all multi-faceted beings and have a whole spectrum of different needs. The world will push us harder and harder to work, so it falls to us to draw a line and stick to it. This is something I’ve been learning and now my work-life balance is far, far better. I’ve even found time for romance!

What has it been like to meet and interact with your readers?

It’s fantastic – one of the very best aspects of what I do. Writing is a solitary activity and yet it’s essentially all about communication. So to hear back from readers, for example through Twitter, that one of my books has comforted someone through a difficult week, or simply entertained and delighted them, makes it all worthwhile. Meeting readers in person takes this one step further. I’m lucky, I do quite a few author events – talks, book signings, workshops etc – and it’s wonderful to see in whose hands my stories end up. Everyone has a different favourite and each of my heroines have a different group of champions. Everyone relates to different parts or different characters and I love knowing that whatever I write, someone out there will find it meaningful. I also remember long years of longing to be a writer when I was younger but thinking it could never happen! I would have loved to have the opportunity to meet authors back then so I’m really happy to chat on with my readers when I meet them. Probably, they wonder when I’m going to shut up…

What’s next? Can you give us a hint or clue about your next book?

I can, yes! It’s set at the turn of the century in the South Yorkshire coalfield. Like my previous books it’s historical, character driven and all about personal dreams and challenges and relationships. It’s also something different from the others; I like to keep each novel distinct and new, rather than write to a template. It has some lovely mysterious elements in it like a forbidden house and a strange vision… I don’t have a title for it yet so watch this space…

If you could distill the overall message you’re trying to convey in Darling Blue into one or two sentences, what would it be?

Gosh, Darling Blue in one or two sentences! I suppose it’s about the importance of friendship, family and forgiveness, of kindness and compassion. And also about the importance of trying to live as well as you can, drawing comfort and joy where you can to fortify yourself for the harder times.

Is there anything else on your heart you’d like to mention? Something you’d like to talk about I didn’t ask you about?

Hmmm… I guess just that Blue is set in Richmond, west London, which is a place very dear to my heart. I lived there for many years, through many life changes and ups and downs, so like Blue, I drew comfort, inspiration and fortification from it as the steady and beautiful backdrop to my life events. That’s why I’ve structured the book in five parts, five seasons, over the space of a year. It gave me the scope to describe the place in all its different glories.

Another thing is that I recently held a really enjoyable launch party for the publication of the paperback in a lovely old yacht club not too far from where I live. It had a beautiful staircase and when it was time for me to make my little speech and do my reading, I of course had to stand on the stairs, just like Kenneth’s speech in chapter one. Fortunately though, no one tried to marry me off to anyone…

Darling Blue reveals that love and loss are quite evenly divvied up among the human race; rich and poor alike—but also that true friendship can span such divides. If you wish to be whisked away to the 1920’s—or are in the mood to be whisked away anywhere actually—this is the book for you, or for someone you know who loves historical fiction for the holidays.

Follow Tracy on Twitter here.

Also pick up her excellent books here!

Dry Farm Wines: An Interview with Anthony Benedettini

Dry Farms Wines is a wine company like none other. Boasting that it is hangover free, it’s purposeful curation of sugar free wine with an alcohol content of no more that 12.5% has made them the toast of the health community. Considering themselves a health company first, their wine has charmed the likes of Mark Sisson, JJ Virgin, Dave Asprey and many more. Not only do they make their own wine in Napa Valley, but they curate relationships with vineyards all over the world, keeping mom and pop wineries abroad thriving while bringing a variety of wines to your doorstep. I was delighted to speak with Anthony Benedettini about this special company, who is himself as ebullient and effervescent as a bottle of sparkling wine!

What do you think is timeless about the atmosphere of sharing a glass of wine around the table with friends and family? Why is it still so special after thousands of years?

I think it’s so special because it brings people together. It’s really an opportunity to not just consume wine, it’s an opportunity for others to come together and share stories, and it’s always been a centerpiece of that. Food is always there, but I think wine is the ultimate facilitator of that and it’s an opportunity to explore and to really get to try new things. With our wines, we’re trying to have people have wines from all over the world, so you’re getting a new experience in every glass and bond with others over that experience.

I love that you’re celebrating life and also celebrating health in the same breaththat’s not a message that’s overly out there.

We’re a health company before anything, so that is our main mission. The company started because Todd White [the founder] wanted to find a wine that fit with his lifestyle that was sugar free, that he could enjoy—he loves wine and he didn’t want to give it up.

Would you mind describing how your wine is different, as if to someone who doesn’t really know about wine?

With our wines, they’re natural wines, so that means low intervention—which basically means the grower is letting Mother Nature do the work. All of our wines are dry farmed, which means there’s no irrigation, so the roots are going to have to dive deeper into the soil to find their nutrition, as opposed to being babied and getting everything at the surface. So, it really makes a vine and a vineyard that is strong and resilient which translates to the grapes that are grown and the flavor profiles that are translated through the wine. With that; the wine is a living product; so it is chock full of healthy bacteria that comes from the soil based on the region, and we prioritize biodynamic and organic practices—biodynamic especially—which is just a way of farming that gives back to the soil. So when you create that healthy foundation—it’s rich, it’s living—the ecosystem around it is supportive and synergistic and adding more into that soil, then the grapes are just—you’re basically consuming a probiotic—they’re alive. They have healthy bacteria and that’s what’s allowing the alcohol to be processed better by your body and promoting the longevity benefits of wine. And so with this, the farmers are going to allow the grapes to fully ferment—so all that native yeast in the bacteria are going to eat up all the sugar in the grapes. That’s the number one question we get. ‘How can wine be sugar free?’ It’s because you’re allowing it to fully ferment, so it is leaving a product at the end of the day with absolutely no sugar. And since we’re not adding anything to it, then the sulfite levels are going to be very low, which are causing the negative reactions in most commercially made wines. It’s a very awesome process. I mean, it’s nothing new—they’ve been doing this for hundreds of years overseas—it’s just we as Americans tend to take a process and put our own spin on I,t and it doesn’t turn out the best always.

So it’s getting back to basics and what makes them so different is you can find an organic wine at the store, but you don’t really know what’s in it, so we deliver full transparency—with everything. We lab test every batch to make sure they meet our health criteria, which is: sugar free, low in sulfites, and then low in alcohol. And ‘low in alcohol’ just means nothing above 12.5%, so we still recognize that alcohol is a toxin to the body, but when done in moderation it can be processed by the liver very efficiently with no negative health consequences. In comparison, the alcohol in a lot of American wines are usually about 14–15%, and none of ours go above 12.5. It’s not a massive increase but still you’ll notice the difference when drinking that amount.

You’re in Napa, but you also cultivate relationships with other wineries worldwide that share your philosophy. Can you tell me how you find and engage these other kindred wine spirits of yours?

Of course! So, we go across seas and cultivate these relationships ourselves. For instance, a lot of us recently went to Austria and Italy, creating new relationships with our growers. We are going over there and actually vetting their farming practices and eating dinner with their families—and having this amazing relationship. We’re going out there and finding people that do it best based on recommendations from them and from people that we’ve gotten recommended to—trying their wines here—and then just actually going out overseas and getting involved in their process and their experience.

Wow. That’s so special. What I’ve thought too is— because of all the bigger companies—it must be such a blessing to these small, family owned wineries for you guys to engage with them.

Oh my gosh, yes! It’s amazing because a lot of these farmers are just—they’re so small. So, it’s a big support thing for us. We keep a lot of them in business and we want to see them succeed because they have such an authentic mission. But with any business, it’s so hard the marketing side of things, and they’re just a small family farm trying to get the word out about their wines. They are just so happy and thrilled that we’re bringing their wine to our audience. We don’t take their wine and slap our logo across the front of the bottle. We’re protecting their artistic style and the expression of the grower. So, it’s really more so spreading the message on a daily basis that is creating the most impact for them and the communities that are surrounded by them.

Your wine’s claim to fame is that it is hangover free. Could you elaborate on that?

Sure. Hangovers are caused typically by a couple of things. One—the sulfites. Sulfites are a natural allergen to the body, they’re also a main preserving agent. They’re a natural part of the fermentation process, so it’s nearly impossible to have a sulfite free wine. There are some out there, but unless you’re going for that for marketing purposes, it’s a natural part of the process. So, anything above ten parts per million is going to say ‘contains sulfites’ on the label. With that, none of ours can go above seventy five parts per million, with most of our wines clocking in around ten to thirty—in that range. But with traditional wines, you’re typically getting a hundred and fifty to three hundred. So, that’s a big jump when you have ten to twenty the amount of sulfites, and that’s what’s really causing the reaction of the sinus pressure, the flushing and the headaches. You shouldn’t get hungover after one glass, which is the experience that a lot of people tell us they have had in the past. They say, I drink a glass of wine—whether it’s a Napa Cab or this organic wine from Trader Joe’s or whatever it is—and they’re getting a hangover instantly or the next day is pretty rough; and that really shouldn’t happen with wine that’s naturally made. Also, a lot of these wines—since the alcohol industry makes it so they don’t have to put anything on the label—you just don’t know if there’s a high amount of additional sugar—so you’re getting the sugar in there as well. It’s not as big a factor in my opinion as the sulfites, but it is still something to be wary of. And then again—the alcohol—keeping the alcohol in moderate dose, making sure you’re dosing appropriately. It makes a difference now after drinking low alcohol wines. Most of the wines you find at bars are 14-15%, and I’m used to drinking 12.5 and it instantly feels like this massive ethanol bomb. It’s a noticeable difference, and that will catch up with you if alcohol does impact you. And when you have all of these other factors, you’re just prepping your body for a terrible night’s sleep, and you’re hung over the next morning.

Okay, so it seems to me that you have basically charmed everybody in the health community. They fully support and endorse you. They are people who wish to eat and feel well, but also want to celebrate and enjoy their lives. Could you talk about how your relationship with the health community has grown over the years?

With the health community, we have reached out to people who have the most impact in helping others. We know we can’t help every single person on the planet by ourselves, so we work with those who love and promote us. Just having the connections to doctors, practitioners, big health influencers, big health brands—they’re the ones that can get our message out to the most people—and that’s one way we’ve been so blessed in getting our message out. We want to continue to partner with those in the health community and support them at all costs—that’s why you’ll find us at basically every health event or conference. Right now, we support anything in the ketogenic community because our wines are typically keto-friendly. Todd [White] founded this company because the ketogenic diet changed his life, so we just want to make sure that we’re continually supporting the community that helps us grow so much at the end of the day.

What would you say to someone who is on the fence about deciding whether or not to try Dry Farm Wines?

I would say that there is absolutely no risk in trying us out, because we’ve always got your back and you know you can trust us to curate a selection of six different wines from around the world. We lab test everything, we make sure the health aspect is taken care of by providing full transparency for you, so you know what you’re getting in every bottle. Our promise to you is that you’re always going to be happy doing business with us. So, if there’s ever a bottle in your shipment that you don’t like, you just let us know and we will send you a replacement of something you love on the house. You’ll never have to deal with returns or sending anything back to us; we want to make it as easy as possible on everyone we work with and give them the best experience. So if there’s ever a wine that you love, we want to tailor it to you—we want to give you the wines that you actually enjoy drinking. Like, for instance, I didn’t know that Austrian wine was really different before I came here, and now it’s my absolute favorite. I would go home and crack open a bottle of Austrian wine before any other wine at the end of the day. I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t explore and have the opportunity to try all these wines from around the world. It’s getting that world travel in every box; you get to explore wines that you’ve never heard of. Some of our most requested is ‘Can I get a Cabernet?’ or ‘Can I get a Chardonnay?’ but those are really just the only grapes that people know in the States. We want to have people really get a feel for some of the native grapes of other countries that are unknown.

What are you as a company most proud of?

We are most proud of our attention to achieving optimal health, so—protecting our peace. We do believe that life is a balance of peace and business, and we want to make sure that we protect our mornings and express gratitude everyday, that we love unconditionally, and that we spend time with family and friends—because that’s really what makes life so valuable and so important. For us, I think that’s the most important part, and really making sure that that’s never sacrificed. And then, our ability to spread a better way to drink. Wine doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure, it can be a guiltless indulgence. And I really love that. There should be no stress around food or wine, and we want to reframe it as a healthy product because that’s what it is. It’s keeping stress down, it’s giving you longevity benefits and it’s absolutely increasing the quality of life. We want people to know that there is a better way out there—a cleaner option that will still keep you healthy.

What would you like to see happen to the wine industry in the future?

I would love to see more biodynamic farming in the States. The wine industry varies from country to country, so I can’t really speak much about the micro economy of somewhere foreign, but I can tell you in the States that the wine industry is controlled by a lot of conglomerates, and it’s very corporate—and a very, very small percentage of California grapes are farmed organically. The vineyards are all so close together, that if you’re farming organically and you’re putting the work into these practices that are so amazing, that it your neighbor is spraying his crops and using irrigation, then that runs the very high risk of contamination. That’s one of the reasons we source internationally as well, because a lot of the grapes here are contaminated with pesticides because of the close proximity— we’re growing kind of right on top of each other, especially in Napa. And that’s just not the way it should be. It’s unfair. So I would really want to see there be more regulations on the use of pesticides. I would love to see changes in the industry that would protect the people that are doing it best. Or if there were certain sanctuary areas where farmers would be able to have more say on who was surrounding them—basically making cooperatives of natural wine farmers. And really—more transparency. I’d love more transparency in the industry of lab testing—seeing the sugar content of the wine, seeing if there’s any pesticides, seeing if there’s anything else we can let the consumer know about. Letting them know if they’re putting something in their body that could be toxic—and in most cases here, it is.

Is there something particularly that’s on your heart that you’d like to talk about? Anything you’d like to talk about I didn’t mention?

Yeah, I would say, be grateful for everyday and all the opportunities that we get to have everyday. Any reframing of a situation can really transform how you approach something. So, instead of saying, ‘I have to do this,’ say ‘I get to do this.’ Or, instead of identifying problems, just go for solutions. Don’t take life too seriously…and smile more. That would be my advice.

It’s funny to think that people who would never crack open a health book could be inspired to learn more about wellness through the unlikely gateway of a wine company. “Even if you don’t consume the wines at the end of the day,” Anthony says, “We want you to walk away with more education on how things are done, so the next time you come across something at the store, you are more informed to make a better decision. We just want people to make better steps towards their health.”

During our interview, Anthony stated, “My motto is, ‘Everyday is Saturday.’ And that’s how everyday should be treated!” This seems to encapsulate the overall feeling of Dry Farm Wines itself. Everyday should be a celebration, and they give people the joy and relaxation of a Saturday afternoon in every glass.

The days where being healthy means having to live like a Spartan have met their match. After personally trying Dry Farm Wines, I found I felt great the next day, after happily cheersing and enjoying myself the night before.

It was a hardship doing the research on this one, but somebody had to do it. 😉

You can order your own Dry Farm Wines at www.dryfarmwines.com

You can also keep up with them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Anthony Benedettini the Great is back far left, with the debonair smile and mustache.

Driftwood Journey: An Interview with Vincent DiGerlando

Every individual artist has a special and unique voice, leaving their own distinct stamp on the creations that they bring into this world. Vincent DiGerlando is such an artist. His career has been a winding path that has brought him from working with the likes of the band Kiss, to creating commemorative coins in honor of George Washington, to the beautiful driftwood signs he is locally famous for at the Jersey Shore. In speaking with and getting to know him, every thing he’s ever done has come from that special place reserved in the heart of an artist, that well of creativity from which their work springs forth until—overflowing—it is bestowed upon the rest of us. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to Vincent DiGerlando.

1. I would love to know where you grew up and how you came to become a professional artist.

I grew up in Newark, NJ, the second child with an older brother and younger sister; children from a psychic mother and Italian immigrant father. My mother was creative but most of my early inspiration to become an artist came from an uncle who amazed me by being able to draw a likeness of my grandmother, as well as sculpt a bust of me as a young boy. I was later encouraged by my art teacher in grammar school; and was accepted into Arts High School in Newark during my teen years. It was then and there that I told my career counselor that I was interested in becoming a commercial artist.

At Arts High, my art teacher helped me prepare the portfolio I needed for an interview to apply to Pratt Institute for my BFA in visual communication, which was the beginning of pursuing my ambition to become a professional in the art field. Before serving some time in the military, I was hired as an assistant art director for a small lighting firm in New Jersey and I began my career in advertising design.

My next job was with a graphic design studio as an assistant art director for the Boy’s Life, Scouting, and Forward magazines, as well as designing promotional brochures for the Medallic Art Company that cast the medallion honoring the first landing on the moon. Years later, I was hired as an art director by an advertising agency and detail that and other job experiences in one of your later questions.

Although advertising and graphic design were my initial career objectives, I chose the art of photography for a need to express my more personal creativity, resulting in having gallery showings as well as the publishing of three books titled Mind Visions, Conceptual Reality and Collective Portraiture. Art Is My Life is the title of my last book which is all encompassing of my personal artwork as well as my professional designs.

2. You’re renowned in the area for your beautiful driftwood signs. When did you first get the idea? Why do you feel they are special?

Years after leaving the corporate world and working as a freelance designer, I moved down to the Jersey Shore to live a more simple artist’s life. It was then that I got the idea of creating what I call “word paintings.” I painted words of inspiration on driftwood as a way of using words not only for their meaning but also as works of art. Not to be considered a sign to direct or inform, but a painting with a spiritual energy, to create a feeling, an emotion—artwork that one could live with for inspiration, or to give moral support or to generate a mood. The wood surfaces cause the painted words to take an irregular form and the shape of the wood also adds to the uniqueness of each piece. I use cans of “mistake” paint, which is sort of a way of recycling.

I began selling the paintings at craft shows and in downtown NYC. People looked for my word paintings at shows, and some had stories of how the word paintings gave them mental calmness and moral support during times of stress or duress in their lives. Although the sales added income to my simple lifestyle, to me the experiences described were more rewarding and had more depth than the money earned.

It’s all about the energy. The driftwood experienced a journey and contains all the energies from that voyage. I believe infused within are the energies of the 4 elements: earth, water, fire and air. The wood once part of a tree (earth) and then washed out to sea (water) soon finding it’s way to the sands of the Jersey Shore where dried by the heat of the sun (fire) and the warm winds (air). Add the power of the word painted on it and you might feel the vibrations. Maybe you heard of Dr. Emoto’s experiment where he tested the consciousness of water when he exposed water to many things including words to find how various influences created beautiful or chaotic water crystallization.

I believe the same happens to the driftwood. Although it is made up of a more dense matter compared to water, I believe the driftwood as well as the person living with the word art, are positively affected, guided or influenced by whatever word is painted on it. Some words are even brushed with the waters from the sacred Ganges River of India which brings yet another dimension into play.

3. I’d love to know more about your involvement with the band Kiss, as well the other work you’ve done in marketing and branding.

During my time when hired by Howard Marks Advertising, I got to work on projects for Diana Ross, Paul McCartney’s Wings as well as the band Kiss. Having to do with promoting Kiss, I designed the fan club’s well known Kiss Army logo as well as three albums and some of their tour books. At the time working with Kiss was more like solving design problems never thinking that after 40 years plus of their popularity that my work would become collectables. Speaking of collectables, while at the agency I enjoyed designing silver ingots for client The Silvermint. They included American Patriots, Great Fortunes, a George Washington series, Chinese Zodiacs and Great Indian Chiefs.

After leaving the agency I worked as a freelance designer for Random House publishers on book promotions for Jim Morrison and The Doors, Ken Burn’s Civil War series as well as other projects. It was all very exciting and challenging that destiny put me in these places with the opportunity to create.

4. Tell me about your other passion—yoga—and how you help people who are struggling with multiple sclerosis.

I was introduced to yoga at the age of twenty eight by a popular book at the time titled Be Here Now. It contained yoga poses, recipes for healthy meals as well as a positive philosophy for living. In 1998, I was reintroduced to the discipline, practiced more regularly, and began leading classes. I inherited the MS yoga group from the previous teacher and have been doing it for about 10 years. Those who choose to come seem to enjoy the benefits and I feel a sense of pleasure in that I am making somewhat of a difference in their health and their lives.

5. If you had one piece of advice for aspiring artists, what would it be?

I would advise him or her to be aware of and open to your inner Self, your surroundings, as well as be mindful of how your creative process takes place, because I believe artists are instruments or conduits through which the Spirit of creative energies flow. Another important factor is to allow the Self to be relaxed and playful during the time void of inspiration, and to honor that nothingness which is the source from which ideas give birth. And last but not least, let the mind wander in the field of imagination.

6. Can you tell me why you think art is such an important component to one’s own individual life as well as to society as a whole?

Art is a means of expression. A procedure for one to communicate feelings about many subjects, from personal experiences to opinions about life in general. First comes the inspiration followed by the creative energy that motivates the artist to work the project as the innate life force flows through. I sometimes look at a finished piece wondering about the Spirit that guided me to the end result, feeling like it was a surreal religious experience.

Art is way of bringing to society a lightness of being, and a point of view that might open another’s mind set to a variety of new ways of seeing. It can also be a form of therapy for the artist as well as the viewer to bring about an understanding of the Self.

7. Anything new and exciting coming up that your fans can look forward to?

The title of my last book best describes that “Art Is My Life” so I see no separation between myself, my ability and the craft. I am aware of when my mind is exploring and when it is in a passive state. I look around and seek inspiration in people and my surroundings; finding emotional states to be the most inspiring. Romantic situations or the end of relationships along with the traumas as well as the high points all become nourishment for the creative mind.

The creativity usually doesn’t begin until I make a sandwich, organize my brushes or talk on the phone, examples of ways of distraction until the senses decide it is time to embark on what you describe as being the next “new and exciting.” Whatever it might be, it will incorporate fun, pleasure, and sometimes a surreal mystery in the end results.

In closing this interview, I want to express my gratitude to whatever vital force or source, be it in the form of Qi, an innate Life Force, God or Higher Self that placed me in such a life that allows my creative energies to flow through me into my photographic art, my paintings and designs, and that allows my artistic imagination to take flight, for this

I am grateful.

While summer is in full swing, it’s a perfect time to pick up your own special sign from Mr. DiGerlando.

You can purchase Mr. DiGerlando’s lovely artwork at his etsy shop here.

The Unknowns: An Interview with Patrick K. O’Donnell

Patrick K. O’Donnell has loved history his whole life. When other kids were reading dinosaur books, he was at the library checking out massive volumes on the American involvement in World War One. He had a library of 500 or 600 books by the time he was eight or nine—almost all of them military history, along with the Hardy Boys, of course.

He could also be found dragging his family to yet another historic battle site in and around the Cleveland area where he grew up. “We would go to museums on weekends. I’ll never forget these priceless memories, such as visiting an old mansion turned into a museum that displayed a Doughboy’s WWI helmet and gas mask. I was fascinated by this stuff and the places we visited. My love for history just grew and grew. It’s not something that just came about recently is what I’m trying to get at!” he says laughing. “This is a lifelong passion. I’ve been to many of the battlefields in North America. My father shared and fueled my passion for history, but sometimes, I’d go too far, and Dad would say, ‘You’ve seen one battlefield, you’ve seen ‘em all. They’re all the same.’ And I would respond, ‘No they’re not! We’ve got to go to one more, Dad!’”

Mr. O’Donnell has written many books on American history, ranging from the Revolutionary War to serving with (and writing about) our current warriors overseas in the Middle East. His newest book, The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier and WWI’s Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home, is a grand tour of the Great War, told from many different vantage points by many different men. One commonality, though, is that they all served with honor and distinction—taking part in some of the most daring and brutal moments of the war.

The Body Bearers chosen by General Pershing.

In 2013, as a volunteer guide, he accompanied the Marines of the Wounded Warrior Regiment to the hallowed ground of Belleau Wood—since renamed Bois de la Brigade de Marine for the heroics demonstrated there by the Marine Corps during WWI. As Patrick walked the battle-scarred earth, a fellow guide mentioned the exploits of one Ernest A. Janson, whose bravery earned him the first Medal of Honor given during the Great War. He also mentioned Janson was one of the men personally chosen by General Pershing to carry the remains of the Unknown Soldier home. Intrigued, Mr. O’Donnell wondered who the other Body Bearers were, and if they had unique stories as well.

Body Bearer Earnest A. Janson.

When asked about what he’d like people to know about his latest book, he responded,The Unknowns is multiple stories wrapped into one story. It’s the story of the Unknown Soldier. It’s the story of the ceremony around it. It’s really the story of Pershing’s Body Bearers; these are eight men that were selected by General Pershing to bring back the remains. It’s also the story of Edward Younger, who selects the Unknown Soldier. But this story tells the larger narrative of World War One through the American experience and the American Expeditionary Forces. Each one of these men represents a service branchthe Army, the Marine Corps and the Navy, and then combat specializations within that—the cavalry, the field artillery, the heavy guns, the coast artillery, and others. It provides a different viewpoint that most people aren’t familiar with. The Unknowns is a very personal book—it’s character driven. It’s also the story of the 49th Company—one of its most decorated units in the Marine Corps—that saw some of the toughest combat. It goes through the entire war with them; it’s a ‘Band of Brothers’ on the 49th.”

General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing.

When asked about his writing process, he says “I think all the stories that I’ve written have found me in one way or another serendipitously. Ideas. And ideas are incredibly valuable. Fortunately, all eleven books sort of found me in one way or another, and taking that raw idea and creating a story is really an art, not a science. My process is I try not to ever look at what I do as work. I like what I do—I love what I do. I just like to journey along and explore things and find things; I don’t really like to look at it as a process or anything like that. Books are a journey and fun. I don’t think I’ve really worked for twenty years—that’s kind of the way I look at it, even though I spend an enormous amount of time doing what I do. I do all my own research and I have interviewed thousands of veterans from WWI to Iraq. Had a hand in designing the jackets, and all the titles and subtitles. I’m involved at all levels even though I have very established publishers and an exceptional editor. My editor—he’s awesome, he’s been doing this for over thirty years and I treasure the partnership.”

When I asked him to tell me about how another story serendipitously found him, he told me the jaw-dropping tale of Give Me Tomorrow his book on the Korean War. “I had just gotten out of combat with the Marines in Fallujah, and I had been involved in housetohouse fighting and everything else for well over a month. Then I went back to Iraq. When I came home to the United States, I came home with the men. It was a very powerful experience to be with the people that I had fought with. Many of the men were carrying two weapons: their own and also the weapon of a Marine who had died in combat. I sat next to one of those Marines. He was carrying the weapon of a man that I had carried out of a firefight. And sitting next to him, that was pretty powerful. It was the second time I had come home; but I told my parents not to come, and I came home alone from the war.”

Patrick K. O’Donnell

So, I came out and walked across the bridge with everybody, and they were there with their families and it was pretty weird. It was an eerie experience coming home to that because everybody had somebody—I didn’t. I was alone. And these older men came up to me and they asked me who I was. I told them I was a combat historian with Lima Company 3/1. And they said ‘Well, we were George Company 3/1, during the Korean War. You carried our battle guidon.‘Oh, wow,’ I responded. Next, they said to me, in an act of random kindness, ‘Do you want a ride?’ And I responded, ‘Thank you, I really could use a ride. I’m not completely sure how I’m going to get to the train station.’’

And the next thing I know, they asked me if I would like to go to lunch with them. And I said, ‘Absolutely. So we went back in time. I told them about Fallujah,and they told me about Korea. And they told me an amazing story of the First Sergeant, Rocco Zullo, who was manning a .50 caliber machine gun and helped lead the breakthrough into the Chosin Reservoir. And as George Company broke through to the Marine outpost at Hagaru Ri, he was shot in the stomach. There was no sign of life, and Zullo was left for dead. George Company thought he was killed, and he was put on a pile of about eight or nine dead Marines. Nobody in George Company had seen him after that point. George fought up East Hill. They held the hill, and to make a long story short, their actions helped save the 1st Marine Division and perhaps the war. Later, they asked me to come to their reunion, and I did that a year later. And I found out that at their very first reunion in the 1980s; the first sergeant that was killed, that they had not seen or heard from—it was amazing—somebody from another unit had found him on the pile after he had been sitting there for about nine hours. A Marine heard him cough, and they rushed him into a field hospital and saved his life—but nobody in the unit knew that. And when they had their first reunion he showed up—and didn’t tell anybody who he was. He walked around the room and people were saying ‘Rocco Zullo died in November 1950,’—and he calmly responded, ‘No, he didn’t. I’m Rocco Zullo.’ And that begins my book—when a ghost returns to the unit. And book is called Give me Tomorrow. That’s just how one of the books has found me.”

He continued, “Basically I had a situation where many people told me that that book would never happen or succeed because it was on the Korean War. ‘The book is on a forgotten war, a story that’s just moribund—the Korean War doesn’t sell books.’ But I believed in the story. I think it’s a movie—I still believe that—and it ended up being one of my bestselling books.”

The Great War saw the advent of the tank on the battlefield.

When I did asked him if it was therapeutic to exchange stories with the Korean veterans so soon after coming back from Iraq, he said, “Yes and no. I think that that’s something that’s kind of personal, and everyone has their own way of working though it. I guess it was sort of the realization that many, many generations of combatants had gone through similar experiences, and that I wasn’t alone in that. It’s easy to dwell on, but for me I found a lot of positive things that came out of Fallujah that were important for me. For instance, I would say my faith was reestablished in Fallujah. Before Fallujah, I was practically agnostic—and then when I was there, I was not afraid. I just felt a guiding spirit or something that just protected me—a sense of calm when the entire battle was raging around me and people were dying and things were blowing up. I felt a calm and heightened awareness that I can’t explain—somewhat of an inner peace. I reaffirmed my faith through that experience, when I look at the positives from the battle.”

Patrick fought shoulder to shoulder with the Marines in Fallujah and later penned a book about eight best friends in First Platoon (only three of the eight survived Iraq) titled: We Were One. The book was a selection of the USMC Commandant’s Professional Reading List (required reading for enlisted marines.) In a way, after reading and writing about war his whole life; he had finally come full circle—joining the brotherhood of men who know what it is to be at war—and on a battlefield.

“I was very impressed with the men I was with in combat, and the ways that they conducted themselves. It was really an extraordinary event for me, just to see how they performed under these extreme circumstances; just like the generations of the past—the greatest generations—they were their own greatest generation.”

When I ask him to describe the similarities that exist between the two Marine units—one current day and the other set in the amber of the past in WWI, he says that it was their élan, willingness to do their duty and return back to the field—even after being wounded—to be side by side with their brothers in arms.

While he couldn’t pick a favorite Doughboy in The Unknowns, Patrick has a particular affinity for John Thomason. “He was with the 49th Company—the executive officer—and he was a writer. Some of the book is drawn upon his recollections of the scenes. His combat descriptions are incredible and he’s a very talented artist. I was drawn to him. He was very inspiring and was decorated for his bravery. There are some really compelling scenes in there. One for instance—he describes how this young lieutenant comes into battle and he almost has this girlish grin as he’s jaunting into battle twirling a pair of binoculars. Minutes later a shell hits and all that is remaining is this arm that’s stretched in the air that’s stiff holding the binoculars. The scenes that Thomason paints are very vivid and gripping.”

Captain John Thomason

A charity that Mr. O’Donnell supports and is involved in is the American Battlefield Trust (previously known as The Civil War Trust.) They provide historical preservation to hallowed battlefields in the United States. “That’s something I really support because it’s tangible. They have preserved nearly fifty thousand acres of battlefield in the United States. It’s a really great cause. And that’s a constant challenge because we are in danger of losing history from a variety of forces. History is America’s soul. History can heal. I am passionate about preserving it.”

He also says there is incredible history to be found in and around Brooklyn and Manhattan for anyone who wishes to explore. “I would suggest that people visit the battlefield of Brooklyn—that is exactly what I mean by history in plain sight. It’s a battle that is arguably more important than the Battle of Gettysburg because it was a situation where the entire Revolution could have been lost. And it’s tragic. There’s no national battlefield in Brooklyn. There’s very little of the battlefield marked, but in Brooklyn there are areas that you can go back in time. And then just looking around, interestingly enough, at the site of the base of Brooklyn Bridge, right there is where Washington crossed back over into Manhattan, in arguably one of the greatest military evacuations in history, which took place right under the eyes of the British when a fog sets in and screens the army from the British. Then there’s Fraunces Tavern, where Washington said goodbye to his officers. It’s a really great place to visit. It’s still a working tavern and then there’s a museum on the second floor.”

German U-Boat sinking a merchant ship in the Atlantic.

Patrick K. O’Donnell’s newest work is pure time travel for anyone who wishes to open the book, and I for one am very much looking forward to reading the story that serendipitously finds him next. When I ask him if there was one thing he would want to communicate to the American people about WWI, he said this: “Well, I would say that this is the hundredth anniversary, and very few people seem to notice or care. And I think that that’s really a shame. It’s an incredible injustice to that generation that’s really it’s own greatest generation. It’s a forgotten generation that did remarkable things, that changed the world, and they were just regular, average Americans that had to mobilize for war—in this case, total war. They were given poor equipment. The tactics that they received were not good initially, but they improvised and innovated and defeated one of the greatest armies: the Imperial German Army. It’s an extraordinary story of human endurance, innovation, American exceptionalism—it’s all there. The book captures America’s involvement in WWIsomething most Americans don’t have a clue about. It’s history in plain sight, and the stories are incredibly compelling and interesting. It’s not just the trenches if you will; it’s a lot of other experiences. The Unknowns is story and character-driven. It’s a hidden war within a war. It’s all about stories.”

In gray, drizzly weather, the Body Bearers carried the Unknown Soldier from the ship Olympia to the awaiting horse-drawn carriage caisson that transported the body to the U.S. Capitol.

The Unknowns is about all of these things and yet so much more—something greater. It’s about the responsibility not to forget; to remember the past so we can carry its hardearned lessons with us into the present day. The books reminds us that war was—and continues to be—truly hell, and not for the faint of heart. But most importantly, it is about the men who take up arms to protect and defend us, and how they are worthy of being known—even those that can’t be.

America’s most sacred monument is guarded twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, regardless of whether conditions.

Check out Mr. O’Donnell’s other books at http://patrickkodonnell.com

You can also follow him on Twitter: @combathistorian

Northern Roots Jewelry: An Interview with Amy Stephens

Have you ever thought about the creators behind the jewelry that we wear? How they work with the precious metals and stones that hang around our necks, ears and on our fingers? I must admit, it wasn’t something I overly thought about until coming across Amy Stephens and her beautiful items at Northern Roots Jewelry. As you’ll come to see, it is an art form that is similar, and yet so very different to other creative disciplines. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Amy Stephens; who is as lovely as her jewelry is!

I would love to know how you got into jewelry making. What was your journey to becoming Northern Roots Jewelry? How did it get its name?

Nine years ago, we were living in Texas and I was teaching 4th grade at a sweet little small town elementary school when I got pregnant with our daughter. I had no idea how hard it would be to leave her when my maternity leave was over. I struggled, hard; and wanted nothing more than to be home with her. I told my husband that I was going to wear black everyday because I was in mourning. Dramatic, I know, but I did it. Poor guy. I made it four months before we took a huge leap of faith and I resigned. We were very worried about our finances and we just had to have faith that God would take care of us, and he sure did. I was always interested in all things art related, and I decided to start making jewelry. I began with these tiny, intricate, hand molded clay flower studs, and it wasn’t two months before I was picked up by my very first store. Suddenly this “fun craft” seemed like it could actually turn into a career. Over the next few years, I baby stepped my way into working with natural stones, and after our move to Pennsylvania I started metalsmithing, which was something that I had always wanted to do. My inspiration has always come from nature, whether it is the awe-inspiring stones that I am using, or a leaf, branch, plant or flower incorporated into the design. We now live in the middle of the woods, and I am completely surrounded by the natural elements that inspire my pieces.

The name Northern Roots came about in the middle of the night, deliriously feeding a newborn baby and desperately trying to come up with that perfect name at 3am. A little background on me, I grew up in a very small town in Pennsylvania and then moved to Texas and graduated from Texas A&M University. I met an amazing man who was my neighbor in college, we got married, and ended up staying in Texas for 11 years. I loved Texas, the people, the warmth, but I missed home always…my family, and childhood friends, the changing of seasons… even snow. Anyway, all of that to say that my roots were still here in PA, the “north”, and it fit in perfectly with my nature inspired aesthetic, and so came about the name “Northern Roots”.

How is making jewelry different to other creative disciplines?

All creative disciplines have their own challenges. Mine seem to come about because my medium is always changing. Different stones, different shapes, different settings and metals all require me to constantly evolve and learn, and that is one of the things that I love most about what I do. I rarely make multiples of the exact same piece. I thrive on making one of a kind pieces; there is something so rewarding about creating something that can’t be replicated exactly.

What are the differences between working with silver and gold? What about the different stones?

To be honest, silver and I are much better friends on my metalsmithing table. I learned on silver, and it just seems to be so much more cooperative. Gold and silver are just two totally different animals, mainly in the temperatures required to heat them in order to melt the solder and the cues to know when they’ve come to that perfect temperature. Overheating the metals is disastrous, I have melted several pieces in trying new methods.

As for the stones, they are also incredibly different. Some are strong and cooperative, others are extremely fragile and not preferable for certain settings because of that. I remember the very first Australian Opal that I snapped in half when I was tightening the prong setting on it. It was one of my priciest stone purchases at the time, and the stone was secure in the setting, but I just had to go around ONE more time and be sure, and I broke that little beauty right in half. I could have cried. One thing that I have learned is that I absolutely have to be able to roll with the punches; some designs just don’t work out for certain stones (and I’m still learning how to accept and move on when that happens, instead of wasting an entire day trying to make it work.)

What are some of your favorite custom orders you’ve done? Any cool stories that you can share with the readers?

I absolutely love getting meaningful custom orders and have had the honor of working with customers all over the world. I recently had a customer give me a pair of emerald earrings that her grandparents had gifted her years ago and she had been holding on to them. I extracted the stones and set them as two rings, one for the customer and one for her twin sister for their birthday. I felt so honored to take this special gift and turn it into something that the two of them will wear and cherish for many years to come.

I also recently had a customer who traveled to Ireland and collected gorgeous, vibrant green sea glass. She had me set the glass into pendants and create matching necklaces for her sister and her to wear in her sisters wedding. I really love being able to create such personalized, one of a kind items and am so humbled that my customers come to me and trust me to help make these incredible gifts.

I have made several pieces to remember a loved one who has passed or a difficult time someone is going through, but also celebration pieces such as engagement rings. To say that I feel blessed to make these special pieces is an understatement. I don’t have the right words to express the gratitude that I have for these customers who have trusted me to create a meaningful piece that has such emotion attached to it. I am reminded daily of why God has led me to this profession, and feel so blessed to have a job that I look forward to doing each day.

I know you’re a mom—is making artwork part of your routine helpful in balancing the busyness of raising young kids?

You struck a cord with that word : balance. It’s something that I am constantly working to achieve. I am so thankful for a profession that combines enjoyable “me time” with productivity, but I am still trying to set boundaries for myself for when to stop working (whether it is answering emails or a direct message or packing up an order.) My 4 year old is home with me most days, so I do struggle with finding the balance between being a small business owner and being a mama…one of the two is very cute and impossible to resist and almost always takes precedence. Both of my little ones will be in school full time (for the first time ever) this coming fall, and while it breaks my heart that my last baby is starting Kindergarten, I will have full work days which I have never had before. Stay tuned…in my head I am envisioning creating so many things!

There seems to be this wonderfully supportive community of artisans on Instagram—what has it been like to connect with so many different artists? What are a few of your favorites?

Oh my gosh, Amen to this statement. Yes, there are such wonderful artisans that inspire and encourage me constantly, and are all so different. Some of my favorites are artisans that I have met through Instagram, others I have met at markets, or known for years, and one in particular I am lucky enough to have been best friends with since 4th grade. There is this whole world of creatives who band together and just provide such encouragement to each other; it’s incredible.

A few of my favorites, in no particular order include Erin of @myprettypeggy , she creates these wonderfully intricate little painted peg dolls, specializing in creating invaluable pieces for families who have had a miscarriage, for them to hold on to as a reminder of this perfect little life. Meghann of @meghannelyse designs incredibly personalized jewelry, whether it be for a happy time, or one of the hardest, she puts her heart and soul into these meaningful pieces and they are beautiful! Alexis of @farmstandsoaps makes amazing, handcrafted, natural soaps in a variety of delicious scents. My daughter has extremely sensitive skin, and Alexis’s products don’t irritate her at all and smell amaaaaazing! Amy of @beachedandrescued makes the BEST face skincare program ever. I literally want to eat her facewash (honey and avocado…so good!). I have never been one to take great care of my skin, but her products make it easy and desirable to do so. And last, but DEFINITELY not least, is the most incredible photographer Jennifer of @jmcneillphoto, who takes the most stunning photos; specializing in three of my favorite things: fauna, flora, and explorations. All of her photos tell a story and evoke such emotion, I am constantly blown away by her work.

Any advice to anyone who wishes to start making their own jewelry but is a little nervous to try? Any helpful hints for those beginners just starting out?

Baby step it. Start with something you think you’d be comfortable with and go from there. And don’t reinvent the wheel. If you have the means, take a course in whatever medium you are interested in. If you don’t have the means to take a course, there are plenty of free tutorials online, and there is no shame in learning methods from someone who has being doing it for many years. And the most important piece of advice is to be original, always put your own voice and personal touch and don’t be afraid to take risks with your creations!

And finally, In creating this beautiful jewelry, what have you learned about its significance as a gift? Why is jewelry still such a special token to receive after all these years?

Jewelry can be so incredibly personal and symbolic. Often the idea behind the design or the stones chosen is a very meaningful one, though not blatantly obvious to an outsider. It’s almost like wearing a little secret around and I love that.

It’s recorded that the earliest piece of jewelry dated back 25,000 years ago. To think that this wearable art has been around for that long is just awesome. A piece of jewelry can represent a favorite place, remind us of a loved one, represent life goals or hurdles, or maybe you just simply love it. I think what makes it so special as a gift is that someone knows the recipient so well, knows their style, and most importantly, took the time to seek out the perfect match that screams their name.

Just as a chef is able to put love into food, Amy Stephens puts the same heartfelt good will into her jewelry. What a gem! 😉

You can follow Amy on Instagram here and Facebook here.

You can also contact her at northernrootsjewelry@gmail.com .

One Man Tour de Force: An Interview with Charlie Ross

The calm and contemplative timbre of Charlie Ross’ voice draws a sharp contrast to the energetic torrent of characters he can unleash at any moment—approximately 40 per performance—in his extraordinary one man shows.

His lauded theater productions of One Man Star Wars, One Man Lord of the Rings, One Man Pride and Prejudice and many more have taken him far and wide—from his native Canada, to the UK, China, Australia, and back again (pun intended!)

Mr. Ross’ friendly insights and thoughtful answers about his work make one contemplate why popular stories are just that—popular. His is a story about a man who has an unapologetic and visceral love for storytelling and character—no matter where it comes from.

So pull up a chair and make yourself a cup of tea (the Bennets would approve!) and read on as Mr. Ross and I discuss everything from Star Wars, Pride and Prejudice, to himself —an actor who astonishes with his portrayals of so many characters we know and love.

Charlie Ross grew up in Canada in a place called Prince George until he was 11, living in town and then out on a farm. He says the farm changed everything, and that moving to the wide open spaces “Tossed me inside myself. It was hard to find new friends again, and I became a bit of an introvert for a while—although the person and the personality that I had was desperately trying to get out. I mean, I love people; I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to still be myself and try to navigate this new place that we were in—this farm.”

He started acting out; eventually getting kicked out of class. It was then, at the early age of 8, that he realized that they sent you to the principal and gave you a talking to; but then just sent you back to class. “So, I kind of broke this rule, and at a relatively early age I found out there wasn’t that many consequences for it. It was a bad/good thing to witness as a kid, that you can kind of bend a rule.” Another early memory he recalls is a contest where they had to take an aluminum pie pan and create a Halloween mask. He remembers thinking it was stupid, so he decided to make the dumbest and most outrageous mask he could think of—he ended up winning first place. “Anyway, I remember these little things that happened in my life where I realized that we were bound by some kind of strange laws—like in our classes and all that—but they weren’t real. They were sort of bendable—they were all pliable. And sometimes if you do something that maybe you don’t totally care about—but is highly imaginative—that appeals to everybody.”

Charlie’s family then relocated to the town of Nelson—famous for being the filming location for Steve Martin’s Roxanne—a beautiful little town about half an hour from the American border. “The climate was different, and there were more people around—I wasn’t on a farm anymore. I had an outlet for that energy—you know, it could have been going to a negative place, but theater, acting, it had a direction: a focus that I could express who I was; whether it was anger or disbelief or happiness—I could do that when I performed. And I had never really known what it was all about. And then, having a couple different teachers that identified this talent that I seemed to have; a propensity to get up in front of people—and I was comfortable being there—they decided to nurture that potential skill.

After acting all through grade and high school, he found his way to the University of Victoria. He recalls though that once again, the times he felt the strongest in an environment with stringent rules, were the times when he was slightly bending those rules; finding out how far he could push them. One example was when he auditioned for the main stage shows his freshman year and didn’t get in, so he decided to be running crew. A mentor told him at the time that even though he was only stage crew, he could still be artistic while he was changing sets. “He gave me some great pointers, and I just went for it. And then, I remember people were quite impressed with the way we were being all artistic while we were changing sets. I was 18 at the time, and I ended up getting cast in the second half of the year in a Shakespeare role. I had never done Shakespeare before and that was a huge scary challenge, but I remember it was so neat to make these little jumps forward.”

The next year he didn’t get cast into any main stage shows, so instead he bent another rule—and went out auditioning for jobs in the real world. “I thought—Screw this, if I don’t get into any main stage productions, I’m going to go find some work outside in the real world. So I went out and I auditioned—even though I was going to school. So, even though that wasn’t really bending a rule, they didn’t really want you to do that at the department. And thank goodness I did! I made friendships and connections with people that I have to this day. I just didn’t think it was right to sort of abide by whatever rules that were there, because otherwise you might just find yourself depressed if you’re just accepting your lot that life seems to put in your direction.”

During and after university, he tried to stay immersed in acting as much as he could. He made sure the jobs he had in the summertime were acting jobs, and was willing to go anywhere for the work. This led him to a date with destiny at a festival called The Fringe between his second and third year of university. He found himself loving the solo shows. “There were a couple shows I watched that were based on popular material. One was Star Trek, and it was based on the character that William Shatner played—Captain Kirk—and it was almost like this lost episode of Star Trek. I remember seeing the show and loving it, just loving it with a visceral, visceral love. And I just thought, that’s such beautiful brilliance to be able to watch somebody doing this and be able to celebrate your love of a character and of a series.”

Flash forward to graduation; Charlie decided to sit down and write himself his own one man show. But it wasn’t about Star Wars—at first. “I didn’t actually think that it would be a Star Wars show, I just thought it would be something that was more like the history of film, where I was doing all of film. I tried to write a 5 minute Star Wars and I found I had about 25 minutes worth of material—and I was still on the first movie.” At the time, he was working with his friend from university, TJ Dawe— a fellow solo performer— on stage readings of radio plays. Charlie was in charge of the sound effects, but they also performed some other stuff that they were working on. “I remember performing what I had—it was slightly more than the first film’s worth of material— and when I did it, it went— my God, so, so well. It seemed like, okay, this could get longer. So, TJ and myself expanded it to be the one hour show that it is. And I just started touring it. TJ was acting as my outside eye and eventually I went, “ I think you’ve become the director. And he said, ‘I guess I have!’ We’d just been friends, but we’ve took on those roles together as friends and as colleagues and we’ve kept that relationship going ever since.” All together TJ and Charlie have worked on 6 or 7 shows together to include, One Man Star Wars, One Man Lord of the Rings, One Man Dark Knight: A Batman Parody, One Man Pride and Prejudice, One Man Stranger Things, as well as several more including Sev; where he plays a kid working at 7-11, and The One Man Eighties’ Blank Tape—based on a VHS tape that he and his sisters kept recording over as kids. “I remember watching the video when I was an adult, and seeing this video tape where the things that were recorded—there was nothing there in its entirety. It was just this bizarre, almost ADD kind of flipping through the channels—it would be 5 minutes of this, 1 minute of that, thirty seconds of this, 5 minutes and thirty seconds of that, just going on and on and on— this weird weird sort of record of a lot of stuff that girls liked and a lot of stuff that guys liked all mashed together.”

When asked about the process of how he tackles each project, he says “I research, and by research, it means immersing yourself into whatever thing it might be. If it’s Star Wars, you watch the films a couple more times and really absorb the details. Everything usually has a novelization as well, so it’s good to be able to read a film, and in the case of something like Lord of the Rings, you actually have the source material to read, and all the other appendixes—all these things help you inform the choices you make when you decide to start editing it down. Also, you can see the choices made in what they cut out and what they kept in. So, once again, you take that series of choices made and then go even further and say ‘What can I really cut out and not just get the gist but get what I love and put across the story to the audience?’ It’s amazing how much you can cut out of a film and still get the basic elevator pitch—the storyline. Then you can start adding extra stuff; you can start to flesh it out with the things that you really loved. The little details, the side characters, the jokes. You try to get a piece of work up on its feet so that it comes in just under an hour, so you have a little bit of leeway to improvise if you want, but it also allows for laughter. When I sit down at the computer, I tend not to have the show going—I don’t even make notes. I make notes in my head beforehand and sit at the computer with nothing on except for maybe music from that film playing, and I just start to write out in a linear sense the beginning to the end of the film, and it doesn’t take that long—it really doesn’t. Lord of the Rings took about two days of sitting down and writing it, and that was for a few hours here and a few hours there. Star Wars came out so fast. So fast. I probably wrote the first film in its entirety in an hour and a half. You can go back later and fact check it—rewatch things so you can guarantee you have the exact line. It’s amazing how quickly things come together, it really is. Once it’s on its feet, you’re just repeating and repeating it, until basically you have something that’s like a piece of choreography and speech. This is your little song and dance that you’re going to repeat the same way, every single time. And you become comfortable—not complacent but comfortable—in what you do to the point where you feel quite strong.”

When asked about switching from character to character on stage, he says “Now I’m very used to doing it in all the shows I do. When I first started off, I felt people might have a hard time keeping up, because some impressions are better than others. But people can follow you as long as you have the right intonation or you are trying to be sincere. Also, if you’re doing a voice that you don’t sound like, you don’t spend that much time doing it. You say the most important lines, and then you get the heck out of there—back to the characters that you do very well. Lord of the Rings is kind of a bad example because I feel like I got the voices for really almost everybody. But whereas something like Pride and Prejudice; my Darcy’s good, my Mr. Bennet is good, my Mr. Collins is good, my Lady Catherine de Bourgh is good—but you know, Lizzie, while she’s very distinct, she doesn’t really have a dynamic voice—it’s just a pretty voice. So, I’m a person, and I’m a man, so even though I try to be ‘pretty perfect Lizzie’, I’m never going to sound like her— but I’ll get the intonation right, and my heart will be in the right place.

The only two- man show in his arsenal is a show called 421 is Dead— a sort of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead parody—but with storm troopers. “We never say the Death Star, we never say anything that lets you know that it’s Star Wars, we don’t have any costumes that are particularly Star Wars—we just wear these coveralls. We’re guys who are in the background of a very, very big and popular story, and only a few times does that grand story with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo etc. even come close to these guys at all. They just live on the Death Star and all of a sudden they have to get off it because they’re under attack. And it’s a comedy. It’s not meant to be totally serious. It’s like a Waiting for Godot meets Star Wars.

There is only show he has ever worn a costume in, and it is one of his more recent shows: One Man Pride and Prejudice—dressed like Mr. Darcy himself. He agrees with your humble correspondent that not only is it a truth universally acknowledged that “a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” but that the story is chock full of so many universal truths. “It’s timeless in the sense that oftentimes love comes out of this adversarial and continual rolling mat of misunderstanding between people. We sometimes have such a strong mind, we can be very strong minded individuals, and you might have some pride or prejudice that’s helped you navigate the world to get through life. But it also might work against you—and you have to work against it in order to discover love or discover what you’re feeling for another person—is in fact—love, rather than hate. Some people that look to be one way on the outside, like, say Wickham, he isn’t in fact what he is; he is too good to be true. And someone like Darcy; he’s far more worthy of a longer look to find out who he is. I think it resonates because it’s a wonderful comedy that shows how incorrect the world is and sometimes how right it is. You have a person like Lizzie who is incredibly intelligent and Darcy who is incredibly intelligent —they’re observant, but they’re so completely hobbled by their inability to see past their own pride and prejudice, whereas the world around them that seems to be absurd, sometimes is quite astute. You’ve got a person who is ridiculous like Lizzie’s mom, and there are times when she is completely correct—her trying to marry off Jane—she’s never done it before, but she manages to do it and help the whole process of the proposal go through. I think it’s a wonderful story, and the book is amazing as well, obviously.”

When asked about any funny anecdotes from the road, he said that there are two funny stories that always come to mind. “I was in Orlando doing the Fringe Theater Festival and I was using this venue which was kind of like a small quarry; it was this weird little building that felt like all the water in the world would drift towards it if there was a heavy rain—and sure enough—that’s exactly what happened. I’m in the middle of doing the show there’s a couple drip, drip, drips coming from the ceiling because it was raining like crazy, and I can hear the audience suddenly make this noise where clearly something is going on that I don’t know. This rat had run across to the middle of stage, lingered there a couple seconds, and then ran off the other way—and I did not see the rat at all. I kept doing the show and I didn’t find out until afterwards what had even happened. Another one; I was in San Francisco and at a very odd part of the show suddenly people started to react, it sort of felt like nervous laughter, but I couldn’t quite tell what the heck it was. I was like ‘Ok, I’ve never had a reaction at this point of the show ever, ever.’ I couldn’t put it together exactly why, and then, after the show was done, I found out we had an earthquake during the show—and I didn’t feel it—not at all. I mean the show is very, very demanding physically and perhaps I just thought I was a little bit winded for a moment or something. I thought it was amazing that I could get upstaged by a rat—or the earth itself could shift when I’m doing the show and I was just so in the zone I was completely oblivious to it.”

As far as interesting fan interactions, “There was a friend— in some ways a colleague of mine—his name was Richard and he’s in England; he acted as my storm trooper. There is a costuming club and charity organization called the 501st, that pretends to be this lost storm trooper legion after the Death Star gets blown up. They’ll go to children’s hospitals or an opening of a film. Richard was one of these guys, but he decided he wanted to be my traveling storm trooper when I was in England. So for three different tours—I’d be willing to bet he’s probably done a hundred cities with me— I had my very own living storm trooper. He was just there. I kept asking him why, because he would not accept pay (they’re not allowed to) and he had taken off his vacation time for the entire year to come and tour with me. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, and the truth was, he said he couldn’t figure out what it was either. Turns out, what he really wanted to be was a comedian, and when he put on that costume—when he would interact with people as a stormtrooper—he came alive. By covering himself up with this gear, it gave him an opportunity to shine by being this character. So it was amazing to see that my show—and just the chance of touring—was something that was able to enrich another person’s life, in a way that perhaps he—and certainly not me—would have ever thought of.”

Since he has travelled so extensively, I asked him if people from all over the world laugh at the same parts in his shows.

“They all laugh at different things. There are certain jokes in there that everybody laughs about. You pick up little things as you go and realize, ‘Okay, I’m gonna push that joke just a little bit more to see how people react. And if they react differently, you end up learning something about people but also about your show—that somewhere beyond the show is what you do. Maybe it’s skill or maybe its just trying to sync up with the people who are before you, but you can talk to large groups of people that have had a very different life than the one that you have led.”

As far as future one man shows are concerned, he says he is looking at Sense and Sensibility, as well as the super hero genre that has exploded in popularity in recent years. “I think that the story of any of these superhero things is that people become isolated because of who they are, and then they find where they either belong in the world as an individual, or in some cases, how they work together with others—how they can develop friendships and can sometimes accept help, where help never felt like it was going to be. It’s finding strength in weakness, and finding the value in both of them.”

For Charlie Ross, it all comes back to embracing that childlike wonder that started him off on his path so many years ago. “I think as far as my own heart, there’s the heart of the child, the child that loves things. Loves stories in particular. Loves to play. This career I have managed to mold for myself, it interacts with a part of my past and a child of my past that we tend to lose touch with. It’s the child that loves things unabashedly and doesn’t have to explain why—they just do. We lose contact with that, or we start second guessing that child so very often. I think that without that connection to that child inside—I don’t know who I would be. So, I’m very, very thankful.

Charlie Ross seems to still be bending rules; enchanting audiences with a myriad of characters only waiting to be summoned to appear. Creating a show as one man, and yet incredibly expressing so many. It is truly a thing to behold. This humble correspondent cannot possibly be objective: I count one of his performances as the best I have ever seen.

Keep up with Charlie Ross on Facebook here, here and here, as well as his websites www.onemanstarwars.com and www.onemanlotr.com

If you are interested in booking Charlie for one of his incredible shows, please email Gail at gail@instrideentertainment.com

Style and Substance: An Interview with Lisa Ann Schraffa Santin

What is style? It conjures up specific images for us all. The unattainable model that walks effortlessly down the runway in 5 inch heels? Perhaps it’s different kinds of styles: boho-chic with Birkenstocks, nautical with classic stripes, or you recall the red lipstick and nails of the 1940’s. Either way, all of us get up each morning and put clothes on; but have you ever thought about your own personal style? When you get dressed in the morning, do you love what you wear, or are you trying to be like someone else? As providence would have it, I was fortunate enough to meet stylist Lisa Ann Schraffa Santin while visiting the North Shore of Massachusetts. Here is her take on all things fashion, style and the art of joyfully celebrating who you are.

How did you get into this line of work ? What aspect of it is most interesting to you?

After spending a long career with a brand that is well known—Eileen Fisher, Inc.—I chose to strike out on my own. Fifteen years at one brand honing my skills made me feel more than ready to take on my own practice. The most interesting thing about doing this work is how we use clothing to convey a message—and sometimes we are sending a message we don’t even realize. I like to use this work as an anchoring for women and help them find their authentic selves through their style choices.

Take us through the process of how you initially tackle a closet.

I often just bring a rolling rack to the closet and start sorting by color.

I have an extensive pre-work sheet with fun tasks for my new clients to complete prior to my arrival.

They have looked at their closet pretty closely before I arrive and they have also created a vision board of how they want to style themselves moving forward. Pinterest is a great resource in this visioning exercise.

I then weed out the most obvious but gently ask about each item. I find the backstory and together we call it—stay or go. Through the completion of the pre-work they pretty much know what is going, they just need some coaching and permission to donate it away.

When we are done paring down, we start the fun of trying everything on and then I start making new combinations of outfits. Using what you already own we reimagine the remaining closet.

We create a look book by using your iPhone to capture the outfits as I create them. We also use everything you own – jewelry, scarves, shoes, accessories and outerwear. We typically come away with 7-10 new looks using what you have right in your closet.

What do you think about the 10 item wardrobe? (The habit of curating a wardrobe with fewer clothing items to keep both your mind and wardrobe uncluttered.)

That is my mantra, and I gift everyone the Marie Kondo book to help set the framework for moving forward with fewer things in general. We then talk about curating a wardrobe and that takes time. We may need a full year—two full seasons—before clients totally understand and embrace this concept. It’s totally European and counter to our culture of buying more stuff.

What is one thing people overlook or forget to think about when trying to tap into their own unique style?

Amazingly they overlook their own True North. They are so used to people and ad agency folk and marketing campaigns telling them what is the trend or style of the moment. It is hard for them to tune out the noise. So when they forget that I gently bring them back to center and remind them that unique style is cultivated and it may take up to a year with trial and error to find that unique twist that fits with their authentic self.

What would you suggest to someone who has no idea where to start?

Hire a coach. Just like you would never get under the hood of your car and start pulling out hoses and gaskets to fix it, you instead hire a mechanic. Hire someone to jump start your closet with you. It’s easier to work from the wisdom of someone such as myself vs. trying to learn and read and gather all the info. My work is based on 15 years of service in retail and a lifelong passion for the arts and fashion.

What would you tell someone on a budget? What pieces are worth splurging on? What pieces aren’t?

Budget is my favorite client. We work with as much as we can in the closet at present, and we talk about buying core “boring”pieces that seem like they are just plain but we use those as our work horse pieces. You should splurge on something meaningful. If you love art and you travel and you find a piece that is one of a kind, you should splurge as it will remind you of the place and time of your travels. Trend pieces are not worth buying, if it has a staying power of one season and done it’s just throwing away an opportunity to invest in a core piece that will work for many seasons.

You describe yourself as a “closet crasher with a modern, eco-friendly aesthetic.” Could you expound on what the eco-friendly component of your work is?

I try to reduce waste, so if we can find a way to alter something and save it or repair it, I love that we can reuse it. If we could build some core pieces from thrifting and vintage high-end consignment, that keeps items out of the landfill. If we can reduce our footprint in any way then we can say we are moving toward eco-friendly closet habits. If you have to buy products I like to find them made as fair trade, or made in small batch/Maker Products or brands without a heavy footprint such as Eileen Fisher.

I know you have something special you would like to talk about that’s at the heart of your business. Share with the readers why your work brings you so much joy.

My joy comes from unlocking the person’s potential to enjoy their body today. Dressing for today. Not how you looked 10 years ago, not how you want to look if only you lost 10 pounds, not how you want to dress if only you could spend more. Enjoy today and know your body today with it’s shape and size, and dress for that. I also love that people feel lighter by removing all the extra items that don’t work, may never have worked or won’t really work moving forward. It gives them space to recreate their look and redefine what they want moving forward. It opens up energy and opportunity. Owning your look, and being authentic means you can show up in this life and do the work you were meant to do. With style and grace you move through this life as your authentic self—feeling confident and empowered.

Tell me about the local businesses and organizations you collaborate with. What kind of companies/organizations are they? What are some of your very favorites?

I am on the hunt for local businesses like TIEN2 in Beverly where you will find two artisans working together with a shared maker space and shared values. One of the owners makes custom jewelry and repairs almost anything. The other owner produces small batch designs in clothing. Supporting any local artisan is key to our creative economy. I also work with local herbalists to find the right skin care products that are 100% natural. No chemicals. Looking and feeling healthy is your best accessory.

I also have an opportunity in this work to do pro bono sessions with non profits such as LEAP for Education in Salem where I mentor young adults in the program and help them dress for their first job or college interview.

And finally, can you describe for me a story about how a client—through changing their wardrobe and finding their true style— was changed for the better?

I hear so many stories. I think the ones that touch my heart are the women who say they never had time to do self-care because they were so lost in career, family, juggling life and then they had major life changes and significant body transitions. They somehow lost their way, lost themselves and lost the time and effort to work through their own needs. Settling for items that were just good enough. Not quite right but making due. No budget for themselves. They love that I give them the permission to release all the things that represent someone they once were from another moment in time and emerge feeling lighter and ready to rebuild with some new ideas of how they want to look and feel moving forward. We build upon what they do keep and acknowledge that these are the things that make them look and feel good, and stay positive about those things we need to strategically purchase. They share with me that finally they feel pretty again and empowered.

No matter what you think about style, Lisa Ann is helping people love themselves just as they are. I, for one, think it is a most worthwhile and beautiful endeavor.

You can follow Lisa Ann on Facebook here and Instagram here. You can also find her at www.lisaannschraffasantin.com & lisaannschraffa@gmail.com.

Beautiful Artwork with a Beautiful Purpose: An interview with Erin Cherry of My Pretty Peggy

Erin Cherry’s artwork is very precise. Using a 20/0 liner micro-detailer by Princeton—one of the tiniest paintbrushes you can work with—she creates wooden peg dolls that include details that are astonishing. Her work is special not only in its excellence—but, as you’ll come to find out—also in its ability to help heal broken hearts. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to artist Erin Cherry of My Pretty Peggy—who in real life is as charming as her artwork is! Continue reading “Beautiful Artwork with a Beautiful Purpose: An interview with Erin Cherry of My Pretty Peggy”