Going Semi-Vegan

As of today, it’s been 10 days since I’ve gone semi-vegan. It’s rare to hear someone refer themselves as semi-vegan, because in this day and age, either a person is vegan or they’re not. I use the term semi-vegan because while my diet is mostly plant-based, I’ll allow myself some leeway with animal-based proteins. I estimate that my plant-to-animal ratio is about 9 to 1. That way, I can stay committed to eating fruits, vegetables, and legumes without kicking myself when I eat something like fish or eggs on rare occasions.

My primary protein comes mostly from kidney beans, which I’ve developed a great fondness for. Along with being a great source of protein and fiber, they’re able to fill you up without weighing you down. My favorite method of preparing kidney beans is to simmer them in tomato sauce, then mix them with my favorite veggie pasta. The pasta itself is a rotini made from pureed broccoli and zucchini. It hits the spot every time.

I’ve found that since I had drastically decreased my intake of red meat in favor of legumes and vegetables, my health has improved greatly in only over a week. When I weighed myself four days in, my weight had dropped 3 pounds, from 285 to 282. When I weighed myself today, I dropped another 3 pounds, from 282 to 279. I had lost 6 pounds in 10 days. This is because of a combination of my diet changes, combined with my increased frequency of exercising. I went from relying only on strength training to combining strength training, core workouts, and cardio in the form of kickboxing. I’m recovering a lot faster from my workouts, facing less fatigue, and getting more rest at night. I can honestly say it’s a direct result of my increased consumption of plant-based foods.

After this test run, I’m definitely staying the course. This won’t be a seasonal “beach body” thing like most people adopt. This is a lifestyle change. I’ve felt stronger and healthier in one week than I have the past two years. While I doubt I’ll ever be 100% vegan, I’m happy with the diet and lifestyle changes I’ve made so far. After losing 6 pounds in 10 days naturally, I know I’m on the right track.

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Don’t Be Discouraged

Do you have someone in your life who’s a constant naysayer? Someone who shoots your dreams down whenever you share them? I’ve had quite a few people like that in my life, especially in my family.  When I had dreams of becoming a radio DJ, they were shot down. When I wanted to be a professional photographer, they shot those dreams down too.  I remember when I first started writing rap lyrics in high school. My mom went through my stuff and found them.  My father crumpled up and threw out the pieces of paper right before my eyes. Lately, my older cousin had been the cause of my self-doubt, shooting down whatever plans I have for myself in the future. Funny, he tells me “don’t sell yourself short”, but that’s all he ever does.

I watched a clip from The Pursuit of Happyness yesterday that made me think of all the people who have tried to crush my dreams or stand in my way. It was the scene where Will and Jaden were talking about Jaden wanting to be a basketball player. Will starts to tell Jaden that it’s a silly dream, but stops short when he realizes that he had been told the same thing all his life. Then he proceeds to tell Jaden not to let anybody crush his dreams, to go for it, no matter what they say. This spoke to me.

It hurts when the people you grew up with, people in your own family, crush your dreams, thinking they know what’s best for you. I’ve gotten more support and encouragement from people who weren’t related to me by blood than I ever did from my own family. Sometimes, you have to be your own motivator, your own cheerleader.  You have to push on when those close to you call you a fool, even though you know what you’re doing. Believe in yourself, even if the rest of the world doesn’t believe in you.

Valentine’s Day: At Peace With Being Single

I’ve been single for 3 years. The first two years, when Valentine’s Day would approach, I’d be a complete Grinch. I couldn’t stand all the imagery of happy couples being pushed into the faces of the masses, all in order to get them to fork over their money for chocolates, flowers, and even the shiniest jewelry money could buy. I hated the feelings of longing that these images would invoke, and I’d curse the existence of February 14. Suddenly, that time of year has come around again, and for the first time in a long time, it simply feels like another day.

My parents and relatives always like to bug me and point out that I’m single and not getting any younger, asking me who my next girlfriend will be, or when I’m getting married. Truth be told, I don’t care at this point if I’m destined to stay single or not. Between focusing on improving myself and pushing toward my personal goals, the supposed emptiness of being single has been replaced with a sense of solitude and peace. Being alone with my own thoughts has been a blessing in recent months, allowing me to rediscover myself. Sometimes, solitude can put things in perspective.

Don’t get me wrong. There are those rare days where I would like to wake up next to a wonderful woman. I sometimes miss those long, playful phone calls from my days with my last girlfriend. Still, looking at where I am now compared to three years ago, I don’t regret anything.

If you’re single, and you don’t have a special someone to be your Valentine, don’t worry about it. Focus on building yourself up. Don’t worry about finding somebody on that dating site, and don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t bumped into that special someone yet. Take time to do something for yourself. Hit up a bookstore and explore. Hit up a gym and get active. Take time to try something new that you haven’t done before. Be your own Valentine.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

5 Life Lessons Learned from Watching The Avengers

Okay, by now, we’ve all seen Marvel’s The Avengers at least once, whether we saw it on opening weekend in 3D or streamed it on Netflix on a quiet Saturday night with nothing to do.  We all rooted for Iron Man and Capain America to kick Loki’s ass, we’ve all lept for joy watching Thor duke it out with The Hulk, and we all counted how many pop references came out of Tony Stark’s mouth.  Or, am I the only one who did that? Anyway, we’ve all enjoyed watching The Avengers as an action movie, but have you ever noticed the subtle life lessons watching this great superhero movie? Every action movie for the most part has some hidden life lesson in it. Terminator 2? Humanity can be a wonderful thing (and so can blowing up stuff). First Blood? Respect our veterans, or they’ll kick your ass. 300? Even if the odds are against you, take a stand…with your shirt off.  With all that being said, what life lessons did we learn from The Avengers? Let’s take a look:

1.  Never Underestimate The Quiet One

With this lesson, we’ll look at our favorite modern Dr.Jeckyll, Dr.Bruce Banner. We all know the consequences of making him angry (namely, he turns into a 10-foot, muscle-bound, not-so-jolly green giant.) But even before that transformation hits, he’s still formidable, not just in intellect, but when it comes to his emotions. For most of the movie, he appears to be timid, withdrawn, and focused on getting his work done. However, at the halfway point of the movie, before an explosion makes Dr. Banner “Hulk out”, Banner reveals to the crew that he had actually tried to kill himself by shooting himself in the mouth, only to have the Hulk spit it out. His temper and frustration in the scene is basically on the razor’s edge. Even if Banner didn’t have the Hulk inside him, imagine how much rage he holds back.
Dr. Banner is the archtype of the seemingly quiet, mild-mannered person we encounter on a daily basis. We’re usually quick to judge him or her as weak-willed or timid, the type who wouldn’t put up a fight if their life depended on it. But most of the time, it’s the timid one who’s a ticking time bomb. Quiet people who hold their frustrations are no different than Bruce Banner, only their big green monster isn’t a 10-foot giant who can smash the bad guys. Have you ever seen the quiet person at work all of a sudden smash a computer monitor or kick the living crap out of a fax machine because of all days, that particular day was the straw that broke the camel’s back? Or have you seen someone who was bullied all of a sudden smash that bully’s face in because they’ve had enough? If those people had the dilemma of Dr. Banner, the world would be smashed to bits by a global population of “Hulks”. Now THAT would give “World War Hulk” a whole new meaning. Keep that in mind, and be nice to that quiet guy who everyone picks on.

2. Feeling Lonely? Get Active

Yeah, this may sound a bit more simple than it should, but hey, it worked for Captain America. At the start of the movie, Captain America is a thawed out WWII soldier out of his element, or, as Loki would put it, “A man out of time.” Everyone he had cared about was either dead or dying, and here he is, a pristine specimen of an individual in a future time where almost everything is alien to him. He’s basically Rip Van Winkle on steroids. At first, he spends his days pounding his frustrations away on a boxing bag or two (or seven), but when Col. Nick Fury hands him the news of the Tesseract, he’s basically giving Cap a form of therapy that he really needed: he got him back into action. Whether he was trading blows with Loki or saving New York City from an alien invasion, Cap was completely in his element. By the time Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes place, he’s too busy saving the world to be lonely. Well, at least until he visits that Captain America museum.
In reality, getting active is a great way to escape the blues of feelings of loneliness. People who have trouble meeting people join social meetup groups all the time. Bonus points if it’s a physical activity, since an active body keeps the mind busy. So, if you’re feeling lonely, join a jogging or cycling group. Sign up for an aerobics class.  Join a boxing gym or a dojo. You’ll not only be doing your body a favor, but your confidence and self-esteem, and you’ll get that social interraction that you need. Not big on exercise? Join a book club or a discussion group and stimulate your mind with a few new faces. Are you a gamer? Get off of Xbox Live and join a gaming group in person, and bonus points if it’s a retro game group. Retro gamers are known for bonding over Pac-Man and Super Mario. The more active you are, the less time you’ll have to be lonely.

3. Make Your Family

Does your family treat you like crap? Blood may be thicker than water, but the right friendship can be thicker than blood. Thor’s a great example of this. We all know of Thor’s tricky bond with his conniving  brother, Loki. Even after Loki almost killed him in Thor, Thor still yearns for his mischievous brother to be by his side again. In spite of Thor’s unconditional love for him, all Loki wants to do is torment his brother by conquering or destroying anything that has meaning to him, namely, Earth.
Where Loki wants to break Thor down, The Avengers build him up once they finally work as a team. Yeah, he went blow for blow with Iron Man and got smacked around by the Hulk, but Thor found a genuine brother-in-arms with Captain America. Side by side in the Battle of New York, they forged a brotherhood thicker than blood. Is it any wonder by the time the trailer of Avengers: Age of Ultron debuted, Cap was the only one among the Avengers who could make Mjolnir budge a little? (And yes, Cap can actually lift the hammer in the comics. Let’s not forget that.)
So many of us are stuck with family members that we can do without. Dysfunctional families have existed as far back as Cain and Abel. Still, life gives us the option of building our own “family” through our circle of friends. And not just the casual buddies, the “ride or die” friends that will let you crash at their pad on a bad day, or chip in when you don’t have enough for the bridge toll, or the friend who’s mother doesn’t mind you raiding the fridge as long as you “close the damn milk carton!” These are the friends that become your family. Go out and treat them to a beer. They’re worth it.

4. There’s Always Redemption

Okay, there may not “always” be redemption, but if you seek it, it’s out there. Take Hawkeye, for example. Under Loki’s brainwashing, he was turned against his fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. He shot Nick Fury, took a guy’s eye out (or so it’s implied), gave Loki sensitive S.H.I.E.L.D. information (including info on his own partner, the Black Widow), and almost single-handedly downed the helicarrier. It’s a good thing Black Widow knocked some sense into him (literally). By the time he fought alongside his fellow Avengers in the Battle of New York, all of that was water under the bridge, and he was a redeemed hero.
What can we learn from Hawkeye? No matter how bad you mess up, redemption is there if you’re willing to push for it. It doesn’t take an alien invasion to find it.   Let’s take Mike Tyson, for example. In the 90’s, all we could talk about was either his incarceration or how he bit a chunk out of Evander Hollyfield’s ear. Flash forward over a decade later, and as Tyson makes his rounds on talk shows and makes guest appearances in movies like The Hangover, we’re rooting for him as he makes his way toward a mental and emotional comeback. No matter how bad you mess up, as long as you’re breathing, there’s a chance for you to redeem yourself.

5. Shawarma Brings People Together

What was the first thing Iron Man wanted to do after his near-death experience saving the world? Get some shwarma. Not a burger, not pizza, not sushi. Shawarma. I guarantee you that before The Avengers premiered in theaters, only 2% of Americans knew what Shawarma was. Well, guess what happened after Iron Man made his declaration to try this exotic food? Shawarma spots popped up all over midtown Manhattan. Everyone was dying to try some shwarma. Shawarma stands were right alongside hot dog stands in Central Park. People that had never even tried falafel wanted shawarma! All it took was a shout out from Tony Stark! I doubt he’d have the same effect if for some reason he wanted to eat spinach, but one thing’s for sure: after The Avengers, everyone wanted shawarma.

It’s very unlikely that The Avengers set out to be a motivational movie. Not many big-budget action flicks aim to preach to you. Well, except Avatar. Or The Last Samurai. Or Minority Report. Ah, nevermind. The point is, motivation is where you find it. What’s fodder to one person is a life-changing message to another. What’s important is that once that message hits you, learn from it, and go out and live it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m in the mood for shawarma.

Skip The Middleman

One of my favorite performances by Denzel Washington is his portrayal of drug lord Frank Lucas in the 2007 film, American Gangster. I’m not keen on idolizing drug lords or glamorizing the drug trade, but a lot of things that the movie version of Frank Lucas said makes absolute sense in a business sense. Everything from dressing respectably to quality assurance is practically a how-to guide on handling your business. The one aspect that stood out the most was cutting out the middleman to get quality product. Like I said, I don’t idolize drug dealers, but anyone who’s anyone knows the hassle of dealing with the middleman, be it a retailer or an A&R at a record label you’re trying to get to sign you. (I have a lot of friends in music who dealt with that last one o a regular basis.) The middleman is the gatekeeper that’s in the way of you and your goals. Thankfully, in this information age, skipping the middleman has become easier to do, in more ways than one, and in more fields than you think.

Retail

My first experience of the benefits of skipping the middleman came in a situation we all can relate to: getting a replacement cellphone.  Less than a year ago, I had a Motorola Rambler. I had bought it in 2010, and that phone lasted me for 4 years. Sadly, one morning, I reached to turn it on, and, in a way that replays in my memory in slow motion, the Rambler fell from my nightstand and…..CRACK! Split into two. I tried re-attaching the QWERTY keypad to the screen, but it was no use. My Rambler was no more.  With a trip out of town coming up, I needed a cell phone QUICK.

That very day, I went to one of those mom-and-pop Boost Mobile stores, insisting on a phone that was under $80. They handed me a Kyocera Hydro, saying it was 80 bucks, but after tax, it was over $90 bucks. Not only that, but I was made to pay an EXTRA $30 bucks for some nonsense network change fee, so the $80 phone became a $120 phone. To make me feel even worse, not even a month after I had bought this slow-but-waterproof smartphone, I find out that the price had dropped to $50, and almost two months AFTER that, the price dropped AGAIN to $30! I felt like an absolute fool for paying what I did for a phone that was slow as molasses. To make matters worse, my Kyocera Hydro only lasted 7 months before the touch screen became non-responsive one day.  When it came time to replace it, I had two options: go to the retailer and beg for a replacement, or….skip the middleman and get what I deserve.

Rather than getting bamboozled by that retailer again, I went to Amazon.com and found not only did they have the Kyocera Hydro for $30 on there, but for five dollars more, I could get myself an LG Realm, a smartphone that was getting a lot more positive feedback than the Hydro. Eager as can be, I not only ordered the LG Realm, but I ordered it with one-day shipping, the total coming out to just over $60 aftter tax. The next day, I got my phone in the mail, and I’ve been as happy as can be wih that phone. I thanked my lucky stars I didn’t go back to that store, and I’ve never needed to step into that store ever again.

Retailers can be good for a quick fix, but to get the deal you really need, sometimes you have to skip the middleman.

The Music Industry

Once upon a time, in order for a music artist to make a living, or at least make a name for himself, he needed a record label to sign him. I remember the days when getting signed to a record label was the holy grail of “making it”. Sadly, for most artists, getting signed to a record label either meant getting turned away again and again, or, if you got signed, being at the mercy of the label’s expectations. And there were so many stories of rappers, singers, and bands getting signed to record labels and not even dropping a debut alum.

Back in the early 2000’s, when I worked in sporting goods, I had a co-worker who was getting respect as an underground rapper in the local scene.  One day, out of the blue, he quits his job, bragging that he had just gotten signed to a record label. The next week, he shows up, showing off his fresh new clothes and his Motorola two-way pager. (Yeah, this was back when those were in style, way before everyone had cell phones.) Not even a month later, rumors had it that the label had dropped him, and that he was looking for work. He even had to sell his pager. Stories like his were way too common.

Flash forward to now. Artists can now rely on the internet to gain fame and make money. Everyone from Macklemore to Childish Gambino have been able to use the internet as an outlet to get their music out there, getting millions of YouTube views and SoundCloud plays before radio stations can even blink.  Back in the day, major labels were the only way for an artist to get recognition. Now, artists can take destiny into their own hands if they’re willing to work hard enough.  Thanks to the internet, artists can skip the middleman

I could go on and on with examples both in the day-to-day and in the mainstream of people who skipped the middleman and got more out of it.  Book authors who chose to publish e-books instead of trying to pitch their product to a publisher, independent filmmakers who took their vision and made a cult classic on a shoestring budget rather than begging Hollywood for a job, t-shirt designers  who sold their merchandise out of their garages rather than begging retailers to push their clothing and became household names. Skipping the middleman could be something as small as going online to get a microphone for a decent price instead of bleeding your wallet at a downtown retailer, or something as big as drawing a graphic novel and selling it on your own site rather than begging for a job at a comic book publisher. If you want something bad enough, sometimes you have to skip the middleman and go direct.