Dear Holly: Our Walk in the Park at Aspen Grove

10 months.

Dear Holly,

Last Saturday was such a beautiful day so we made good use of it. We met up with our friends Mohamad and Lena, and their daughter Hanna who is just a month older than you. We stopped for lunch at Noodles & Co., the same vegan-vegetarian-kosher friendly place that your brother Jack and I dined at after we saw Rogue One back in January at the Green Hills Mall in Nashville.

We all took a moment to appreciate Hanna’s awesome new shirt that her parents found for her in downtown Nashville. Jack said, “Daddy, I keep thinking that’s really her arms and legs. It looks like she’s really playing the guitar!”

After lunch, I suggested we drive right across the other side of I-65 and take a walk in Aspen Grove Park; which is right behind my office, where I take my mountain bike, skateboard, or just go running during my lunch breaks.

Fortunately, we took our double stroller to push you and Jack. However, he let you have it all to yourself since he wanted to check out the creek that followed the trail.

For me, there’s nothing like being able to take a leisurely stroll through the park on a nice day. There’s a reason the saying goes, “Well, it’s no walk in the park…” when referencing a tough situation.

That’s because a walk in the park is a standard measurement of happiness and inner peace. It’s a universally enjoyed occurrence.

And hey, if you can share that experience with people you care about… even better.

I watched the wind blow through your blonde hair, as you took the whole experience in. Ultimately, you were ready for a nap. But you just couldn’t bring yourself to the point of falling asleep.

You saved that for two minutes into the car ride home.

Love,

Daddy

Manly Vegan: Today I’ve Been a Vegetarian for 5 Years (and Clearly, I’m Getting Enough Protein)

Manly Vegan: Today I’ve Been a Vegetarian for 5 Years (and Clearly, I’m Getting Enough Protein)

Thanksgiving 2008 was the last time I ate ham, bacon, or any kind of pork; or shellfish of any kind- like shrimp, lobster, crab, or scallops. In other words, since the day after Thanksgiving 2008, I became and have remained kosher. That’s been 8 years now.

Since then, I only further slid down the slippery slope; eventually becoming and remaining a vegetarian in December 2011 and a vegan in April 2013.

Manly Vegan: Today I’ve Been a Vegetarian for 5 Years (and Clearly, I’m Getting Enough Protein)

What makes this particularly interesting is that I am a male. Our American culture teaches and accepts that eating bacon and beef is a particularly masculine thing to do. Most American vegetarians and vegans are females. So therefore, my being a male vegan is especially counter-cultural.

Granted, I feel no less masculine despite what I (don’t) eat.

It was exactly five years ago today I decided to adopt an American alternative lifestyle: I stopped eating meat. Somewhat to my surprise, my wife immediately joined me in my crazy decision. And our 1 year-old son got thrown into it as well.

Now he’s 6 years-old and has no interest in eating meat. I should also point out my wife and I also have a 7 month-old daughter now, who currently is a vegetarian by default.

Manly Vegan: Today I’ve Been a Vegetarian for 5 Years (and Clearly, I’m Getting Enough Protein)

I have to say this, though: Becoming a vegetarian is not a choice I want you to make- nor do I need you to become a vegetarian either. I want to be very clear about that.

Instead, I beg you to keep eating sausage, bacon, burgers, and fried chicken. In fact, I cordially invite you to stop reading this immediately and eat a big juicy McRib right now. Yes, I endorse that…

Manly Vegan: Today I’ve Been a Vegetarian for 5 Years (and Clearly, I’m Getting Enough Protein)

Why wouldn’t I? What other families eat has nothing to do with me- just like I could care less which candidate anybody else voted for in the recent election. My emotional state of being wouldn’t change no matter the outcome.

I’m like Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive: “I don’t care!”

Proving that being a vegetarian is the better way of life is no agenda of mine. In fact, I envy eat meaters. I seriously do.

If you’re part of the majority of America, meaning that you are not a vegetarian, then you get to eat meat. Whenever you want. As much as you want. You have much more freedom than I do- and you have a certain kind of happiness in your life that I’ll never again enjoy: the scandalous feeling of devouring a cheeseburger.

As for me, I have learned I can’t be trusted with such responsibility.

I have learned that when it comes to eating meat, I have never nor would I ever just simply eat the maximum 4 to 7 ounces serving per day that nutritionists recommend. I always ate least double that; each meal, every meal.

Mentally, I’m not strong enough to overcome the desire to keep eating meat. I was never truly satisfied with meat… there was never enough no matter how much I ate.

The irony is that by restricting myself to no meat at all, I can be in control of my desires and my appetite. Because that way, there’s not room for gray. There’s no possibility of eating too much meat if I can’t have meat at all.

My protein comes from 6 main sources: vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds.

I will openly admit to having very selfish motives to becoming a vegetarian: It’s an easy way to manage my weight, I never have indigestion issues anymore, and it led to me becoming a vegan; which ultimately wiped out my ongoing eczema, sinus issues, and pet allergies.

Those personal issues have nothing to do with the rest of the world. Instead, my reasons are self-centered. So there is no need to try convert anyone. I’m simply selfish in my reasons for being a vegetarian.

Perhaps I would be a better human being if I did care more; if I did spend some efforts in trying to convince people to be healthier by cutting out meat from their diets.

But I’m simply uninspired. I learned early on that most people are still convinced that by becoming a vegetarian, they will not get enough protein in their diet.

Manly Vegan: Today I’ve Been a Vegetarian for 5 Years (and Clearly, I’m Getting Enough Protein)

Clearly, I’ve proved that theory to be false in my own life. After all, I’ve lived this for 5 solid years. I would know!

Sure, I lost weight when I became a vegetarian. But look at me now. I’m not a skeleton. I look healthy. And I am healthy- my doctor confirmed this.

Even it means I am selfish, I would rather other people keep believing they need to eat meat to be healthy; even though I know it’s not true in my own life. By me trying to convince them against what they’ve been taught their whole lives, it endangers me of reinforcing the stereotype that vegetarians are judgmental and overzealous.

So now at the risk of sounding jaded instead, I invite absolutely no one else in the world to join me by becoming a vegetarian.

(Of course, it’s a whole different story if you approach me about becoming a vegetarian or vegan. In that case, I will be honored to guide you!)

Now, please- go to the McDonald’s drive-thru and order a McRib. It’s not too late. They’re still open. Actually, I hear you can get 2 for $5 right now…

Vegan Confession: I Gained 7 Pounds by Eating Tater Tots and Vegan Chocolate Bars (Over the Past Year)

Vegan Confession: I Gained 7 Pounds by Eating Tater Tots and Vegan Chocolate Bars

From the time I was my heaviest back in 2008 when I got married, I reached 178 pounds. That may not sound too heavy for a guy, but at 5’9”, I was actually “overweight” according the height/weight chart.

And I know… many people don’t like to take those charts seriously. But I do, on a personal level. Because at my heaviest, I also had health problems like eczema; as well as constant sinus pressure, and reoccurring sinusitis, and pet allergies.

My theory is that with the extra weight on my body, along with it came health problems.

Vegan Confession: I Gained 7 Pounds by Eating Tater Tots and Vegan Chocolate Bars

On Thanksgiving Day of 2008 (a few months after getting married), I became like a faithful Jew and gave up pork and shellfish. That was the beginning of the slippery slope, as I found myself becoming a vegetarian by December of 2011.

By April 2013, I became a full vegan, and in the process, I accidentally went from a size 34 to size 31 pants. That summer I got down to 153 pounds, without even trying.

That means I lost 25 pounds in the process of getting healthy. Yet losing weight was never my goal; I just wanted to be healthy.

As you know, all my previously mentioned health problems have disappeared and remained in remission since becoming a vegan.

For the majority of these past 3 years of being a vegan, I leveled out and remained right at around 155 pounds. Until this past year…

With my vegetarian wife being pregnant from July 2015 to April 2016, she began craving “fun food”. So I began picking up vegan chocolate bars at Whole Foods Market on the way home for work.

Vegan Confession: I Gained 7 Pounds by Eating Tater Tots and Vegan Chocolate Bars

It began a normal thing for us to go through a whole bag or two of tater tots over the course of each week.

Keep in mind, we were still eating our normal healthy meals too. But ultimately, both the chocolate bars and the tater tots contained oil; which we typical avoid. Not to mention, the chocolate bars also contained extra sugar as well.

Remember what I always point out about veganism:

Being a vegan forces a person to consume 0% of their daily cholesterol; as the amount of cholesterol even in the fattiest vegan foods (cashews, avocados, and even oil) still never reaches 1%.

Even so, I was at 162 pounds when my daughter was born 3 months ago; which is about 7 pounds is heavier than I’m used to.

My size 31 pants were so tight in the waist that I asked my wife more than once if she recently had begun drying our clothes on a higher heat setting.

Nope. It was the all the vegan chocolate bars and tater tots over the course of the past year.

Chocolate Tater

Four weeks ago, I nixed those items from my diet, along with all fried foods, and gluten.

While I haven’t publicly announced I am now gluten-free in addition to being a caffeine-free vegan, it’s working for me so far.

I’ve lost 2 of the 7 pounds so far and I physically feel better.

So yes, it’s possible for a vegan to gain weight just by eating foods with more oil and sugar.

Granted, it took me an entire year to accidentally gain those 7 pounds. Now the question is, how long will it take to lose it all?

I refuse to buy a bigger pair of pants!

Vegan Confession: I Don’t Miss Meat, Eggs, or Dairy, But I Do Have Fast Food Fantasies…

Vegan Confession: I Don’t Miss Meat, Eggs, or Dairy, But I Do Have Fast Food Fantasies

Fact: I am the only married man you know who is a vegan. We are a rare breed, as I am well aware.

A question I get sometimes is this: “Don’t you miss it? Don’t you wish you could just bite into a juicy steak sometimes?”

My answer is always a quick, “No, not at all.”

I know it’s easy for an outsider to assume that vegans are secretly hungry because they don’t get enough protein.

Granted, I think I am easy proof that I actually get more than enough protein. After having been a vegan for over three years, a vegetarian for 4 and a half years, and kosher (no pork or shellfish- yes, that includes bacon!) for 7 and a half, you can easily see I’m not withering away.

In fact, I’m currently working on shedding the last 5 of the 7 pounds I gained while supporting my wife in her pregnancy cravings. (Organic tater tots and vegan chocolate candy bars do more damage than I previously thought!)

My wife and I have discussed what would happen if she ever ate meat again; as she’s been kosher and a vegetarian as long as I have. I explained that if she ever went back, it could easily tempt me to do the same, which would mean I could have the freedom to eat fast food again.

As I explained to her; it’s not the good, healthy, organic, non-GMO meat that she would cook that I would be so excited about. I could care less about that.

Instead, what I psychologically miss is the glory of fast food.

I miss being able to spend so little money on food that is unnaturally tasty (thanks to the addictive trio of high fat, high sugar, and high sodium).

I miss the convenience of dollar menus and drive-thru’s.

I miss not ever asking myself where my food is coming from, beyond a Sysco delivery truck.

I miss not worrying about the future effect of fast food on my body.

I miss not associating eat red meat with the increased chances of getting diabetes or prostate cancer.

The thought of me ever eating fast food again disgusts her enough to the point where I’m pretty sure she’s won’t ever be tempted to go back. (I used to sneak fast food when she and I first got married 8 years ago.)

Life was easier when I ate fast food. I admit, I miss that.

The place I miss most is Captain D’s. Ah, their greasy, crunchy, fried mystery fish of the sea; made complete with tartar sauce and cocktail sauce. Wash it down with sugary sweet tea… I miss that place more than any burger joint.

But here’s what I don’t miss:

I don’t miss having “untreatable eczema” on my hands, to the point I could barely type on the computer keyboard.

I don’t miss the daily headaches.

I don’t miss the constant sinus pressure, or getting sinus infections every couple of months.

I don’t miss the acne.

I don’t miss being my pants size being size 34; where as I’ve remained size 31 for the 3 years I’ve been a vegan.

So yes, being a strict vegan takes some fun out of life. It’s true.

And I do miss fast food.

But for me, what I psychologically miss isn’t worth more than how I am physically benefiting from doing without the fun stuff.

My (Accidental) New Year’s Resolution for 2016: To Become a Full-Time Blogger and YouTuber

My (Accidental) New Year’s Resolutions for 2016

I’ve never been a believer in making New Year’s resolutions for one simple fact: I’ve always believed that if I really felt a need to change something in my life, it would be asinine to wait for an arbitrary, culturally celebrated date on the calendar.

When I really care enough to change something in my life, I have always just changed immediately and never looked back. That’s in my blood.

Looking back on some of the biggest changes in my life in the past decade or so, none of them took place in a January:

In November 2008, I became and have remained kosher. In December 2010, I became and have remained a vegetarian. In April 2012, I became and have remained a vegan. In September 2012, I became and have remained caffeine free.

These “never look back” commitments in my life don’t typically take place in January…

(Except for January 2008, when I proposed to my wife… but I wouldn’t consider that as any sort of New Year’s resolution; that would be quite the understatement!)

But perhaps January 2016 can be the exception to my track record. It truly is a coincidence that I am becoming so mindful of this conscious change I want to make, but by default, it might technically be a New Year’s resolution:

My goal for 2016 is to make major progress in growing my blog; in particular, my YouTube channel. I want to deliberately work towards blogging and YouTubing full time; as a stand-alone career.

I remember back a few years ago in November 2013, when I was invited by General Motors to attend an event in Detroit featuring their Buick brand as well as OnStar. While there, I met a full time travel/food blogger named Stefanie Fauquet of Mommy Musings, who told me, “You know, you could be doing so much more with what you’ve got going on.”

stefaniefauquet21

She inspired me that day, but it was like a put I bookmark on that thought for later when I could be ready for it.

I believe the time has now come.

But back then, our family was still working our way out of a lot of debt, our son was still very young, and we still lived in our townhouse. (Not to mention, I didn’t have a smart phone yet!)

We had a lot of other goals we had to focus on first at the time.

Here we are in January 2016, having been debt-free for a couple of years now, having lived in our new house for a year, with a decent amount of savings in the bank, and our son is now 5 years-old. Not to mention, my wife and I are both secure in our positions where we both work. And we have smart phones too!

What that means for me is that I now can focus more directly on “doing so much more” with my blog; in an effort to do this full-time, not just as a hobby with benefits.

"Nobody owes nobody nothing. You owe yourself!"

It’s a simple case of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I need a new problem to solve. I need a new challenge. I know I’m capable of more.

In other words, I’ve reached the blessing of getting to the point where I am very comfortable in life. However, I’m not wired to be okay with being comfortable.

Being in this position only makes me think, “What else could I be doing right now to improve my life?”

Yes, my wife and I are having another child in April, which will surely bring challenges. However, this is “kid #2”, so I feel we as parents already now the basics of what to expect.

I look at more people whose careers inspire me, as did Stefanie Fauquet. I consider food and travel blogger Bren Carrera of House of Bren, someone else I met on that same event in Detroit back in November 2013.

http://brenherrera.com/about/

Since then, I have been following her on social media. I have watched her progress as she was invited to be a guest on The Today Show, thanks to her cooking abilities, and then to be invited back. I have enjoyed seeing her evolve into the media personality she is today.

A few weeks ago I read where she explained on Facebook she had publishing company keeping their eye on her, who recently offered her a book deal. I love that! I am so happy for her:

“After dreaming for 10 years, I finally got a book deal. This publishing company had been watching my work for some time and decided it was time to reach out.”

I also think of my friend and professional photographer, Joe Hendricks, who I’ve now known for a decade.

http://www.joehendricks.photography/showingmomamerica

Recently, he moved his family out of their house, and into an Airstream. They are able to travel the country as a family, as Joe teaches seminars across America, as well as does photo shoots, while also selling his photography online. How awesome is that?

And then there’s my most recently inspiring blogger friend, Jarrid Wilson. Our families met each other at Whole Foods one fateful Saturday morning… and the following fateful Saturday morning after that.

Both Jarrid as well as his wife, Julie Wilson, are full time bloggers. Jarrid simply reinforced the words of Stefanie Fauquet from back in November 2013: “You could be doing so much more with what you’ve got going on.”

All these people inspire me. They have turned their passions (and by default, their lifestyles and hobbies) into adventurous full-time careers.

My New Year’s Resolution for 2016 is make great strides in growing Family Friendly Daddy Blog into a full time career.

I feel that my newest kids’ show series on YouTube, Uncle Nick’s Enchanted Forest, has a lot of potential. I designed the outdoors segment of each webisode to be a good mix of action, adventure, and psychology (regarding interacting with others as well as understanding one’s own emotions). However, the first (indoors) part of each webisode is designed to engage the viewer in creative thinking.

Right now I am thinking about Jesus’s Parable of the Talents (found in Matthew 25). I don’t want my talents to be buried in the ground. I want to invest the talents I have now and make more talents because of it.

I feel that I have a lot of talent that needs to be seen by a larger audience. But like Sylvester Stallone said in his cult classic movie, Over the Top, “The world meets nobody halfway.”

Motivational Sylvester Stallone Quotes That I Will Pass on to My Kids: Choosing the Victor Mindset over the Victim Mentality

And there’s also Sylvester Stallone’s quote in Rocky 3, as well: “Nobody owes nobody nothing! You owe yourself.”

Motivational Sylvester Stallone Quotes That I Will Pass on to My Kids: Choosing the Victor Mindset over the Victim Mentality

Therefore, it’s up to me to prove to the world that I am truly the innovative writer and entertainer I know I am. I must successfully convince the free market.

It’s important to me that I grow my audience, proving to major publications, studios, and networks that I am worth investing in.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe in this one.

This is my new prayer of 2016: That God will grant me more responsibilities in my talents.

I’ve got all the ingredients necessary to reach my goal of becoming a full-time blogger. Now I must figure out how to utilize them in a way that allows me to reach that goal.

Review Of Dandies Vegan Marshmallows By Chicago Vegan Foods

I beg you to stop reading this review if you don’t want to learn what marshmallows are made out of and why a strict vegan, such as myself, won’t eat them.

Last chance…

vegan marshmallows

Okay.

Marshmallows are made from the leftover skin, bones, muscles, and tendons of slaughtered animals. The particular ingredient is typically labeled as “gelatin.”

That explains why when you take leftover Thanksgiving turkey out of refrigerator the next day, there’s that Jello-like broth surrounding it.

As explained in this reputable article on the website Organic Authority explains, the leftover collagen, the soft protein that connects skin, bones, muscles, and tendons of slaughtered animals are used to make gelatin.

From there, the gelatin is used for not only for marshmallows and Jello, but pudding as well.

If you are a strict, kosher-keeping Jew, Muslim, or 7th Day Adventist, you can’t in good conscience consume marshmallows, because unless the label specifically says that the gelatin is from a kosher fish or cow, then it must be assumed that the gelatin is derived from pigs.

Therefore, there is a target demographic for Dandies vegan marshmallows by Chicago Vegan Foods. And I am obviously part of that demographic…

Review Of Dandies Vegan Marshmallows By Chicago Vegan Foods

I honestly couldn’t tell the difference at all in taste or texture. And… they’re kosher, vegan, and non-GMO, as seen on their label.

You can use these for anything you’d normally do with marshmallows, like roast them over a campfire.

Review Of Dandies Vegan Marshmallows By Chicago Vegan Foods

I think it’s awesome that there’s a brand out there that is clever enough to make kosher and vegan marshmallows for all interested parties.

And in case I needed to say it, my son loves them too!

So, maybe you learned something new today. Just don’t ask me where “artificial vanilla” flavoring comes from…

Whatever you do, don’t Google it…

(Secret: Doing so will probably lead you right back here to my blog.)

3 Ways Kids’ Easter Candy Isn’t Vegetarian (Or Kosher)

April 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm , by 

16 months.

This Easter, enjoy the by-products of pig bones, crushed bugs, and my personal favorite, beaver anal glands. I know I will!

Sorry for the Debbie Downer title and subject matter today, but I think you will appreciate how enlightened you will be by the end of this.

Though I haven’t consumed any meat in a long time now, I will be breaking my vegetarian streak this Sunday.

It’s not because I will be grilling out steaks or chewing on some deer jerky, but simply because I want to join in on all that marshmallowy goodness; as we evidently celebrate the bunnies and baby chicks who were present when our Lord and Savior was resurrected from the grave.

Here is why vegetarians, as well as the kosher abiding, must compromise their principles in order to truly enjoy their children’s Easter candy. And for any of you Doubting Thomas’s or blog snipers out there, I’ve conveniently paired each one with a snopes.com (or other more-legitimate-than-Wikipedia) link where you can verify these aren’t simply urban legends or Internet hoaxes left over from April Fool’s Day.

1. Marshmallows: They are what makes Easter candy special, as compared to Halloween or Christmas candy. But what makes marshmallows themselves so special? Well, it’s just that they are made with gelatin, which is comprised of cow hide, pig skins, and bones of both. Pudding, anyone?

http://www.snopes.com/food/ingredient/jello.asp

2. Red food dye: If any of your candy contains the red food dye Crimson Lake, you will be appreciating the splendor of crushed scale insects (parasites of plants). This is why Starbucks is currently taking heat for theirStrawberry Frappuccinos.  Could be worse; at least it’s not made from beaver genitals…

http://www.snopes.com/food/ingredient/bugjuice.asp

3. “Natural” vanilla flavoring: How can you know when a vanilla flavored food is made with actual vanilla or just castoreum, which is the oily secretion, found in two sacs between the anus and the external genitals of beavers? We can’t, thanks to the FDA. But at least we can credit Jamie Oliver for bringing the truth about castoreum to the national limelight for us; just as he did for “pink slime.”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17365147

http://gentleworld.org/the-gross-truth-about-natural-flavors/

Let’s be honest. Knowing all this is fascinating and equally disgusting, but it’s not going to keep any of us from enjoying some Peeps. Especially not me. Happy Easter everyone!