5 Reasons Why You Should NOT Move to Los Angeles

Photo ©Matt Vasko 2014
Photo ©Matt Vasko 2014

Let’s face it, Los Angeles is amazing.  But here’s the thing – we’ve got a horrible traffic situation, and as more people move here it’s only getting worse.  So, consider this to be me doing my part to help relieve the congestion.  Perhaps you’ve visited LA and thought it could be a nice place to live.  Maybe you’ve seen glorious images of it on TV and in movies.  Mayhaps you have family or friends here and just want to be close to them.  No matter the reason, you should not move here.  And here are five reasons why…

The Weather
Oh my gawd!  The weather here is freaking awesome!  It’s warm, sunny and gorgeous like 99.999% of the time.  And temperate too.  We only have a few weeks a year when it’s either too hot or too cold.  Most of the time it’s in the 70s or 80s.  It’s spectacular.
BUT…
It’s sunny like 99.999% of the time!  Do you realize what a monumental pain in the ass it is to put on sunblock every. single. time. you want to go outside for longer than it takes to walk from your house to your car?  Ack!  You don’t need that crap.  Forget it.

Photo ©Matt Vasko 2014
Photo ©Matt Vasko 2014

The Ocean
Holy Shit!  Have you seen the stunning beaches we have here?!  I mean, it’s so ridiculously amazeballs that you need to slap yourself in the face sometimes just to make sure you’re not dreaming.  They’re wondrous!  They’re enormous!  And there are TONS of them!
BUT…
Those sandy beaches get hot.  Seriously, you’ll burn your feet.  And the sand sticks to e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.  It winds up in your hair, on your beach gear, even your car.  Yuck!  No way!  That’s not for you!

The Mountains
WOW!  Have you seen these mountains?!!  They’re freaking everywhere!  They’re scenic and majestic and awe inspiring.  It’s nuts!  With a short 15 minute cruise you can be up in the mountains and completely forget that you live in probably the best city in the entire world – because it’s totally peaceful and zen and shit.
BUT…
They’re big.  And did I mention that they’re freaking everywhere?  I mean, a mountain range cuts through the middle of the damn city for crap sake?!  Who the hell thought THAT was intelligent city planning?!!  All that up, down, up, down.  Fuck that!  You’re outta here!

Photo ©Matt Vasko 2014
Photo ©Matt Vasko 2014

Hollywood
It’s the goddamn entertainment capital of the world!  Hell yes it is!  You know all those TV shows and movies that make LA look so glorious… yeah, we make those here.  We’ve got celebrities up the yin-yang.  I literally bumped into Steve Carell at the grocery store one day.  Nice guy.  Very gracious.
BUT…
If you think traffic is bad already, then just try getting through downtown LA during rush hour when Bruce Willis is shooting his next blockbuster movie at the corner of Grand and 1st.  Screw that noise.  You don’t need that.  Besides, Steve Carell is too damn chatty.

ALL the Other AWESOME Stuff!
World class museums, theater, music, dining, shopping, amusement parks, site seeing and on and on and on!  You can literally do something different every-single-freaking-day of the year and never get bored.  It’s as if the city is an oyster and it’s yours for the taking.  It truly boggles the mind.  This place rocks.  Hard.
BUT…
Uuuuuuuuuugh… it’s exhausting!  You’d be overwhelmed.  It’s too much.  It’s just too much.

Well, there it is folks.  Los Angeles is absolutely, positively, the best place to live in America and possibly even the world, hands down.

But it’s not for you.

So don’t move here.

How I Lost 45 Pounds in Just Five Years!

Why should the title of this post impress you?  Clearly I haven’t discovered some “amazing weight loss miracle that will dramatically change your appearance in just weeks!” as so many diet plans tout.  So what’s the big deal?  Here’s the big deal – I’ve lost weight and kept it off.  I’m more physically fit than I’ve been in 10 years.  I’m the lightest that I’ve been since college.

So, this is my story.  Throughout my life, until I hit 30, I could eat just about anything I wanted and not gain weight.  In my 20s, people would give me warnings like, “Just wait until you turn 30, you won’t be able to eat like this then!”

Those people were right.  I kept on eating whatever I wanted and in my early 30s I started packing on the pounds.  I left my 20s at about 175 lbs.  At 6’1”, I was thin.  By time that I was 36 I had rocketed to 210 lbs.  That year (2009), I slipped on a tile floor and dislocated my left knee.  I had never dislocated a knee before and my orthopedist blamed it on both a genetic predisposition to bad knees, and being overweight and out of shape.

After a stint in an hip-to-ankle brace, my doctor put me into physical therapy.  The physical therapist’s office was full of mirrors and I spent many (ugh, too many!) hours in front of them.  I didn’t like what I saw.  I decided it was time to make a change.

Backing up for a second, I had tried the South Beach diet when I was 34.  I lost 12 lbs in three weeks, but as is often the case with fad diets, after getting off the plan I gained it all back… and then some.  This time, I went a decidedly different route.  I turned to medical science.  We’ve heard the medical advice for losing weight so many times that it sounds almost cliché – eat right and exercise.  Ultimately though, what I was committing myself to what was a radical lifestyle change.

Those two seemingly simple changes – improving my diet and exercising – would end up meaning myriad dietary changes and committing to getting off my butt for at least 30 minutes every-other-day and getting moving.  Some of the changes were easy.  Some took – and continue to take – serious discipline.

The first thing I did was set about educating myself regarding calories, saturated fats, sugar, and complex carbohydrates.  I cut out alcohol, sugary drinks, and fast food.  I added more lean meats and fresh vegetables to my diet.  And the hardest change – I gave up my bowl of chocolate ice cream before bed each night.  I started walking on my lunch breaks between three and five days a week.

In terms of educating myself about calories, I utilized an app for my smart phone called MyFitnessPal.  I credit this app for helping me understand how many calories I should be eating per day and helping me grasp what I was really seeing when I looked at the labels on food packaging.  I recommend checking out MyFitnessPal or something else like it (hey, it’s not like I own stock in the company or something).  You won’t need to use it forever.  Soon, you will learn how much of which foods you can or should eat; basically committing the information from the app to memory.

Exercise was a bit of a challenge for me.  I didn’t want to do aerobics and my now bad knee hurt when I ran.  So, as I mentioned, I walked.  It helped, though I’m certain that if I would have resigned myself to something more strenuous right from the beginning then the change would have been more rapid.  Still, I committed myself to a workout routine that I could adhere to and that – I believe – is the important thing.  First just do it.  Then just stick to it.

It only took me about eight months to go from 210 lbs down to 185 lbs.  That averages out to losing 1.28 lbs per week.  That’s not too bad.  Doctors say that you should not try to lose more than 2lbs a week.  This is because people who lose weight more quickly than that are more likely to gain it back.

That was where I got stuck.  I hovered between 185 lbs and 180 lbs from early 2010 through late 2013.  Basically, I had done all the better I was going to do with the diet and exercise routine that I had chosen for myself.  Frankly, I didn’t want to eat any better and I didn’t think I could work out any more.

In the late summer of 2013 I revisited my orthopedist to see if there was anything that could be done about the chronic pain, snaps, crackles, and pops in my knee.  This single doctor’s visit would end up being what set the stage for finally getting off my weight loss plateau.  My doctor’s advice about the pain and noise was simple:  ignore it.  He said as long as it doesn’t dislocate a third time (oh yeah, it dislocated again in 2012 when I was playing a too-strenuous sport for a guy who just walked a couple of times a week), then I should just work through the pain.  He asked me what I would do if I could do any kind of exercise I wanted to.  I said that I would start running.  He said, “Then run.”

And so I did.  After a few months of walking more often on more strenuous paths to build myself up, I felt confident start a running routine.  I run every-other-day.  I use the RunKeeper app to track my progress and I freaking love it (I don’t own stock in this company either, so use whatever you want, but it’s fun and encouraging to track your progress).  Full disclosure:  Sometimes the knee gets to hurting and I need to walk for a few days.  But mostly I run.  And mostly I feel great.

Today, I’m down to 165 lbs… and I’ve plateaued again.  I’d like to make it down to 160 lbs, but that is going to mean either running more or eating even better.  I’ll let you know what happens when I decide to commit to either one of those things.

So, there it is.  That’s how I lost 45 lbs in just five years… and you can too!

So, How’s the Writing Going?

I’m fortunate to have supportive friends and family members that are enthusiastic about my transition to a freelance writing career.  When I visit with them the question that invariably comes up is “So, how’s the writing going?”

For their sakes – and for the sake of anyone in the whole wide world that might be reading this – I’m pleased to say that it is going well!

Here’s the latest:

I’m writing every day.  It’s been a lot like working out.  My writing has become stronger the more I have been doing it and I’ve become able to write more in less time.  My proof reading skills, clarity, and agility at rewriting have also improved (but I suppose you can judge some of that for yourself).

I’ve been studying hard and beefing up my knowledge of social media and SEO writing.  My goal is to become an expert in the area in order to maximize my marketability.  I approached a friend at EnnouncementCards.com and asked her if I could interview her about her experience employing people to manage her social media and SEO.  We had a phone meeting that helped me gain perspective into the kinds of things that will best help me serve clients.

…A couple of weeks later she contacted me and said that the person that handled their social media part time had taken on other commitments and had given notice.  She stated that she was impressed with my knowledge when we spoke and wanted to know if I would want to take over managing their social media.  I was delighted by the opportunity, and began working for them at the beginning of August.  It’s been a fantastic experience so far.  She has been pleased with my work and the boost in Facebook page likes, reach and engagement that I have quickly been able to attain.  I enjoy writing the short bursts of creative copy and doing some light graphic design.  I am also excited that my decision to make this transition to freelance writing has resulted in employment in short order.  That has been a big encouragement.

This morning, I completed a 2,400 word sermon that I will be giving at my church (Neighborhood UU Church of Pasadena, CA) later this month.  It is the culmination of work that I began in Dr. Rev. Jim Nelson’s sermon writing class that I took in the spring called “Preacher in You.”  It has been a wonderful spiritual and intellectual journey and I’m excited to see how it will be received.  Wish me luck!

I’m working my way through the next rewrite on my children’s book tentatively titled, “A Gift for Emily.”  This time around I am using Ann Whitford Paul’s “Writing Picture Books” as my guide.  Since this is my first crack at writing a children’s book it seemed logical to take a structured approach such as this.  My friend and mentor Sean Diviny, author of “Snow Inside the House” and “Halloween Motel” has also been a huge asset to me in this process.

I have an outline mapped out in my brain for my entry into the Real Simple life lessons essay contest.  That’s my next project.  It will be my first entry into a writing contest since my short play “Spin Cycle” won the The New American Theatre One Act Festival contest about a decade ago.

I will begin applying for more freelance jobs in September, when my twins start preschool.  Right now, my plate is as full as time allows (I’m writing this blog entry while the kids are napping).  I’ve subscribed to the Media Bistro Morning Media Newsfeed and FreelanceWriting.com’s Morning Coffee eNewsletter, and both seem like they will be excellent sources for job leads when the time comes.

Oh… and I’m writing a blog.  You might have heard of it.  It’s called Super Eclectica and I write about everything from adventures in parenting to advice for in-laws to – pause for dramatic effect – how my writing is going.  You should totally subscribe to it.

McDonalds PlayPlace: A Parent Paradise

Several months before our twins were born I swore off fast food.  I was roughly 50 pounds heavier than I am now and I wanted to lose weight and get in shape.  I knew that once those buns were out of the oven and started running I was going to need to be in much better shape if I was going to keep up with them.

I was also one of those people who – before my kids were born – swore that I would never take them to McDonalds (or any other fast food joint).  Buuuuuuut… then we were on a road trip when the kids were two and we needed a quick bite and a place for the kids to stretch their legs.  We succumbed to stopping at a McDonalds.  No surprise – the kids loved the food, not to mention the fact that the trinkets that came with the Happy Meals absolutely blew their minds.  I mean, there were free toys!!!

That particular Mickey D’s didn’t have a PlayPlace, but it did have an enclosed patio.  There was no one else on it, so we let the kids roam while they ate.  This experience seemed to leave an indelible mark on their psyches, because every time that we passed a big yellow “M” after that we would hear a chorus of “McDonalds!!!” cheered from the back seat.

In time, we decided that McDonalds would be an okay once-in-a-while treat.  And when they did experience a McDonalds with a PlayPlace for the first time, forget about it – they were McDonalds junkies.  Whenever we would treat them to it, they would absolutely lose. their. minds.  Each visit was like Christmas morning on a sugar rush.

Cut to me becoming a stay-at-home dad.  They had recently turned three.  I get monthly allergy shots and decided that their treat for not tearing apart the doctor’s waiting room each month would be lunch at McDonalds.  Little did I know that I would become a McDonalds junkie, too.

Here’s why… McDonalds PlayPlace is Parentopia.  It is Mecca meets Nirvana meets Starbucks.  There is absolutely nothing for a parent to do at a McDonalds PlayPlace… and it’s marvelous!  The play area is safe and typically enormous.  The kids actually want to eat their lunch.  All you have to do is lean back, keep one eye on the kids, and dine on any one of too many menu items – most of which are guilty pleasures.  I could be getting a full-body massage by a babbling brook and not be as relaxed.  My kids could be at a $12-for-two-hours indoor gym and not be as happy.  Literally, you look around at the other parents and all you see are smiling faces partially obscured by smart phones.

Sure, they always forget the barbeque sauce for my son’s four-piece Chicken McNuggets, at least one of the toys is missing or wrong, and there are never enough napkins, but it’s air conditioned and offers free drink refills.

If you know of a more idyllic spot for parent/child bliss, I’m open to suggestions.  If you want to give me a hard time about treating my kids to junk food once a month, have at it.  But if you want to try to prove to me that I am wrong about McDonalds PlayPlace being Parentopia then you’re going to have a fight on your hands.

Namaste

6 Things All In-Laws Need to Know

My In-Laws are awesome!  Now there’s something that you don’t hear every day, right?  It’s true though.  I am one of those lucky people who hit the jackpot, because not only was I fortunate enough to find the perfect partner, but she happens to have fantastic parents with whom I have a great relationship.  There are a lot of awful things about in-laws on the internet (just Google “in-law” and watch what spews forth), but not many positive things.  Maybe it’s because there is a long tradition of poking fun at in-laws, or maybe it’s honestly because more people have bad relationships with their in-laws than good ones.  I sure seem to have a better relationship with my in-laws that most of my friends.  So, this is my attempt to tip the balance and get some positivity about in-laws into the mix.  Here are six big things that my In-Laws do right.  They are things that all people who play the role of in-law might find it helpful to know.

1.  Be Kind to Your Child
Whenever my friends and I get to talking about our In-Laws I often hear the same complaint over and over again.  They say that this item is the biggest problem they have with their In-Laws, and you might be surprised to know that it’s not about their own relationship with their In-Laws.  They say that the number one thing that upsets them about their In-Laws is that they are unkind to their child (my friends’ spouses).  One friend, for example, said that he can barely stand to be in the room when his In-Laws visit, because they are always putting his wife down.  Look at the tough situation my friend is in.  He loves these people’s daughter and gets furious with them, because he doesn’t think that they love her enough – or at least have a terrible way of showing it.  This might be something that in-laws have a blind spot about.  They don’t realize that being less-than-kind toward their child can cause their son- or daughter-in-law to dislike them.

Fortunately for me, my wife’s parents are huge cheerleaders and advocates of her.  They praise her for her successes and support her during the tough times.  I’ve always felt that they are on her side in life and that they are proud of the adult that she has become.  After all, they raised her and she’s excellent, so they deserve to take some pride in the way she has turned out.

2.  Don’t Try to “Parent” Your Son/Daughter-In-Law
I already have parents.  They’re great.  I didn’t get married because I needed more parents.  My In-Laws seem to get that fact and treat me differently than they do their children.  I would say that they are somewhere between my friends and mentors.  One big thing they don’t do is offer me unsolicited advice.  Sure they do it to my wife all the time, and my parents do it to me, but hey – that’s just the natural order of things.  Still, they often have great advice, so I do consult with them on things; that’s when they fill the role of mentor.  Otherwise, they just treat me like I’m a heck of a lot of fun to be around.

3.  Be Good Marriage Roll Models
Lots of folks have crappy marriages.  Some of these people have children that are married.  Here’s some advice – if you have a crappy marriage, don’t flaunt it around your adult children and their spouses.  If my In-Laws have anything other than a terrific marriage then I’d sure never know it.  They seem like each other’s best friend, greatest advocate, and co-conspirator (because they spend half their time planning their next great adventure).  Admittedly, they will sometimes bicker with one another in front of my wife and me, but it’s actually a healthy influence on us because we also see them work things out.  Most importantly, neither of them speaks ill about the other in front of us.  I appreciate them as marriage role models.  Contrast this with my friends who say things like, “I’ve seen how dysfunctional my In-Law’s marriage is, why should I take any marriage advice from them?”

4.  Engage with Your Grandchildren
I’m sure there are exceptions, but I would argue that grandparents as a rule love their grandchildren.  That is as it should be.  But if you really want to wow your son- or daughter-in-law then do what my In-Laws do – get in there and really mix it up with them.  My In-Laws have made grandparenting a contact sport and it impresses the heck out of me.

Recently, my family and I were vacationing with my In-Laws.  I was in the bedroom unpacking when I heard a lot of commotion and giggling coming from the living room.  Concerned that my three-year-old twins were already getting out of control and might annoy their Grandparents, I rushed into the main room to see what was going on.  To my surprise, I found my Father-In-Law chasing my kids throughout the condo.  The kids were – as you might expect – giggling and loving it, and I couldn’t have been happier.  Not only were they not driving their Grandpa crazy, they were making fun memories.

Last week, my In-Laws came over to our house for lunch.  After we finished eating, I was cleaning the dining room and could hear my Mother-In-Law and daughter speaking in the living room.  Mind you, I could hear them, but I couldn’t see them.  My daughter, who loves books and enjoys being read to, asked her Grandma to read her a book.  Grandma obliged and they settled in on the couch.  I heard my Mother-In-Law say, “The name of this book is Emily.” And as she began to read I thought, “We don’t have a book by that name.”  And as she ‘read’ the book I realized what had happened.  My daughter once had me staple several sheets of paper together and she ‘wrote’ her own book using her three-year-old’s scribbles, and then had me write her name on the cover.  Emily had asked her Grandma to read that book to her.  My Mother-In-Law had gone along with it and was simply making up the story as she went along.  I was honestly a little overcome by the sweetness of it all.  Go Grandparents!

5.  Be Respectful
As the old saying goes, “You must give respect to get respect.”  Roughly 15 years ago, when I first met the people who would become my In-Laws and wanted desperately for them to like and approve of me, they did something that left quite an impression on me.  They were respectful toward me.  They took a true interest in getting to know me and seemed to really want to hear what I had to say about whatever the topic of conversation might have been at any given moment.  That sense of respect has remained over the years.  And believe me – there have been times when I have not been completely deserving of it.  However, even when they’ve had to knock me back in line, they’ve done so respectfully.   They are believers in the Golden Rule and treat me the way that they want me to treat them.

6.  Think of Him or Her as Family
When my wife and I got married, my In-Laws took me aside and said that I was part of the family now.  I appreciated the sentiment; it meant a lot to be accepted as family.  Still, over the years I’ve noticed something interesting.  They don’t merely treat me like family, they genuinely seem to think of me as family – and I don’t believe that I’m just splitting hairs when I say that there is a difference between the two.  A person might treat a dinner guest like a member of the family, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to involve that person in deep family discussions and actually listen to what he or she has to say about important matters.  Though a person who genuinely thinks of another as family would, and they do.  I never feel like a dinner guest, I feel like the permanent resident that I am.

In closing, I should add that I get the fact that all relationships are a two-way street.  My relationship with my In-Laws is important to me and I do my best to keep up my end of it.  That said, the six things listed here have made my part a joy instead of a chore.  And for that I am truly grateful.

You Won’t Believe How Cheerios Dares to Portray Dads!

Yesterday, my wife came running over to me with her YouTube app open on her phone and said, “You’ve got to see this!  It’s a Cheerios commercial and it’s… well, here, just watch.”

Having no idea what to expect, I watched – and was stunned.  My mind reeled.  I gasped.

Cheerios Box
©BAKER

Cheerios has made a commercial (this one, in fact) about a dad that is not an incompetent goofball; a dad that doesn’t say and/or do things so wildly idiotic that no thinking human being could possibly relate to him; a dad that isn’t a lazy, spineless, helpless, hopeless waste of space on the couch.

He is… wait for it… a dad with his crap together.

Not only that, but he is fully invested in being a dad and – get this – is completely capable of caring for his kids.  The Mom doesn’t need to bail him out once.  None of the kids pull one over on him.  Not once does he fall down and get his head stuck in something.

Is he superhuman?  Is he a demigod?

NO!  He is just a normal Dad.

He is a Dad like billions of Dads the world over.  He cares about his kids, is skilled at seeing to their needs, is 100% invested in his family, and he loves it.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about this commercial is that someone at an ad agency is apparently as fed up with the way that dads are portrayed in commercials as I am.  Is this commercial a sign that we are heading into a new age of pop culture enlightenment?  Is this the dawn of an era in which a commercial dad can be more than the butt of the joke?

Probably not.

But hey – at least somebody got it right once.

(Now, if that person could just talk to the people that make sitcoms.)