Marks Personal Interests
Ever since I was a kid I have loved to “exercise,” from climbing trees (and of course building tree houses) to gymnastics to wrestling to judo to swimming, springboard diving, fencing (foil), and weight lifting, I have enjoyed them all. Exercising and “moving” makes me feel alive. In Chinese medicine, pain and depression are seen as “stuck” energy. The solution is to get the energy moving in one way or another. Whether you do this with herbs, acupuncture or by exercising, the key is to get things moving! Whether you prefer to do this at a gym, in your house or outside, make sure that you enjoy it, because if you don’t, you’ll soon stop. Find some way to use and move your body: walk, run, jump, dance, jump up and down; what you choose to do doesn’t matter – just get moving! When you do, you will be rewarded with feeling better physically and mentally. One of my favorite sayings sums it up: Use it or Lose it!
The picture of me to the right was taken in a gym in Florence, Italy. I was there with my sister who is a personal trainer (and an artist). It was a small gym by US standards (not unusual in Europe). They had a smattering of machines and free weights. The real surprise was when we went upstairs and found this room filled with old exercise equipment (most of which didn’t work). The highlight was one of those machines with a big strap that women used to put around their behinds in hopes of losing weight – something you’d see in a spa in the 1950’s.What a laugh! It was like you just stepped into an old “I Love Lucy” episode. Even though most of these old relics didn’t contribute much in the way of “exercise,” they certainly made up for it in the entertainment category! Remember the key is to add movement and exercise to your life, one way or another. Have fun!
When I was a kid my mother planted flowers around the perimeter of our house. Nothing exotic: marigolds, irises, roses, hostas, lilacs, and forsythia bushes – your basic suburban garden. Being a curious kid, I wanted to learn about plants and gardening, so she then started teaching me the basics – digging, planting, weeding, watering, etc. But the most memorable experience of all was when she showed me how to “grow” potatoes. Who knew that when you cut a potato up and buried the “eyes” in the ground you’d get more potatoes! After what seemed an eternity they finally poked their heads above the soil. Boy, was I disappointed when I found out that I had to wait ALL summer before I could dig them up! Finally, the big day came. I was so thrilled as I dug down in the dirt and pulled out “my” potatoes! That night when we ate them (there weren’t many and they were all small), you can be sure that as far as I was concerned, they were “the best potatoes in the whole wide world!”
Time passed and when I was a teenage I got a job in the Indoor Gardening section at Spag’s (a local legend in Shrewsbury, Mass – it was the first store that bought in bulk and sold things at a real discount). Here I learned about the fascinating world of pesticides, herbicides and other gardening wonders. I naively unloaded boxcars of chlordane and other now-outlawed chemicals. A couple of years later I had horrendous allergies, waking up with apile of tissues every morning next to my bed. Over time my knees began to hurt, and then my elbows….by 17 I was walking with a cane! A number of years later I found an alternative doctor who “detoxed” me of the chemicals I had absorbed. Boy was I surprised when my allergies and pain disappeared after the detox! This experience not only taught me about the “wonders” of alternative medicine but also the importance of avoiding all the chemicals that are still being used in gardening and agriculture.
Despite all of this, I still love gardening and find it relaxing, creative, and of course, good exercise! One of the things gardening has taught me is that it takes time, caring, and patience to create a great garden….not unlike good health and good relationships. You don’t have to plant hundreds and hundreds of plants to be a “gardener.” All there is to do is to find some plants you like, and take care of them! Indoors, outdoors, it doesn’t matter, as long as you enjoy it!
The following pictures are of the garden that I tend now. Lots and lots of hard work have gone into it. First I had to get rid of the weeds, dead bushes and trees, rocks and boulders. Then I had to till and enrich the soil. I also had to have a vision or plan….and of course, lots of patience. Patience with how slow things grow (with the exception of weeds); patience with the weather; and most of all patience with things I can’t control! So if it is such hard work, slow going, frustrating at times, and full of things you can’t control, why bother? For me, it’s because of the joy it gives others. Last Spring a little boy (about two) and his father walked around my garden. His eyes were popping out of his head as many of my tulips were taller than he was! Filled with wonder, he turned to his Dad and said: It’s Tulip Land!!! What more could one ask for?
Cooking is not about food. Cooking is about life: sharing, creating, and nourishing. Italian on my father’s side and Lithuanian on my mother’s side, food was central to Family. Some of my happiest memories are of getting together with my relatives and sharing food, fun, and laughter. Luckily for me, my mother taught me (and all of my siblings) to cook. (I think it is a shame that many, if not most kids don’t have any idea of where their food comes from, let alone how to cook it. – but I digress.) When I was six or seven I was cooking scrambled eggs…well, not so much “cooking,” more like “experimenting.” Thanks to the wonders of “food coloring” I made scrambled eggs that were red, blue, REALLY yellow, and of course, green eggs (without ham.) When I was eight I learned how to make pizza. Unfortunately, I was a little heavy-handed with the oregano on my first try…. Yeck! Fortunately for me (and more so, my family), I improved with practice.
By the time I was twelve I was making Coq au Vin from scratch for the family for dinner – thanks to the tutelage of Julia Child! And on it went. Pastry chef, Private chef, restaurant work and eventually I had my own catering business. Despite cooking many decadently unhealthy dishes, my interest in nutrition did not fall by the wayside. When I was a private chef I cooked a low-fat diet based on the work of Nathan Pritikin – an early pioneer in low-fat eating and cardiovascular health. In my catering business I created a line of low-fat desserts – years before most people had even heard of such a thing! Some of you may be thinking – what fun! Yes, there were many times when it was fun, but don’t be fooled by what you see on TV. Cooking professionally is work…hard, hard work with long hours, often poor to mediocre pay, and you work when everyone else is playing (nights, weekends, and holidays). Eventually I had enough and “retired” from the profession but certainly not from cooking! I still cook wonderful meals for myself most every night and do a couple of full-out, multi-course WOW dinners for my closest friends. I highly encourage you to learn to cook if you don’t already. When it’s not a job, but an avocation instead, it can be a great way to relax, be creative, and share with your friends and loved ones. As they say: Try it, you’ll like it!
As I sit here at my desk, I see in front of me a purple-spotted cow…..no, no, I’m not on drugs! There really is a small cow next to my computer with purple spots that my mother colored in a number of years ago. Now you may be thinking she was on drugs but I assure you she wasn’t either. When I received it in the mail there was a card enclosed that simply said: There is such a thing as a purple cow. You see, many years ago when I was very, very small I colored a cow in my coloring book. I used one of my favorite colors at the time – purple! I was so excited and proud of this that I showed it to my mother and the mother of my best friend next door who was visiting. Upon seeing it she said with distain: there is no such thing as a purple cow. Years later it became a symbol for my mother and my self – don’t let other people tell you what is “right” or “wrong” when it comes to creative expression.
Thanks to my mother, I boldly went forward, creating all kinds of things from towers made of empty spools of thread, to paper mache, “gymp,” etc. I loved to draw and remember my first copying of a master work – Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus (more commonly known as Venus on the Half-Shell). In later years I did some water color painting and then years after that I was blessed to study for five years with one of the great portrait artists and teachers: Robert Cormier. Sadly he passed leaving me without a teacher. Fortunately I found another painter who is not only a gifted artist but also an excellent teacher: Tom Ouellette.
I find that like gardening, cooking, and life in general, it too demands lots of patience if you want to get good at it. So I plod along, making mistakes, making more mistakes, then making fewer mistakes….such is progress! I think the greatest gift my first teacher Bob gave me was the ability to “see.” When it comes down to it, art is really all about seeing. Seeing color in the shadows that you never knew were there, appreciating things in a new light, increasing your awareness of all that is around you, seeing beauty in places that some would call ugly. The wonderful thing is that the more you see, the more you see! I invite you to explore some form of art or other creative expression. After all, there is more to Life than Work! So get out some paper and draw, or break open some finger paints and have some fun. At the very least, go out and open your eyes – there’s so much to see!
Below are some pieces of art that I have done over the years. You may recognize the famous Vermeer painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Copying famous works of art is a common practice that artists have done over the centuries (my copy is done with pastels). It helps improve your own abilities and also teaches you how they worked. The drawing of the young Egyptian boy is another copy done after an ink drawing by the great master Jean Leon Gerome (mine was done in charcoal). You will also see other charcoal drawings done of statues. These reproductions of famous sculptures are called “casts” and are made of plaster or other similar materials. Like copying drawings and paintings, drawing casts was and is still a part of classical artists training. The idea is that by working in just black and white you learn to see all the “values” or subtle shades from the darkest dark to the lightest light without having to deal with (or get confused by) color. Again, it’s all about seeing. Now it’s your turn, get creative and see what you can see!