Lemon tree

Yesterday I picked a lemon from my lemon tree. It’s a Meyer lemon tree, and it stands quietly in the corner of my study by the window and the heating vent, looking outside and thinking of how much it misses summertime when it was on the porch bathing everyday in warm summerlight and the sounds of birds and chipmunks and squirrels and their friends.

I had spent time pollinating the tree, using a q-tip, stealing some particles of pollen from one flower and sprinkling them onto another. The effort yielded three four little lemonlings, which have since grown into lemons waiting to be plucked.

 

Lemon tree yielded her first fruit!

A photo posted by Alex Sévigny (@alexsevignyphd) on

So there it was, my first lemon like a little sun at the end of a green stem. I plucked it from the tree and grated its rind making for a wonderful, lemon-tangerine smelling zest characteristic of Meyer lemons. Scraped and cut and squeezed, my little lemon contributed to a lovely lemon pasta, the recipe for which you can find here.

 

Lemon pasta. With freshly picked lemon from lemon tree. Delish!

A photo posted by Alex Sévigny (@alexsevignyphd) on

The last half of the lemon’s juice gave up a beautful red kale caesar salad with vegenaise. Bitter and juicy and creamy and sweet, the salad was a wonderful end to a lovely meal. I was glad to have turned my first harvested lemon into a scrumptious, simple meal. I was thankful.

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Swimming is beautiful

Last night I went for a nice swim at the Westmount Pool in Hamilton on the mountain. It was lovely to swim again after being away from it for a couple of weeks. I felt renewed.

There is something really special about community pools. The energy of a legion of people doing aquafit or just families having a lovely time playing in the water is soothing and makes me think of how happy people can be when they just splash around and laugh and giggle and do things together.

The warmth of the lights, the din and the water lend a certain feeling of security and belonging, while the fact that it fades into a faraway hum when my head is underwater in a rhythmic cadence of din and then distant hum and din and distant hum is mesmerising and relaxing. I feel my tension muscles relax and my mind open with each stroke, with the movement forward and the repetitive nature of the whole thing.

Length after length, stroke after stroke, breath after breath.

It reminds me that I’m alive and that everything happens in increments, despite it sometimes feeling as though it is all coming at me at once. That with every step, I making progress toward a goal, even if that goal is just to swim another length, back to where I came from.

After the swim, I love the humid air of the pool and the cool down period standing under the shower, feeling my body’s muscles moving in a coordinated way after working together to propel me forward through the water. I get a funny feeling that I know my body better when I stand in the change room, drying off and moving. My actions feel more fluid, more coordinated.

Swimming is beautiful.

Relevance is the new reputation

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2017 MCM Reunion and Professional Development Day in Manhattan. It was held at Lubin House, which is the New York City Campus of Syracuse University.

What a wonderful few days it was. Thoughtful, interactive lectures and the chance to connect and reconnect with great colleagues and friends. All of this in the heart of NYC, one of the world’s most dynamic and exciting cities.

I heard many great lectures that I will comment on over the next few blog posts, but was most struck by a sentence uttered by Gary Grates, an MCM alum from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

He said, “Relevance is the new reputation.”

It’s a profound insight. We live in a world of instant access, dialogical relationships and media that has infiltrated every single corner of our lives. We exist, as Marshall McLuhan predicted, in the flow of information and pattern matching is our greatest asset and skill.

In a literate print-driven world, reputation is based on what has been written about you, what exists about you. Reputation is an inventory of assets and action catalogued as assets.

In a dialogue, media and information-driven world, reputation is the result of fit, of insertion, of a feeling of relevance.

Sweet moment on the train

I took the early morning train from Ottawa to Toronto today. It was dark when I started and I watched the quiet misty winterlight rise up as though from the forest floor. It was magical and made me feel like meditating but instead I read some of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums which I have been working through in stolen moments of free time.

I was struck that during breakfast in the train, one of the attendants picked up a baby girl of one of the passenger and walked her around the train whilst the young mom had her breakfast. It was natural and friendly and cheerful. No guile or pretence.

Life should be more like that, shouldn’t it? Trusting and helping each other in a brotherly or sisterly way should be a commonplace.

That would make for a better world, in my mind anyhow.

Q & A on my first year as a vegetarian

It has been almost a year since I left meat behind and changed my diet. People often ask me about what my experience has been like: Has it been hard? Did it cause you social stigma? What was hardest to give up? Are you protein deficient?

I thought I would compile my answers to some of the top questions I have gotten at dinner parties, social events and on planes, trains and automobiles as people heard that I had become plant-centric and plant-based.

Plant-based eating is the future. Millennials, rich people and highly educated people have known for a while, but we are on the brink of everyone else finding out now.


Why did you do it?

I did it for health reasons. After my father had a stroke, I started to get serious about my own health. His stroke happened on my 42nd birthday and it was a big deal for me – a shock and a reminder that no one is immortal.

I started looking into health causes of strokes and cardio events. All the evidence I could find was that veganism or vegetarianism reduces all cause mortality by a significant margin. This was brought home to me through the work of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn whose book: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease is very convincing. I highly recommend it.

Since then I discovered the wok of Dr. Michael Gregor, How Not To Die, which is an engaging read demonstrating the healthful power of vegan/plant-based eating.

Are you going to become vegan?

Right now, I am not on the road to becoming completely vegan.  However, I would say that I eat plant-based meals 60% of the time right now, with my only exceptions being eggs, cheese, and oysters!

Have you seen any health benefits?

Yes. Enormous. I have lost 20 lbs. My blood pressure has plummetted. As well, when I actually have a string of vegan days, my blood pressure gets down to 100/60, down from 130/80 when I was eating meat. As well – particularly on vegan days – my resting heart rate has dropped from ~77 to ~60.

But don’t you lack energy?

No, quite the opposite. My energy level is very high and I never get that sick feeling that I used to after eating meat. In fact, I recently bought a bike and have a goal of doing a triathlon this summer. There are many examples of plant-based and plant-centric athletes, such as Brendan Brazier and Rich Roll.

Ok. So you started for health reasons. How about the animals?

To be honest, I was not very aware of the plight of animals on farms when I started my vegetarian adventure. The fact is that many factory farm animals live lives of torture and suffering.

Watching movies like Cowspiracy and listening to Rich Roll’s excellent podcasts has reinforced this for me and brought home the healing power of plant-based (vegan) living. From duck-down coats, to your cosmetics tested on animals, to the coyote fur brimming your parka’s hood — you are being made a participant in the torture and slaughter of innocent sentient beings.

Once I came to this realisation, I couldn’t unthink it.

I am done with meat and I do my very best to avoid products that use animal parts such as skin, fur, feathers and down. Does that mean I am throwing away my leather couches or jacket? No. That would be absurd and disrespectful to the beings who gave their skin to the creation of that furniture or those clothes. Will I ever buy another leather couch or jacket? No.

So before you think I have become an animal rights fanatic or something let me explain.

Through my own lifestyle change, I have discovered that ending my consumption of products that depend on violence towards animals or their bodies and minds has enhanced my awareness of suffering in people too.

We should strive toward a non-violent, cruelty-free and suffering-free society for all sentient beings. That means animals and people.

How about the environment?

Animal husbandry is a greater source of emissions. The pollution doesn’t end there, either. Whether it is the incredible amounts of animal waste that factory farms generate or the methane those animals emit, the animal husbandry industry is a major contributor to climate change and polluter of our lakes, rivers and soil.

Was it hard to give up meat?

Yes, at first, it was. I longed for a burger at first. But after a while, I guess my microbiome changed and my body and mind stopped craving meat. In fact, I recently went to buy olives at the grocery store and found myself in the middle of deli section where the olives are found. I felt sick. The area looked like an abbatoir or a morgue. It smelled like death. I saw body parts all around me. I was repelled and left as fast as I could.

Do that mean you have become a delicate petal?

No. It means that over the course of the last year my body’s microbiome has changed and things that used to smell good to me now smell really gross.

How about cheese and dairy?

Well, I am not vegan. I enjoy cheese and eggs. I don’t like milk – I never have. I have always preferred soy or almond alternatives.  I love cheese in my pasta and on a caesar salad. I do prefer vegenaise to mayo.

On the one hand I recognize that cheese is full of saturated fat, which is bad for me. On the other hand, I don’t eat it massive quantities.

Also, I think (although many will disagree) that cheese and eggs can be ethically sourced. I have visited the farm that produces the eggs that I buy and the chickens look very happy. They run around the barnyard, eat lots of kale and bugs and worms, and run happily toward the farmer when he approaches. They really love him.

How about fish?

Well, I was a pescetarian for the first half of the year, but then I gave up the fish as well. I did this more for ethical reasons than for health ones – fish farming has a strongly negative environmental effect. Also, I found that my taste for flesh has really diminished and I don’t crave fish flesh. I have to admit that I still love oysters!

How about vitamin b-12 and omega-3?

I have discovered that you can get more than enough of both of these through flax and chia seeds or by supplementing. There is nothing better than overnight oats with lots of chia, hemp and/or ground flaxseed. Fortified almond milk can be a great source of b-12 as well.

How about protein?

Well, I still eat cheese which has protein. As well, I eat a lot of kale, beans and grains, which also have a lot of protein!

Has this been hard, socially?

Ha. No. In fact, I find that there are tons of veggie options at most restaurants. You just sometimes have to get a few appetizers and a salad instead of a main course.

Also, most people I have spoke with tell me that they would like to reduce or eliminate the meat in their diet. The percentage of vegetarians has been growing enormously in the last ten years, particularly among millennials who are the likeliest to be vegetarian of any generation.

I think meat-eating is going to quickly become something that old people, less-educated people and poorer people do, like smoking.

Alex, are you a fanatic now?

No, I am not. I have made a conscientious choice to do something for my health, for the good of animals and to help build a better, cruelty-free world.

Do you judge me for eating meat, Alex?

No, I don’t. You are just making a different life-choice than me.  It’s a choice. We live in a free country. You can do as you please.

It comes down to a simple thing: I don’t want a sentient being to have to die so that I can eat a meal.

New Year’s Resolutions 2017

 

In 2016, my resolutions concerned trying to craft a life amid the enormous amounts of work that I do. We are all storm-tossed as we sail the seas of career, personal goals, and relationships. I made it my aim to be mindful and examine the different elements of my life and try to find myself in them. In that, I feel I met those resolutions. 2016 was a year of growth and self-awareness. A good year.

In terms of health and fitness, I definitely got somewhere. First, I became pescetarian then vegetarian. Then I lost 20 lbs, going from 192 last New Year’s Day to 172 today. I can run and swim now, too.

Here are my resolutions for 2017:

  1. Write a book. I have been thinking about several themes and gathering data for a while now. I am now ready to give shape to these patterns of thought in long form. I haven’t really felt ready until now.
  2. Pray, meditate and be mindful. I will continue along the path that I started on a year ago and try to meditate and pray daily. I have been starting the mindful practice of saying a quick, silent, unobtrusive prayer of gratitude before meals – no one even notices! Prayer, meditation, and mindfulness don’t feel like a chore so much anymore, so I am hopeful for this year.
  3. Build on the basic fitness I have achieved to become an athlete again. Last year, I invested time and became quite good at running and swimming. This year my aim is to learn to cycle effectively and maybe complete a triathlon. Not to compete, just to finish. This will mean getting overall weight down to a lean, muscular, 150 lbs or so.
  4. Find time to build a real life. I work incessantly, but I am feeling that neglecting my personal life has actually been holding me back from achieving the things I want. Right now, relaxation seems to involve mostly just collapsing exhausted in front of Netflix. I need to find time for true rest and leisure – actually spending time doing simple, fun things, maybe even with other people.

So there you have it. Let’s see how it goes.

The Outdoor Pool

On sunny summer days, the water calls
Transparent between blue walls, reflecting the sky
We gather in the change room, often silent
Stripping down with no pretence
There are ladders in the pool
No hierarchy though
Just grace and speed and will
The coolness of the water
Distant splashes around you
Brief bursts of music through your cap
Rhythmic breathing bringing calm and peace
Perpetual movement going nowhere but far
Repetition becoming contemplation
It’s a quiet place
Where you’re together but apart
And it’s ok