T H E 6 T H F L O O R

Life in 6 Land

T H E  6 T H  F L O O R - Life in 6 Land

3 Years Plant Strong

3yearsToday makes it 3 years plant strong after making what some was called “extreme changes” in my life. The decision to take control of my health was unlike any other challenge I had undertaken. At 42 years of age, I was feeling overweight, rundown, sore with aches and pains, constant migraine headaches. Since turning 40 I had undergone two knee surgeries and I wasn’t the same person I was 10 years ago, even 5 years ago before taking that road less traveled on my journey to health.

I have a coworker to thank for getting the ball rolling (read Live to Eat) recommending the documentary, Forks Over Knives. After viewing this documentary I was left stunned. I didn’t know what to think, everything I thought I knew about nutrition (like most Americans) was not what it was. Many of the foods I enjoy under the guise of “health” had been promoted by conglomerates like the beef and dairy industries in order to profit not to maintain health.

FOK moved me, so much so that on the day before Halloween I made the decision to get healthy and stopped consuming foods that were making me sick and fat; meat, dairy and added oils. Many thought I was crazy and didn’t understand the reasons for these changes. In fact, many didn’t really care to listen or show interest in getting healthy. I happened upon Dr. John McDougall and my life changed. It wasn’t easy at first, as I had to learn nutrition all over and forget the inaccuracy I was fed growing up about food groups and what many Americans fail at, moderation.

Removing all meat from this way of eating was an easy decision, but wasn’t done for ethical reasons. This was the first step in a long journey to health. Cooking with added oils was challenging, as the first question I asked myself, “how am I saute my veggies?” Little did I know a small amount of water or vegetable broth works wonders and provides a real food taste instead of oil laden flavor. Dairy was the third part of the equation. As it was I didn’t drink much milk and rarely ate cereal but had never had milk alternatives; soy, almond, hemp or rice. In the end cheese would be the one “food” I missed. I struggled with not eating cheese to the point I would use that fake vegan shit, which was probably more processed and worse for you than dairy cheese.

Through it all I was able to overcome some early challenges. I made a commitment to my health and started recording everything I ate. While I wasn’t counting calories I was tracking food for my benefit, in order to see trends and provide a visual record of where I started and the goal I wanted to achieve. I purchased and read The McDougall Program: 12 Days to Dynamic Health. It was these words that reinforced what I had seen on FOK. The program sounded easy and I saw no reason I couldn’t follow it and be successful.

When I started the program I weighed 219, at times I had tipped the scale above 200 pounds, but at my physical on December 27, 2011 I weighed 216 pounds and had a total cholesterol (TC) of 264 mg/dL, which had continue to rise the previous 3 years. To think it wasn’t my pants and shirts getting smaller, but me getting larger, in part due to the fact of my poor eating habits at work and home. The health problems I faced were being fed by the dairy, meat and oil I continued to include in my diet.

It was a sign of good things to come when I weighed in on the day of my physical over 20 pounds down from where I was when I started less than 30 days ago. At the start of December I weighed in at 190 pounds and my clothes were fitting. The more impressive number I swooned over, the fact I dropped 64 points in my TC! 64 points! I was shocked and amazed that doing nothing but changing the way I ate could make such a powerful statement. It was this real world experience I required that let me know I was doing the “right thing!”

Like man who had just found Jesus, I thought this was my savior. In some regard it was, if I had not made wholesale changes in my life I would continued down that destructive road to deteriorating health. As it was I had turned my health around and I was beginning to reap the rewards and feel the benefits.

Since that day in 2011 I have learned valuable information regarding nutrition. I have connected with many individuals whose health, at one time, was worse off than I was prior to beginning. I have tried many new plant based recipes that I never knew existed, found new and exciting chefs I turn to on a daily basis. People like Julie Marie Christensen who promotes a “protective diet” Chef AJ who cooks “unprocessed” Susan Voisin who’s foods are fat free and vegan and Cathy Fisher “who has straight up good food,” just to name a few. I found I can still sink my teeth into oil free, fat free pizza thanks to Mark Sutton.

Since reaching my target weight of 175 pounds that is where I have remained (+/- 3 pounds). It’s been amazing that it actually gets easier to eat and those foods you thought you would miss, you don’t . I have no problem going to a BBQ without grabbing a slab of meat, burger or dog. No longer do I favor cheese on my pizza. Potatoes have been a godsend and is a cornerstone of this way of eating. Unlike meat, potatoes satiate my hunger. I don’t need to feel guilty eating a few pounds of potatoes a night, unlike choking down that 16 oz. steak I used to desire.

Vegetables and grains now make up my core meals, it’s not all salad, all the time. I would end up being very hungry if it were. My body now thrives on carbohydrates (goes against everything the Paleo crowd promotes) daily. I have learned how to scrutinize labels for ingredients I don’t want to eat. No longer do I (try) eat foods with additives in them. It’s amazing what the FDA approves to be used in food, my body is better for it as I won’t trust the government when it comes to how I eat.

While I would love to say a plant based diet is for everyone, sadly it is not. There are many who will swear how they eat is “healthy” or “clean” and they know how to eat in moderation. That’s great! Enjoy your food and all the best as it relates to your weight and health. While I do promote a plant based lifestyle, it’s not exclusive or better than any other diet, I just know how my body has healed itself and thrived in the past 3 years. The journey has been amazing. I look forward to improving my life as I get older.

Minecraft Halloween

minecraft-halloweenJust give me a minute and think of this. There are MILLIONS of people who have played and experienced Minecraft created by Notch and later developed and published by Mojang. In the many years of online gaming, I have seen very few games that had this sort of impact, not online online but offline. I am sure if we wait long enough we will get a Minecraft movie out of Hollywood. You laugh, I am sure some producer is trying to find a way to capitalize on this moneymaker.  While Halloween 2014 hasn’t quite got here, the Harvest Carnival at Vintage Parkway has come and gone but it has given me time to reflect and consider our options for a Minecraft Halloween in 2015.

What if your kids could walk though the epic world of Minecraft. Now don’t get me wrong Minecraft isn’t all that scary, unless of course you fall into a darkened hole and hear, “Ssss…” Could we capitalize on Minecraft and turn it into a haunted house for the Harvest Carnival? It would appeal to near every kid and quite possibly many parents. The gore factor is minimal with no blood being spilled in the actual game. The game features aspects of Halloween; pumpkins, skeletons, zombies, corn stalks, spiders and the present, creeper.

While we are over a year away from next year’s Harvest Carnival, I am excited about the prospect of exploring this idea and potentially capitalizing on the phenomena that is Minecraft. Just consider the wow factor and faces on kids when they come face to face with a creeper or meet Steve. I am sure we could go as far as introducing Stampylonghead and iBallisticSquid to the mix.

The layout could include some caves covered in diamond, gold and redstone, maybe add a house with zombies trying to break down the wooden door. Torches could be mounted on the walls to provide light and keep the spiders and creepers away. The possibilities are endless, much like the game. If your imagination can dream it, you can build it.

This would make plastic walls more valuable, but the would need to be painted in square blocks depending on what sort of area we were creating. Inexpensive LED lights could bring blocks to life as redstone, as well as power torches. Colored cellophane could provide the necessary color changes to white LED lights. PVC could still be used as a frame with plastic and cardboard bring used to create the necessary effects. All creatures could built using cardboard.

Right now let’s get through Halloween but I am going to further delve into the realm of Mincraft and attempt to use it as a theme for next year’s haunt.

2014 6th Fright

haunted_failureI’ve had a few days to reflect on the 2014 6th Fright this year, which was the centerpiece of the Vintage Parkway Elementary School Harvest Carnival. It took place this past Friday from 6pm to 8pm. Overall, I would say guests through the haunted were pleased with their experience. Me on the other hand walked away a bit discouraged and frustrated with the lack coordination and help, as volunteers were few and far between.

After nearly 3 weeks of our time and effort, Mark and I were excited to put the finishing touches on the haunt and open the doors to make sure everyone could get an opportunity to experience the 6th Fright. I arrived 2.5 hours early in order to set up the queue and ticket table and do some finishing touches inside. Everything was moving forward as planned and Mark arrived a few minutes later and started in on the checklist of things we had to finish.

One by one teachers brought me their permission slips for the kids who signed up to participate in the haunt. Mark had enlisted the help of another dad, Steve, who we used inside the haunt operate one of the drop panels. One by one we had teenage kids roll up saying they were supposed to help.

Thankfully Mark and I completed our listed and checked out the lighting, props and sound. Everything was in order and we were excited and ready to go, so we thought. Leading up to this day we were in need of 6 adults to help the haunt be successful. Mark and I were already going to be inside and two other adults would be required, one to operate the other drop panel and another to be dressed up as an insane clown. The other two adults would take tickets and coordinate the guides with a group every 1 minute, moving them into the haunt.

As the clock ticked closer to 6pm, we still had no adults helpers and my frustration level began to rise. Sometime between last Harvest Carnival and this year something was lost. It was the organization of Susan, a 5th grade teacher last year who coordinated the efforts for the guides and scarers. Now that she is a 4th grade teacher, we missed that coordination piece. That responsibility, unbeknownst to us feel on our shoulders, yet we didn’t think anything off it until it was too late.

As usual with PTA events such as this volunteers are few and far between. It’s sad that parents seem to have no time for their kids or don’t want to volunteer for varies reasons. In fact I heard a complaint from a parent who was upset because their child was there to be a scarer and was not being used. You know what? Maybe if you volunteered we wouldn’t of had this problem. As it was, 6:20pm rolled around and I had still not opened the haunt, Mark and I were not even in our costumes.

Finally we had two teenage girls walk up, the queue was already full and the looks of frustration were on some of the parents faces. I gave the girls a quick run down of what they needed to do, which wasn’t difficult but something was lost in translation. The haunt finally opened about 30 minutes late.

Thankfully Kim, from the office staff came up to the front and I attempted to give her a run down on what we needed. So now our teenage girls (both of them) were taking tickets and counting people, Kim did her best to manage a growing group of 5th graders, some I am sure who never got to scare or guide because of the lack of organization and confusion at 6pm.  Mark and I were very thankfully Kim came up and did her best to manage the situation, which by this time was not going according to plan.

Inside the haunt, I only used two 5th graders as opposed to the five I had planned. One of the teenage females, who was dressed in costume took control of the other drop window, which didn’t please me but we needed a body. Her lack of enthusiasm and failure to follow directions didn’t help the situation. In fact she cut out before the haunt was over when her drop panel broke. Again, more frustration on the night.

All was not lost, the haunt seemed to be very well received by everyone who went through it. We had some very positive comments, as well as a lots of screaming from kids through out the twisting, turning corridors. The best comments of the night came after the haunt was over and two moms said they had never seen so many kids come out of the exit crying. That alone made Mark and I feel we put together a successful haunt for the Harvest Carnival.

I only had to escort one group of 3 girls (5th graders) out of the haunt as they came running around the corner and nearly took out two walls to the dot room, while rolling into the sheet. It was unnecessary and walked them to the emergency exit and told them not to return. Aside from that incident no other kids were tossed out, but I can confirm the crying. Lots of kids inside were scared, which is great because that was part of the goal of a haunted house, to scare you.

We had one equipment failure, as I eluded to earlier with the drop panel. We had built the window using two and three inch screws. The gate latch, which was screwed to the actually panel that dropped to the ground sheared off, requiring he actor to hold the panel up in place before dropping it. Unfortunately the actor running that window cut out without my knowledge leaving the window open for probably the last 30 minutes of the haunt. Very discouraging to see when I would walk through the haunt, back to the entrance to escort new scarers into position.

I had planned for a better turn over of guests through the haunt. Maybe I set my expectations too high, based on the success we had last year. I was hoping for about 800 people to go through in 2 hours. As it turned out, the counter at the entrance showed 364 as the final tally. Nowhere near the foot traffic I had hoped for, which seemed to cap off the night for me.

Nearly 3 weeks of work, time and effort going into this haunt for what equated to about 90 minutes of being open. We might reevaluate the level of effort we put in next year, especially if we continue to get no volunteers. I don’t fault anyone on the PTA board, as they all other duties to attend to during the evening. The teacher have other duties as well during the night. Not sure there is even blame to place, even through we may think there is.

Unlike last year I had to draw up a letter to the 5th grade teachers, talk to each class about what the positions and responsibilities would be this year in the haunt and finally make up a matrix, based on 20 minute increments of time for kids to sign up for to act as a guide or scarer. This was work I didn’t get involved in last year. That was followed by a teacher asking me if I had the permission slips? I knew nothing about them.

So maybe we live and learn each year. But the experience this year was disappointing and will reconsider what next year brings, especially if we don’t see volunteers come forward and help. Between Mark and I, there are 3 years left before our kids are out of Vintage Parkway and I can’t think of a Harvest Carnival without a haunted house, but that might become reality if other parents don’t make time to get involved and help out.

 

6th Floor Haunted House: Tonight

enter_if_you_dareAfter nearly 3 weeks of construction and countless hours of work, the Vintage Parkway 6th Floor Haunt is ready to open doors. The haunted house has been in development for nearly a year, unfortunately some of the ideas I had hoped to include this year fell by the wayside, as I ran out of time, money or just made the decision not to include it this year. Tackling on this project last year, we failed to develop a theme in which to build around, so buying assorted props and adding more “sutff” to the haunt was how we approached this project.

This year, in the months leading up to the haunt I decided a carnival/fun house theme would work very well with the overall Harvest Carnival theme that the school does to support this PTA sponsored event. By the time I got going, it was too late to implement this theme in conjunction with the Harvest Carnival, but we were able to include a few.

Mark Greer and I spent many hours, between shuttling kids to practice and other events, as well as work and other priorities to put together the 2014 version of the haunt that will debut (and end) tonight beginning at 6pm. While it’s tiresome work and at time expensive we had a great time being together the resources to make this haunt happen. Vintage Parkway is going to have a great set of resources when Mark and I no longer have kids in the elementary school, it’s my hope VOLUNTEERS can keep it going.

After walking out of the stage last night, I felt good that we had accomplished something this year. Unlike last year, there were areas that felt incomplete and we were rushing to throw things together in order to open up on time. Problems plagued us before the doors opened and we had to settle for how the haunt looked. This year, we were better organized and many of the resources were already in our possession. We had most of the material for the layout, minus the wood we needed for our 16′ hallway we built.

Unfortunately, I probably spent more than the PTA President wanted me to (sorry Amy), but as we were developing and putting together the haunt, we have been trashing many old props that are damaged and old, which wouldn’t be used in ANY haunt. I know re-purposing older props does happen, but some of these were not worth making that effort. We did however add many new props, most clown related to be included in our haunt the next 2-3 years. We picked up numerous masks, a few costumes and other hanging items that we have strategically placed this year.

It’s funny, but I am already thinking “next year we will…” and we have not even opened the doors for the 2 hour Harvest Carnival this year. We will have to see just how organized it is. We request more help than we have asked for in years past. We will have 5 actors (responsible teens or adults) in the haunt, not only participating, but as chaperones, in order to monitor kids (usually middle school and high schoolers) who seem to think it’s fun to f*ck around and piss off Mark and myself. In addition to the actors we are including 4-5 fifth graders, who participate as  a “scarer” or “guide” for a 20 minute period of time. While I was hoping for a list of 90 students to round out the matrix I created, we did get 57 students to help out, some I am sure will stick around for more than their allotted 20 minutes.

I have been looking back to last year and some of the problems we had. The biggest problem, people purchasing tickets to use at the Harvest Carnival. That piece was our of our hands, but many people were let through without providing tickets, which on some level was fine. We also failed to have enough flashlights for the guides to us, so it seemed the line was never ending and groups of people were not being processed at a good rate.

This year I am hoping for a total of 800 people to go through in 2 hours. Those might be some loft goals, but I think we could achieve that number. We know kids love to go through more than once. Parents will usually go through with younger kids and friends of kids who go to Vintage Parkway usually end up showing up. So while I am not dwelling on the number of people or the amount of money the haunt makes, I will be curious to see how well we do in 2 hours.

With the time and effort we put in, it would be great if the school district and PTA could run the haunt for the Harvest Carnival on Friday and then for a few hours on Saturday. Not sure if there would be any added cost to have some staff on hand, as well as a janitor and PTA folks to manage the haunt. Might be an opportunity to make the teachers even more money, which in turn is spent on the kids.

The other idea we will look to implement next year, adding a photo booth in the haunt. Just like the roller coaster rides at Disneyland, I checked with the gal who does much of our photography at events and it’s definitely affordable. Just like selling ticket for food, drink and the attractions at the Harvest Carnival, we would sell tickets for a photo and provide the individuals with a numbered receipt in order to claim their picture. Add a $2 or $3 charge and it’s more money donated to Vintage Parkway.

Regardless of the number of people who walk the haunt or the amount of money we make, being safe, scary the kids and having fun are the priorities for this evening. We look forward to having a great time “clowning around” the 6th Floor Haunt. As a reminder, the Harvest Carnival begins at 6pm at Vintage Parkway Elementary School in Oakley. 

Haunted House: Update

scaredHaunted house update, as it’s just under a week until the doors open for the 6th Floor Haunt at Vintage Parkway Elementary School. This is the second year Mark Greer and I have been in charge and have update last year’s layout to hopefully bring forth another successful haunted house, as the centerpiece for the school’s Harvest Carnival. Back in July I thought I was well ahead of the game, I had the layout nearly complete, we had many props already to go and should have been able to come in what I spent last year (just over $1000, which was reimbursed by the school PTA. Thanks a lot!) Unfortunately, as life goes you get busy and work for a project in October gets pushed to the back burner until you MUST get going in order to complete the project.

I hit that point last week, as I probably overdid it when it comes to what I spent in order to get the haunt done. But it’s materials and props that are needed if the school wants to continue making money (for the teachers accounts) during this carnival. Thankfully there are so many other attractions going on during these event, but the draw is the haunted house. Take nothing away from the ladies who have spent countless hours prepping, making signs, coming up with games for the kids to play and deciding on what food and drink will be served. It all takes time and volunteers in order to be successful.

As for the haunt, we were about 9 days later getting started. School let out on the last Friday of August for 2 weeks, which allowed us (last year) to get started building the haunt on the school stage. This year, we were delayed because the janitor had to wax the floors in the auditorium, which put on hold. We got access to the stage Wednesday of last week and started erecting PVC pipe and 16 feet of walls we were going to use. Actually, as Mark and I talked about, it might have been a blessing in disguise, as it gave us time to hang out and build the 16 feet of walls we were going to use. We made use of this time and didn’t sit back doing nothing.

Even with long hours and constant work, we are still behind. Maybe that is common or maybe it just appears that way. The entire layout took parts of 2 days to get build. The layout did go up much faster this year, thanks in part to the advanced planning and the fact most all of the PVC pipe was cut and I had laid it out in July and bundled it together by sections. Much like last year, we ran out of room as we approached the last section of the haunt. As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. I know I measured and remeasured, yet we still had to make some changes on the fly. Thankfully I had accounted for potential changes to the layout and we were able to fit the entire layout in, almost as it was drawn up.

One thing we failed to decide upon early was a theme for our haunt, which is key to anyone wanting to tackle this challenge. Last year, being my first year it was a matter of just filling each room and making it fun for everyone. This year, the theme came to me too late and I was not able to order enough props and have another project half completed, as I await the resources to finish it. Next year (and we still haven’t had the harvest carnival this year) we will be moving to a fun house/carnival theme centered around evil clowns.

It’s amazing to hear and see the reactions of people when the word, “clowns” are mentioned. Something seems to strike a chord with individuals that evil clowns are not something they want to be associated with. Mark and I on the other hand saw this video:

…and we knew we had a theme we could bring to our haunt. While it’s only the first year with clowns, we know this will be a continuing theme for the next 2 years until my son is done with elementary school. We have also added a new scare to the haunt, but I won’t go into until after the haunt, as it’s the centerpiece of our haunt this year. With any luck I will have some video to upload after the haunt to show the reactions we got.

We are bringing back the dot room, which was very successful last year. I know many kids will expect this and know there will be someone in this room, hopefully with an upgrade in the black spandex costume (that’s me) with the dots painted on it will improve how I blend in to the walls.

clownsMark will be our king clown this year, I had intended to give him a nice large area to run around in scaring kids. With the changes to the layout his realm is not as large as I would have liked, but should still prove to be a good scare. We are also bringing back the hall of faces, which didn’t work well last year because I waited too long to buy white faced masks and paint them fluorescent colors to be lit up under a black light.

While there is still confuse and questions to be answered about the haunt, things are coming together. My hope is we won’t be running around on Friday, hours before the haunt putting finishing touches on decoration. Hopefully we can have all of that done by Thursday and relax a bit before the lights go off and the frights begin.