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Food Features Lifestyle

Kimbal Musk Is Cooking Up Innovation

Imagine spending 18 months at one of the most prestigious culinary schools in the world, and the first assignment you get after graduating is peeling potatoes in a volunteer kitchen.

But that’s only part of an unusual story that includes a near-death experience, a message from God, and a terrorist attack that led one man to a career dedicated to bringing local, sustainable food to Americans.

Then again, you wouldn’t expect anything less from someone with the last name of Musk. In this case, the tale belongs to Elon’s brother, Kimbal. While the more famous sibling is launching rockets and electric cars, Kimbal Musk is cooking up innovations in the kitchen. The former tech entrepreneur has dedicated his life to his nonprofit, Big Green, which supports sustainable farming, educating children about growing food, and expanding home, school, and community gardens.

He also owns several farm-to-table restaurants in Colorado and Chicago, with a forthcoming location in Austin, Texas. “The kitchen is truly where I have so much passion,” he said. “I love … walking into my restaurant and feeling the energy of the community.” He recently wrote a cookbook, “The Kitchen Cookbook: Cooking for Your Community,” in the hopes that everyone can experience the joy of sharing the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor; he feels that cooking a meal for someone is the ultimate act of sharing.

How he came to this point in his life is a story in itself.

Mr. Kimbal Musk with a copy of his cookbook, “The Kitchen Cookbook.” (Samira Bouaou for American Essence)

From Tech to Social Entrepreneurship

Already successful and financially secure at age 27 when he and his brother sold Zip2, the tech company they founded together, Mr. Musk decided to pursue cooking. He enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in New York, thinking that the experience would be an exotic endeavor. Instead, it was a lot like the high-stress cooking shows on television.

“I thought of going in and it being somewhat romantic. And it was like the movie ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ It was screaming at you, all the time, breaking you down, in a boot camp kind of mentality.” Of the 25 students who enrolled in that class, only six made it through the year-and-a-half course, he recalled.

Mr. Musk bakes a cake in New York, in 2000. (Maye Musk)

Timing is often everything in life, and this case was no different. Shortly after Mr. Musk completed his training, the 9/11 terrorist attack devastated New York. The city needed its firefighters, police, and first responders more than ever; it also needed people to cook for them as they worked around the clock in rescue and relief efforts. “It started out with me peeling potatoes, and I was there for six weeks, through the end of October.” Top chefs from around the world gathered to cook meals for the rescue workers. Eventually, Mr. Musk worked his way up to the point where he was preparing the dishes.

He enjoyed serving firefighters dishes they probably didn’t get on a regular basis, like sautéed salmon in a creamy dill sauce. During this time, he saw the effect good food had on people as he watched the exhausted, emotionally spent rescue workers renew their spirits as they ate. “We would feed them some of the best foods I think they’d ever eaten in their lives. … We were putting so much love into the food. And the color was circling back to their faces. They never stopped talking to each other. And by the end of that 45-minute break, the room would be full of energy and joy.” His immediate thought: “Wow. I can’t imagine a life without this. I have to do a restaurant.”

Mr. Musk knew that the best quality ingredients come from local growers, so around 2004, he started working with farmers to supply his first restaurant, The Kitchen in Boulder, Colorado. At about the same time, he wanted to do something to change the trend in America whereby “your average 10-year-old wouldn’t be able to tell you what a tomato looks like.” He provided financial support for school gardens, so children could learn the value and science of growing food. But he was a “checkbook philanthropist,” he said, basically letting others do the work.

Mr. Musk opened his first restaurant in Boulder, Colo., in March 2004. For the first year, he was sous-chef in the kitchen, working the line 5 to 7 days a week. (Maye Musk)

A ski slope changed all that. Along with a voice.

In 2010, Mr. Musk slid down a ski hill on an inner tube and landed on his head. He ended up with a ruptured spinal column that paralyzed the left side of his body. He thought he was going to die. While waiting for surgery, he heard a voice that led him to his current calling.

“I really had this profound voice in my head that I can only describe as God. … And it told me that I would go work on kids and food. It wasn’t specific instructions. It wasn’t like, you’re going to do school gardens, you’re going to do restaurants. It’s just kids—you’re going to help kids connect to food. And I was going to be fine.”

Surgery was successful. “I also got my movement back in my body. And the voice didn’t go away. It wasn’t like a flash of light or anything like that. It was a beautiful, clear voice.”

That experience led to the creation of more than 650 “learning gardens” in schools around the country through Big Green. Teachers can incorporate gardening into the science and math lessons that are part of their curriculum, allowing students to learn outdoors. Mr. Musk hopes that every American will eventually learn to grow food. “You’re going to get a whole new appreciation for the flavor of things, the seasons of things,” he said.

Mr. Musk teaches students at Eucalyptus Elementary School to plant a vegetable garden in preparation for Plant a Seed Day in Hawthorne, Calif., March 13, 2019. (David Mcnew/AFP/Getty Images)

The Future of Food

Mr. Musk is already seeing the trend of American farming changing toward becoming more sustainable. More farmers are embracing regenerative farming, which is designed to improve the quality and health of the soil. It’s not a new concept, as Native Americans have applied regenerative farming principles for centuries.

A farmer might plant corn and beans together: The corn provides a natural trellis for the beans, while the beans put nitrogen into the soil, which helps the corn grow. A rancher might move cattle around and let grazed land “rest” for a while. Periodically rotating the land on which crops are grown can reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizer, on which many farms have become reliant.

While many farmers still need time to learn and adapt to these concepts—“it’s a very risk-averse community,” he said—it is catching on around the country. “It grows food better and more nutritionally. And then the farmer can also charge more for their product. So that’s a win for them, too.”

Looking toward the distant future, his vision lies with his Square Roots company, which has nothing to do with math, but focuses on growing food indoors with less energy, such as through hydroponic systems inside upcycled shipping containers. That will become useful if, say, humanity starts living on Mars. The red planet will have less sunlight and fertile ground than Earth. Technology to grow food with fewer resources “will be critical for our expansion on Mars,” he said.

Mr. Musk has ambitious plans to develop hydroponic farming for future food production on Mars. (Phynart Studio/Getty Images)

A Family Legacy

The creative spirit within the Musk family traces back to his grandfather, who moved the family from Canada to Africa in 1948. “My grandfather was a cartographer mapping Southern Africa. He mapped the Kalahari Desert, and pioneered understanding geography down there.” He tells of a unique family trip in family lore: On a single engine plane, his grandfather, his wife, and their daughter, Mr. Musk’s mother, went from South Africa to India, Indonesia, and down to Australia. Mr. Musk describes his grandfather as a real adventurer, and that the innovative spirit of the family is “in our bones. In America, that translates into being an entrepreneur, but whatever it is, it’s some sort of a pioneer breaking new ground.”

Maye Musk, mother of Mr. Musk, cooking in the Kalahari Desert, 1956. (Maye Musk)

Mr. Musk, who became an American citizen in 2004, talks about how grateful he is for this country, having lived through the apartheid era in South Africa. “My kids, I love them to death. They’ll critique America if we let them,” he said, but he often tells them, “Maybe you should try somewhere else first, before you dive in on the criticisms.”

Mr. Musk with his sister Tosca and mom Maye. (Laurie Smith)

Mr. Musk feels a need to give back to the country that has given him so much. It hit him five years ago during a family trip to the Rocky Mountains. “We were just going for a hike and spending a day in the mountains. And I just had this epiphany—that I have the American dream. I have my wife, I have a beautiful home. I’ve got wonderful kids, and built beautiful businesses that make a difference in this community.”

With reporting by Chris Lawson.

From July Issue, Volume IV

Categories
Features Food Lifestyle

The Right Balance: How a Holistic Nutritionist to the Stars Really Eats

Kelly LeVeque always looks for the silver lining.

As a celebrity holistic nutritionist, she spends a lot of time digging into the latest nutrition and metabolic health research and distilling it into information people can easily understand. Often, “our media will take whatever the latest study is and find a scary headline to get readers,” she said. Rather than peddle doom and gloom, she focuses on the good: how easy it is to take action.

Before starting her own health consulting business, Be Well by Kelly, Ms. LeVeque worked in cancer research for Fortune 500 companies. “Not all diseases are preventable, but I was inspired by spending so much time in cancer centers and seeing the benefits of taking care of ourselves and developing holistic habits,” she said. Now, she’s passionate about helping her clients, which have included A-listers like Jessica Alba and Jennifer Garner, do just that.

Her ultimate goal for her clients—and herself—is to make wellness an intrinsic part of daily life, and to see it as a fun adventure. That especially applies to mealtime.

Kelly LeVeque makes smoothie bowls that balance blood sugar levels by using ingredients high in protein, fat, and fiber instead of loading up on sugar. (Courtesy of Kelly LeVeque)

“Every single meal is an opportunity to show up for yourself,” she said. She loves seeing a plate filled with a rainbow of real, nutritious foods. “How we nourish our bodies really plays a role in how we show up in our lives—mood and temperament, tolerance of stress.”

Ms. LeVeque spoke to American Essence about the easy-to-remember formula she follows for eating well; dealing with “mom guilt” as she balances her business and three young sons; and her research-backed advice for getting picky kids to eat their vegetables.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

(Courtesy of Kelly LeVeque)

I wake up: around 5:30 to 6 a.m. My boys are early risers, so I am up early every morning. First, I’ll have a glass of water with electrolytes; I use a high-sodium electrolyte mix with magnesium and potassium. Having electrolytes makes sure you’re fully hydrated, and I tend to drink less caffeine when I’m fully hydrated. Then I’ll have a black coffee or a coconut milk latte.

When it comes to diet: I’ve always prioritized blood sugar balance. The research there is so robust. We know that dysregulated blood sugar affects mood; it increases your chances of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and a myriad of other diseases. If we understand the science of blood sugar balance, it’s really easy to implement: Eating whole foods will elongate your blood sugar curve [the changes in your blood glucose level over time].

One of the principles I live by is the “Fab Four”: protein, fat, fiber, and leafy greens or vegetables deep in color [in every meal].

For breakfast, I make a Fab Four smoothie. I’m using a scoop of both of my [Be Well by Kelly] protein powders—a vegan plant-based protein powder and a grass-fed beef protein powder—to get 40 grams of protein. Protein satisfies most of your hunger hormones, and it’s needed for many facets of health: your neurotransmitters, hormones, gut lining, collagen production, and muscle mass. Most women drastically under-eat protein, and they feel it. My fat of choice is avocado. For fiber, I use psyllium, which is great for cholesterol and phenomenal at upping your insoluble fiber intake. I add leafy greens—spinach, kale, romaine, basil—and berries.

My lunch and dinner also follow the Fab Four—roast salmon, chicken, roasts with veggies on the side. I never limit the quantity of vegetables.

When I meet my body’s protein requirements and eat real, whole meals, I don’t even think about snacking. It’s counter-intuitive, but if I’m helping a client meet a weight requirement, I’ll have them eat more. Whenever a client has a bad habit of snacking, it’s not about removing those things they’re used to doing; it’s about replacing them.

(Courtesy of Kelly LeVeque)

My best skincare secrets are: sweat and sleep. If you sweat and get good sleep, you see it in your skin.

The more antioxidants in my diet, the more they improve my skin; those are fighting oxidative stress. I try to avoid seed oils because they oxidize under high heat. Those oxidated omega oils become part of your cell membrane.

I do splurge on One Skin products; I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my skin health since using them. I also use a vitamin C product from my dermatologist, and I use a skin brush all over my body.

The wellness equipment I swear by are: my infrared sauna and Peloton. Before kids, I loved going to yoga classes with other people; I love the community aspect. As a mom, carving out that time is hard. I had to become OK with home workouts, and I got a Peloton.

I love my Vitamix. If you get one, you’re investing in something that helps you make healthy food faster.

I also love my red light. I used it on my son when he had eczema; my husband used it for a toe infection. If I’m working on my computer, I turn my panel on.

I use a Yogasleep Dome sound machine in our room and wear a Cozy Earth eye mask. My emotional and mental health depends on whether I’m sleeping well. I have all these screen time limits on my phone, and I can’t get into a single app after 8:30 p.m.

I’m constantly trying to be: outside. We go to our local beach once or twice a week. We take our dinners down there; we watch the sunset. Our boys are used to being in the sand and surf. We put in the effort [to do this], and what we get is our kids being in nature, us being off our phones. It lowers our stress levels in a way that just being at home can’t.

Ms. LeVeque with her two sons. (Courtesy of Kelly LeVeque)

Finding a balance between my business and family life is: hard, but really important to me. You can’t replace Mom, and I don’t want anyone to. I was so blessed to have my mom there for everything when I was growing up, and I do have a level of mom guilt that I’m not showing up for my kids in the same way. But I’m also learning to have boundaries with my work to be able to show up for them in the way that I want. It’s constant negotiation and learning. I have changed my business drastically to prioritize the life and flexibility that I want; that sometimes means turning down big brand contracts.

One thing my husband and I do over the weekend is have a cup of coffee together and make a schedule for the next week, plan recipes, and try to get excited. We work together to make sure we each have time to ourselves so there’s no resentment. Asking what’s really important, and having the strength to set boundaries, are key to making healthy decisions.

My work is most rewarding when: I see long-term beneficial changes in my clients. I once had a client who was a type-A overachiever. She was engaged to be married but not taking care of herself. We took an entire year leading up to her wedding to help her change her lifestyle. She lost over 30 pounds, and her confidence skyrocketed. She was amazing on her wedding day, but what excites me is that she went on to have two daughters, and she now inspires her daughters to take care of themselves through food. To see that generational change feels really good.

My best advice for parents of picky eaters is: to model healthy eating to your children and don’t give up. Research tells us that exposure and modeling are the biggest drivers of instilling a mature palate in a young child. Exposure doesn’t always have to be eating food: Get kids to help with simple tasks in meal preparation or take them shopping to see the food at the grocery store.

It can take 12 to 15 exposures to a new food before a child under 18 months will like it. From 18 months on, that number [of exposures needed] can double. Most parents give up after the third or fourth attempt, but don’t lose hope. Do not stop making that food, plating it up, and eating it in front of them. Don’t put pressure on them, but don’t stop exposing and modeling.

Lately, I’ve been especially excited about: creating content to help moms involve their kids in the kitchen and feed them blood sugar-balancing meals. I’ve learned a lot in the last five years that I want to share with other moms who feel overwhelmed. I feel like my wheels are really turning to support that community.

From July Issue, Volume IV

Categories
Lifestyle

8 Science-Backed Tips to Increase Your Happiness

We all have the power to be happier, regardless of our individual circumstances or the stage of life we’re in, starting now.

That’s the key takeaway from the growing body of research on the subject—one studied by ancient philosophers to today’s scientists. It starts with making small changes in behavior and mindset that, with practice and consistency, build up to powerful results over time. Here are eight science-backed ways anyone can boost his or her mood and promote long-term satisfaction.

1. Invest time and energy in your relationships.

The world’s longest-running study on happiness, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, has followed the same group of 724 men—and now more than 1,300 of their descendants over three generations—for 85 years and counting, taking health measurements and asking detailed questions about their lives at regular intervals. According to its findings, the number one key to happiness is good relationships.

“If you’re going to make that one choice, that single decision that could best ensure your own health and happiness, science tells us that your choice should be to cultivate warm relationships,” write Dr. Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, the current director and associate director of the study, in their book “The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.”

The authors emphasize the importance of practicing “social fitness,” regularly assessing the health of our relationships and taking care of them over time. “Our social life is a living system. And it needs exercise,” they write.

Start by taking stock of your current close relationships: Think about how each relationship makes you feel, how often you connect, and the kinds of support they give you (or don’t). Identify which relationships you’d like to improve. Then get to work. Here are a few tips from “The Good Life” to help.

(ingwervanille/Moment/Getty Images)

Make time: “Think for a moment about a relationship you have with a person you cherish but feel like you don’t see nearly enough,” the authors write. “Now think about how often you see that person. Every day? Once a month? Once a year?” Make the intentional effort to spend more time on important connections. See if you can dedicate certain days of the week or month to certain people, or change your daily schedule to fit in a coffee or walk with a loved one. It can start small: Take a moment to reach out with a text, email, or phone call to reconnect.

Be curious: Make it a point to engage your curiosity in your next conversation, whether you’re talking with an important person in your life or chatting up a complete stranger (the latter has been proven, by the way, to give us small boosts of well-being—as much as we may avoid it). Cultivating “real, deep curiosity about what others are experiencing” is a powerful tool for opening conversation, fostering connection, and deepening relationships, the authors say. “Genuine curiosity invites people to share more of themselves with us, and this in turn helps us understand them.” Ask questions, and really listen to the answers. Then—a crucial step—communicate your new understanding of them, giving the life-affirming, bond-strengthening gift of feeling seen.

Tell someone what they mean to you: The authors leave readers with a suggestion for a simple but powerful exercise: “Think about someone, just one person, who is important to you. … Think about what they mean to you, what they have done for you in your life. Where would you be without them? Who would you be? Now think about what you would thank them for if you thought you would never see them again. And at this moment—right now—turn to them. Call them. Tell them.”

Here’s an idea: Turn your front porch into a welcome mat

You might not think of a front porch as having the potential to be the most social place in your home. But back in the day, it was a place where people would sit and relax and enjoy the weather after a day at work, or simply sip morning coffee as the day began, inviting connection with neighbors walking by. Joanna Taft, who runs the Harrison Center for the Arts in Indianapolis, Indiana, and hosts regular gatherings on her own porch with food and drink, says it’s time to bring back that old-fashioned hospitality.

(Maskot/Getty Images)

“We’ve all lost that neighborliness. People are inside with air conditioning, TV, laptops. We have privacy fences and attached garages. We need to connect with our neighbors,” she said. Several years ago, Ms. Taft started inviting people to hang out on her front porch. The trend soon took off in her neighborhood. In 2016, alongside a partnership with the Indianapolis 500, the Harrison Center launched a “Porch Party” movement that quickly spread through the state.

Want to host your own porch party? It doesn’t take much as far as decorating is concerned. “Make it hospitable,” said Ms. Taft. “Have attractive pillows and consider plants. Ferns make it like an outdoor room. Think of your porch as a living room where people can be connected.”

No porch? No problem. Use your driveway or front yard.

Ms. Taft brings out “conversation pieces” to get things rolling. She might take a bowl purchased from a local artist, fill it with local foods, and use one of her grandmother’s antique spoons for serving—these items create interest and invite questions. “Don’t have things that match. Go around your house for things that are interesting,” she suggested, “things that tell your family’s story and celebrate your neighborhood.”

Over the years, Ms. Taft has made friends with people who have a lot in common and others who have different perspectives, as her porch has become a little melting pot. It’s also become a networking tool for those looking for jobs, and for those singles who don’t want to go to bars, it has served as a matchmaker: Two single people met on her porch, had their first date on her porch, and eventually got engaged and married.

“The weekly rhythm of sitting on our front porch enriched our lives in ways we didn’t expect,” Ms. Taft said.

2. Don’t be afraid of hard things.

The strongest and largest trees are the ones that mature slowly and experience the most stressors—wind that allows them to sway, for instance. It’s a field of study called seismomorphogenesis, how movement affects plants, and it’s been used architecturally to reduce structural brittleness, said Gad Saad, psychologist and author of “The Saad Truth About Happiness: 8 Secrets for Leading the Good Life.”

Gad Saad is a professor of marketing at Concordia University in Canada. (Courtesy of Gad Saad)

Humans, he said, can learn to adapt and thrive by adopting anti-fragility and embracing failure. People can even choose to train themselves to experience hardship in order to maximize resilience.

“If everything in life is easy, that’s not the pathway to optimal flourishing. You actually need to be exposed to stressors to be maximally happy,” Mr. Saad said. “I don’t think you can live a fulfilling life if you always take the shortcuts that make things easier, more comfortable for you. Once in a while, you need to challenge yourself.”

(This is a short preview of a story from the Jan. Issue, Volume IV.)

Categories
Lifestyle

Immune Health Expert Explains How Gut, Heart, and Brain Health Are All Inter-Related

An award-winning research scientist and functional medicine provider, Dr. Datis Kharrazian is knowledgeable about autoimmune diseases in part because of his intimate understanding of immune health.

Most Americans are metabolically unhealthy, he explained. Despite that being a risk factor for more severe COVID-19 infections, the pandemic did little to change how we address personal health. That’s because most people lack the motivation to do anything until their symptomatic pain exceeds their perceived pain for fixing their health, he said.

(Courtesy of Datis Kharrazian)

Immune health gets harder as we age, but it’s never too late to address it. Dr. Kharrazian shared some bite-size wisdom for better resilience, energy, heart health, and brain health when we focus on immunity.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

American Essence: Is there one common underlying cause for weakened immunity?
Dr. Datis Kharrazian: Not exactly, although perhaps you could point a finger at the standard American diet and industrialized lifestyle. More specifically, high blood sugar and insulin resistance, poor nutritional status, low vitamin D, low glutathione, poor gut health, obesity, and endotoxemia—when pathogenic bacteria escape through an inflamed gut wall into the bloodstream—are outcomes of most Western diets.

Start your immune health journey by choosing to eat healthily. (Pixabay)

AE: What is the connection between our immune system and autoimmunity?
Dr. Kharrazian: Multiple factors can trigger autoimmunity, including genetic predisposition, but clinically we see inflammatory triggers make people more vulnerable. These include ignoring food sensitivities and eating a diet high in starches, sugars, and processed foods and low in nutritional quality. Infections can trigger autoimmunity, as can chronically high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and environmental toxins.

AE: Why are you interested in non-pharmaceutical approaches to autoimmune conditions?
Dr. Kharrazian: If people can understand what’s causing symptoms, evidence-based diet and lifestyle strategies may slow or even stop the progression of the autoimmunity. This doesn’t mean they might not need medication. But by using non-pharmaceutical strategies to dampen inflammation and regulate immunity, many people can largely resolve symptoms and improve general health.

Getting good sleep is a critical part of building a strong immune system. (Unsplash)

AE: How is immunity related to brain function?
Dr. Kharrazian: Chronic systemic inflammation often leads to brain inflammation, which causes symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, depression, and lack of motivation. Additionally, we see, clinically and in the research, correlations between poor gut health and poor brain health. Brain inflammation has been shown to promote neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, so it’s vital to take inflammation seriously.

AE: What are some steps to regulate our immunity well?
Dr. Kharrazian: Sleep is underrated when it comes to immunity, yet it is probably the most important factor. Eat enough protein (about one gram per pound of body weight), and drink about one ounce of water per pound of body weight. Exercise releases multiple beneficial compounds that support immune resilience. Ensure you are sufficient in vitamin D and glutathione, track your blood sugar to ensure you are not insulin resistant, and deal with your gut health. Of course, eat healthy—skip the fast foods, desserts, and processed foods. There are tons of strategies, and most of them are not in a supplement store.

From March Issue, Volume IV

Categories
Lifestyle Hidden Gems

A Stretch of Beach All to Yourself in Florida? Visit This Hidden Gem

It’s known as “Florida’s most relaxing place”—where the Gulf of Mexico touches the sugar-white sands and turquoise waters of the Sunshine State’s gulf coast. It’s almost a trip back in time to the days when a vacation wasn’t filled with the stress of travel and dealing with crowds.

Navarre Beach, part of Santa Rosa County, Florida, isn’t a tourist trap and doesn’t intend to become one. If your dream vacation includes a long stretch of beach all to yourself, this is the place. Located between Pensacola and Destin on Florida’s Emerald Coast (named because of the water color), it’s a unique destination, offering a beach community without the usual overcrowding that often accompanies vacation destinations. Mom-and-pop restaurants offer unique dining and a break from the chains. And during the offseason, it’s about as quiet a beach as you can find in the state. It’s a family destination, with no rowdy bars that attract wild spring breakers.

(GotAnotherPhoto/Shutterstock)

Natural Wonders in Santa Rosa County

One of the absolute jewels in this county is the Gulf Islands National Seashore, 7 miles of federally protected beachfront property connecting Navarre Beach to Pensacola Beach on the Florida panhandle. Parking lots are scattered alongside the road, so pull over and take a walk. During the winter, you might find yourself the only person on this pristine beach. It’s also a bird sanctuary, and during nesting season, the speed limit decreases to 25 mph to keep our flying friends safe. But you’ll want to drive slowly anyway to enjoy the spectacular, unspoiled scenery and crystal clear waters, taking in the Gulf breeze as it blows between the sea oats.

Fishing from shore takes on a whole new meaning, as the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier stretches nearly a third of a mile into the Gulf of Mexico and is the longest fishing pier in the Gulf. Even if you’re not an angler, it’s a relaxing walk, an opportunity to breathe in the salt air. You can also fish from the beach, and don’t be surprised if a heron flies up to you, waiting for the too-small catch you intended to throw back.

(Carlos Carreno/Moment/Getty Images)

Take a short walk from the pier and get a unique look at nature at the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center. It features interactive exhibits and displays to educate visitors about sea turtles, their life cycle, and the challenges they face in the wild. Even more nature is just up the road about a half hour, as the Gulf Breeze Zoo offers a variety of animals on its 30-acre African preserve.

(This is a short preview of a story from the March Issue, Volume 4.)

 

Categories
Lifestyle

Former Tech Exec Trades Boardroom for the Homesteading Life, Healing Her Family in the Process

Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Sophia Nguyen Eng was poised for success in the technology world.

She was good at what she did—growth marketing campaigns for startups and Fortune 500 companies—and was well on her way up the corporate ladder. She founded an organization, Women in Growth, to support other women working in the tech space. Hers was a resume that would make any aspiring professional envious.

Then the birth of her oldest daughter, Emily, in 2011 inspired her to reach new heights—not in tech, but in the kitchen. It’s the beginning of this unusual and fascinating tale of how an ambitious American family traded the boardroom for a farm.

Ms. Eng goes by the philosophy of returning back to the earth what comes from the ground. (Fiona Bryne)

Reaching for Ancient Wisdom

Ms. Eng’s journey began at the grocery store, where the selection of baby foods looked gray and unappetizing. A first-generation Vietnamese American who wasn’t accustomed to cooking fruit, she decided to research how to make her own applesauce for Emily.

A line in a cookbook gave her pause. Organic is best for babies, it said, because their bodies cannot tolerate or process pesticides and herbicides.

“At what point can her body process it?” Ms. Eng mused. “Or are we doing it wrong, and should we be changing the way we think about food?”

It was then that she remembered the yellow book on nutrition gifted to her by a fellow military family when her husband, Tim, was an officer in the U.S. Army. The family lived on a homestead, had a dairy cow, made their own medicinal tinctures, and homeschooled their eight children. They often shared wisdom with the couple.

“She was telling me, ‘You’ve got to try this grass-fed raw milk,’” Ms. Eng recalled, laughing at the memory. “I thought, ‘Oh no. This is how I’m going to die.’”

But the responsibility of raising a child, and her own intuition, were driving her to seek out the truth about food. Suddenly, she felt that knowing the habits of this odd but healthy and happy family was vital to her own. The new mother was older and wiser, and she knew that different didn’t equate with detriment. Not to mention her firsthand experience: Growing up, she was teased for the homemade—and sometimes pungent—ethnic food in her brown bag lunches, while peers devoured processed food from brightly colored packages. Back then, she was envious of the vending machine snacks in their lunch boxes.

Ms. Eng as a young toddler with her mom, in 1984. (Bang Pham)

Ms. Eng dusted off the book: “Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and Diet Dictocrats.”

Written in 1995 by Sally Fallon Morell, the cookbook is based on Weston A. Price’s 11 dietary principles that emphasize eating real, unprocessed traditional foods. Price, a Canadian dentist, traveled the world in the 1930s, studying isolated indigenous cultures that had not yet been industrialized. He found a strong correlation between their traditional diets and better dental and overall health. The common characteristics from his findings, known as the Wise Traditions principles, include no refined ingredients; choosing traditional animal fats over industrialized seed oils; enjoying lacto-fermented condiments and beverages; and balancing nutrient-dense foods from both land and sea animals, including organ meats, eggs, raw dairy, and fish.

Like others before her, Ms. Eng was captivated by his work. The book gelled with her experiences with healing that came on the heels of dietary changes. In one instance, her husband’s fiercely itchy eczema disappeared when they changed their meat source from supermarket beef to grass-fed and grass-finished beef from a local farm.

It also resonated with her heritage: the rich Vietnamese flavors and traditions that influenced her parents’ wholesome, nutrient-dense cooking and sparked her own lifelong interest in nutrition. She recalled something that her grandfather, who spoke rarely, told her as a child: “Eat to live. Do not live to eat.” So began a journey following a trail of breadcrumbs that would lead her back to her roots.

RECIPE: Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Pho Ga)

(This is a short preview of a story from the March Issue, Volume 4.)

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Book Recommender Arts & Letters Lifestyle

‘We May Dominate the World: Ambition, Anxiety, and the Rise of the American Colossus’

Though James Monroe is hardly the most memorable president, his foreign policy doctrine known as the Monroe Doctrine is without question the most lasting. Sean Mirski, in his new book “We May Dominate the World: Ambition, Anxiety, and the Rise of the American Colossus,” discusses just how the Monroe Doctrine was formulated, implemented, altered, and manipulated to transform the Western Hemisphere into a quasi-American protectorate.

The Monroe Doctrine may have been the foundation for America’s diplomatic and, at times, less than diplomatic foreign policy decisions, but as Mr. Mirski makes abundantly clear in his book, there were other foundational principles at play. The law of unintended consequences seems to be the bane of many of America’s diplomatic good intentions. These consequences were the result of America’s limited options, most of which were less than favorable. The author demonstrates how policies throughout various administrations, especially during the post-Civil War and early 20th century era, came to fruition out of sheer necessity. Those necessities arose out of fear and anxiety during a time of growing and fading empires, like the British, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese. Along with those Eastern Hemispheric empires, America found herself establishing her own in the Western Hemisphere by either conquest, happenstance, or the aforementioned necessity.

President James Monroe. (Public Domain)

The Doctrine Tested

At the tail end of 1823, when Monroe addressed Congress in what would be coined the Monroe Doctrine, he advocated for remaining unentangled in European affairs (a reflection of George Washington’s 1796 farewell address), refraining from colonizing, and resisting the temptation to intervene in the affairs of other countries, unless of course the affair was an attempt by a European power to establish a foothold, by either governmental or corporate means, in the Western Hemisphere. These noble aspirations, as with all noble aspirations, are much easier to conceive than uphold.

As colonies throughout Latin America erupted with independence movements, revolving revolutions, and intrastate wars during the 19th and 20th centuries, this doctrine would be tested to the extremes, often resulting in unforeseen, or more appropriately, unintended consequences. In the book we are introduced to great and not-so-great diplomatic thinkers, like William Seward, James Blaine, Richard Olney, Elihu Root, Philander Knox, Robert Lansing, and Sumner Welles; varied foreign policies, like “masterly inactivity,” “reciprocity,” “Dollar Diplomacy,” “moral diplomacy,” and the “Good Neighbor Policy;” and geopolitical altering events like the annexation of Hawaii, the Spanish–American War, the Panama Canal, and World War I.

President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill seated on the quarterdeck of HMS Prubce of Wales during the Atlantic Conference, 10 August 1941. (Public Domain)

One of Mr. Mirski’s successes (among the many in his book) is his argument that America typically made its decisions based on national security interests, and not based on the notion of conquest and empire, or even economics. Indeed, it often came down to the aforementioned fear and anxiety that if America did not annex or intervene, one of the swarming imperial powers would.

A Problem at Every Turn

Readers of this review should not take this as Mr. Mirski writing an apologetic. “We May Dominate the World” is not revisionist history. Rather, it is a correction on much of the propagandistic history that has been issued over the decades by talking-heads rather than researching-brains. Mr. Mirski has, instead, taken the difficult route of demonstrating that foreign policy is a difficult science―far more difficult than we credit it.

While many historians and political scientists choose a singular politician and his or her foreign policy, say a Theodore Roosevelt or a Woodrow Wilson, or a particular motivation, like racism, colonialism, culture, or economics, Mr. Mirski shows that American foreign policy has always been a multi-faceted arrangement of motivating factors, decisions, actions, regrets, and the continued cycle of such an arrangement. The author’s work proves that no matter how powerful a nation is, it cannot control the world; it can only try and fail.

Those failures ironically stemmed from attempts to stabilize newly independent countries or nations laden with incessant and violent revolutions. Unfortunately, these attempts often “created perverse incentives” for further revolutions in order to initiate American military intervention (such as the Platt Amendment with Cuba).

The Logical Result

The failure of American diplomacy in the region seemed to hit a fever pitch deep into the Wilson administration. As Mr. Mirski notes, “By the end of the Wilson administration, the United States had boxed itself into the ultimate catch-22: any leader who cooperated with the United States, lost the domestic legitimacy needed to govern, but without the United States’ support, no leader could hold onto power. In the most extreme cases, the logical result was direct American rule.”

The Atlantic Charter. National Archives and Records Administration. (Public Domain)

The logic behind America’s growing power seemed evident to Roosevelt well before Wilson’s term in office, when he stated during his 1904 State of the Union address that the Monroe Doctrine, if strictly adhered to, would force America into an “international police power.” By the middle of the 20th century, America had taken all of its experience―successful and otherwise―and expanded the regional doctrine internationally.

“After the war the United States scaled up its regional policies and institutions to create the new international order,” Mr. Mirski writes. “It is no coincidence that the Atlantic Charter―FDR and Winston Churchill’s celebrated blueprint for the postwar world―was drafted in large part by Welles, the State Department’s preeminent Latin American expert. Welles also drafted the United Nations Charter, a document that reflects Welles’s Latin American experience through and through.”

Mind Your Own Business

This book proves the difficulty of minding your own business, especially when it appears that doing so will only make matters worse. But as the author points out, more often than not, America did try to mind its own business.

“Officials in Washington had no premeditated plan to reduce the whole region to vassal status,” Mr. Mirski states. “As impressive as the number of American interventions is, the more revealing figure is the far greater number of times that Washington declined its neighbors’ invitations to send troops, annex territory, or establish protectorates. For all its interventionism, Washington proved remarkably reluctant to take advantage of opportunities to extend its regional control.”

This statement will no doubt be the ire of some who believe that there was always a plan for domination and to keep the weaker Latin nations under America’s thumb. Cynicism has long been the order of the day, and any statement, much less a book, contrary to that belief cannot possibly be true. But if truth is actually the pursuit, then Mr. Mirski’s work should be at the very top of the reading list for foreign policy hawks, history buffs, and young people going to college. No doubt the latter will encounter the onslaught of academics who profess to have the market cornered on American foreign policy—but are typically mere subscribers to the aforementioned propagandistic history.

“We May Dominate the World: Ambition, Anxiety, and the Rise of the American Colossus” by Sean A. Mirski. (Public Affairs)

Don’t Oversimplify

Mr. Mirski speaks to this issue of oversimplifying the history of foreign policy. “Observers often see international politics as a clash between good and evil. Sometimes it is,” he writes. “But more often than not, international politics takes place in a gray world under gray skies, where every decision requires trade-offs and difficult choices, where legitimate ends pursued rationally still lead to unsavory destinations, and where tragedy is all but inescapable. Tales pitting good against evil appeal to the human desire for moral certainty, but they are often poor vehicles for understanding the choices nations face.”

“We May Dominate the World” thoroughly demonstrates just how gray that world is and just how inescapable the consequences of good intentions are. As the author notes, this is “the tragedy of great-power politics.”

Mr. Mirski has proven himself to be a researcher and a writer of exceptional talent. My expectations for his future works are now practically limitless. “We May Dominate the World” is an absorbing read and is quite possibly my favorite selection of 2023.

Sean Mirsci, author of “We May Dominate the World: Ambition, Anxiety, and the Rise of the American Colossus.” (Public Affairs)

‘We May Dominate the World: Ambition, Anxiety, and the Rise of the American Colossus’
By Sean A. Mirski
PublicAffairs, June 27, 2023
Hardcover: 512 pages

Sean A. Mirski is a lawyer and U.S. foreign policy scholar who has written extensively on American history, international relations, law, and politics. He graduated from Harvard Law School and holds a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Chicago.

From March Issue, Volume IV

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Ranching Roots to Stardom: Country Queen Reba McEntire Shares Life Lessons

Some would say the McEntires are a very set-in-their-ways, stubborn, hardheaded bunch of people. But I think that hardheadedness is what got Daddy to where he was, Grandpap to where he was, and his father, Pap, to where he was. Some might say it wasn’t all that far—but it was much further than where they started!

None of us McEntires came from money, but each generation’s been a little more prosperous than the one before it. My daddy, Clark, was determined to make a better life for himself than the one he’d been handed. Like Grandpap before him, Daddy had the rodeo bug. He knew that rodeo couldn’t pay all the bills, but it sure helped get him started.

Take, for instance, one time when Daddy won a roping competition. The prize was a new car and 500 dollars cash. He gave it all to Mama and sent her to swap it for 80 acres of land that Uncle Dale, Mama’s brother, owned. That gave Daddy enough space to expand his ranch with more cattle. It was the start he needed. A few years later, in 1957, Daddy and Mama were able to buy a much bigger plot of land in Chockie, so he moved the family and all the cattle over there. Not exactly the land of milk and honey, but little by little, he was moving on up.

Ms. McEntire’s grandfather, John McEntire, competing at Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyo., 1934. (Courtesy of Reba McEntire)

Land in Chockie was only $6.40 an acre, and there was good reason for that! A lot of neighbors called it “sorry land,” and they warned Daddy not to buy it. It was rocky, hilly, and didn’t grow much except briars and scrub brush, but he saw something no one else saw in that “sorry land.” He turned a profit selling timber to the paper mill and rocks to the architects in Dallas. Then he struck gas.

That sorry land turned out to be worth more than anyone realized.

Daddy liked the rodeos, but he loved ranching. Rodeoing and selling timber, rocks, and natural gas all helped in the progression of our ranch. Daddy had to travel to compete in rodeos, but he wanted to be home on the ranch.

But ranch life is not an easy life. Maintaining the land and cattle takes time, and you can’t skip a day just because you’re worn out. Working the land was a whole family affair. The only time you wouldn’t find us kids helping out was when we were in school. I thought that going to college would give me a break. Nope. I was wrong. Daddy had leased some land halfway between home and the Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma. So every other day, after my classes, I loaded 30 fifty-pound sacks of feed into my pickup truck and fed the 300 head of cattle.

Not quite the college experience everybody else had!

I didn’t really know anything else though. I had started pitching in before I could even sit in a saddle. I don’t remember exactly the first time I was on a horse, but it feels like I was born riding. Us kids spent a lot of time rounding up cattle. It was rough country, and often we’d have to ride through brush and briars taller than we were on the off chance we’d find even one lonely steer. There was always more work than hands to do it. We got cattle in the spring, straightened them up, and shipped them off to the feed lots in the fall.

Reba McEntire (center) rides on the family ranch in Chockie, Okla., alongside her parents and siblings Susie, Alice, and Pake, while filming the “Reba: Starting Over” CBSTV special in 1995. (Courtesy of Reba McEntire)

Daddy always had a plan to get the job done. Problem was, he wasn’t the best at relaying his plan to the rest of us. He was usually looking the other direction or doing three things at once when he was giving us our instructions for the day. Most of the time, we only got a quarter of what he was trying to tell us. We always looked to Grandpap for an interpretation. I’m sure glad we had him to help us out!

The most important thing about helping out on the ranch was getting in line, doing your part, and following instructions. If our instructions were to sit at a gate until Daddy returned, under no circumstances were we going to abandon our posts. You sat at that gate until Daddy came back and told you that you could leave. It could be several hours, but that didn’t matter. Hot or cold, rain or shine, you stayed glued to your saddle.

It was out there in those hills that I first learned that the work is in the waiting.

Fast-forward 15 years, when I got into the music business. I knew less than nothing about how it all worked. I thought that once your record got on the radio, you got a tour bus and a big ol’ check. You’d made it. You were a big star. Wrong!

I remember being so excited when I heard my debut single playing on our staticky, old radio for the very first time. Mama, Susie, and I were all sitting on the floor, crying with joy, thinking, “This is it.”

But then—not much happened. No fancy tour bus or big royalty check appeared. I felt pretty sure that God had called me to the dream of singing, but much like my daddy giving me instructions up in the hills, it felt like I had only gotten a fourth of what God said, and I knew I needed to wait for more information. So just like I learned as a kid, I stayed patient. And I kept working.

“Not That Fancy: Simple Lessons on Living, Loving, Eating, and Dusting Off Your Boots” by Reba McEntire (Harper Celebrate, 2023).

From hearing that first song on the radio, I spent the next seven years traveling around, playing everywhere I could, living on greasy burgers and corn dogs at truck stops and county fairs from Los Angeles to Boston—seven years of performing at fairs, rodeos, and honky-tonks, singing over bar brawls, tractor-pull competitions, and bull sales. Seven years of patience before I had a real hit, “Can’t Even Get the Blues,” in January 1983.

Even with that hit, the first time I headlined my own show, in 1984, only 800 people showed up, and I actually lost money. I had to write a check to get out of town because I didn’t sell enough tickets. And I thought, “Welcome to the big time!” I sure did appreciate the few who did show up, though!

Thank God for that McEntire determination.

When it came my turn to be a parent, I was determined to teach my son, Shelby, how important hard work is too, but I didn’t need to worry. From an early age, Shelby was a very determined young man. He has a great work ethic. When it came time for him to start his own career, he put his nose to the grindstone. When Shelby told me he wanted to be a race car driver, I wanted to help but had no clue where to start. If there had been a “Racing for Dummies” book, I would have bought 10. I asked anyone I could think of for information, but no one I knew had much advice to give. Scott Borchetta, head of Big Machine Records and a former race car driver himself, told me to buy him a go-kart. But Shelby already had a go-kart! So, we bought Shelby a membership to the Skip Barber Racing School. It’s a school that teaches kids the racing business, and it allowed him to race in as many races as possible. You have to pay your dues in racing, just like you do in the rodeo and music businesses. Shelby raced in the Southern and the Western series. He drove eight to nine races a day for three days every weekend. I gave him my airline miles and hotel points from years of touring, and he flew on Southwest and stayed in the cheapest motels to make the most of it. Funny part was, he was too young to rent a car, so he had to get a taxi or bum a ride to the track.

Ms. McEntire with her son, Shelby, at the race car track. (Courtesy of Reba McEntire)

Shelby could have followed his daddy’s, Narvel Blackstock’s, footsteps into music management, but he chose to chart his own course. He’s now into real estate and developing property. You don’t think your kids listen to half of what you tell them, but Shelby did. I’m so proud of him. He’s kind and confident and is building a life that he’s proud of and that makes him happy. And he still wants me to be a big part of that. I am so grateful.

Most of what you hope for in this life takes time and some old-fashioned stick-to-itiveness. None of us in the McEntire family were overnight successes. From generation to generation, we just keep learning, dreaming, and working hard.

One thing I’m sure of: Good things won’t come if you give up and go home.

RECIPE: Mama’s Pimento Cheese Sandwich

RECIPE: Fried Green Tomato Slices

Taken from the chapter “A Lot of Hope and Hard Work” from “Not That Fancy: Simple Lessons on Living, Loving, Eating, and Dusting Off Your Boots” by Reba McEntire. Copyright 2023 by Reba McEntire. Used by permission of Harper Celebrate.

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Features Lifestyle

Hemingway’s Granddaughter Finds Peace Through Family, Faith

Mariel Hemingway was born four months after her famous grandfather, Ernest Hemingway, committed suicide with a shotgun. Growing up in a family blessed with creative passion and shadowed by mental health crises was a balancing act if ever there was one.

“There have been seven suicides in my family. While it is amazing to be Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter, there were moments when I thought, ‘Oh no. Does this mean I’m next?’” Hemingway said.

As a child and young adult, she watched the members of her family struggle with their passions and their pain, and she felt her own lack of balance threatening to derail her. The so-called “Hemingway curse” weighed down on her. Until she decided to fight back.

“Sometimes we put meaning to something that happened in the past and think it’s a curse. We have the ability, though, to change how we think,” Hemingway said. “The way to create a world where you’re not a victim of where you came from is to define your story. Awareness is everything. Once you become aware of the story, you don’t have to be its victim.”

Now, the actress—who began acting at age 14—is also a writer, public speaker, and outspoken mental health advocate. She’s passionate about encouraging others along their own mental health journeys, and sharing how her holistic lifestyle is central to her happiness and well-being.

American Essence spoke with Hemingway from her home in Venice, California, about her childhood, a life-changing experience with the Dalai Lama, and her routines and rituals for wellness and balance.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

American Essence: What were the steps of your own mental health journey, from the time you were a child until you started to find your own balance?

Mariel Hemingway: I grew up in this amazing, creative family. However, my father suffered because his father, a great man, was probably not a great father. My father drank a lot. My mother also drank. She had lost her first husband, the love of her life, in World War II. They’d only been married for nine months, and he was shot out of the sky. There was a tremendous amount of tension between my father and my mother.

I spent a lot of time as a child trying to make myself invisible, at the same time wanting to be noticed. I used to go outside and hope that somebody would notice I was gone. I’d come back after hours had passed and nobody had realized I wasn’t there.

When I was about 10, I decided I was going to fix them all. I was going to pick up the wine glasses and broken bottles after they’d had a fight. I really believed it was my role. I feel for my parents because my two older sisters both had mental illness. And me, I was the good girl, doing everything right and helping Mom and cleaning the house, thinking that I could be the savior.

At the back of my mind was always the fear that I might end up like my mom or dad or my sisters. I started to think the way to control myself was to control what I ate, my exercise—I overdid everything in order to try to find balance.

Over time, and trying to follow gurus and diets and exercise routines, I realized that my solution was within me. I spent countless years giving my power to everybody else and thinking that somebody had an answer for me until I realized it was me.

AE: How did you come to realize that you already held the answers?

Ms. Hemingway: I had an experience in India with his holiness the Dalai Lama. It was in a small group of people and he was listening. I sat next to him. He kept looking at me—he has this wonderful smile. The other people were asking important questions and I was just sitting there. But as I stood up to go, he put his hand on my hand and he looked me in the eye and he said, “You’re OK.” And he took my breath away.

Over the next couple of years, day by day, I understood it more: “Oh, I am OK!” Now that’s my message to others: You’re already OK. Let’s find the tools that work for you to chip away at habits of mind or body that interfere with you being OK. I want to help people break free of belief systems that tell them they’re not OK, they’re broken. I don’t believe anybody’s broken.

Mental health is an ongoing journey. Every day I’m finding my balance. You need to find peace within the choices that you make, or you will be chaotic. We need to find our balance every single day.

AE: What are your tools for finding your balance every day?

Ms. Hemingway: My tools are my lifestyle, which is simple and ritualistic. My lifestyle is the only reason that I am feeling happy, healthy, and better about my life than I ever have.

Morning is a very important time for me. How you start your day is how the day will unfold. I start my mornings with a prayer, by being grateful, and by paying attention to my breath.

One of my tools is belief in something greater than myself: I believe in God and that belief is strong in my character, and it is a connection to earth and all that is beautiful. Nature was always the thing that literally grounded me when I was a child. I didn’t know that the fact that I loved being barefoot was actually helping me.

Being intentional is an important tool. Making deliberate choices about food, being aware of my breath, my thoughts, aware that I drink water. We take these things for granted, but if we start to pay attention to them, we start to live in the present.

To be present is to know where you are in the moment. Multitasking is really just an inability to stay here. If we aren’t present, we can get wrapped up in what has happened or what’s going to happen and we forget about the importance of this moment, right now.

AE: What advice do you have for someone who is struggling?

Ms. Hemingway: Talk to somebody right away. Don’t let it fester inside and become bigger than it needs to be.

Then, try to look at your lifestyle and habits and see where you could make some shifts. Lifestyle is powerful. Food is really significant: If you’re eating too much sugar or processed food, it all has an effect. Stick with simple, real foods.

Try to form habits of being outside and getting connected with the earth. A while ago, I had a friend who was really struggling. I phoned him and recommended that he go outside. I said, “I want you to look up at the sun. Take your shoes off, even if you’re in the city. Sit there, stand there, walk, whatever. Take at least 20 minutes and then call me back.” He called me in about an hour and a half and said he couldn’t believe how different he felt. When you change your energy by going outside, it’s going to shift things.

Laugh, play. I remember when my kids were young, I would watch them play and feel jealous. I grew up in a family where I became an adult too fast, and I didn’t know how to play. But if you think about it, play is instinctive to children. Why shouldn’t we adults also have fun and play?

AE: What can people do to help when someone they love is struggling?

Ms. Hemingway: Listen. Don’t say anything. Anybody who is struggling needs to be heard. Learn to be a good listener. Most people don’t know how to listen because they’re thinking about what they want to say. If somebody’s in pain, they probably feel isolated, lonely, unheard, and unseen. For you to witness them in their pain is the most powerful thing you can do to help.

At a Glance

Lives in: Sun Valley, Ida. and Venice, Calif.

Notable Films: “Lipstick” (1976); “Manhattan” (1979); “Running From Crazy” (2013), a television documentary about her family; “God’s Country Song” (2023)

Notable Books: “Finding My Balance: A Memoir” (2001), “Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction, and Suicide in My Family” (2015)

From Sept. Issue, Volume 3

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Arts & Letters Lifestyle

My Father, the President: Ronald Reagan’s Eldest Son Reflects on Life Lessons from His Father

Michael Reagan, eldest son of President Ronald Reagan, political commentator, author, radio host of 26 years, and holder of five powerboat racing world records, said he has been asked all his life, “What was it really like being raised by Ronald Reagan?” When he finally set pen to paper, he realized he had much more to reflect on, and he was all the more honest for it.

In 2016, Reagan published “Lessons My Father Taught Me,” a memoir of his relationship with his father and all he learned from him about love, leadership, family, and faith.

American Essence spoke with Reagan about his cherished memories with his father.

On a lesson he learned while growing up: “I really learned about America, and the military, when I would ride out to the ranch on any given Saturday morning with my father and he would regale me with songs of the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard. And he would just tell me about America,” Reagan said. 

On what his father imparted to him: “Forgiveness,” said Reagan. As a child, he was the victim of molestation, and the perpetrator’s threats followed him for years. He carried fear, shame, and resentment with him, even walking away from God and his family at one point. “Ultimately, it came to me that I had to live the Lord’s Prayer instead of just reciting the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

He recalled his father’s famously good attitude: “Dad was never bothered. Nothing upset him.”

A special bonding moment: Reagan recalled that in 1991 (when he was about 46), while sitting in church, he asked God to show him that his father loved him. In a moment of blame, he thought about how his father never said “I love you.”

“The voice came back and said, ‘So, when was the last time you told your dad you loved him?’” He realized he never had. “Another voice said, ‘Next time you see him, give him a hug and tell him you love him.’” 

He did so, and shocked his father—and the secret service—quite a bit. But then his dad returned the hug and said, “I love you, too.” 

From then on, that became their ritual every meeting. When Alzheimer’s had taken much of his father’s memory, and he couldn’t say Michael’s name, the president still held out his arms every time he saw his son, because he recognized him as the man who would always give him a hug. 

From Aug Issue, Volume 3

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Features Lifestyle

Finding Beauty in the Chaos: A Case for Slow Living in the Modern World

For all of society’s new tech-driven shortcuts, are we more relaxed and in control of our time? On the contrary, life seems to be speeding out of control, and our personal lives bear the brunt of the ensuing chaos and clutter.

One American found an antidote to the modern frenzy in France. After growing up in casual Southern California, Jennifer L. Scott discovered wisdom in Old World etiquette and the traditional Parisian way of dressing, dining, communicating, and living beautifully at home—a higher standard of living. She shares her advice and inspiration on her blog and YouTube channel, The Daily Connoisseur, and in her best-selling books.

“We, especially as Americans, can really get swept up in the rat race,” Scott said. “But I think that we miss something when we do that: We miss a lot about the beauty of everyday life.”

That’s why, she said, “one of my missions in life is to encourage people to live a beautiful life at home, and to live life as a formal affair. I do think that the home is a sacred space; it’s our most important space. It’s where we spend the most time and our environment affects us. … We have a life at home—and for many people that life is in chaos.”

Fish Out of Water

Scott’s slower living approach is a way that Americans used to follow but that she hadn’t encountered while growing up. All that changed the year she went to Paris on a study abroad program.

“Suddenly, I found myself living with this very formal, traditional Parisian family in the 16th arrondissement in Paris,” Scott said. “It’s a fish-out-of-water experience for me.” Her books—“Lessons from Madame Chic,” “At Home with Madame Chic,” “Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic,” and “Connoisseur Kids”—are full of stories about what she learned from her host family, including “Madame Chic”—her nickname for her host mother—and Parisian culture in general.

On one of her first nights there, for instance, she learned a sartorial lesson she’ll never forget. Scott’s host mother spotted her in the pajamas she had brought from California, an ancient pair of sweatpants with a hole in them. Madame Chic was in disbelief. She let Scott know that there was no need to dispense with self-respecting standards just because you’re at home or the sun’s gone down.

“I think, ultimately, the thread of the books is how I meld both what I learned living with this formal French family with my casual American lifestyle, and make it modern and make it significant to me,” Scott said. Since then, she’s discovered even more wisdom and beauty in everyday living, from her personal experiences as a conscientious homemaker and homeschooling mother of four children, ages 4 to 12. She shares her advice with her followers in videos every week.

A Path Through the Noise

The Daily Connoisseur’s slogan is “Keep calm and remain classy.” But as a busy working and homeschooling mom, how exactly does Scott keep calm? “I have to constantly remind myself of it,” she said. “I frequently find myself operating on low levels of stress, sometimes high levels. … I have to consciously step out of that.”

One grounding pillar she always returns to is faith. Scott is Christian, but on her channel, she keeps the tone comfortable for people of any belief system and freely discusses “the major role that prayer and meditation plays in my life,” she said. “[It’s] the thread that kind of gets me through every single day.”

The “noise” on social media and in the news can be an obstacle. Quiet that down, Scott advises, and think about how you truly want to live your life.

“Living beautifully at home is about expressing your style,” according to Scott, who said that her goal is to open people’s eyes to what a fulfilling journey that is. “I just can’t stress enough that it is a beautiful adventure, and that people should wholeheartedly embrace it, even if you are a woman in her 40s who just thinks, ‘Well, I’m not going on an adventure.’ Yes, you can go on an adventure!

“I think it’s exciting when you embark on the journey to improve yourself. And so just enjoy it.”

Tips for Beautiful Living From Jennifer Scott

Scott is not afraid to point out “not-so-chic” choices her fellow Americans make from time to time; she does it with charm, kindness, and humor. But the power of her advice lies in the practical examples of what to do instead. Here are some ways to start living a more beautiful, formal life every day.

Schedule Your Days Mindfully

Self-discipline is a cornerstone of a beautiful life, Scott said—not something to be afraid of. “I like to encourage people to use a planner to schedule their day, write to-do lists, have a morning routine where you do the same things every morning. I think a lot of people are afraid of a routine or getting stuck in a rut by doing the same things all the time, but there’s actually a lot of beauty in [discipline].”

Scott is candid about the sacrifices she makes in order to write her books, helm a successful YouTube channel, and raise her children. “I’m a very disciplined person,” she said, and “that’s how I do accomplish what I do.” Case in point: She keeps up to 10 notebooks at a time to organize the different parts of her life.

(Fei Meng for American Essence)

That doesn’t mean packing each day with rigid, strictly-business tasks. Scott stresses the importance of taking intentional pauses for the little rituals that nourish you. “Doing the things I love throughout the day, like a scheduled tea time, is something that I’m really known for promoting, because I think it’s so important for people to take a break from their afternoon,” she said. For her, that means making time for meaningful exercise, gardening or going out into nature, taking a long bath with a good book, or writing letters or postcards to friends—“things that you wouldn’t really find on a to-do list, but that are equally as important as our most important items on that list.”

And if it all starts to get too overwhelming, be in tune with that, and adjust accordingly. When Scott finds herself operating on stress, she said, “I have to consciously step out of that and stop my to-do list and say no to commitments, and that helps me remain calm.”

Break Out the Bone China

Or your fine linens, or the nice wine you’re saving—today. A key theme that runs through Scott’s advice is “always using the best things that you have,” she said. “It’s about adopting that mindset of higher living, of allowing yourself to enjoy beautiful things, not saving your best for later.”

That can start small: “Instead of having your afternoon tea in that cracked old mug that you use every day,” Scott suggested, how about “finding that nice bone china tea cup that maybe your grandmother gave you that you never used, and enjoying it.”

Simplify Your Wardrobe To Amplify Your Style

Scott encourages “dressing well for the day, every day”—whether you’re going out or at home. To put that goal within reach, enter the “10-item wardrobe.” It’s a life-changing lesson Scott picked up from her Parisian mentors who owned, by American standards, very few clothes, but high-quality ones that they wore often and took good care of. Each item fit well, looked great, and was timeless and elegant, and most or all of them were chosen so that they could be mixed and matched seamlessly. This approach is the subject of a chapter in Scott’s book—and a 2014 TEDx talk—that she says has enduring and universal appeal.

“I think a lot of men and women, they have way too many clothes, and because of this, their style is confused,” Scott said. “Personal style is such an important part of our lives, so paring that down and expressing your true style through the 10-item wardrobe is a big one.”

The concept isn’t as extreme as it may sound. For each season, pick a few tops, a few bottoms, and for women, a skirt and dress or two. Not included in the 10 items are your jackets, hats, scarves, gym clothes, pajamas, and so on. Unneeded pieces go into storage. Closet space is freed up. Some people choose 12 items; for others, 20 is more appropriate. This capsule wardrobe stays put for about 12 weeks, then you swap it out to your heart’s content.

Bring Formality Back to the Dinner Table

“My favorite thing about living in France in particular,” Scott said, “was every single meal involved conversation, community, and nice, formal manners.” She pointed out that American families used to sit down together to enjoy their meals, but that the pressure to join the “rat race” may have sabotaged the tradition here. Eating has become a casual affair.

Making mealtimes more formal—not stuffy—is one way to slow down, pay attention to quality of life, and replace chaos with order, which begets beauty. Scott has also found a fulfilling creative outlet in setting a pretty table with fine trimmings for her young family at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

(Fei Meng for American Essence)

There’s a wellness benefit here, too: “If you’re walking down the sidewalk stuffing a sandwich in your face, because you’re late for something, that is not a good way to digest your food,” Scott said. “When you’re sitting down with good posture, a beautifully laid table, and conversation, you’re able to digest your food properly and get that nourishment you need. And it helps with your stress.”

Welcome Whimsy Into the Home

Life is hard, Scott admits, and homemaking can become monotonous. She proposes an antidote: Introduce some whimsy to the everyday. A perfect example is her “Gemstone Homemaking” series, in which she chooses one gemstone at a time as a theme, and allows it to “inspire us at home.” Emerald, for instance, might show up as an accent color in an outfit of the day, the focal point in a bouquet of flowers for the table, and a recipe for a matcha-flavored hot drink or delicious pesto pasta dinner.

Scott said she believes this is her signature characteristic. There is no shortage of homemaking YouTube channels, for example, that cover nitty-gritty tips for cleaning, decluttering, meal planning, or etiquette basics. “But I like to explore a more whimsical, different dynamic,” Scott said.

Pursue the Arts and Learning

Scott understands the power of looking good, and she shares plenty of style tips from her wardrobe and home decor, but she always emphasizes that our cultivated inner worlds are what truly make us elegant, beautiful, and attractive.

Art appreciation plays a big role in that for Scott. She studied theater in university, and while studying abroad in Paris, she took an art history class that included weekly trips to museums like the Louvre. The class “totally transformed my life,” she said. “I fell in love with these paintings, because not only are you seeing the painting, but you know the story behind it, about the artist and the time period. There’s history—there’s so much.”

Her video series “Seek Out the Arts” is a monthly appointment with a curated selection of paintings, poems, music, and more. In adulthood, she’d longed for the fine arts again in her life but found few opportunities to include it; she created the series to give herself and others the chance to return to some of their most fulfilling pursuits.

“I love embarking on new ideas and implementing them into my life,” she said. “I’m constantly reading, I’m constantly listening to audiobooks, constantly watching YouTube channels, trying to improve myself, and I’m still learning things every single day of my life.”

From Aug. Issue, Volume 3

Categories
Lifestyle

Southern Hospitality: The Vivid World of Interior Designer James T. Farmer

Timeless, colorful, and alive: such is a room designed by James T. Farmer III, interior designer, gardener, and all-around Southern gentleman. Farmer embraces the warmth of spirit and classically beautiful, seasonal lifestyle of the South, from generations of his close-knit family and his hometown of Perry, Georgia, and he brings it into his clients’ homes across the country.

Farmer is the author of 10 books on interior design, gardening, entertaining, cooking, and, in general, how to beautify everyday life every day of the year. His titles include “A Time to Plant,” “Sip and Savor,” “Porch Living,” “Wreaths for All Seasons,” “A Time to Cook,” “Dinner on the Grounds,” “A Time to Celebrate,” “A Place to Call Home,” and “Arriving Home.” His latest book, “Celebrating Home,” delves deep into his warm and sincere philosophy on staging seasonally inspired celebrations at home, to recognize life’s precious moments—both small and grand.

(Emily Followill)

American Essence: You’ve written a lot about classic, traditional style. What are some Southern design elements you find yourself coming back to again and again?

James Farmer: Mixing heirloom pieces and contemporary style is how I strive to keep designs both classic and fresh. In the South, we are proud of what came before us, so mixing what’s “mine, Mama’s, and Mimi’s” is a great way to accomplish that. I love mixing silver with contemporary art and brown furniture with freshly upholstered items. In my designs, I tend to use a classic mix of patterns with a floral, trellis, and animal print. You can’t go wrong with elements of nature.

AE: Where do you find the most creative inspiration?

Mr. Farmer: Nature is always my biggest inspiration—flowers, colors, plants. It is our greatest gift! I also love going to other people’s homes for dinner parties—how they do flowers, what they serve, how they host. We can always draw inspiration from others.

Roses and foxgloves uplift an al fresco table set by interior designer and entertaining expert James T. Farmer. Pictured here in the garden at Farmdale, his home in Perry, Ga. (Emily Followill)

This is a short preview version of the story from the July Issue, Volume 3