Tree Collard Cuttings

Perennials are so cool. They grow year after year, are generally lower maintenance than annuals, and when you want a new plant, you just take a cutting! Here are some tree collard cuttings ready to propagate. Just plant half the nodes under the dirt and wait – six months later you should have a small growing tree collard plant! These cuttings have now been happily distributed to become their very own ten foot tall plant.

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So Long, Baylight, and Thanks for All the Blessings

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Last Sunday was the farewell party for Baylight Church Community, a place I considered my spiritual home for a good chunk of my adult years. For something that existed for about 11 years, it ended with some good food and old friends. In a way, it was fitting, but in another way, I think I’m still processing the close of something that played such a formative role during my twenties.

I still remember joining this small group of folks in a living room (with buckets of KFC) back in early 2002, having never really heard of church planting. We didn’t have a name, just a vision – to be a church-planting church that thrilled the heart of God. Looking back, there were so many different ways I could have gone – I had just graduated college, started my first job, and was looking for a place to call my church home. I could’ve ended up in a myriad of other good, solid churches in the South Bay, but God led me to this ragtag bunch of people. It turned out to be a brilliant fit for me. Baylight ended up being a place that deeply shaped the person I am today.

How can I encapsulate a decade of influence on my life in a simple little blog post? I can’t. But here’s a sampling of the many blessings that came through this incredible group of people called Baylight Church Community.

  • I received incredible mentoring and coaching as I learned how to be a Christ-centered adult without the same all-encompassing support structure that I had during my college days.
  • I learned about church planting, discipleship, multiplication, worship, and leadership. More importantly, I saw it practiced.
  • I saw first hand what Christ-honoring marriages looked like. I also saw first hand how to weather hard stuff and resolve conflict.
  • I got to be a part of some incredible small group communities that loved me and supported me.
  • I got engaged, I got married, and I had my first child while in this community, and we learned so much from the people around us about each of those life transitions.
  • I preached my first sermon there, and many more after that. I got coaching, feedback, and practice in communicating the Word of God. Thanks everyone for bearing with me through some lengthy introductions and no doubt some rambling talks.
  • I got to be a pastoral intern with three other fantastic men and two great mentors who pushed me to be honest, loving, and faithful.
  • I got to serve on the pastoral staff there. We did some cool things, we wrestled through tough and challenging discussions about church, we ate a lot of food, and I learned so much in the process.
  • I was challenged to live intentionally, missionally, and incarnationally in everything.
  • The idea of shalom as a central rallying point solidified during my time at Baylight.
  • We launched out five years ago from Baylight to start a church in SF and received such a tremendous amount of support in our journey.
  • We made some really, really good friends there who have been with us through thick and thin.

And there’s so much more that could be written. I’m so thankful for the people I met along the way and for the great things that God will continue to do through those people for years to come. It was a great ride. For those of you who were a part of my spiritual journey at Baylight, I sincerely thank you.

Keep on keeping on.

Sergio, Scutaro, and Sandoval: Why the 2012 Giants World Series Run Was More Special than 2010

For me, I didn’t start believing something could happen for the Giants this year until this at-bat – Giants up 6 to 4, Sergio Romo versus the mighty Jay Bruce with two men on in Game 5 of the NLDS, October 11, 2012:

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Marcia and I were huddled in the kitchen with KNBR on, nervously cleaning and waiting for Bruce to either hit a homer and end the Giants season or for Romo to emerge victorious. Little did I know it would be the start of something truly special.

Back in 2010, I wrote about my 23-year wait for a World Series title to come to San Francisco. To get back to the World Series, let alone win it again a mere two years later is shocking. Two out of the five seasons my daughter has experienced have resulted in the Giants being crowned world champs! So what made 2012 more special than 2010? Let me count the ways…

  1. Question marks about Buster Posey’s ability to regain his old form after his devastating injury in 2011. But instead he puts up MVP numbers.
  2. Brian Wilson went down in his second appearance back in April, supposedly dooming the Giants relief corps. But Sergio, Santiago, and Jeremy more than get it done.
  3. Melky Cabrera, he of the .346 batting average, gets suspended for performance enhancing drugs, but his replacement, Gregor Blanco ends up being a key cog for the team.
  4. Tim Lincecum has his worst season ever, and the worst first half of any pitcher in the NL, but comes back to be lights out in relief in the playoffs.
  5. The Dodgers make a blockbuster trade to net guys like Adrian Gonzalez, but fall short by eight games.
  6. Down 0-2, the Giants come back to beat Cincinnati in five games on the road.
  7. Down 3-1, the Giants come back to win three straight against the defending champs, the Cardinals.
  8. A thrown ball that hits second base for an error by the Cards. A broken bat triple hit double by Pence. A ball that bounces of third base for a double by Pagan. Diving grabs by Blanco and Crawford.
  9. Sergio Romo.
  10. Marco Scutaro.
  11. Pablo Sandoval.
  12. Sweep.
  13. It brought a city together. Giants signs, flags, and shirts everywhere. Random high fives.

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The three guys I mentioned – Sergio, Scutaro, and Sandoval really epitomize how cool this season was.

Sergio Romo, former setup guy/specialist with Wilson as the closer steps in (along with Santiago Casilla) to anchor the back of the Giants bullpen. Saves games by striking out the side. Celebrates like nobody’s business. Has fun on the field. Gets the last out in the rain in the NLCS. Gets the last out of the World Series by striking out Miguel Cabrera. Priceless.

Marco Scutaro, the guy the Giants traded for that nobody thought about. Plays a solid rest of the season, and then simply explodes in the NLCS. Every time he came up, I thought he could get on base. Swung and missed at only 14 or 15 pitches all season. Batted .500 against the cardinals, and fielded everything. Hit the game-winning single against the Tigers in Game 4. Refuses to answer questions about the Matt Holliday slide after winning the NLCS, instead opting to thank God, his teammates, and the fans. Class act.

Pablo Sandoval, went 0 for 4 in his only World Series appearance in 2010. Broke his hand twice in the last two years. Criticized for his weight and on-field performance. Plays stellar defense at third base. Hits three home runs in Game 1 of the World Series, including TWO of Justin Verlander, possibly the best pitcher in the league. My kids recognized him every time he showed up, yelling “Kung Fu Panda!”

The crazy thing is, the list could go on – every member of the starting lineup contributed to a win via the bat or the glove. Every starter on the staff contributed in a big way. It really was team baseball at its best. 2010 was special, and 2012 was better yet.

Oh yeah, I got to go to Game 2 of the World Series. That was pretty special.

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Giants Fever at Game 2. Panasonic GX1, Lumix 14mm f/2.5.

How I Lost Almost 30 Pounds Without Going to the Gym

People who haven’t seen me a while often ask if I’ve lost some weight. Known for such phrases “I can’t stop eating!” while in college, I can say that the answer is a resounding yes! Since about 2009, I’ve managed to lose almost 30 pounds, going from about 183 (which my doctor at the time told me qualified as “slightly overweight”) to a present-day 155 (right in the sweet spot of a healthy BMI for me). But I didn’t exactly intend to do that. How in the world did that happen? Here’s a summary of the lifestyle changes I’ve made in the last three years that I think have helped shed those excess pounds:

  1. Around early 2009 or so, I made the decision to stop using cream and sugar in my coffee. Cold turkey. I loved the taste, but realized that dumping all that half and half and pure sucrose into my frequent cups of coffee wasn’t doing me any favors. I’ve been drinking my coffee black ever since.
  2. I started eating primarily whole grain bread instead of processed enriched flour whenever I could. This impacts me especially since I eat a lot of sandwiches. Our homemade sourdough usually uses white flour, but we also sometimes mix in whole wheat flour as well.
  3. I essentially stopped eating at McDonald’s, except for the occasional fries or McChicken (no mayo). But I do mean occasional – I used to eat there pretty frequently, say once a week or so.
  4. I started bringing my lunch, a lot. Like sandwiches every single day at work, so that my co-workers are thrown off when I’m eating something other than a sandwich. No mayo.
  5. From spring to fall in 2009 and 2010, I biked to work occasionally, meaning I would bike in to work one day, and bike home from work the next day. Add in the days I felt lazy and rode the bus instead, that added up to maybe 2 to 3 bike rides across the city a week for those warmer months.
  6. I cut down my soda intake to one regular and one diet soda a week from about 2010 to early 2012. Then, earlier this year as part of a Lent fast, I cut all high fructose corn syrup drinks entirely. That left me with maybe one real sugar soda a week (I also dispensed with the diet sodas), which I’ve now also basically dropped. I’ve continued the high fructose corn syrup fast beyond Easter.
  7. We started a mini farm in our backyard. This has meant lots of digging, plowing, moving dirt, transplanting, building seedling flats, hauling compost bags around, driving in stakes, weeding, watering, and a whole host of other physical activity. No need for a gym here.
  8. We started changing our family diet to include a lot more veggies and real food.

And that’s it! I wasn’t intending to, but I ended up losing a lot of extra weight! I could still use some cardio exercise, but other than that, just a handful of simple lifestyle changes over time led to a good, healthy shift.

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Me (with little m) circa January 2009.

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Me circa May 2012.

If You Like Food, You Must Read This Book

Over the last few months, there have been a number of books have been extremely influential in how the Kuos think, eat, and live. If you want to get a little deeper into the why and how of some the different things that Marcia and I post, here’s a relatively short read (just finished it yesterday on the bus!) that is well worth your time!

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In Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, he makes a compelling case in just a couple hundred pages for his simple mantra for eating: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” There’s so much packed into that statement, but it’s so true – the Western diet has made an alarming shift away from real foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, real meat [not crazy stuff like McDonald’s burgers which can contain parts of up to 100 cows per patty!]) to heavily processed foods that put in all sorts of weird stuff you can pronounce and strip away many of the original food’s vital nutrients.¬† Here are two particularly challenging quotes from the book:

“The human animal is adapted to, and apparently can thrive on, an extraordinary range of different diets, but the Western diet, however you define it, does not seem to be one of them.” (Pollan, 100)

“When most of us think about food and health, we think in fairly narrow nutritionist terms–about our personal physical health and how the ingestion of this particular nutrient or rejection of that affects it. But I no longer think it’s possible to separate our bodily health from the health of the environment from which we eat or the environment in which we eat or, for that matter, from the health of our general outlook about food (and health). If my explorations of the food chain have taught me anything, it’s that it is a food chain, and all the links in it are in fact linked: the health of the soil to the health of the plants and animals we eat to the health of the food culture in which we eat them to the health of the eater, in body as well as mind.” (Pollan, 144)

For us, this book helped us connect a lot of dots about why organic food matters, the importance of eating meals together, the value of grass fed beef, and the massive interconnectedness of it all to not only the health of our family, but of this world that God has given us.

Go grab a copy at your local library or bookstore and give it a read! I’d be more than happy to chat about it with you. And for those who are so inclined, you can also check out his talk at Google back in 2008 talking about this very book:

Amber Waves of Grain in…San Francisco?

The growing season is fully upon us in the city by the Bay, and it’s been, dare I say, hot here with temperatures in the 70s! Our spring planting is complete, our summer crops are going in, and we’re having a lot of fun now that the hard, wake up at 5:45am work is done. One of the most exciting things for me this season is that we’re trying to grow grain in SF. Over the winter we started cereal rye and triticale, and now those are both almost ready! Since we had no clue what happens with grains, I actually thought our rye was never going to grow, as it was a measly 6-12 inches tall in the beginning of spring. Some wise folks told me they would grow, and grow they did! The rye is now taller than me, perhaps up to 7 feet tall! And they’ve got grain heads. We’re getting excited about the prospect of making some bread from grains grown in our own backyard! Check it out:

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Cereal Rye Grain Heads

In other exciting news, the grains we planted back in April are growing fast and already sending up grain heads as well.

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Dylan Wheat Patch
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Dylan Wheat Grain Heads

Our one healthy brussel sprout plant from the winter is also creating those tiny cabbage heads at the stem joints!

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Forming Brussel Sprouts

After actually heeding the instructions that came with them, I created some shade for our tree collards, and they exploded. In just a mere couple of months, they’ve grown about two feet and sent out gigantic, rich leaves like this:

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Tree Collard Leaf

Pretty fun stuff. After many months of planning, seed starting, soil preparation, and transplanting, here’s our garden now:

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The Kuo Family Garden, June 2012

Ethanol – A Mythical Green Energy Source?

This excerpt from an article posted on Wharton’s Law and Public Policy section, “An Earful on Ethanol: Rising Food Prices, Inefficient Production and Other Problems”, captures a lot of my thoughts on the problems with ethanol (boldface added):

Food crops such as grains “are terrible sources of raw material for biofuels,” says Karl Ulrich, a Wharton professor of operations and information management. “Every analysis I have seen shows that grain-based biofuels such as ethanol require more energy to produce than they provide.” Ulrich, who in 2005 devised a system called Terra Pass to allow individuals to buy carbon offsets, notes that “about four calories of energy, usually from fossil fuels, are required to create one calorie of food energy. That is, 100 calories of carbohydrates in corn requires about 400 calories of coal, natural gas, or oil for fertilizer, planting, harvesting, processing, and transportation. As a result, the more likely cause of rising food prices is the rising cost of energy.”

Ulrich says he sees far more promise in the second generation ethanol sources.

But they, too, could have their own unintended consequences, according to Ulku G. Oktem, a senior research fellow at Wharton who has taught a course called Environmental Sustainability and Value Creation. “If you use the whole [corn] plant … you do not return any part of the plant back into the soil, which means you have to feed more nutrition to the crops — and that means more fertilizer. More fertilizer means you have to use more energy to create it. One has to look at the full life-cycle of ethanol production.

 

Dirt and Spirituality

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Transplanting wheat seedlings at dawn

Our family has really dived in to our backyard urban mini-farm – we’ve been spending many hours prepping the land, hunched over Excel spreadsheets, and getting up many days in a row at dawn to plant seedlings before the kids get up. One of the key parts of sustainable agriculture is taking a long view on things – we’re not just trying to build the absolutely best garden for this season, but investing in the land so that it will be fruitful for years and decades to come. This means growing the right mix of crops so that you are growing enough compost matter to put back into the soil. Only the nutrients present in the food itself gets taken away, and literally everything else gets put back in to build up good dirt. That’s what we’re trying to do now, which is why we’re growing a whole lot more grains and beans this year than ever before – we just put in about 300 wheat plants (for compost material and grain) and have about 150 green bean plants and soybean plants (that build nitrogen into the soil) either in the ground or about ready to go in the ground.

Nor is our garden just about being good stewards, growing healthy food, or just a hobby that we’re taking up – although we do enjoy the fruits of our labor (quite literally) and the beautiful vista out our back window. It’s actually become an integrated part of our journey as followers of Jesus. All over the Scriptures you see organic analogies and stories – talk about land, seed sowing, harvests, weeds, good and bad soil, the garden of Eden.

Speaking of dirt, another key lesson I think God has been drilling into me over the last few years especially is that spiritual life is messy. Things rarely go according to plan, God and a Godward life doesn’t fit into convenient compartments, and it takes hard, hard work to be a consistent and faithful disciple of Jesus. It’s just like work in the garden – there are pests to contend with, poor weather that throws off schedules, diseases that come and mess with the plants, among a whole host of other things that could go wrong. Working in the garden (on the land and in your soul) is hard work! I’m often on my hands and knees, dirt everywhere, clothes soiled, picking up gross things — all the help foster a good environment for healthy plants. Is that not what the spiritual journey with God looks like? The deeper I walk into life with Jesus, the more I realize I need to be on my hands and knees (both literally and figuratively), plowing through hard stuff, working through gross things, and embracing the messiness of it all.

The closer I get to the dirt, the more my eyes are opened to God and His creation, his desire for people to operate in a natural and connected way to Him and His world, and the myriad of ways that deep discipleship is patterned after God’s design in non-human creation. Even understanding passages in the Scriptures like God causing the growth of plants, and us participating in it in some way (see 1 Cor 3:6-7). And add to that the great feeling of being outside, hands and knees in the dirt, watching plants grow from tiny seedlings into full-fledged plants, it’s a wonder to behold. I’d highly recommend it. The further we walk into it, the more tired we get, but the more integrated, healthy, and vibrant our life starts to feel.