Making Home-Made Products!

Part of the allure to mini-farming is making your own products. Since we have only been at it for a couple months, we can’t make everything with homegrown ingredients yet, but we can still save money by making things like soap, tooth-paste, and seltzer, as we have done. The other benefit is that you know a bit more about what is really in the products you are using; unfortunately lots of tooth-paste and soap have some harmful stuff in there to make them foam.

Tooth Paste

Most recently I made my own tooth-paste, because I am running out of my Ava Anderson chemical free toothpaste, and wanted to save money. The recipe was pretty simple that I found on DIYNatural, but I added my own flare with a couple extra essential oils. Here’s what I did:

In an 8 ounce jar, I combined 2/3 cup of baking soda with 1 tsp. of sea salt which I ground to a powder with a mortar and pestle, so that it would not scratch the enamel. The baking soda is to clean and whiten the teeth, and the salt is meant to re-mineralize the enamel.


Now, the original recipe called for enough water to turn that powder into a paste, but I took a different route. According to the book The Green Pharmacy by James Duke, chamomile tea is a disinfectant of the gums, which can help prevent gingivitis by getting deep down to tackle the germs stuck in the gums. In fact gingivitis simply means swelling of the gums, and there are varying degrees of the disease, but it is something most of us will deal with at some point in our lives. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.

So instead of water I made a tea of chamomile and green tea. The green tea, because of the tannins and astringent quality, acts to protect the teeth from bacteria that cause tooth decay and gingivitis. I mixed the tea with the baking soda and powdered salt, and then added some essential oils.


Keep in mind you do not want to swallow essential oils, and even an ounce can be fatal. That being said, I did not use nearly an ounce of essential oils in the entire batch of tooth paste, let alone for each brushing session.

I used 5 drops of peppermint essential oil, which smells nice, and makes for a fresh taste. But peppermint oil is also antiseptic, which means it helps cure the root cause of bad breath, and not just cover the smell.


I could have stopped there, and next time I might. The reason is, a nice fresh peppermint toothpaste feels natural and leaves my mouth feeling clean. The next to essential oils definitely help with oral hygiene, but they don’t really make the paste taste especially good. Your breath certainly won’t smell bad after brushing, but it won’t have the classic fresh mint smell.

That being said, I added 5 drops of teatree oil because it is also antiseptic. It doesn’t really taste good though, so I think I will save it for a mouthwash in the future, if I feel any swelling in the gums. James Duke recommends swishing a couple drops diluted in a glass of water, and spitting it out to combat gingivitis.

I also added 5 drops of eucalyptus oil, another antiseptic. Again, next time I will probably just stick to the peppermint.

Carbonated Drinks

My sister’s fiance has been making hard cider for some time, and since he already had the equipment, decided to throw together some seltzer as well. He simply filled up a five gallon keg with filtered water, added about a half cup of lemon juice, and attached the keg to the carbon dioxide tank to carbonate. In just about a day, we had five gallons of seltzer on tap, which went surprisingly quickly. Next time I am encouraging him to try making green tea seltzer with lemon.


My sister Steph and I have made a couple batches of soap already as well. We learned how at PorcFest from Hershel who makes Shire Soaps. Soap making is basically a chemical reaction between lye and fat. So we mixed shea butter, olive oil, and coconut oil as our fats, using an online soap making calculator to determine how much of each. Shea butter is solid, so we microwaved it a little at a time to melt it, and get the temperature up in order to mix with the lye.

Then we mixed the lye with water, always adding the water to the lye very carefully in a well ventilated area, or preferably outdoors, because it creates toxic fumes (and heats up) when it combines with water. Finally when the two mixtures were within ten degrees of each other, both around 110, we mixed them using a handheld blender, and added our essential oils, like lemongrass, rosemary, and lavender. Then, into a PVC pipe lined with parchment paper it goes for 24 hours to set, before we cut it, and let it dry for a month.


And that is all just the beginning when it comes to home-made. We are getting some various styles of garden beds together to plant, which I will share soon!



Mini-Farming in Florida!

Alright, three months later, and I am back! 2015 was a year filled with excitement, happiness, and new experiences! To top it off, in early November I moved from Massachusetts to the panhandle of Florida!

My sister bought ten acres in the suburbs of Pensacola, and I moved down here with her and her fiance to start a “mini-farm”.

She named it Prickly Pear Plantation, because of these little cacti called prickly pears, which are actually edible… in theory. I have yet to get more than a couple nibbles out of the center, because they must be cooked to the point where all the bristles, and small bristly hairs are gone. But by this point they have shrunk and shriveled so much, that it is nearly impossible to get any meat out of them. What I usually end up with is tiny hairy bristles stuck in my tongue and lips. I think some grow much larger than the ones on our property though, so hopefully I can find a better specimen to try.


We will be growing vegetables, and started double digging out garden plots which we will plant in February. We will be keeping chickens for eggs as well; we got seven baby chicks three weeks ago and already built the chicken coop.


They grow up so fast!

We have also cleaned up the property, built a shed, planted a few fruit trees, built/ repaired fences, and built a “catititat” (habitat for cats) all in just about six weeks!


Don’t worry, there’s a shelf for them to jump back through the window if they want to go inside.

Everything is going great so far, and we are getting a lot accomplished. We keep moving towards ours goals, and even though some days are slower than others, we can already look back over the two months and see tremendous progress! For instance, the piles of trash the previous owners left all around the yard have been cleaned up.

Pensacola is a beautiful coastal city with a nice little strip of bars and restaurants. We have been to the Wednesday night runs at the World of Beer a few times, where after a three mile run the bar provided runners some complimentary food and beer specials.

The dogs are enjoying the large property as well, pouring seemingly endless amounts of energy into sprinting around the fields and roughhousing with each other. When I arrived a week after my sister and her fiance moved into the house, I surprised her with Leo, her cat who I had been looking after in Massachusetts while she moved.


Well… I guess they tire themselves out sooner or later.

It all feels like a dream come true. The work we are putting in is already starting to show, but we also have lots of toil ahead of us. That is okay though, it is just part of building something to be proud of. Getting down here was a big step, and now we just need to keep the momentum going to keep building (and growing) our dreams. And with beautiful warm weather, it is easy to stay in high spirits!

And it gets to be a little harder to pull myself away from the outdoors and plunk myself down on a computer. But hey, that’s a good problem to have!

Be sure to follow Steph’s blog, “Steph Matt Stella Become Southern”!

Fewer Posts, but More Experiences

What’s Going On Here, Where Am I At?

When I started this blog, I said that a long absence from posting could mean one of two things:

…it probably means I am failing. Or it could mean I am accomplishing my goal so well that something crazy and unexpected has hampered my posting, like a spontaneous visit to the Yanomamö tribe of Brazil to participate in their ash eating ritual of cremated relatives. But hopefully my experiences will be somewhere in between and I’ll post regularly.

The truth is I have been doing tons of fun stuff, and truly enjoying my life, which made this blog take a back seat. Why stop in the middle of an excellent adventure to tell the internet, who is probably not even listening, about it? I’ve found myself thinking less about trying to make money or promote blogs, and more about enjoying the moment.

In that sense, this blog fulfilled its purpose. It started as a catalyst to get me to have more fun, move out of my shell, promote happiness and positivity, and live a life that is not mundane! As my posts have taken a steep nose dive in number, I have also noticed that the energy I felt when I first started this blog did not go away, it was just transferred into my daily life.

Pretty much, I faked it until I maked it. Well I was never really faking it. But sometimes it is hard to be positive, accomplish things, and keep things interesting. When I couldn’t do it in the outside world, I would turn to this blog for help. And help it did! This blog served as a foundation, which I am now building a structure on top of that I call my life. Surely there will still be updates and the spreading of that positivity that I have been able to capture. But I also want to make sure this project doesn’t become a stressor.

Partially motivated by this blog, I will be moving south this winter. I think not having a bitter-cold environment where I am essentially cooped up indoors for six months will greatly contribute to my happiness. Also, this is my first real opportunity to see how much I can produce on my own, working the land, and being as self sufficient as possible. I’m sure the move and the new project of homesteading will give me plenty of fodder for Explaining It All moving forward.

Year in Review

I started this blog almost 14 months ago. It has been with me as I published my first book, which was a huge accomplishment for me, helped along, undoubtedly, by this blog. I posted about pursuing those sorts of dreams, turning off the flow of negativity from certain people around us, and taking steps, large or small towards your goals. I wasn’t writing from a high horse, for the readers’ benefit, so much as I was writing while in the pursuit, planning my future, and encouraging myself to keep going.

I am still very much in the pursuit of many things. Publishing a book is cool, by it is not synonymous with selling a book. That remains on the forefront of my goals.

Buy “Anarchy in New England” now! LOL

But life is always a balance between properly planning to make the future great, and ensuring the present is great as well. In addition to career/ self sufficiency progress, I did a lot of having fun/ enjoying life, including a trip to Florida, a cruise, PorcFest (where I met some AMAZING new friends), camping, the Cape, and finally, Iceland!

So enjoy these pictures of Iceland! I will be making a better effort to post more regularly!

iceland blue lagoon

Blue Lagoon, the required stop for tourists. How did I get the whole pool to myself? Went straight from the airport at 8am when they open!

iceland falls

A waterfall of which I don’t know how to say the name. It was big though. See the tiny dots in the background over my left shoulder? People.

iceland hillside

Stopped on the side of the road when I saw this awesome hill and rock. Jumped the barbed wire fence, and gave it a good climb.

iceland lagoon

A glacial lagoon! Saw some seals swimming around.

iceland reykjavic

I was trying to pose like Leif Eriksson, but I didn’t have my longsword and giant ax with me.

iceland silhoette

Prime People Watching on Mount Chocorua

I felt like a scientist studying different sample groups of humans, as a dozen or so people stormed into Liberty Cabin where Eric and I were brewing some coffee. We had already been to the clear summit of Mount Chocorua, trudged through the snow, taken the wrong trail, fell a couple times, backtracked, and finally arrived at the cabin all by around 1pm. That meant we were happily inside the basic structure with wooden platforms as beds, sipping hot coffee, when the dark clouds rolled in.


Lightening streaked across the sky. First came the downpour, then came the hail, and the wind. It would have been quite scary to be on the peak in such weather, and we would soon hear first hand accounts. It was hard to distinguish who was with who as three different groups of people and a lone hiker came streaming in. With only 9 platform beds in the cabin, Eric and I were glancing at each other and thinking the same thing, “Are they all staying here tonight?”


The answer was no, two groups were just out for a day hike, and had not anticipated how snowy it would be at 3,500 feet. Compared to them, I felt so very prepared for this camping trip, but I must admit that I had not expected the snow either, for some reason. It melted around my house, so snow was out of sight and out of mind; it is springtime!

I lucked out that my hiking partner Eric was much more prepared than I. He even brought extra hiking poles, which I don’t generally use, but proved invaluable on the snowy and icy trails. He also had a lighter, which I had forgot to pack. If I was alone, that could have been a disastrous mistake, being unable to light my camp stove to heat water. I still had enough other food, but it would have made the overnight uncomfortable.

I also lucked out with the temperatures. I brought many layers of clothing, but nothing extremely warm. This ended up being fine, but had it been ten degrees colder, which it easily could have been, I probably would have froze all day and night. So I am not trying to act like I was all set to hike Everest, but I at least brought plenty of extra socks, a map, flashlights, etc.

Party at Liberty Cabin!

As I stood in the cabin, trying to discern who was staying, a girl with booty shorts and a tank top walked in, bleeding from both shins. She was in good spirits, which could have been her disposition, or shock, or perhaps she had more than the two beers she admitted to earlier. See, it was her 21st birthday! And it was either hike a mountain, or go to clubs in Boston. Apparently she decided to dress for the clubs, but go hike the mountain.

I assumed the girl patching up her legs was in the same group as the bloody birthday girl, but I soon learned the healer was with another female friend. The bleeding girl’s two male friends (I use the term lightly) seemed more interested in getting back on the trail. One added that maybe they could stop at a liquor store on the way home. It seemed a hospital might be more appropriate, since the now patched up girl (no thanks to her hiking partners) had removed her wet socks, and put her unlaced Tims back on her numb red feet.

Since more important matters pressed, that group of three got back on the trail, at least taking a picture of my map with the phone that had 9% battery left. That is when we realized the other two girls were not with them, and only slightly more prepared. They seemed equally caught off guard by the conditions and weather, but at least possessed mental toughness.

They had pants on, but their thin canvass, flat bottom vans were not helping in the ice and, I kid you not, over 3 feet of snow in some places. Luckily their phones had more battery, and they took pictures of our maps. We offered them a map to take, but they declined. However when we heard at 3:30pm they didn’t have flashlights for the 4ish hour hike back over the summit, and down to their parking lot, I insisted they take an extra flashlight (I had two plus a headlamp), and the father of two from the third group also sent a flashlight with them. And they were off.

The Overnight Crew

Now the smoke cleared, and everyone who was left exhaled. We had a few jokes at the booty-short-wearing-birthday-girl’s expense, and situated ourselves in the cabin. It was me and Eric, the lone woman hiker, and Brian, his 11 and 13 year old sons, and an 18 year old girl he had adopted at some point in the last few years.

We really had such a good time, getting to know each other, laughing, joking, and commiserating. See, the family wasn’t super physically prepared either, but they were chalk full of mental preparedness. Not to criticize too much, but taking extra socks is like hiking 101. But Brian had only been hiking with his sons for a year, and it was great to see the enthusiasm. They had plenty of water, which was a lesson learned the previous year. Next camping trip, I am confident they will have plenty of socks.

So even though it was technically against the rules to start a camp fire that close to the cabin, we all looked the other way while Brian got one going to dry their socks and shoes. Rules are made to be broken, and this seemed to fall into the survival category. We certainly weren’t going to start a fire, but that didn’t mean we weren’t going to enjoy one that someone else lit.

Brian seemed like a really great, fun dad. They discovered hiking sort of by accident last year, and fell in love with it. There is a big learning curve with camping that I take for granted. My dad was a seasoned camper before I ever went with him, so from an early age I learned all the do’s and do nots of camping and hiking. And even then so much is unforeseen, and new experiences every trip teach you more.

I give Brian tons of credit for getting his family out for camping trips, and enthusiastically making the best of everything, even when they were a bit cold and unprepared. Plus, his kids enjoyed the whole experience, and didn’t complain at all, which is probably more than could be said of me at the same age.

Liberty Cabin with Mt. Chorua peak

Liberty Cabin with Mt. Chorua peak

Over the course of the night, we learned more about what transpired on the mountain in the hours and minutes leading up to the storming of the cabin. Brian was already feeling guilty that his family was on top of a mountain in a lightening storm, but weather is unpredictable, especially on mountains, and I don’t think it was negligence on his part.

His group, the group of two girls, and the birthday girl’s group all came together in the storm on the mountain, counting on strength in numbers to get them to safety. Birthday girl apparently panicked when lightening cracked nearby, and running in hysterics fell in some icy snow, lost a boot (but reclaimed it), and cut her shins on the ice when her feet punched through the top layer of snow.

The lone woman camper followed the trail of blood from the birthday girl’s shins, and arrived at the cabin minutes after the rest of them. She was a 31 year old seasoned camper who was the most prepared of anyone (and even she got her foot stuck in the snow at one point), except perhaps Eric who I was with, and probably made me look more prepared than I was. I have a habit of packing and planning last minute, which makes things harder when your phone dies, and you didn’t bring a charger. But that is when it actually helps that I don’t have a smart phone. I have a phone for texts and calls, a tablet for everything internet, and a GPS for the car. All these would have been on the same device if I had a smart phone. What is normally an inconvenience therefore proved to be an asset.

Brian’s sons were fine that night, since they shared a double sleeping bag that kept them warm. But Brian froze all night, with just a thin blanket, and the clothes he was wearing—sweatpants and a light jacket. He joined Eric and me for the sun rise, which was amazing. I decided not to take a picture of the sun rise since it would not have done the view justice. You’ll have to stay at Liberty Cabin for that image. But maybe wait a few more weeks if you don’t want to have to deal with the snow.


The Simple Joys of Spring Approaching

Would springtime be special if not for the vast contrast with winter? It’s not spring yet, but there some encouraging signs. It has been almost a week since any snow has fallen, and the daytime temperatures have been above freezing for a solid five days! It feels so good!

I still have to wait for the snow to melt, but I am itching to go for a hike, run, canoeing, anything outdoors! I have been deprived. But would I be so excited about doing these things if I did not live in a frozen wasteland for half the year?

I have considered the possibility that I might let years go by without canoeing if I lived in a warmer climate, because the opportunity is always available, so there is no urgency. In Massachusetts on the other hand, there is a clear marker every year at the start of canoeing season.

These past few days would have been the coldest of the year in Georgia, and felt miserable by comparison. But here, they are the warmest days in months, and make it feel like the tropics. I still plan to move south. I will just make sure to spend a few days or weeks in the north each year, in order to garner my appreciation for warm weather. I just can’t handle being cold for half the year and stuck inside, when everything I love to do is outdoors.

Still, the enchantment of spring is a pretty good consolation prize. There’s that wet dirt smell of melting snow that tells you some plants are going to start peaking through the surface. A slight breeze no longer makes you recoil and crunch up inside your coat like a turtle. There is even a chance to soak up some warmth from the sun, which seemed like a cruel taunter in the sky for the previous frigid months.

I was just saying in the last post how quickly we get used to things, so I do worry a bit that down south in the warmer weather, I might become complacent, and no longer have an appreciation for spring riding in like the cavalry. But then the prospect of constant warmth is so inviting!

And I suppose down south there are still plenty of changes, like the greening of the scenery. And that might be the worst part about Massachusetts; even in May, things are just starting to look pretty again. Well I will have to make sure I appreciate the transition of seasons this year, since if all goes to plan, this will have been my last full winter in New England.

Exclusive Interview with Photographer Ben Mancino

I was thrilled when I got to participate as a gas-mask-wearing model for Ben Mancino’s photography project, Fears, Nightmares, and Dreams Collide. Now I am thrilled to present an interview with Ben Mancino! You won’t find this anywhere else, and you might just learn a thing or two about your new favorite photographer.


Award Winning “Shoot the Wild” Photograph by Ben Mancino

Ben Mancino is the 2014 winner of the Shoot the Wild International Wildlife Photography Award. Check out Ben’s website and like him on Facebook!

Joe: Tell me a little bit about your philosophy as an artist.

Ben: I believe that your fans should be able to afford your work, plain and simple.  They are the ones who turn your dream into a success. I treat customers the way that I would like to be treated by my favorite artists. My philosophy is to create art for myself and then share it for the world to see. I have always been my own favorite artist and I am a firm believer that there is nothing wrong with being your own favorite artist.

My friends constantly quote me saying “I don’t know… I thought it looked cool.” If I could drill one thing into people’s heads it is that you can capture an amazing picture with no underlying meaning, intent, or hidden message and it can still be AMAZING!


Joe: I agree that many have the drive to become an artist of one sort or another because they indeed are one of their own favorite artists. No one gets to the top thinking they suck. But what would you say to someone who thinks you are cocky or full of yourself when you say you are your favorite artist?

Ben: Well, I have only encountered this problem once in my life and it with one of my college professors.  He had us introduce ourselves one by one and share with the class who our favorite artist was.  When it was my turn I introduced myself shared that I was my own favorite artist.  He told me that it was an unacceptable answer and that I had to choose a different artist.  I saw two problems with this.  One, my professor wasn’t an artist so how could he understand the emotion and vision that goes into the artwork?  Two, he should be encouraging students to become their favorite artist by helping them hone their talents and skills to create artwork that they believe should exist in this world.  If Van Gogh has the right to be his own favorite artist, than I have every right to be my favorite artist. The same applies to every medium in the arts; in the music industry Beyonce has every right to be her favorite singer and performer because she controls every detail that goes into her work which is all a part of her artistic vision.  I just compared myself to Beyonce and Van Gogh but I think that you get my point?

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely have favorite artists whose work I love and respect (Martin Stranka, Martin Stavars, Alex Creo) I’m just my own #1 fan. I love to let my images speak for themselves but I am working on striking the balance between advocating my talent and avoiding overstepping my boundaries and appearing like a pompous prick.  I think that my pricing philosophy speaks wonders about who I am as an artist.  I cannot afford my favorite artists photography because their work is sold in limited quantities at a hefty price.  I like to treat my fans how I wish to be treated which is why I create affordable options (treat others how you would like to be treated, thanks Mom & Dad).  I also allow my fans to customize orders so if they want a specific photo on a t-shirt or greeting card, I can do that for them.  It makes my job fun and it makes my clients satisfied.

Whenever I meet new people I typically ask, “what is your name and who is your favorite photographer?”  The answer almost 99% of the time is, “I don’t have one” and the remaining 1% says, “Ansel Adams.”  To which I then respond, “It is nice to meet you.  My name is Ben Mancino, your new favorite photographer.”  It works just about every time.

In my opinion it has been way overdue since we have had an iconic photographer that is widely recognized by the general public.  I would like to earn that spot.  You do not need to be considered the “best” in order to be the favorite.  My slogan is, “If I am not already your favorite photographer, you have not seen enough of my pictures yet” which always gets a reaction out of people.

Joe: Can you expand on your “It looked cool” philosophy?

Ben: I sell my art to everyday folks instead of only focusing on elite art collectors because I am a no-bullshit kind of guy when it comes to art.  If I cannot look at a piece of art and enjoy it for aesthetic purposes, then I am not going to buy it regardless of the story behind it.  If there is a good story behind the art; good job, you’re a story teller, not a fine artist.

My high school had an art and literary magazine called, “The Labyrinth” which held annual meetings where student members would critique and vote on anonymous artwork/poetry to be selected for the publication.  One year I submitted a photo of my cat that I casually thought looked “cool.”  As the students surrounding me tried to dig deep into the photograph one of the students said, “The artist was going for the Mona Lisa in cat form.”

That was the moment that I realized that nobody in the world (not even an art historian) can interpret a piece of art from the thoughts of the artist.  Since it was anonymous, I couldn’t just speak up and say, “Well actually, I thought that it was just a cool picture of my cat.”  I felt like I was the deceased artist and the student was the art historian formulating her own interpretation which was then adopted by everyone else in the room.  Despite the interpretation being completely off, I now call the photograph, “Mona Lisa Cat.”


Joe: I was lucky enough to appear in your last series, “Fears, Nightmares, & Dreams Collide” which included a gas mask, red balloons, and levitation.  It seems to have provoked quite a response, what made you choose to do this series?

Ben: Where to begin? I was always fascinated by photography involving balloons, levitation, and gas masks.  I came up with the idea for the series one day when there was a power outage. I closed my eyes and let inspiration from the past create visual scenes using all three themes.  I sketched out about eighteen ideas that I wanted to re-create in photographic form.  I ordered an air soft gas mask that day and made a status on my facebook asking if anyone would like to model for a new series that I was planning.  I received over 11 responses within a few hours which was amazing.

A few times my friends and I had to climb a mountain, including the shot where one of my models (little brother), Greg Garvey, is “levitating” with a plane in the background that looked like a shooting star. He said the funniest thing to me one time, “I always thought that photography was really planned out, with fancy lights, and models, and not like, “GO GO GO, GET IN THE CAR! WE NEED TO CHASE THE SUNSET,” give a few instructions, and manage to capture the perfect shot with a plane in the background on the third try.  And yes, I did really get the shot on the third try, it was incredible.


Joe: Why the red balloon?

Ben: People always ask why the red balloon? So here I am to clear that up for all of those curious folks out there.  Imagine the series with any other color balloon… I don’t think that the “fear” factor would be present.  Sometimes I even get freaked out a little by the pictures and it makes me extremely proud to know that I can provoke that reaction within myself by looking at my artwork.  So the red balloon decision was based on artistic aesthetics rather than a deeper psychological message which may make a few people sleep a bit easier tonight.

Joe: It makes me think of the song 99 Red Balloons, which I believe had something to do with panic starting a nuclear war. The red balloon had nothing to do with that song?

Ben: Nope, not at all.


Joe: What is one of your pet peeves?

Ben: There is something about idolizing an artist whose work you will never be able to afford due to their pricing that leaves you feeling unsatisfied.  I never want people who appreciate my art to feel that way. The way I see it, the Mona Lisa has thousands if not millions of replications in the form of postcards, t-shirts, posters, etc.  If anything, the Mona Lisa has increased in value.  I like to think of my photographs in the same way.  The photograph is a masterpiece in itself, and therefore it should be made accessible to anyone who appreciates it enough to purchase it.

Joe: How do you go about pricing your prints?

Ben: Whenever I ask my friends how much they think a product of mine costs, they usually begin with, “I don’t really buy art so I have no idea where to start”. My friend unintentionally nailed the problem on the head.  It isn’t rare for someone not to know the price of art.  It is sold everywhere, by different artists, at different prices, and how can you really keep track of all the various factors that add up to the total price?

Typically fine artists believe that lower prices reduces the value of their work.  I believe that low prices will mean that more fans can enjoy my work.

Joe: You talk a lot about individual “consumption” of your art, but I know that you have also been featured in magazines, and won at least one photo contest. Do you have a vision for how your art might be distributed in terms of more commercial methods, for instance to be used in advertisements, or magazines? Would this fit with your idea of offering affordable art work, or would you feel like you were “selling out” in some ways?

Ben: I personally don’t see making commercial negotiations as “selling out.”  I just tried to imagine what “selling out” would look like and I imagined my prints being sold at WalMart.  I wouldn’t mind selling my books there… but fine art prints being sold at WalMart isn’t my style. I want people to come to my shop to get an exclusive product that they can’t find anywhere else.

If Nikon asked me to use one of my photos for an advertisement, you can bet that I would say yes under the right agreements; meaning that I would retain full ownership of my photograph. Since I shoot with a Nikon and love the brand, that deal would align with my values. If Olympus asked me to use a photo, no offense to them, but I wouldn’t let them use a photo that I took with a Nikon camera, it just wouldn’t make sense.  As long as I negotiate offers that align with my values, I will be able to sleep at night.  Since I am trying to reach new fans and build a wider audience, I think that increasing the use of my photography in advertisements and magazines would be extremely beneficial towards my goals.

Joe: Photography seems to be ever more competitive as practically everyone has a camera everywhere they go.  How do you try to differentiate from your competition?

Ben: To be honest, I do not view the photography industry as competition.  I have been taking pictures since I was in seventh grade which equates to over a decade now.  I have always picked the camera up for myself, so regardless of the industry trends; I will still be here taking pictures.  I see the world in terms of photographs waiting to be captured and that is what drew me into photography in the first place.  I remember browsing on Getty Images, PhotoBucket, and Myspace searching for photographic inspiration in my early teens.  I finally reached a point where I decided, “I want to be able to take a picture of anything I want, and have it look exactly the way I want it.”  I ended up getting my first camera, a Kodak Z740 on December 25th, 2004 A.D. and the journey began from there.

Joe: Have you ever had a vision that you wanted to create through photography, but simply could not get right? In other words, can you talk a bit about coming up short when you were not able to capture something to your standards, or the way you envisioned it in your head?

Ben: Yes, of course! There are always limitations to each idea; the fun part is working around these limitations and letting the idea evolve.  For example, one of the images that I had envisioned from my last series involves the mask emerging from the water with fog in the foreground.  Every time I waited for the local lake to produce steam, it wasn’t enough to create the effect that I was looking to capture.  I looked into buying dry ice for the shoot but I want to make the photo look as authentic as possible.  Whenever I cannot re-create a vision I store the ideas away for a later time in my career when I will have the flexibility and resources to create them.  So in a way, I deal with it by extending the deadline for certain visions and in the meantime I come up with new projects and ideas so that I’m not stuck on the same idea for too long.


Fears, Nightmares, and Dreams Collide

My friend Ben Mancino is working on a photography project he calls Fears, Nightmares, and Dreams Collide. I was lucky enough to model for one of his shoots. Check out his Facebook page, Ben Mancino Photography.

“Through the Tree Tunnel”


“Hide and Seek”


“I can Feel Your Heart Beat”


This last one is not yet titled. Comment below with your ideas for a title, and we can see if Ben takes your advice 🙂



Nashoba Valley Brewery and Orchards

Right off 495 in central Massachusetts is a great place to go pick apples, or take a tour of the brewing and winemaking facilities. This brewery is located right on an orchard and farm that produces much of the ingredients that go into the wine. They have a variety of wine that I tried at their tasting bar (just $6 for a tasting, $10 for a tour), and got my included wine glass to take home. But let’s be honest… I’ve done all this before, about a half dozen times. It is a great place to return to year after year.


They mostly had golden delicious available for picking, which made me branch out, since I would usually go for the macintosh and cortland varieties. But The golden are indeed delicious, and I have already started making some super apple products. My favorite is an apple salsa I threw together with chopped up apples, ginger, red pepper, garlic, turmeric, and a little olive oil. I also probably threw some salt and a couple other spices in there… it’s fun to experiment, but it means never really making the same thing twice.


It was the epitome of a new england day, mid sixties, dry, sunny; crisp as the apples we were picking. It was actually pretty busy around the brewery for the early afternoon on a Friday, but out in the orchard we didn’t run into too many people.


Don’t worry about those apples on the ground, they are what will be used for cider! It is always good to take a step back, slow down, and enjoy the scenery. This is the part of New England I would miss. The quickly approaching frigid temperatures though… not so much.

Water and Fire! Camping in Vermont one Last Time before Winter

Here Comes the Rain

Last weekend I took a camping trip with the whole family. We rented two sites at Molly Stark State Park in Vermont, and myself, my parents, my sister and her boyfriend, and my other sister and her husband and 4 kids all 5 and under descended upon this—until then—quiet wooded camp ground. Now, perhaps I have not made myself clear in other posts, or perhaps it seemed an exaggeration. There are 2 times I can remember camping when it did not rain. One was when I was 9, and we hiked the Grand Canyon as a family. The other was when I was 7 or 8 and we hiked Black Mountain Pond in the White Mountains; it didn’t rain, it snowed.

So yes, on this two night trip there was a significant downpour. But, per usual, we prepared for it, and the tarp kept us dry. Well, most of us. My one year old nephew started the trend by looking mesmerized at the water running off the tarp, before he crept over to the puddle and began playing. It actually kept him entertained for quite some time, and I can understand that. I have always been weirdly obsessed with water; rain, rivers, lakes, the ocean, pools. So as a one year old, this probably was like playing in a waterfall.

By the time he was done and ready for dry clothing, my four year old niece and two year old nephew decided it would likewise be fun to put their heads under the stream of rain runoff, catch the water in their hands, and jump in puddles. What are camping trips for anyway? While I was perfectly content drinking one of my pumpkin beers under the tarp next to the fire, there was a certain element of jealousy. It’s not that I couldn’t have joined in drenching myself in freezing rain, it’s that I didn’t want to. There was a time when I wouldn’t have dreamed of passing up the opportunity to get soaking wet playing in torrential rain. C’est la vie!

Fire Tower on Mount Olga

But before the rain, we managed to get in a couple miles of hiking to the top of Mount Olga. It’s a small mountain by our standards, something like 2,600 feet. It was impressive to see my two nieces, five and four, hike almost the entire way up and down the mountain, bounding and laughing the whole way. I carried the younger one for the final half mile stretch back.

The coolest part of this hike was the fire tower at the top of the mountain. It was once used to survey the surrounding area for fires in order to alert the fire departments and keep it from getting out of hand. In fact we could see smoke quite some distance off, despite the cloud cover. Hmm… now I’m wondering if we were derelict on our duty.


That thing was rickety! I actually surprised myself that I was getting nervous after climbing only the first set of stairs. See, the only railings stopped at each platform as you climbed, where only the outside pieces of metal holding up the structure offered any safety. Luckily these metal bars became more frequently placed as you ascended the tower, but there were still gaps here and there that it seemed one false move would lead to plummeting five stories down. Needless to say, the kids stayed at the bottom of the tower.


At the top, you could feel the structure bounce as another person climbed the metal and wood tower. But at least in the “crow’s nest” you were fully surrounded by 4 feet high walls of metal, and window frames above that. The view was amazing. Coming down from the structure, I kept one hand on whatever piece of metal was within reach at all times. It is an awesome place to go! But I wouldn’t bring any careless kids, or ever young teenagers for that matter. Uhg I keep sounding old.

On the hike back to camp I located some Indian Cucumbers, and we dug the small carrot shaped white tubers from an inch or two underground each plant. The Indian Cucumber has a whorl of leaves about halfway up the stock, and then another three leaves at the top of the plant, generally less than a foot high. If it is far enough along in the season, there may be 3 shiny inedible berries at the top, that should not be eaten. If you dig around the base of the plant, which is found in moist woodlands in soil easily dug through with the index finger, you will come across the tiny tuber, always facing sideways, but in no particular direction. Dig this out, clean off the dirt, and you can munch on this crispy little root with a mild sweet and nutty flavor. The girls had fun digging with us to collect about 10 tubers, that we at by the campfire later that night.

It is always good to add a dash of self sufficiency to a camping trip!