{Interview with yoga superstar Alexandria Crow} Client: WorldLifestyle

ImageImageWorldLifestyle: You’ve been on the cover of Yoga Journal, modeled for Hard Tail, and shot a ONE Coconut Water ad campaign with Olympic athletes… but to you, what are your biggest accomplishments, both professionally and personally?

Alexandria Crow: My biggest professional accomplishment is being able to hold a job that I thoroughly love doing and that affects positive change in the students I have the privilege of teaching.

Personally, my biggest accomplishment has been and will always be more willingness to constantly admit that I don’t know everything, that I am a work in progress and always will be, and that I get up every day and work toward being a better person. I am proud that I accept change and growth.

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WL: How did you fall in love with yoga?

AC: I fell in love with the physical practice of yoga because it was exercise and felt reminiscent of gymnastics (I was a gymnast until I was 20) and I dislike the gym so much. Yoga was a pleasant surprise. I fell in love with the philosophy of yoga because I have always been on a quest to find contentment in my mind and life, and when I learned that yoga was about effort toward steadiness in one’s mind and life, I was hooked.

WL: What is your absolute favorite yoga pose, and why?

AC: To be honest, these days, sukkasana during seated meditation. I love teaching all of the arm balances, inversions, etc., and teaching them in a detailed way. But for me, seated meditation has become where I do the most profound work.

WL: OK, you’re stuck on a desert island for eternity — what 3 things do you bring with you?

AC: I’d take my best friend, Jessica; we could have fun in a cardboard box, so I’d be assured the island wouldn’t be lonely or boring. Alkaline water, because I love it and I usually hate water. Lastly, my music collection; I can’t live without music.

WL: You have really lovely hair… what are your favorite products for getting those California-beachy waves?

AC: Thank you! The waves are either from air-drying or from a curling iron, depending on my amount of time. I love Moroccan Oil’s shampoo and conditioner, as well as its oil. My favorite product is Oribe — [it’s] as if hairspray and dry shampoo had a baby. It’s fabulous.

WL: Your go-to easy, healthy recipe?

AC: I have a bunch of food allergies that I have recently developed, so I have to be really careful. I live on spinach, avocado, and eggs. I make this recipe every morning:

Poach 1 egg. Sauté 3 large handfuls of baby spinach in 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a handful of chili flakes until wilted. Layer the spinach, 1/4 of an avocado, and a ton of Cholula under the poached egg. Enjoy!

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WL: If someone came to you and said, “I want to start practicing yoga, but I’m intimidated,” what would you say?

AC: Don’t be. As long as you understand that there’s no such thing as “good at yoga” in terms of accomplishing fancy poses, or being flexible. Yoga is about learning how to work hard wisely, [how] to be at ease in the face of discomfort, [how] to concentrate on what’s happening in the moment, and [how] to make wise choices based on the information you get back. That’s all. It’s really simple — not easy, but simple.

Find a teacher who works for you, [and] be willing to take a bunch because we all teach differently and have different personalities. Lastly, try a beginner’s class first — ALWAYS.

WL: Favorite workout other than yoga?

AC: Walking, that’s it. I’m not a workout type at all, but I do love power walking up the beach more than anything. I LOVE downhill skiing, too, but that’s not really a workout; that’s just plain joy.

WL: A quote that completely inspires you?

AC: I have so many, that’s hard to say! My Buddhist meditation teacher says something along the lines of, “Learn to be at ease in the world of impermanence and discomfort.” The understanding of that really changed my life. I love knowing that life is bumpy forever. So now I think of life as if I’m mogul skiing and I just soften my knees and ride over the highs and lows with contentment.

WL: On a lazy Sunday afternoon, we might find you…

AC: Well, I work Sunday afternoons, so they’re never lazy — you can find me at Main Street YogaWorks or leading teacher trainings! Lazy Saturday is a different story. You’ll probably find me sitting on a restaurant patio enjoying some food, drinks, and friends.

{How Going Vegan Triggered this Instagram Star’s Orthorexia} Client: Women’s Health

I am beyond excited about my newest venture — writing for Women’s Health magazine! Enjoy!

Women's Health

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After lifelong struggles with stomach troubles and migraines, Jordan Younger found relief in a fully vegan diet, relishing the physical benefits—including applauded weight loss—as well as the community that embraced her newfound fervor for veganism. Within a matter of months, Younger, adopting the The Blonde Vegan moniker, was one of Instagram’s rising health and diet stars, amassing tens of thousands of followers seemingly overnight.

Recognizing her ability to inspire and guide others in the vegan persuasion, Younger soon left grad school to pursue growing the TBV brand full time, including crafting The Blonde Vegan Cleanse Program and working with a designer to create the TBV Apparel line (how can you not love comfy shirts that espouse Oh Kale Yes! and ask, Is Vodka Vegan?)

But just as The Blonde Vegan brand was exploding, passion tipped toward obsession; Younger was developing a complicated and frightening disorder, triggered by the very lifestyle that had brought her such joy, camaraderie and success. On June 23, 2014, nearly a year to the day that she created The Blonde Vegan account, Younger announced on her blog that she was transitioning away from veganism and other such labels—a jarring, yet inspiringly honest and brave move.

Women’s Health interviewed Younger about her decision to go vegan, how her eating disorder developed, and how she’s learning to live a healthier, more balanced life. Read her honest and thoughtful answers here:

Why did you first decide to make the move to veganism? 
I decided to make the move to a plant-based diet because I felt incredible after a 5-day cleanse that I did in January 2013 that consisted of green juices, fruits, veggies and nuts. My lifelong stomach problems and migraines disappeared, I lost weight, and felt full of energy. I saw how quickly those results took place and figured they would only intensify after several months and years of veganism.

You started The Blonde Vegan Instagram account in June 2013—when did you realize that people were really excited about your posts and recipes, enough to build an entire health brand around?
I started The Blonde Vegan Instagram account and blog for fun, as a place to share my plant-based creations and my newfound passion for cooking. I started it for friends and family to follow, and I figured I would get a few followers who were interested in veganism, but I had no idea what the scope would be. One night in July 2013, I got 4,000 Instagram followers overnight after a big vegan account shared my account. That was the first time I had an inkling that I had something going that people were very interested in and excited about. Within 6 months, I made the decision to leave graduate school to pursue the brand full time. At that point, I worked with a designer to create the apparel line, and I continued to lead The Blonde Vegan Cleanse Program the first week of each month. I also enrolled in the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to get my health coaching certification, because coaching people toward the healthiest version of themselves had become my greatest passion of all.

BUT, I had also become obsessed with eating entirely “clean.” I was living for that high that comes with cleansing your body. The high lasted for many months, but eventually my body started giving me signals that it needed more—and I ignored them.

Orthorexia, an unhealthy, extreme obsession with eating healthy food, can be tricky to spot, even for the person experiencing it. What was the event or catalyst that made you fully aware that there was a real problem?
I had known in the back of my mind for a while that I had developed many fears surrounding food, and it was clear to me that I was becoming more and more limited in what I was comfortable eating. I even joked about it with my close friends, calling certain foods, like eggs, “fear foods,” because I had stayed away from them for so long. It was easy to hide behind the shield of veganism when I was at a restaurant with friends or even when I was grocery shopping for myself. Anything that wasn’t completely clean—oil-free, sugar-free, gluten-free and plant-based—I dismissed because it wasn’t within the dietary label I had given myself.

There were two events that shed light on the situation and made me realize that I had developed a serious problem. My best friend visited me in New York and we went to get breakfast before spending the day in Central Park. We went to a juice bar near my apartment because we both knew it was one of the only places I would be able to find something to eat. I knew which juice I wanted, a green juice with no fruit in it, and when we got there, they were out of that particular juice. Even though there were several other green juices, smoothies and raw food options to choose from, I felt completely panicked by the thought of eating or drinking something I hadn’t “planned.” Instead of choosing another juice and going with the flow, I insisted that we walk a mile out of our way to the juice bar’s other location to get the juice I wanted. My body was already starving from days of restriction and crying out to me that walking a mile without any sustenance would be a bad idea, but I did it anyway. I was determined, and being unable to shake that feeling scared me.

The second event was when I actually came to terms with the fact that I had an eating disorder. I was out to dinner with a close friend of mine in the city who also runs a health blog. That night, she confided in me that she was in recovery from an eating disorder, and she described all of her symptoms and food habits to me. While she spoke, I started to get a lump in my throat because I knew that everything she was discussing was dangerously similar to what I had been going through. The moment I opened up and told her that I could relate, it was like I had released a floodgate.

We talked about it for hours, and I had never felt so relieved and so terrified about something at the same time. I called my mom afterward, and when I finally blurted it all out, she was so relieved because she had been noticing my habits around food worsening for months. I couldn’t believe it.

In the past few months, I’ve come to realize that I was pretty much the only person in my life who was blind to the fact that I had a problem.

Had you ever struggled with disordered eating habits or thoughts in the past?
Yes, although I didn’t realize that until I started working with my eating disorder therapist and nutritionist. Through the recovery process I have come to learn that specific parts of my personality are very much susceptible to eating disorder patterns. I am a very “all or nothing” type of person. I have been in the restrict-overeat cycle for years, but veganism took my restriction to a whole new level. Learning about all different types of veganism went from a passion to an obsession pretty quickly, which is when it took a turn for the unhealthy.

What do you think will be the key to moving past this setback with orthorexia?
One thing that will help a lot is learning to let go of the restrictions. While veganism is an amazing lifestyle for so many people, it accidentally helped me fine-tune my restrictive habits, creating a whole list of “bad” and “off-limit” foods in my mind. Now I am trying to reorganize my thoughts toward food, seeing nothing as entirely off-limits but rather as healthy, indulgent, something that should be eaten in moderation, etc. Even just reintroducing eggs, fish and organic chicken has made the hugest difference in my mindset. I am also on a strict meal plan that will restore my blood sugar levels and my hormones that had gotten all out of whack from my restrictive habits (and my psychotically long juice cleanses). Following a plan has been tremendously helpful so far. Learning to just be, and not obsess about food in every way shape and form, will be extremely helpful as well.

How difficult was your decision to move away from strict veganism (especially since you’ve built a successful brand around the lifestyle)?
It was incredibly difficult. My body started showing signs that it wasn’t satisfied by a fully vegan diet almost a year ago, and it took me up until a month ago to come to terms with the fact that changes needed to be made. I tried everything under the sun to make changes to my vegan diet to make it work for me like it did in the beginning, including trying every cleanse and variation of plant-based dieting that I came across. I ended up losing my period for several months and also injuring my ankle running on the treadmill, which are two things that had never happened to me before. Both of those things opened my eyes to the fact that I had vitamin deficiencies. I tried a small piece of wild salmon in an effort to get more vitamin b12 into my body, and when I got my period two days later, I knew I needed to quit the denial and start making some changes.

Obviously, with nearly 70,000 Instagram followers of @theblondevegan, you were bound to have some angry fans in the wake of your big news. What are the craziest things people have said to you?
Oh, absolutely. I have gotten death threats from hardcore vegans via Facebook, email and Instagram. People have been telling me that I was never actually vegan, and some people have said that now they don’t even believe that I am blond! Some people think I should discount TBV Apparel and that I was “cashing in” on the vegan movement for attention. One woman told me, “I’m sorry reality doesn’t work for you,” and I have definitely gotten my fair share of “animal killer” comments. The craziest thing to me is how some people value the life of an animal above human health. I was having health problems, and serious psychological issues. Eating some organic farm fresh eggs for breakfast isn’t the equivalent of supporting factory farming.

How have you dealt with the haters? Yoga? Ice cream (just kidding!)?
I have taken super long walks through the city every day to breathe and get away from the Internet for a while. I was so shaken up the first few days after I broke the news I didn’t even make it to yoga, which is so out of the norm for me! I finally made it to a yoga class three days after announcing the news, and I felt immediately calmer, balanced and centered. But the main thing has been lots and lots of amazing support from friends, family and blog readers. I have gotten some incredible emails and phone calls from people I hadn’t spoken to in years. If nothing else, this event has reminded me that I am surrounded by incredible people.

OK, let’s focus on the good stuff! You’ve mentioned that the positive support has far outweighed the extremists and nasty comments. Has any one message particularly inspired you or validated your decision?
Yes! There have been a couple messages that have actually brought me to tears. Hearing from young girls who have been in similar positions and were afraid to step out of the vegan label and/or come to terms with their eating disorders until they read the post has been by far the most rewarding aspect of sharing my story. A couple readers told me that they had to stop reading my blog a few months ago because it triggered eating disorder thoughts within them…and that scared the crap out of me!

Juice cleanses are obviously a hugely popular trend, and you’ve mentioned that you actually became addicted to them. Do you think you’ll still do cleanses in the future? Or are they a thing of the past for you? 
That’s a good question. In the first few weeks of my recovery process, I decided I was going to do a weeklong cleanse that was half liquid and half solid raw vegan food. I knew I was resorting back to old habits to try to control the disorder I felt in my life through my food…but I did it anyway. I got through about three days of the cleanse before realizing I was feeling extremely deprived—it was doing me much more damage than it was good. So I made the decision to stop the cleanse midway through, which I was very proud of. If I ever do a juice cleanse again, I’d better have a good reason and also do it for just one day instead of 10! I definitely appreciate the benefits of cleansing, but I’m not sure it’s the smartest choice for my personality.

Now that you’re getting the hang of scrambling eggs again, are there any foods you realized you missed?
Salmon and over-easy eggs! And organic free-range chicken. Oh my god, it’s so satisfying. All of those things taste like heaven to me now. And it’s hilarious, because two months ago, if you would have asked me if I was ever going to eat those things again I would have laughed in your face. I was planning on raising my future children as vegans. I have really done a 180.

Most important, how are you feeling? What else is next for you, your brand (The Blonde Veggie, for now) and TBV apparel?
I am feeling so much better. Psychologically, it’s amazing to be able to let go of the intense restriction and allow myself to breathe. I am moving back to Los Angeles next week, where I will be closer to my apparel designer, my web designer, and my app designer, so there are some fun things in store for the near future. We are coming out with a bunch of new T-shirt designs and a line of cotton “Oh Kale Yes!” bags. I will be deciding on a permanent name within the next few weeks, and we are going to do some rebranding from there. I also want to write a book about my experiences with all of this once I’m a little further along in my recovery. And soon I will be able to start health coaching.

I am excited and hopeful for what’s to come. Despite the backlash, I am so happy to have been honest and to shared my truth, because I am so ready to start promoting what I really believe in—listening to your body! #nolabels

Eating disorders can be deadly. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, seek help immediately. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website for resources and support, news, and information about how to get involved.

Read the story online on womenshealthmag.com/life/jordan-younger-the-blonde-vegan

{“Let’s Talk About Love — Body Love”} Client: WorldLifestyle

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Love is in the air this time of year — carefully chosen gifts, fancy dinner reservations, and single-girls’ celebrations out on the town. We put so much kindness and effort into our relationships with other people, but what about how we love ourselves?

For most of us, our internal self-talk is just horrific, on a daily basis. We put ourselves down — “Ugh, I look so fat in these pants,” “I’m such a lazy bum for skipping my workout,” “Why did I eat that cookie? I’m disgusting …” — in words we wouldn’t use to address our most hated enemies.

In fact, stats show that only 2 percent (TWO percent!) of women say they would call themselves beautiful. That doesn’t seem to add up, considering the millions of selfies posted on Instagram daily — which gave me an idea for an experiment in loving myself better.

Where does this hatefulness come from, I wondered? Are self-proclaimed “fat days” or bad hair days founded in reality? Do we feel ugly because we actually look awful — or might we be projecting something else onto the experience?

Here’s what I did: For a week, I decided I would take a photo of myself at least once a day as I left for work or went to meet friends. At the same time, I’d write down how I was feeling about my weight, mood, and appearance at that moment.

Here’s a sampling of what my week looked like:

Monday:

body acceptance
Feeling very frumpy and lumpy. Woke up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a flight. Ate a breakfast burrito at the airport.

Tuesday:

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Having a fat day (flat shoes are not my friend). My face looks puffy — from the sushi I ate for dinner? Too tired to work out today.

Wednesday:

learning self-acceptance
Walked by the beach this morning. Feeling good and having a good hair day! Plus, this skirt and heels combo makes me feel cute! Breakfast at the hotel — Greek yogurt and berries — was awesome.

Thursday:

gaining confidence
Went for a run this morning. Am feeling pretty lazy that I haven’t cut my hair since moving in September. Yikes. Looking forward to dinner with a friend tonight!

Friday:

cute outfits
I like the color of this shirtdress, but don’t feel the style is the most flattering. Frumpy, again?

At the end of this experiment, I reexamined my photos and my notes, and made a very interesting, very illuminating discovery. My physical weight and appearance did not change day to day. The photo snapshots didn’t lie — I did not actually gain 5 pounds on Tuesday, but perhaps I was projecting the fact that I ate sushi and a red velvet bundt cake on Monday night (it was a Valentine’s Day present!)? While a sodium-packed dinner could contribute to a feeling of bloat, my face didn’t actually appear different.

And is it any surprise someone would feel “frumpy and lumpy” when she woke up at the crack of dawn, flew all morning, and ate a burrito? Odds are, if I’d had a healthier breakfast on Monday, I would have felt better throughout the long workday ahead of me. And, while it wouldn’t have changed my physical weight in the slightest, it could’ve helped my self-love if I hadn’t skipped the gym the next day.

When I thought about it later, my frumpiness on Friday truly had nothing to do with the dress or my weight, and everything to do with the fact that my hair was in serious need of a cut and color. But again, did it help to call myself lazy? It didn’t. It made me feel worse all day about something I couldn’t control right at that moment. Better to take action — throw it in a bun and make a hair appointment right then — than to put myself down, right?

Wednesday was the day I felt the brightest and best about myself — a good hair day, despite it all!

By examining my notes, it’s easy to understand that a little sunshine, a little exercise, and a healthy breakfast set me up for a day that I felt I looked great (a cute skirt didn’t hurt either).

And that was the biggest takeaway for me — the old adage, work to change what you can, and accept what you can’t change, with kindness. Here’s how:

♦  Wear what makes you feel good about yourself, regardless of trend, or your shape or size.

♦  Listen — flats make everyone, even runway models, feel a little stumpy. But you did not gain 10 pounds just because you traded your heels in for a bit of comfort.

♦  Eat what makes you feel good. Don’t eat what makes you feel bad.

♦  However, if you indulge in something that’s not the healthiest, let yourself off the hook. No one became overweight from a single meal or dessert.

♦  If you’re going out for a salty meal — such as sushi or Mexican — drink lots of extra water. Eating clean, green vegetables and fruits the next day can help flush your system.

♦  Exercise makes you feel good about your day. Bottom line. Any amount of exercise, from a short walk to a full-blown bootcamp, is worthwhile. Nothing is insignificant.

♦  A bit of vitamin D goes a long way. Drink your morning smoothie outside in the sunshine. Get out of your cubicle for a 10-minute nature break.

  Travel already dries out skin and saps energy — pack healthy snacks so you don’t squash your confidence further with icky airport food.

♦  Be kind to yourself, in spite of your failures, in spite of any shortcomings.

Here’s the truth — if a friend belittled you the way you do yourself, you would walk away from the toxic relationship and never look back. But as writer John Steinbeck said, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” Time to work as hard on loving myself better as I do on perfecting the details.

{“18 Signs You Probably Shouldn’t Be Dating Him”} Client: WorldLifestyle

ImageImageDating is growing ever more complicated by the minute. The sea is vast and there are a lot of fish in it. And now there’s Tinder. How can you navigate the waters with ease and expertise? Arm yourself with a proven strategy for spotting jerks, duds, and crazies right from the start.

1. He calls his ex-girlfriend a “psycho:” You should talk about your old relationship to a new date the same way you’d talk about an old job at an interview — don’t trash it. In my experience, a guy who describes his ex as a psycho still engages her text messages, still checks up on her Facebook on the regular, and might still be in love with her. Beware.

2. He’s rude to the important women in his life: Pay attention to how this guy talks to and about his sisters, mother, female friends — even coworkers. If he calls his girl friends sluts, run. A guy I once dated called his mom the c-word — YES, really — on the phone, and I couldn’t find the door fast enough.

3. He’s never had a pet: Look, I’m just very, very wary of people who don’t like animals.

4. He gets really messed up every time you hang out: Whether it’s insecurity, immaturity, or a combination of both, you can’t be with someone who’s getting sloppy-drunk during the “Getting to Know You” phase.

5: His Facebook page is full of pictures of his car and/or abs: Remember MySpace? MySpace was full of these types of dudes. You’re older and much wiser now — don’t date this guy.

6. He describes you as “a fun girl:” This is Guy Speak for “I like hooking up with you, but you’ll never be my girlfriend.”

7. His friends start every story with, “This one time, when Mike was soooo drunk…:” The good news is, you’ve met his friends! The bad news is, you’re dating a glorified frat guy with a moderate to severe drinking problem.

8. He doesn’t add you to his Facebook page because he “doesn’t really do Facebook.” I’m not saying he has to make it Facebook Official — but if he has a Facebook page and doesn’t want to be Facebook friends, there’s a reason.

9. His car lease costs more a month than his apartment: Nothing reeks more of insecurity than a status car — and the only thing worse is insisting on driving one he can’t afford.

10. He texts you unsolicited d*ck pics: They aren’t hot; they’re creepy. We’re just going to show our friends at brunch, like, “WTF, did I show you guys this?” and never take you seriously again.

11. He feels threatened by the fact that you’re not a 1950s Stepford Wife: I once dated a guy who yelled at me for walking in front of him on a busy sidewalk, never let me drive, and tried to tell me what to wear and not wear. It’s not about feminism; it’s not about being a fist-pumping Destiny’s Child “Independent Woman” — it’s about respect. Get some.

12. He tells you the things you like are dumb: You don’t have to participate in all the same things (UFC fights, pottery classes, aerial yoga), but you do have to show respect to the things the other person cares about. You have every right to feel hurt when he rolls his eyes at your hard-won Katy Perry tickets, and you have every right to find someone who won’t. Because trust me, as the relationship grows, this problem will only do the same.

13. He hasn’t read a book since … well … he can’t really remember: This is totally just a personal one, but reading is sexy. A haphazard bookshelf or a Tower-of-Pisa-like stack on the nightstand is a total turn-on for me. Maybe this goes along with #12, but I love books, and if you think they’re a waste of time, well, I think you’re a waste of time.

14. He’s always SO busy with work/the gym/ studying/his buddies: Listen up, because this is the truth: If someone wants to spend time with you, he or she will make time. When you’re really excited about someone, you create space in your life. When you’re not that into someone, life becomes the easiest excuse.

15. He’s a fixer-upper: Whatever his pain may be — a bad breakup, a personal loss — you’re not the Florence Nightingale of Relationships. Be a friend, be a shoulder to lean on, but don’t try to date a fixer-upper until he’s past the renovation stage.

16. He’s a professional athlete: I abide by the “no actors, no athletes” rule of dating. Unless you like being one of a roster, in which case, carry on. (Before you yell at me, I’m not saying there are NO respectable, faithful professional athletes out, OK! There are 7.)

17. He’s giving your friends a bad vibe: When your judgment gets clouded by New-Guy Goggles, your friends are still seeing clearly. So listen to them when someone rubs them the wrong way.

18. He leaves his cell phone on the table at dinner — and checks it: I don’t care if you are President Barack Obama, this is the rudest thing ever.

Most important of all — trust your gut. TRUST YOUR GUT. When it feels like a lie, it probably is. When it feels bad, it probably is. Going back to square one can seem like defeat, but think of it this way — you just saved yourself two, three years of heartache and headache down the line. And when you meet the right person, you won’t have so many (or any) questions.

Now go forth and date with confidence, my friends!

{“The Education of Hope and Tolerance,” Courage to Remember Holocaust exhibit editorial} Client: Pacific Research & Strategies

Some of my favorite writing and social media work to-date is to inspire social change and cultural awareness for the Courage to Remember exhibit. Check out this ghostwritten piece to promote the exhibit in Florida.

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{Timeless Beauty} Client: Phoenix Woman Magazine

This was a fun editorial piece I did on vintage and “new classic” beauty products. I not only wrote the story, I pulled the products and worked with the photographer to style each shot. I remember carrying that heavy modern-glass sink into his studio — now that’s artistic dedication!

{“Taking Back the Neighborhood,” Editorial} Client: Long Beach Business Improvement Districts

I often ghostwrite editorials to promote various community notables and organizations. This piece was created for Long Beach’s BID leaders.

Taking Back the Neighborhood

Redefining Empowerment with Business and Community Improvement Districts

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As business owners and residents, we’re all familiar with the economic downturn, budget cutbacks, the struggling housing market, the frustration of blindly sending away hard-earned tax dollars without proof of how they’re spent. However, many of us are also finding solidarity and motivation in tough times — learning to do more with less and rolling up our sleeves to get things done in the communities in which we work and live. This new definition of empowerment is best personified in the Business and Community Improvement Districts — more than 1,200 now — that are emerging across the country and making measurable differences in their areas.

Safety, cleanliness, physical improvements, economic stimulus — these are all tangible ways in which a community’s pride and prosperity are measured. But when funding for improvements isn’t available, or when district members’ commitment to bettering the area has begun to wane, communities need to become their own ally, harness their own power.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and Community Improvement Districts (CIDs, or Property-Based Improvement Districts, PBIDs) are effective tools for financing improvements that enhance the business climate and property values, beyond what the city government is obligated or able to provide.

Improvement Districts have the ability to revitalize deteriorating areas, reduce crime and homelessness, promote “clean and safe” programs, strengthen relationships with city officials and law enforcement, promote positive media coverage, and much more.

Projects might include street cleanup, graffiti removal, landscaping, transportation initiatives, upgraded street furniture, recycling or green initiatives, decorative banners, marketing brochures, monthly newsletters, welcoming new businesses to the area, visitor maps, historic tours, holiday décor, marketing special events … the possibilities go on and on.

“These are not the splashy things, they are the nuts and bolts of keeping an area vibrant and functional,” said Cecilia Estolano, cofounder of ELP Advisors LLC, which works with cities, agencies, stakeholders, foundations and business groups to craft strategies to grow thriving, healthy, vibrant communities.

Progress is cyclical — a safe, well-maintained area attracts consumers and, in turn, welcomes new businesses with a loyal clientele that invests back into the neighborhood. As a result, members of the community feel a growing responsibility to maintain improvements and continue the upward trend.

Downtown Los Angeles is one such example. The area, which as recently as a few years ago was actively avoided by residents, consumers and visitors because of crime, homelessness and general disrepair, has been seeing an influx of new businesses, hotels, students, residents and attractions. Advocacy from the BIDs has successfully helped reduce crime and blight and aided in transportation and parking issues.

LAPD Commander Andrew Smith, who oversaw the department’s Central Division downtown for several years, told the LA Times that the BIDs and CIDs act as a “force multiplier for our officers. There is no doubt in my mind that our success in reducing crime downtown was due in large part to our partnership with the [improvement districts].”

Naturally, change doesn’t come free — creating a BID or CID requires the monetary commitment of the majority of businesses or property owners holding at least 75 percent of the assessed property value of the area, from a couple hundred dollars up to thousands per year. But, as we have seen firsthand in Long Beach’s East Anaheim Street Business Alliance, once that dedication to the broader community is established, the group is able to refine its goals, learn to manage its own funds, and budget according to its specific priorities.

In East Long Beach, where the East Anaheim Street Business Alliance, EASBA, is one of the youngest successful BIDs in the Greater Los Angeles area, we have often focused on street cleanup — trash removal and tree trimming, actions that sound simple but are the basics of building an attractive, prosperous community. Later, we recognized a need to promote the district’s shopping and dining and unique cultural diversity, whereas the area had always been one to simply pass through. In 2011, EASBA members and local officials celebrated the hanging of light pole banners that tout the district’s new “Stop, Shop & Dine” slogan. More recently, EASBA contracted a local historian to dig into the area’s fascinating 100-year backstory, which helped our members appreciate how history has translated to our modern-day business climate.

As a result, we’ve had a packed house for our recent monthly meetings, but more important, businesses are approaching EASBA in hopes of moving into the area.

In other neighborhoods, I have observed various improvement measures at work, from cleaning up unauthorized dumping sites to dozens of young people safely enjoying a community skate park at the end of the school day.

Another wonderful example was detailed by the Los Angeles BID Consortium “State of Los Angeles’ Business Improvement Districts” report. The Downtown Industrial BID began re­ceiving calls from its members that homeless people were leaving behind their belongings in front of their businesses, thus disrupting their ability to operate. Working with homeless advocates, the LAPD and the City Attorney’s office, the BID developed the concept of a storage depot for personal belongings of the homeless. A BID board member donated a 20,000-square-foot warehouse where individuals could check in their belongings and leave them in secure storage for a renewable period of seven days. This innovative solution dramatically decreased the problem of blocked commercial doorways, decreased visual blight in the business district, and respected the rights of the homeless in the area.

There are also many who believe BIDs — organizing the local resources already in our communities — are the solution to the closure of redevelopment agencies. Beyond beautification of the neighborhood, “It’s astounding the amount of jobs created, the amount of tax revenue, decreases in crime, vacancy rates declining,” Karen Chapple, Associate Director of the Institute for Urban and Regional Development at UC-Berkeley, has said. “I think we’ve really underestimated these small-scale types of tools.”

Every community and neighborhood faces challenges, even when the economy is thriving. The advantage of a Business or Community Improvement District is that business owners and residents can take back the power. Physical improvements do create emotional bonds. Pride in community is not lost. BIDs and CIDs have proven to unite people and help them define and refine their goals for their neighborhoods and businesses by mirroring the very principle upon which our government was built: “For the people, by the people.”

At the most basic level, BIDs and CIDs figure out how to do more with less. At their most effective, they inspire the pride and camaraderie that creates change and economic growth.

{California’s First People Live in Songs} Client: San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

I often ghostwrite editorials for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, including this piece on the importance of Native American music. Check it out.

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SB Sun

by Carla Rodriguez

Throughout history, across all cultures, music has been used for celebration, inspiration, storytelling, and even to express sorrow. For Native Americans, music and history are tightly interwoven. A tribe’s unique heritage is constantly told and retold through songs that link the generations and preserve culture and tradition.

Across California, Native Americans still play the music of their ancestors, even as they add to it. Some traditionally use the power of their voices, such as the Tachi Yokuts tribes of San Joaquin Valley and the Paiute of the Mono Lake region. Other tribes craft musical instruments from their native land, such as Salinan bird bone whistles; the Chumash clapperstick, or wansak’, made from elderberry wood; and the Kumeyaay tribes of San Diego County, who sing beautiful bird songs using gourd or tortoise-shell rattles filled with native palm seeds.

For countless generations, California tribes have sung songs for love, war, hunting and fishing, nature, curing the sick and coming of age. From Paiute game songs, to Chumash songs that teach children morals, to Miwok songs that were considered as personal as an individual’s belongings, music celebrates our beliefs and origins. Most important, our Native American music has helped keep our traditions and stories alive for future generations.

Here in the Inland Empire, the Serrano people have used music since time immemorial. To this day, songs describe social customs and tell the stories of origins, our relationship to God, nature and man, and the long history of the Serrano people that is still being written.

The San Manuel Serrano Indians sing bird songs, named as such because the migration of birds parallels the movement of people through a territory, telling the story of the Creation, animals seen along the way, and sacred places. Unlike Indian musicians from other parts of the country, traditional Serrano musicians do not use drums for rhythm but instead use hooves of game animals and fashion gourd rattles filled with palm tree seeds to make percussive sounds.

To celebrate the long-standing tradition of storytelling through song, I recently participated in a new educational television commercial about Native music, featuring tribes from across the state. The commercial has begun airing in the Los Angeles and Inland Empire media markets ahead of California Native American Day, which takes place on Sept. 28 – the fourth Friday in September each year. During filming, I had the pleasure of hearing members of the Manchester- Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe bird singers share their native music. The Pomo Indians of Northern California have traditionally sung lullabies, as well as hunting and religious songs. For the Cahuilla people of Palm Springs, bird songs tell stories of their origin, journey and return home.

Across California, tribal people are all very proud of the heritage, stories and language that have survived through the generations because of the power of music and song. Preservation of culture and tradition is of the utmost importance to the modern-day San Manuel people, just as it is in most families and communities. Because of music, Serrano stories of humble beginnings, courage, self-reliance, hope and community that are thousands of years old are able to live on today.

We invite the Inland Empire community and beyond to experience the distinctive cultures of California Indian people firsthand at a free public celebration, featuring traditional Native American bird songs, music, art and food.

The celebration will be held on Friday from 6 to 9p.m. on the campus of California State University, San Bernardino.

For more information, go to nativeamericanday.com.

Carla Rodriguez is chairperson of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Sept. 28 is California Native American Day; November is National Native American Heritage Month.