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Chillin as a Grass Eater in the Conejo Valley


Shortly after the new year my daughter asked, “what’s a vegetarian?”

Someone who chooses not to eat meat,” I responded.

Here’s a handful of questions from my kids that my answer prompted:

  1. Does that include chicken nuggets? Because, you know, chicken is not meat.
  2. What about Yak?  Does that mean I can’t eat Yak?
  3.  Do I have to eat brocolocoli?
  4. Can we still go to Tommy’s?
  5. Animals eat meat.  We are animals.  Why wouldn’t we eat meat?
  6. What is a turnip?
  7. Is fish meat?  Or is fish something fishy?

Back to the Yak.  We’ve never seen a Yak in the Conejo Valley, let alone having never ate one.  So regardless of eating meat or not, Yak has never been and will probably never be a dietary option.  And as for Tommy’s, the holy grail of chili cheese burgers, as a vegetarian its no longer an option….damnit.

The personal reasons why someone becomes a vegetarian is personal.  The moral, practical and environmental implications to change your diet to plant based is significant and profound.  The simple yet compelling fact that excluding meat from your diet lowers your carbon footprint should be reason enough to become vegetarian….even if its only one day a week.  I know that the whole lower your carbon footprint is meaningless to someone who still insists on driving a Hummer.  A funny image: A monster truck owner enjoying a bowl of Quinoa, string beans and home brewed Kombucha.  Our entire socio-economic and political system can easily be summed up by our dietary choices.  Isn’t it Dan Bern who cleverly sang: “Red states got the Waffle House, Blue states don’t.”  Regardless of the pros and cons, I challenged the family to be vegetarian for a week as a more practical answer to my daughter’s initial question of what is a vegetarian.

Here’s what happened: the family failed miserably.  My son didn’t last a day, followed by my wife who on the second day made herself a turkey sandwich, and lastly my daughter, who made a genuine effort for almost a week.  Me, on the other hand, continues to abide by the challenge and am a vegetarian.

There is much to be said about the lessons I have learned.  Here’s a few.  First and foremost, my gut is no longer my worst enemy.  The jihad inside of me has subsided to a dull uprising.  No more Maalox and bicarbonates.  I have noticed measurable physical changes inside and out.  I have become compassionate…even towards a-hole drivers who still insist on tailgating you even though you’re parked.  I spent more time with my food, preparing, cutting, dicing, and cooing.  I court my food like every meal is a first date.  I have also become more aware of the sources of my food and how it goes from seed to plant.  My gardening has become less Home Depot and more food based.  Most of us rather not face the sickening truth about how we treat our livestock and how it gets to our plate.  Think of how a chicken becomes a nugget.  Parts is parts….right?  Wrong.  Very wrong.

And now a question for the Right for Life folks: how is it so easy for you to denounce abortion on the premise that it kills life when eating meat also kills life?

And now a question for the vegetarians like me: how can you claim to be a vegetarian when the birkenstocks glued to your feet are made of leather?

Oh.  The beautiful contradictions of life.

And so?

And so the gist of why I write this is not to persuade or pose a convincing argument that we should all be vegetarians…..although I believe that there are more reasons to be one than not too.  The upshot of this, this trifle, this bagatelle, this mouth full of sawdust and rutabaga is this: A question, any question, and its relative answer can become action, that in turn becomes an experience, that in turn brings on change, and change is what life is all about.  If we go the extra mile to answer our questions, the extra mile becomes another extra mile, and another, and eventually we go to new places…..places that make our lives and or world a better place to be in.

Cheers to both the Yak eaters and the grass eaters.  Cheers to harmonious opposition.

How does one chill as a vegetarian in the Conejo Valley?  Simply.  Here are some resources to help:

thousand oaks farmers market

Whole Foods

Rabbit Hole Foods

Apna Spiceland

Life and Beauty in Small Packages

I was recently gifted a bonsai. Later, after meeting Travis who owns the California Bonsai Studio (, I learned that my bonsai is a maple.

Most of us have owned a bonsai.  Some of us have pulled off to the side of the road to buy a bonsai from a bonsai pimp operating out of a van….a lot like buying a TV from the Gap.  Needless to say, all of the bonsai’s I’ve had never made it. I usually placed it in a niche that I felt needed sprucing up.  I never thought about what the Bonsai wants and needs.

This time I contacted Travis at his bonsai studio.  Besides learning that Bonsai and Banzai are not the same, I learned how to take care of my bonsai…..not to mention a deeper appreciation for it.

Travis is remarkably interesting.  I like to think of him as the James Dean of bonsaing.  As Brian aptly writes in our video, he’s an Artist.


Living Post Modern

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Can you imagine living in Whoville? Or what about Mayberry? If I had my druthers I’d live in The Shire; small but beautiful, idyllic and fruitful.  Safe.  I live in Thousand Oaks. And in Thousand Oaks I live in a neighborhood. And in this neighborhood I live in a house. And like all environs a house is an influence as much as it is a reflection.  This is similar to Plato’s theory of forms in which every form has its ideal of which it strives to be.

When I began looking for a new home, a new form, I started with my ideals.   As George Harrison succinctly and beautiful advises us, “All Things Must Pass,” so the house in which my wife and I made a family had passed.  It was now time to get along.  I was challenged, fascinated, discouraged, and even at times frightened.  Along the way I found myself asking why anyone with any sense of practicality, let alone sensibility, would have carpet in the bathroom?

On a Saturday, at the end of a tether, by happenstance my wife comes across an add in the The Acorn for an open house the following day.  So weary of seeing another granite countertop accompanied by stainless steel appliances and the coveted hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings, I rallied the troops and off we went to schlepp through another house.  Oh, look a Thermadore.  Over the course of months I was forced to imagine myself living in countless homes in countless neighborhoods with countless neighbors in countless scenarios.  I could be the man of the house with the “entertainers dream backyard,” or the proud owner of a “three car garage,” or I can have an en suite the size of a Roman bath.  Because, honestly, as Americans, and deservedly proud at that, we make everything absurd.  Tofu is good for us so lets put it into everything.  This type of behavior is reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s “Faith by virtue of the absurd.”  As a transgression, when are we going to start teaching that Abraham’s will to commit filicide is bad moral judgment because its murder, regardless of God’s will?  Can you imagine how different our fate would be today if Abraham said no?  Perhaps it would have been the first of many no’s that we should be saying.

On a sweltering day we go to the open house.  Now mind you that we are doing this by rote, so everyone should understand their roles.  But I still turn to the rug-rats sitting behind me and remind them to behave.  “Just don’t do it.  Because I said so.  This is not our house.  No Mark, you can’t take a dump in their bathroom.  Don’t touch anything.  Oh for the love of Cleopatra, just stay in the car.  I’ll be right back.”

We walk through the house.  As a family.  With two kids under ten who seem to know more than me.  While the kids helped themselves to the complementary fruit medley, I had the singular opportunity to wonder through the home.  Debbie acted as a go between touring the house and watching the kids.  I look at Debbie and repeat verbatim what a college friend’s father said to him the first time he saw the dorm room: “At least you don’t shit on the floor.” All in jest of course.  Over the years I have become accustomed to saying that because it seems so absurd to me that that was the first thing a father said to his son as he sent him off to college.

I’ve now had just over a year to take in the scope and breath of our move.  Undoubtedly we bought the house.  Thanks to the divine intervention of fate, my wife found it. An Eichler. A what? For most it’s those homes with the funky facade.  You know?  There is a sign on the corner of Lynn and Calle Manzanas that reads, “Eichler Homes.”  Still No?  Imagine yourself settling deep into a plastic sofa, with a martini in hand, and a cigarette between your lips, spending a leisurely evening spinning Sinatra records.

Here are some of my jumbled thoughts about Eichler living: geometric mid century modern love affair.  Symbiotic relationship. Post and beam construction.  Glass.  Windex.  Lots of natural sunlight.  Terrazzo floors, radiant heating, flat roofs, redwood ceilings, luan walls, tiny garage. The Jetsons.  Atomic age. Eames.  Frank Loyd Wright.  Simplicity.  Blurred boundaries between inside and outside. Transparent.  I Love Lucy.  Fungi Shui.  Cold.  Drafty.  Hot.  Creaky.  Leaky.  Intimate.

Eichler homes are architecturally and therefore historically significant.  Joseph Eichler’s planned neighborhoods were for everyone.  Unfortunately there aren’t many of them so his dream remains allusive to most.  Some will argue that his design was too esoteric to appeal to the average aesthetic.  To this day I firmly believe that home building has made no compelling advances beyond boxy rooms, narrow hallways, unnatural lighting, conflicting architectural styles, and the all too prominent garage that seems to be the focal point of the home’s front (being that for most the car is the single most coveted gizmo besides the television, and since the advent and proliferation of both our homes have since been designed to make them the centerpiece of domesticity).  And what’s the deal with postmodernists that insists on the combination of discordant styles and ornamentation that is flagrantly non-functional? A sponge painted salmon colored Corinthian column!  Really?  I’m bewildered and dumbfounded that new home construction ignores the practicality of such Eichler elements as natural light, open floor plans and above all, a genuine understanding of how to utilize space that promotes peace and harmony.

I’ve lived in such memorable places as The Somis House, The Dump, The Rio Bravo, The Chocolate Factory, the Albion House two doors down from a crack den.  Now an Eichler.  So who cares?  We should.  Our homes impact us in the profoundest ways imaginable.  As I said earlier, “they are as much an influence as they are a reflection.”  By that I mean our homes influence our mood, our health, our attitude, our actions.  They are also a reflection of their own influence upon us.  We are our environment and what we make of it.  For us to be civilized our homes, our towns, or villages, or metropolises must nurture healthy living.

Besides doing my best thinking in the car and on a solemnly walk with the dog late in the evening (all thoughts being lost before I can write them down), I’ve had enough time to think about the home I live in and its influence.  I’m certainly not the person I was before living in this Eichler, let alone the person I was just a minute ago.  These thoughts are generated from experiences that are translated into actions.  For the most part the Eichler experience has and continues to be impressionable.  I’m at ease here.  I want to go home at night not because I’m anxious to leave work….that I am.  It’s because my family is at home.  The kids that I bought at Costco are at home and that I consistently remind I can return.  My stuff is at home.  The moment I roll up to the driveway there is a powerful feeling of relief because I want to be here.

The Thousand Oaks Eichler Community, otherwise known by my children as “Eichlerville,” is a visional experience.  Each home is a living incarnation of Eichlerness that is uniquely interpreted by its owner. Your eye wonders across its beeline front, clean curves, bright contrasting colors, and its ambiguous doors. There is something very allusive about an Eichler because the outside reveals very little of what’s behind it. Eichler incorporated an atrium as a center court. Imagine a square donut. The front door leads to a private outdoor experience that continues throughout the home.

There’s a mind-boggling amount that has been written about Jospeh Eichler and his homes if you’re interested.

The Thousand Oaks Eichler community, like the incorporation of the city itself, is fifty this year. This year the Eichler community may qualify for California Historical Register. Today, Sunday, the neighborhood celebrates with a block party (several home owners have graciously agreed to open their home to tours).

I encourage us all to preserve what positively defines us. My hat off to post modern living and Eichler whom unknowingly gave us something infinitely more important than just a house. He gave us an experience.

Namaste, Berg.



Chillin’ at The Healing Tree

Brian and the Berg just sat down with Moe Lam over at The Healing Tree Tea Bar and Apothecary in Thousand Oaks to sip and talk about tea. We ended up not only learning all about different teas and their histories, but a wealth of information about Traditional Chinese Medicine and German New Medicine and how they can be used together to promote health of your body AND soul. Sit in with us on this video and see how generous Moe is with his time, knowledge and talent. Then head on over to The Healing Tree and begin improving your life. Find out more at The Healing Tree


Heaven is Under Our Feet as Well As Over Our Heads



For this episode Thoreau comes to mind when he says, “The finest qualities of our Nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling.”  I also like Muir when he says, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”  These men, and others alike, have a simple yet profound lesson for us to learn:  Our human spirit has realms of expression and potential far greater than those usually realized by civilized life.  By living within Nature, Thoreau and Muir explored and discovered the infinitued of the human spirit, finding that it can achieve much more important, beautiful truths when not restrained by the limitations of urban living.  Which brings us to introducing you to a few of our friends whom are making a positive difference on an infinite level starting with our origins…..the soil.

Laura Maher and John Szczepanek of Eco Restoration Partners are bent on helping us adopt a friendlier approach to  how we relate to our landscape.  Eco Restoration encourages us to divorce ourselves from the “Home Depot” garden by promoting and collaborating “in the creation of strong, healthy, bountiful suburban gardens.”  They “provide suburban garden support and organic soil building services…. (by creating) beautiful, pesticide-free, pollinator habitats filled with perennials and edibles.”  Their “succession planning will transform (our) understanding of soil, water, food, and our community,” much the same way as did Thoreau and Muir.

On a hot and dry summer afternoon Berg and Brian met Laura and John at our friend Chuck’s Eichler home ( to learn about how Eco Restoration helped Chuck transform his property from a depleted tract of land into a sustainable urban garden rich in nutrients, life, and food. Years of pollution, chemical indoctrination and petroleum based agriculture has all but destroyed our earth.  It all starts with the soil, says John.  Soil is the fundamental ingredient to our sustained existence.  Treat your soil like your favorite car.  Take good care of it because in return it will care for you.  Get it under your fingernails and on your skin to appreciate it.  Smell it.

Mulching is a key component to healthy, sustainable soil.  Mulch improves the quality of soil by breaking up clay and allowing better water and air movement.  Mulch provides nutrients to soil and improves its ability to hold water.  Mulch is an insulating layer keeping soil cooler in the summer (

When you plant, do so with thought and consideration to the indigineous habitat.  Plant for beauty as well as for usefulness.  Plant to reduce water consumption.  Plant fruits and vegetables so you have control over your diet.  As Laura says, “Chose the right plants to tailor to who you are feeding”.  Plant to promote a safe haven for wildlife like the monarch butterfly, bees and birds.  Plant to maximize the benefits while reducing the carbon footprint. Plant to be rewarded on many levels.  Plant to educate yourself.

The transformation of Chuck’s property is remarkable.  His devotion to learning and leading by example is inspiring.  I’d like to think that Chuck’s transformation has been personal, spiritual and practical.  At the helm is Chuck’s eagerness to change.   And As we are all well aware, change is scary.  The first step to changing is to start.   Eco Restoration is a start.  Eco Restoration is also a step by step process.  They are a partnership.  John and Laura are genuine.  They are good folk with a positive vision to making our home a better place to live.  Spending an afternoon in Chuck’s backyard with John and Laura was educational, sociable, enjoyable and inspirational.

Here are some key words that are highlighted from Chillin’s meeting with Eco Restoration Partners and our neighbor Chuck: draught, going native, beyond saving water, Eco Restoration Partners, aspire, habitat restoration, climate appropriate, pollinate, food source, holistic, soil, mulch, compost, mimic natural systems, complementing, symbiotic, good model, monarchs, bees, birds, choosing, tailer, crucial, environment, resourcing, forage crops, Moringa, kitchen garden, immune system, chemicals, establish, transition, character, and extraordinary.

Brian has recently completed a front yard restoration project by abandoning his lawn, mulching, and planting similar to Chuck.  The monarchs abound.  Berg has begun the first step by removing his lawn and is moving onto step two, mulching.  He also dreams of spending time in a yoga ashram at the foot of the Himalayas.  We encourage you to abandon your lawn, plant for quality, and breath life into our world through a partnership with the soil.


A Special Bonus Video – How to Compost Dog Waste

Chillin’ In The Conejo Theme Song

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Our resident troubadour, AJ, was gracious enough to write our theme song, Chillin’ In Conejo:

Chillin’ in the Conejo,
Somewhere between Moorpark and Lynn
We Live amongst the oaks and the rabbits
In this place we’re in.
But There’s esoteric,
Unexpected, and entertaining things to share.
Each episode is a frontage road.
We’ll take you on our trips to here and there.
Chillin’ in the Conejo,
We deserve what we make of it.
We’ll make it better every day just a little bit.
Mm hmm…….



A Day at the Ball Park with The Conejo Oaks

L1000879DCIM100GOPROThe Conejo Oaks Baseball club is our local team that plays in the California Collegiate League. “The California Collegiate League is a professionally run amateur baseball league for college athletes.  It is best described as a “gap” league, bridging the gap between collegiate baseball and professional baseball…..The CCL conducts its season during the summer months so as to comply with the NCAA rules governing the academic requirements of student-athletes, and operates as a non-profit corporation.”

On Saturday July 12, 2014 Brian and Berg attended a game at California Lutheran University’s Sparky Anderson Field. Joined by their crony, A.J, the three enjoyed an afternoon under the bleachers, on a warm and languid summer Saturday, scarfing hotdogs and nachos while rooting for the Conejo Oaks who won against the California Wahoos. And although Brian didn’t win the raffle, the Oaks won 4-3.  Afterwards, Berg and Brian had the honor of speaking with Verne Merill general manager and David Soliz team manager.

The afternoon was well spent enjoying one of America’s greatest pastimes. Chillin’ salutes The Conejo Oaks and encourages everyone to support our local team. Attached is a clip of the interview, along with some shots of the game.


Meeting Berg & Brian

CHILLIN LOGOWe’ve already learned from their bio’s under Blog Authors that Berg is eccentric and Brian is pragmatic.  If you had to bump into one of them, would it be the entropist or the conservationist?  Better yet, which one would you rather have as a neighbor?  For most of us our neighbors, our commute, and where we  live are all merely moving backdrops.  We live so fast we see so little.  We focus on very specific points in our busy lives out of necessity.   If we stop to smell the roses, per the old truism, we would notice how much more there is to life.  Because there’s perpetuity.

In this hamlet of ours that we licitly refer to as  The Conejo Valley, Berg and Brian plan on exposing not only the obvious about were we live, but the esoteric, the entertaining and the unexpected.  Each episode will bring something new.  Whether it be Berg sharing the hiddin gem of Eichlerville, Brian teaching us on how to transform our lawns into desert oasis, the both of them down at the Crown and Anchor sipping a pint, or introducing special guests such as friends or complete strangers.  There may be opportunity for you to suggest what type of shenanigans you wish to see them in.  Perhaps a pedicure or foot message at one of Conejo’s many haunts.

We live in a special place because we make it special.  We choose to live in the Conejo because it is not Los Angeles (a lugubrious prostitute that’s been repeatedly bedded).  We live amongst the oaks and the rabbits and the Santa Monica Mountians that all genuinely contribute to our mental and physical health.  In order to appreciate we have to stop taking for granted.  Our community deserves us, and in return we deserve what we make of it.  So make it better and better.