The Blood Test Results Are In…

Yippee for great results! Photo credit www.ahead.ie

Yippee for great results! Photo credit ahead.ie

The findings floored my doctor! YEA! (And my doctor is not easily impressed.)

I was commended for my hard work; the difference was significant. Two of the three markers of concern regarding my liver disease include my AST and ALT levels – those were within normal for the first time in as long as I can remember! It went from hovering above 32 and 42 respectively to 28 on both (normal is below 30). My third marker (Alkaline Phosphatase) is still above average, but also down (from 172 to 132, normal is below 115); so I’m well on my way.

Other areas also showed signs of a dramatic shift toward a healthier body. Four months ago, my triglycerides (a kind of fat) were above the normal range at 156 (normal being below 150). After the detox, it went way down to 61 — almost a 100 point drop! My cholesterol (non HDL – the bad stuff) went from 118 to 68.

The bottom line: my diet most definitely heals or harms my liver and my entire body, depending on what I choose to put in it. So I must continue to make the effort to eat whole foods. When I do, my taste buds change to support my new habits (e.g. now I crave nuts instead of cookies.) My brain tells me that I still want that piece of candy or some potato chips on occasion… and I have given-in after the detox; but to my surprise, it didn’t taste as delicious as I remembered. This shows me that I can do without some of my psychological additions to junk!

The  challenge will be to keep it up, to continue the reprogramming of my head. My plan moving forward includes giving myself treats a couple times a week (like cheese… a great weakness and I’m sad to say, it still tastes good to me!) And I will continue to do my best to avoid foods that inflame my system (mostly gluten, dairy, and added sugar.) I have to remind myself constantly and have others support me in this: whatever I can do to help lessen the negative effects of my disease and general poor health, these things are worth keeping up. It’s worth it to have energy and feel good all day.

With my one body, my one life, I am choosing to treat what I have been given with care. This is a way to worship and honor the God who created me. This is a way to stay around longer, to be at my best for the ones I love and to live out what I was put on this earth to be.

God Gives the Goods, Youth Renewed

Photo courtesy of images online

Photo courtesy of images online

Praise the Lord… who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. -Psalm 103:5, NIV

As I watch my 6-year old hop circles around me (because walking is “too boring”), I’m reminded of an idea I often hear — the desire to bottle a child’s energy and sell it for a fortune.

My renewed energy is like a drop from that bottle. Except, it is not harnessed from a child, it is a gift from God. Nature is from God; so when it comes to veggies (whole and simple foods),  I eat as Daniel in the Old Testament ate, and my body responds favorably, as it is meant to function and thrive.

In the Bible (Daniel 1:12-16), Daniel and his buddies are given “royal food” for their optimal health. But Daniel challenges the thoughts of the time and responds, “‘Please test your servants for ten days (sound familiar? 10-day-detox!): Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food’… At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.”

The “royal food” of our day is the stuff of rich nations: convenient, abundant, fatty and preservative-filled to last longer. What seems “good” to us is in many ways, a bad habit that has forced our taste buds to change. I am right in there with everyone who suffers from this “royal food” habit. So the psychological switch to alter what I’ve known all my life is daunting… but ultimately doable.

I took my blood test on Friday and will share my results when I receive them at the end of the month. So for now, after the official detox and roughly 17 days on my new meal plan, I take the next step… in the direction of wholesome and sustainable eating habits. Even if my blood result is not as impressive as I hoped (maybe in time it gets better?), this change in lifestyle is ultimately good. But I have a sneaky suspicion my results will speak loudly for itself; and like in Daniel’s time, I will be and look healthier than when I ate the “royal food.”

Detox Days 5-7: The Benefits

Good food tastes (and looks) good! This accompanied cod with an olive mixture.

Good food tastes (and looks) good! This accompanied cod with an olive mixture.

On Day 1 I was warned to “Follow the program, to the letter.” I know I have failed here, yet the benefits are still amazing to me!

My skin has cleared up. I long for walnuts instead of chips. I don’t need to take naps; so I haven’t. My pants don’t fit anymore, in a good way. I actually crave exercise. My sinuses are clear. I didn’t know it needed clearing until it was and then it was like, “Oh, that feels good!” I was chronically stuffed in the head and didn’t even know it. And these are the small changes.

To me, the big changes have been:

I like water again. This is huge because not liking water was a psychological problem (my own diagnosis). I used to drink a whole lot of tea (and coffee and a variety of other drinks), spiked with liquid sugar because water was soooo boring, so blah, a waste of my time. I thought, “there’s water in anything liquid, right? Of course! See I’m getting my water for the day.” I included tea in the “bad” list because of the sugar, but don’t get me wrong, many teas are great on their own. And I will be drinking those, after I do a little more research on which are best for me.

Scarfing it like mac & cheese, but not.

Downing dinner like it’s ice cream, but not.

Another biggie, I’m less irritable and more happy, calm-spirited, energetic and clear headed. Everyone’s glad about this one. And speaking of others, my kids not only like the new mom, they like the new food mom is cooking. Yes, that’s right, good-for-you food actually tastes good (not some of my morning shakes, but I can change that easily by adding certain fruits). Furthermore, I’m not hungry all the time. Good food fills you up and keeps you satisfied.

So all this to say, I’m kind of liking this detox. It’s not as painful as I initially imagined. And the benefits… well, the above speaks for itself. It’s a gift to be able to get my life back again and feel youthful.

Now the biggest proof of change (for me) will be when I take my blood test. Will this diet help my autoimmune issue? We will see…

Detox Day 4: It’s Tough to Follow the Plan

image by istockphoto

image by istockphoto

I really wanted to follow this detox to a “T.” Whenever I commit to a project, I want to give it my all and receive full benefits. But in the interest of time (not having much of it), I’ve come to peace with simply doing what I genuinely can, prioritizing what I believe to be the “majors.”

I don’t eat all the prescribed meals. It’s actually too much food. I haven’t had a detox bath yet (and I was looking forward to this most!) I don’t always sleep 7-8 hours. Two nights ago I only got 5.5 hours. I don’t drink the entire recommended 8 cups of water or take all the suggested supplements. And I haven’t found the time to exercise daily. But I have found time to take my 5-min. detox breaths – yea! I celebrate where I can.

Even though I’m not able to do every bit of the program, I am doing most of it and it’s still paying off! I’ve kept away from the big “no-no” ingredients (sugar, dairy, flour, gluten and caffeine). I do a cardio exercise at least 3 times per week. I don’t eat out. I cook a whole lot more (only fresh foods). And I am sleeping longer hours than before. So for this wife/mom/writer, even the adjusted detox is definitely worth it.

Before I started this program, I tried to figure out the best time to jump in… but there was no best time for me (I have 2 active boys and both my parents living with me as I manage my dads medical situation and more!) I simply had to make a decision to take a step: to break bad habits (in eating and thinking) and start getting (and feeling) healthier.

Detox Days 2-3: From Fog to Fabulous

Running because I want to, not because I have to. Photo by Jordan Weeks

Running because I want to, not because I have to.
Photo by Jordan Weeks

Yesterday, I felt so awful, I didn’t want to write. I still had a headache on top of being hungry, fatigued and grumpy (and I had committed to sing for worship at church- not the best day for this, but God showed up anyway).

I took a 3 hour nap in the middle of the day and was still tired. Watching “Gravity” ’til 1 AM the night before, on top of all the withdrawal symptoms didn’t help (but I wanted to watch it before the Oscars!)

Though I was on day 2 of the official detox, I was on day 4 of no caffeine, flour, gluten and added sugars. And I was starting to wonder if my head would ever feel better? Then low and behold, I learned late last night as I was reading about what to expect from this detox, that all my complaints were actually indications that my body was being purged of it’s toxins. My achy muscles, itchy skin and even the bad breath my son commented on was because my body was getting rid of the poison. The detox was/is working!

And when I woke this morning… Hallelujah! I felt amazing! I was hungry but energized, clear-headed and even a tad giddy. My husband said, “You just woke up; how can you really tell?” And then he said it was because I took a record-long nap the day before; but I say “NAY” to the naysayer! I know when I feel different and this was different. I even went for a jog because I wanted to. I don’t think I’ve ever run because I wanted to; it’s always because I have to.

After the kids went to school, I made myself a breakfast shake (recipes in the “10-Day Detox” book alone are worth the money!) Actually, the shake from today was nasty; but the ones from 2 days before were great. And the salmon dish, cauliflower soup and chicken vegetable soup were even big hits with my finicky boys.

And bonus… I lost another 2 pounds.

Detox Day 1: Already Lost 1 Lb. From Prep Days

The never-ending breakfast shake.

The never-ending breakfast shake (and still more in the blender.)

Let me reiterate from my introductory detox post: I am not doing this to loose weight, but that is certainly a welcomed side effect! I’m doing this because:

1. I have autoimmune liver disease/PBC and I don’t want to have it anymore.

2. I’m getting older and the bad food I put in my body doesn’t hide as easily. It comes out as sickness and a growing waistline and…

3. I want to be an example to my family, that we can all do this and still enjoy good food. I truly want to make this the beginning of a life change, not a 10-day test of my will.

But this is tough!

My head is still aching, albeit less than 2 prep days ago when I cut off tea, liquid sugar, excessive carbs and dairy.

I have to prep and cook 2-3 times a day, no more easy stops at a drive-thru.

This morning I made a shake, a delicious and satisfying breakfast. And it kept me full until dinner because I sipped it for hours thereafter. I still couldn’t finish it by dinnertime.

But the instant gratification is the weight loss. When I weighed and measured myself this morning, I was lighter and thiner… already, from just 2 days of prep work. During those days, not only did I take myself off the aforementioned, but I got the okay from my liver doc to take all the supplements (make sure you do this if you are on any prescribed medication.) But I’m easing into the supplements and not taking the full dose of everything that was recommended. Use your own good judgement about any diet or detox (usually they are general guidelines for the entire population.)

So how do I feel on day 1? The truth is, not that great. Like I mentioned, I still have that nasty headache, I’m grumpy and tired, and my head is in a bit of a fog, as I was warned. But I will continue because I said I would and because I know this is good for me in the long run. So I press on!

10-Day Detox: More Than You Think… Join Me?

I am fat. I don’t look fat; but from a number of indicators, I know I’m fat, at least on the inside. (This can really happen. Look it up!) I love donuts, liquid sugar in my continuous flow of teas, chips, cheese, anything sold at a bakery and all things dessert-like. I even convinced my kids I have a “dessert pocket” in my tummy. No matter how full I am, if my dessert pocket is not filled, I am not done eating.

What's wrong with this picture? My car before my diet. I need some serious help!

What’s wrong with this picture? My car before my diet. I need some serious help!

Since this is a “community for the young at heart,” I thought I’d share my journey into making my heart and body younger… through the gift of better health for the next 10 days and hopefully beyond.

And this is certainly a GIFT I’m giving myself because it COSTS!

First, I purchased a book to get started: The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. After some research about ways to beat my autoimmune disease,  I found this book by Mark Hyman, MD. The doctor explained the problem and the solution in ways that made sense to me. I’m paraphrasing here but the general idea is that my autoimmune issue is like an infection caused by stepping on a rusty nail. Instead of treating the infection only, I need to get that nail out.

So when the proverbial nail comes out, I might even be able to gradually come off my medication (and bonus – lose 10 lbs. in 10 days while kick-starting myself into a healthier lifestyle.) An important note here: I am not getting any benefits from endorsing this book; I just like sharing a good thing!

Second, this gift is costing me my comfort. To begin with, today is a prep day before the  detoxing tomorrow and I have the nastiest headache and nausea from cutting off all my caffeine. I am an addict! Thankfully, this painful fog is supposed to go away within 2-3 days… I’m counting on it.

Another cost is on my time. I will have to prep food and cook more. But this is also a good thing, right? Right. (There’s even a recipe for Korean bibimbap and kimchee – just WOW!)

If you can see my notes, you'll see this is very difficult for me!

If you can see my notes, you’ll see this is very difficult for me!

This “gift” also costs in terms of supplements (at least $130 worth!) But then again, my autoimmune drugs, bad health, trips to coffee/tea houses and eating out costs me more in the long run.

I know changing my diet helps. Once I did a pure juicing detox for a couple weeks and my blood test improved dramatically. But I couldn’t live that way… just drinking green juice 24/7; so I fell back into my unhealthy habits.

Unlike my juice diet, the 10-day detox is full of eating (only with certain foods and excluding mostly carbs and sugars) and so more doable.

So for the last 2 days, prep days before the plunge, I have cleared out and organized my cupboards, bought a ton of new and weird foods and supplements, connected with an online community of detoxers, weighed and measured myself, and have decidedly committed to the regiment of the next week and a half (including daily detox baths, my favorite part!)

So begins my journey to good eats and health. Join me or at least tell me if you’ve ever done anything like this and how it has helped! Then throw up a prayer for me. This happy eater needs the support.

Rose Parade Self-Builts Add Sense of Community to World Event

The 124th Tournament of Roses Parade

2013 Fantasy Trophy winner – Burbank’s “Deep Sea Adventures”

Originally printed in The Quarterly magazine, Winter 2013

As numb fingers and eyes droop in weariness, a lively spirit keep volunteers going through the night and into the following year… year after year as another self-built float for the Rose Parade receives its finishing touches. The volunteers are the key ingredient in the self-built floats.

“Exhausted and exhilarated, it’s [a] sweet taste of accomplishment and pride,” says Greg Lehr, Director of the Rose Float Program at Cal Poly and involved with float building since 1988. Civic-minded helpers work year-round with members of the same community, all for one special day: January 1.

Since the inception of The Pasadena Tournament of Roses and their first parade in 1890, local flora have adorned floats, carriages, vehicles, animals and people going down Colorado Boulevard. At the heart was a desire to showcase Southern California’s idyllic Mediterranean climate; and through tireless community members, the world continues to get a taste.

This small-town tradition continues in the 6 self-built floats: Burbank, Cal Poly Universities, Downey, La Cañada Flintridge, Sierra Madre and South Pasadena.

Among the roughly 45 floats in each of the recent parades, the “self-builts” are dubbed as such because the entire project is driven by volunteers and donations. The price tag of a professionally-built float could be roughly $300,000 on up, but most of the self-builts stay in the $50,000-$100,000 price range.

No one is paid to come up with the concept of the float. Usually there is a contest to pick the winning design. A handful of energetic volunteers fundraise all year long to cover the cost of materials. Community members donate their skills to help shape and weld the pencil steel that creates the skeleton. And hundreds of decorators for each float, mostly from “deco week” (the day after Christmas until the morning of Jan. 1) labor free of charge at all hours.

The know-how to create a traveling and animated work of floral art is passed down from one committed volunteer to the next, through trial and error and the sharing of knowledge.

“Even though we compete against each other, it’s a friendly competition between the self-builts. We all help each other. If someone is ahead of schedule and [we’re] behind, they’ll help [by sending over volunteers]… Even if you run out of flowers, other self-builts are willing to share [their extras,]” says Bonnie Colcher, a volunteer for 11 years and Volunteer Coordinator of the Sierra Madre Rose Float Association.

The self-builts compete with the professionals for all the awards, but one recognition is especially for them, the ‘Founder’s Trophy’ for most beautiful entry built and decorated by volunteers from the sponsoring community or organization. And though the parade is not simply about getting awards, it’s certainly nice to be recognized for the particularly huge task for the self-builts.

“We’re all in this to make a better parade for everybody, professionals included.” Paul Abbey, volunteer since 1999 and President/Chairman of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses comments about a time their float was damaged in a fire and a professional float builder, Fiesta Floats, helped by providing a facility and additional people who could get the job done.

The people who stay involved with float projects have a special camaraderie. Says Gary DeRemer, volunteer for 21 years and President of the Downey Rose Float Association, “All the people who build and decorate are family to me. We don’t always get along, but we all work as a team and love each other.”

And like quirky families, floats can also be temperamental in varying temperatures and situations; not everything comes up roses. There are certainly challenges with each goliath float-creating task. There are bound to be issues: from major glitches (like when La Cañada built an 18-foot wide float that had to go through a 16-foot wide gate) to full-blown panic-stricken re-dos and overnighters (like “the great coconut fiasco” when the glue didn’t work after a cold spell and nearly all the coconut shavings fell off at 2 AM, an hour before Sierra Madre’s float was to make its way to the judges.)

But in the end, to see what was so meticulously cared for over a year, traveling the 5 1/2-mile route on New Year’s Day, makes all the hardships worth it!

As Downey’s float makes its way to Pasadena, “Our city cheers us on. The people on the streets clap for us; and you feel so proud to be a part of something great,” says DeRemer.

Some Unique Aspects of Each Self-Built Float

The Burbank Tournament of Roses Association is celebrating 100 years since their first float entry in 1914. Their 82nd float entry this New Year’s will be “Lights… Camera… Action!” (In earlier years an entry was sometimes a marching band or no entry at all.)

Robert Hutt, volunteer for 12 years, currently in charge of Public Relations and past President of the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association, comments on what drew him in. “At first, I wanted to learn how to weld. [But it] took about 5 years before I got into the construction part.” Often, volunteers must learn about nuances of float building before wielding heavy tools.

Recent awards include: Fantasy Trophy (2013) and Mayor’s Trophy for most outstanding city (2012).

For more information, visit www.burbankrosefloat.com

Cal Poly Universities (Pomona and San Luis Obispo) have entered a float since 1949, celebrating 66 years with their 2014 entry “Bedtime Buccaneers.”

Cal Poly’s float is unique even among the self-builts as the only one that’s not a city and is student-centered. The students “have the ingenuity that paves the way…We were the first to have animation (moving parts) and fiber optics… These students love it. They live it. If you cut their veins, it would leak hydraulic fluid. I’m very proud of them,” comments Lehr.

The float is also built on two campuses and brought together in late October. Pomona is in charge of the animation while San Luis Obispo takes care of the float propulsion or drive system.

Recent awards include: Bob Hope Humor Trophy (2013) and Fantasy Trophy (2011).

For more information, visit www.rosefloat.org

The Downey Rose Float Association first entered the parade in 1913. This year, their entry is titled “The Glass Slipper,” which is more elegant than animated.

“We are teaching people how to weld, order flowers and pick [appropriate ones]. Some of our people become florists…” says DeRemer.

And to raise funds for their float, they sell tacos and have concerts in the park, sponsor casino nights, and put on car washes.

Recent awards include: Founders Trophy (2012) and Lathrop K. Leishman Award for most beautiful entry from a non-commercial sponsor (2011).

For more information, visit www.downeyrose.org

La Canada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association (LCFTRA) had it’s first entry in 1979 and it’s 36th consecutive entry for 2014 is “Dog Gone.”

According to Bill Pounders, volunteer for more than 20 years, on the board of LCFTRA, the learning never stops. With their 1992 float ‘Sherlock Hounds’ “we learned that there is no banner for cuteness.” (A banner proceeds an awarded float down the parade route.)

As for participation, people from all over the foothills join-in. “Local high school students enjoy their winter vacation days doing something different and find float decorating a fun community-service activity,” says Pounders.

Recent awards include: Animation Trophy (2013) and Bob Hope Humor Award (2012).

For more information, visit www.lcftra.org

The Sierra Madre Rose Float Association’s first entry was in 1917. This New Year’s will be their 82nd entry, “Catching the Big One.”

Colcher says it gets more and more challenging every year for their “smallest” of the self-builts, given a city population of around 11,000. “We’re like the little engine that could.” Their budget is the smallest at about $50,000, but “There’s a lot of pride in it, so we get it done.”

Recent awards include: Governor’s Trophy for the best depiction of life in California (2011 and 2010).

For more information, visit www.smrosefloat.org

The South Pasadena Tournament of Roses first entered a float in 1910, making it the oldest self-built float in the parade. This New Year’s they will present “Intergalactic Vacation.”

When explaining how a design is chosen, Abbey said “It’s got to have that ‘ah ha’ factor and wow people… It has to resonate with the audience.” But in the end he doesn’t help build floats “for awards, but I build them to make people happy… it warms my heart to see people enjoy what they’re seeing. It’s the whole reason I do this!”

Recent awards include: Founders’ Trophy (2013) and Fantasy Trophy (2012).

11767641-pasadena-california-usa--january-2-2012-downey-rose-float-association-float-called-enchanted-paradis

2012 Founder’s Trophy winner – Downey’s “Enchanted Paradise”

For more information, visit www.sptor.com

Extraordinary Child Chefs

Final 6: Gavin, Sarah, Troy, Dara, Jack and Alexander Photo credit: Mercury News

Final 6: Gavin, Sarah, Troy, Dara (final 2), Jack and Alexander (final 2)
Photo credit: Mercury News

I have always believed you can learn something new from anybody. This could not be more true than in “MasterChef Junior,” where 8-13 year-olds create restaurant-quality dishes in a competition judged by popular professionals: Chef Gordon Ramsay, restaurateur/winemaker Joe Bastianich and Chef Graham Elliot.

The entertainment value is high and heartwarming, while the ability of these kids never cease to amaze and inspire me.

A nationwide search found 25 young home cooks to compete on the MasterChef stage. And now there are two!

This Friday, November 8, on Fox at 8/7c, the first-ever Junior MasterChef will be crowned, along with a prize of $100,000.

What makes this show so special? Simply, the kids. They are really just kids… with fantastically mature abilities to create culinary works of art.

During a mystery box challenge with less than kid-friendly ingredients like snail, kidneys, sardines and brussel sprouts, to name a few, 9-year-old Sarah from Culver City, CA said with a scrunched face, “This is so not gummy bears!”

I fell in love with this adorable and passionate Sarah who made a perfect lava cake in one show, a winning Mediterranean dish of fried sardines and an olive salad in another show, and in yet another episode, eagerly yelled “Whip it like a man” to whip into shape fellow contestant, Gavin, during a competition to turn cream into “soft peaks” by hand. (As an adult, I am still unable to do this.)

When Judge Bastianich tried to make Sarah feel better for dropping a pan on the floor with a cut of beef still on top and sharing that he believes in the 5-second rule, she whispered, “You do know you’re being recorded.” And when she didn’t move on to the top 4, I admittedly cried with a tearful Sarah.

However, other favorites did move on, like lovable Hawaiian-shirt wearing 10-year-old Jack from East Rockaway, New York and hard-core 12-year-old Troy from Thousand Oaks, CA.

Dara, 12, from Culver City, CA, made her mother’s wedding cake, wears a huge Hello Kitty-like bow on her head and has a smile to match. In the last episode, according to the judges, she made soy and ginger wings with pickled vegetables that not only should be on a restaurant’s menu, but was worthy of being a restaurant’s “signature dish.”

But the one to beat is the composed 13-year-old Alexander from New York, NY. One of the judges noted about him, that he has a special relationship with food. He made liver (something he has never liked or worked with) into a beautifully rustic and savory masterpiece, moving him onto “another level” of culinary excellence. After trying Alexander’s creation, Ramsay jokingly offered him a job as assistant sous-chef at his restaurant in London. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some truth to his offer; Alexander’s creativity knows no bounds.

Whether taking over the kitchen of an upscale restaurant in LA, making aioli and macaroons by heart, or cooking with spaetzle or branzino (what is that?), these kids teach me and my own kids, the possibilities when passions are pursued.

Yes, it is fascinating to watch children turn various ingredients into artful creations, but it is also motivating for our family to be inspired together. After each episode, my boys (11 and 6) are encouraged to try new foods and cook with me more often. (Maybe I can groom them to become contestants in the future? Okay, if you knew my boys, you would know that’s a long shot, but if they could cook even one meal a month that would be tremendous progress!)

Even more, watching these kids’ accomplishments, opens a discussion about excellence in whatever my children do, the hard work needed and the perseverance to keep on pressing on.

If you know any amazing child chefs, sign them up here for the next season http://www.fox.com/masterchef-junior/ — then let me know you did!

Warmer and messier side of judges: Chef Gordon Ramsay, Chef Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich Photo credit: TV Guide

Warmer and messier side of judges: Chef Gordon Ramsay, Chef Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich
Photo credit: TV Guide

Tattoo Art: More Than Skin Deep

Tattoo-inspired clothing at “My Tattoo” studio in Alhambra, CA

Tattoo-inspired clothing at “My Tattoo” studio in Alhambra, CA

Originally published in The Quarterly magazine, Fall 2013

Tattoos may symbolize rebellion to some, and to countless others, it expresses creativity, freedom and even love beyond words. Whatever your leaning, the rich history and overall artistry of tattoos demands a more thoughtful look into an entirely unique realm of beauty and intrigue.

Today, we find tattoo art on more than skin. It is juxtaposed to painted masterpieces at UCLA’s Hammer Museum during an earlier exhibit featuring Ed Hardy, one of the most renowned tattoo artists.

Vibrant and lively tattoo art is also popularized on items like wallets, shoes, clothing, watches, eye ware, cell phone covers, car seats, baby carriers, special edition spray cans and soda cans.

But from where did these signature designs originate? And what have they evolved into today?

Since the time of our primitive ancestors, tattoos have, at different periods, been a form of spirituality, status, honor, adornment and even punishment. Sometimes they were used as amulets and at other times, a bond between lovers.

The earliest discovery of body modification by coloring the skin was found in an upper Paleolithic cave in France where tools for tattooing were carbon-dated at nearly 40,000 years old. And from 30,000 BC, a carved figure with tattoo markings on the arm was found in Germany.

The oldest evidence of tattoos on an actual person was a surprisingly well-preserved Ötzi Iceman found in a glacier in the Italian Alps, near Austria, carbon-dated at nearly 5,300 years old.

Unlike the needle method used in modern tattoos, the Ötzi Iceman’s markings were made by incisions with charcoal placed inside for coloring. More than 50 lines and crosses were found on his skin; but the evidence for these patterns suggest a more medicinal purpose since they closely follow acupuncture lines.

Before 2,000 BC, women in Egypt were known to have tattoos as a safeguard during pregnancy and against illness. Shortly after, women began to use tattoos as fashionable adornment.

During the millennial transition from BC to AD, from Asia and the Americas to Europe and Africa, evidence indicates that tattoos were in broad use for various purposes.

During the Han Dynasty in China, it was used to mark people as property or criminals. Around the same time but in a different part of the world, it was also used to set apart the upper class. The Greek writer Herodotus, from fifth century BC even stated of Scythians and Thracians, Indo-European tribes, “tattoos were a mark of nobility, and not to have them was testimony of low birth.”

Despite the ebb and flow of tattoo popularity around the world and through the ages, modern tattoos in the United States are believed to have originated from Polynesia.

In 1769, after Captain James Cook’s first exploration of the cultures in the Pacific, he brought back to Europe sketches by Sydney Parkinson of intricately and extensively tattooed Maori men, like that of a “Portrait of a New Zealand Man.” To be tattooed in patterns of dots, swirls and tribal shapes all over the body, including the face, was an honor, a rite of passage and a mark of attraction.

From the Tahitian word “tatau” which means to “strike or mark,” the modern “tattoo” was established. And it’s no wonder that mariners adopted the practice first, bringing a taste of the islands to people on the mainland in Europe and America and helping them grow more accustomed to the art form. Of course, these seamen, often in the Navy, donned nautical symbols and images, like anchors, stars, ships, ocean waves and mythical sea creatures.

And as people traveled more frequently throughout the world, unique types of tattoo art spread. In America today, some of the more popular styles include: black and gray, full color, tribal, portrait realism, pop culture, traditional Asian/oriental and new school or neo oriental.

Though individual tattoos vary vastly, one thing remains: it is most often an immensely personal form of devotion and expression that literally changes the wearer for life. They carry with them at all times, a piece of art, a work of beauty, a memory of a loved one, an object of devotion or a simple symbol of who they are.

Those who are tattooed are just as diverse as the tattoos they wear. For instance, some Christians tattoo Bible verses or words of inspiration on their arms like, “Love God, Love People” in beautiful script. Alex Wu, an ordained minister in Orange County, wears an Asian dragon tattoo, not from a sordid past but from a confident present, an expression of his roots.

A mother wears a realistic portrait of her late son to help her grieve the loss while a group of ladies etch pink ribbons on their skin to help celebrate their friend’s remission from breast cancer.

Though tattoo art is everywhere, etched onto nearly any kind of object, at its very essence it is ink for the skin. And according to Penelope Jones, Assistant Dean of Student Services at the USC School of Fine Arts, when asked about how to differentiate the quality of tattoo art she said, “Because it is site specific, the most successful tattoos take into consideration the placement, the person’s individual physique like the crevices in the skin and hills of the body.”

Kohei Toyama, a tattoo artist at My Tattoo in Alhambra, echoed Jones’ sentiment, adding, “You have to remember you are working near muscle, bone and on a live moving person.”

Even when it is not on the skin, “It is tattoo art because of the history, culture, lifestyle and tradition behind it,” says Andy Tran, one of 5 students, along with Toyama, in the My Tattoo family of artists under master trainer Jess Yen.

When asked about what he would say to skeptics of tattoo art, Toyama replied, “Right now, there is so much skill required… It’s just art.”

And he is right. In Los Angeles alone, a mecca for gifted tattoo artists, the highly talented come from all walks of life.

There are those with a master in fine arts like Roni Zulu, who is also an accomplished cellist, to those who are self-taught, like Dan Smith who was featured on LA Ink (a past reality TV show hosted by tattoo artist, Kat Von D) and a reputable musician to boot. Even Ed Hardy, born in 1945 and raised in Southern California, was bound for Yale, when he decided to become a tattoo artist instead.

As with any excellent artwork, tattoo art comes alive as the artist creates within their confined environment, keeping in mind the cultural roots of the medium and putting their spin on shadow gradients, detailed lines, color combinations, and even 3D-like images to tell a story, the wearers story.

Tattooing is like putting a wonderful illustration on a live canvas. But for those who appreciate the art and desire it on more than skin, it is often placed on objects and found in museums to be admired even more broadly.

When asked where tattoo art is headed, Tran said, “The industry is growing and evolving so quickly, we [as artists] are pushing ourselves to new boundaries. It is limitless.”

History of tattoo credits: “Tattoo” by Thomas, Cole and Douglas; Smithsonian.com; http://archaeologiemuseum.it/en/node/262