A Lesson Learned From A Jerusalem Artichoke

Do your homework!

How often have we heard that expression? Countless times, throughout our entire lives. As children, our parents were constantly on our cases to do the work assigned to us by our teachers to reinforce what we were learning in school. As adults, we’re told by others in the know that before we purchase something, invest in something, start a relationship, etc., to do our homework – i.e. research it carefully before we trade our money, time, or our even our very lives for it.

And research we do – well, some of us anyway. We read the prospectus carefully before we invest. We study the Kelly Blue Book or the NADA guide before we buy that new car. We do a background check on that new man or woman we’ve started dating. We research the various types and varieties of fruits and vegetables before we plant them in our gardens.

Wait – what did you say? You don’t research the various types and varieties of fruits and vegetables before you plant them in your garden?

Well, well, well. Let’s take a stroll out behind the barn. We’re going to have to have a little chat.

You know what happens when you don’t do your homework, don’t you? No, we’re not talking about light punishments like being grounded or sent to the principal’s office. No, I’m afraid it’s much worse than that. You run the risk of being banished to……..


(cue the bloodcurdling screams)

In garden purgatory there are only two kinds of gardens. The first kind is the barren garden – the abject horticultural failure where nothing grows! All that hard work and money, and you have nothing to show for it. The dry parched earth just stares at you and cruelly laughs. All because you didn’t take the time to determine if the soil was adequately fertile, how often you needed to water, if the crops you were planting were the right ones for your zone, etc.

The second kind is the garden of the undead. That garden is nothing but a tangled mess of vegetables you thought you wanted, but now realize you don’t – except that it’s too late. The prolific “guests”choke out all the vegetables you really do want, and they cannot be dug out or killed. You are stuck with them forever (cue the maniacal laughter)!

And lest you harbor the unworthy thought that I’m pulling your leg, I will tell you that I, myself, once found myself in garden purgatory (the garden of the undead type) all because of a certain vegetable known as the Jerusalem artichoke.

Jerusalem artichoke 1 Jerusalem artichoke 2

The Jerusalem artichoke, or sunchoke, is a vegetable crop in the sunflower family. It produces knobby tubers that, when consumed raw, have a flavor similar to water chestnuts. They are similar to potatoes, except that potatoes store their energy as starch, while Jerusalem artichokes store their energy in the form of inulin, which breaks down into fructose, thereby giving the tuber a sweeter taste than potato tubers.

Jerusalem artichokes are also highly productive – so much so that if not carefully managed, can become invasive.

I learned all of this the hard way, when, back in 1986, I planted nine Jerusalem artichoke tuber pieces in my parents’ garden. All I knew about them at the time was that I had tasted them once and liked them, so I thought they’d be fun to plant. Some fun they turned out to be! They grew, all right – as tall as sunflowers and with stems as thick as my wrists. Yanking them out of the ground required a Herculean effort. And oh, my Lord, did they produce! I must have had about three shopping bags filled with tubers. Thank heaven I dug them all out and was all done with them by November.

Or so I thought. Little did I realize that they were planning an encore. Come the following spring, I discovered that I had left a few tubers in the ground. How did I discover this? Because they sprouted into new plants! All in all, I’d say it took me about two years before I finally rid the garden of them for good and forever.

But had I done my homework and learned then what I know now. I probably would not have planted them and thereby avoided all of the fun I had trying to get rid of them.

So learn from my mistake. Don’t just stick something in the ground without taking the time to learn a little something about it first. Sure you’ll avoid consequences like the invasion of the Jerusalem artichokes, but you’ll also find great plants that fit well in your garden, and provide you with the amount, type, and flavor of fruits and vegetables that are right for you and your family.

And that, my friends, is what’s known as garden heaven.

Garden Heaven


Gathering Songs for Your Musical Bouquet


That was the lesson from my previous post. If you’re a musical entertainer and you want to distinguish yourself from all the other musical entertainers out there, you won’t do it by singing the same number one hit songs on Top 40 radio that everyone else is singing or the same tunes that everyone has downloaded to their iPod. If you waddle like a goose, honk like a goose, and poop like a goose, then rest assured that no one will ever mistake you for an eagle.

You become an eagle when you soar above the crowd, do your own thing, and sing your own songs. No, you don’t have to write your own material, although that’s certainly one way to distinguish yourself. But how about singing some songs that haven’t been done to death?

“Okay,” you say, “I see your point, and I’m willing to sing some out of the ordinary tunes. But how do I start collecting this material?


Ears BrainShovel

Lesson number two – LISTEN, REMEMBER, DIG!

Listen — your two ears are an excellent collection tool for good music. Perhaps you hear a band play a song that makes you feel good. Maybe you’re flipping through TV channels or radio stations and you hear something that brings back a childhood memory. If you like them, why not learn them and sing them yourself? Someone else might like them too, and you might even gain a fan.

Remember — your brain is your personal library for storing all these songs that your ears collect, and it’s been around longer than YouTube or iTunes. In fact, I’ll bet you have lots of songs stored in there already. Did your mother and father sing, play records, or play the radio when you were growing up? I’ll bet you remember some of those songs. I’ll wager that a few of them bring a smile to your face because they bring back fond childhood memories. What about your grandparents, aunts, and uncles? Did they ever sing when they were around you? Do you remember any of their songs? Why not add one of these to your repertoire? To this day, I still remember some of the songs my parents used to sing, and I’ve incorporated some of these into my act.

Dig — good old fashioned legwork. Good music is like gold or precious stones. It’s rarely found at the surface. You have to dig for it. So visit your local library. Search for songs on the internet. You’ll be amazed at all of the wonderful songs that are out there. Have a favorite singer or musician? I’ll bet that individual was influenced by someone else. Why not try listening to some of your favorite’s favorites? If someone you admire likes someone else’s music, you may very well like it too.

Once you build your storehouse of songs, after a while, you’ll find that you won’t have to work so hard to find them. They’ll start coming to you. You’ll find them in all sorts of places, even when you’re not looking for them. And you don’t have to confine yourself to one particular genre. I, myself, enjoy a wide variety of musical styles. When I perform, I may start out with a 70’s country-western tune, follow it up with a 60’s bubblegum rock tune, and then throw in something from a Warner Brothers cartoon for good measure.

Now that you’ve found them, practice them. Sing them every chance you get – in the shower, in the car, at work (okay, maybe not at work.) Find the chords or figure them out on your own, and start playing them. Make them your own. Then start performing them.

As an added bonus, why not find unique ways to combine them? I once did a two-song set that I called “Sap and Corn.” For the “sap” portion, I played “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro. You can’t get more sappy than that! Then for the “corn” portion, I sang “I Lobster and Never Flounder” by Pinkard and Bowden. Listen to the song yourself and you’ll see what I mean about corn.

I can’t promise that Listen-Remember-Dig will make you a rich and famous singing superstar. But honing your own unique style may just bring you a following. At the very least, you’ll be remembered. You’ll also have a whole lot more fun than you will being lost out in a whole crowd of Meghan Trainor clones.

Can You Play Some Simon and Garfunkel?

As a musician and entertainer, I’ve honed my act over many years, learning new songs and developing my own personal style. When I get offstage, I want people to remember that they were listening to Mark Lyons – warts, offbeat songs, bad jokes, and all.

And then, somewhere along the way, it happens. Somebody asks me, “Do you know any Simon and Garfunkel songs?” Or, “Do you play any Beatles tunes?”

No. I do not.

Okay, that’s only partially true. I actually do know a few Beatles songs and I could probably fake my way through a Simon and Garfunkel tune.  It’s just that I choose not to.

“What,” you say, “how dare you!” How can you not want to play any of those wonderful tunes by two of the world’s greatest bands/musical duos!? You must be some sort of – communist, socialist, fascist, Philistine – choose your epitaph.

No. I’m none of those. I’m just me, playing the music that resonates with me.

Undaunted, you try again. “But why won’t you play them,” you ask. “Everybody sings them, everybody knows them and everyone loves them.”


I don’t want to do what everybody else does and I don’t want to sing what everybody else sings. Yes, the Beatles were a dynamite band with wonderful songs. The same can also be said about Simon and Garfunkel. Lots of musicians and bands sing their songs. So one more guy with a guitar singing their songs is not about to make the audience look up – or remember you after the show is over.

So no, I don’t play any Simon and Garfunkel and I don’t play any Beatles. If you want to hear Simon and Garfunkel or the Beatles, there are plenty of other singers who will be happy to accommodate you. But if you want to hear something different, then stick around. You might be pleasantly surprised — or nauseatingly disgusted. But either way, you will remember me.

Get out your notebook and a pen and write this down.


That’s lesson number one in how to be an effective entertainer. If you do the things that everyone else is doing and sing the same songs by the same artists that everyone else is singing, then you’ll be just like everyone else. Answer me this. Why should I hire you as an entertainer? What makes you different? What do you have to offer that I can’t get anywhere else?

My friends, there is a whole world of good music out there that you won’t find on Top 40 radio, classic rock stations, or even satellite radio. You won’t find it at Wal-Mart, Target, or your local music store (do those still exist?). So how do you go about finding these songs?

I’ll discuss that in the next blog post.