We’re Back From Japan!

Christina and I got back from Japan this past Wednesday after two weeks of nonstop adventure. We flew out of Chicago and landed in a sweltering Tokyo on August 23rd. The subsequent days were filled with tours, hikes, feasts, laughs, and jet lag wake-up calls at 2 am. Japan is a magnificent country and the people are straight out of some 1950’s “Pleasantville” show. Interacting with a Japanese stranger is like a boyfriend interacting with his girlfriend’s parents for the first time – there is a lot of bowing, attentiveness, respect, and reiteration of the word “sorry.” Suffice it to say, Japan is the most well-mannered, clean, and sophisticated country you are likely to visit in your life. Even the toilets try to be helpful with soothing music and a squirt of water for that hard-to-reach dingleberry. Added to the wonderful people we met, the food in Japan raised our trip to a whole different tier of pleasure: there was ramen, udon, okonomiyaki, teppanyaki, shabushabu, takoyaki, yakisoba, yakitori, and a whole host of interesting concoctions that are nicely displayed at this link.

Most of our daily activities included some sort of tour which highlighted the history of Japan. The Japanese mostly believe in both Shintoism and Buddhism. Shintoism is the native religion of Japan which believes in nature as a source of divinity – think of Native American religions – while Japanese Buddhism is an amalgamation of Shintoism, Chinese beliefs, and Indian Beliefs (click here for more on Buddhism). We visited a myriad of shrines which were hundreds of years old and learned some of the customs of worship. There are usually steps of purification at shrines and one must either cleanse with water or take off footwear before entering a sacred space. This is why the Japanese commonly take their shoes off before entering the home or a public space like a restaurant. The tours were great and I was able to juxtapose each experience with a previous book that I read on the subject. The highlight of the trip for me was climbing Mt. Fuji which took Christina and I over 11 hours to complete. This was the highest mountain I have ever climbed and the air at the top caused both of us to have altitude sickness. We had to take a lot of breaks and eat a lot of snacks but in the end the view was worth all the hardship. The trip as a whole was simultaneously amazing and exhausting; by the end I missed America, my culture, cheeseburgers, my bed, my family, my friends, and my chihuahua. Below are some of the best pictures we took.

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Tokyo Fish Market

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Squid on a Stick

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Tokyo Station

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Bike Tour in Tokyo

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Meiji Shrine

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Buddhist Temple

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Multi Level Pagoda

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Famous Shibuya Crossing

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Climbing Mt. Fuji

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Climbing Up

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Near the top of Mt. Fuji

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The Crater of Mt. Fuji

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Christina getting turned into a Geisha

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Christina walking Kyoto as a Geisha

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Buddhist Garden

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Golden Temple in Kyoto

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Hiroshima Specialty

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Hiroshima Castle

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Deer at Miyajima Island

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My Favorite Shinto Shrine

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A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

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View from Tokyo Tower on Last Day

McDonald’s as a Registered Dietitian

People are funny when it comes to eating. Food is arguably the most important thing in life. Without food, there would be no sex, religion, culture, love, or even laughter. Do you remember the last time your hunger got to ridiculous levels? I can remember a time when my wife and I went on a hike in Maine; we got lost and were 6 hours deep into the mountains without any idea where we were. Christina was tired, sore, and on top of that she was ravenously hungry. It began to rain and immediately she transformed from a cute gizmo to a scary gremlin. Having to endure a hike with a starving Asian woman is something that few men have survived – if there was video of that day it would be a hybrid of the The Blair Witch Project and The Last Samurai. The only way I came out alive was realizing that our map was upside down and the car was only five minutes away. I floored it to the nearest grease pit and we indulged in every type of unhealthy food that side of the Appalachian.

I am a  Registered Dietitian and usually only eat meats, fruits, vegetables, and peanuts. After some years of giving out dietary advice, I have come to one big realization – people hate being told what to eat. Eating is a very personal thing and there is nothing worse then some emaciated dietitian telling you not to eat something. However, there is one major caveat to this truth. Society as a whole, believes it is fair game to degrade McDonald’s food, McDonald’s customers, and McDonald’s as a whole without one thought of wrong doing. This relentless bashing is so universal that it doesn’t matter if you are a skinny-vegan-white-woman or a fat-coreitarian-black-man. Everyone does it. Walk into a McDonald’s and even the fattest guy is rationalizing his choice, “I know McDonald’s is bad but they put additives in the food that make me buy 10 McChickens.” Everyone nods and begins rehearsing their own defense lines.

Here’s the thing; For the majority of Americans, McDonald’s is probably the healthier option compared to what is purchased at the grocery store. I judge people’s shopping carts and I can tell you they make McDonald’s look like a Panera Bread. Pop is usually hanging over the sides. The only vegetables are frozen potatoes. The staple foods consist of processed meat and processed carbs: bagged chips, cookies, frozen pizza, instant rice, boxed noodles. The carts get worse if there are kids tagging alongside- hovering like some parasitic fish on an obese shark. Kid foods are usually sugary and contain a bunch of weird colors that make everything look like the depressed Circus Circus in Las Vegas. I honestly think that kids are a “get out of healthy eating” free pass for adults; “Oh I buy Lucky Charms for little Susie but usually she only eats a little so I polish off the rest of the bowl when she isn’t looking.”

So what is my point in bashing everyone’s food? My point is to help everyone realize that the food you buy at the grocery store is often times worse then fast food. McDonald’s shouldn’t be the linchpin of all hate when it comes to unhealthy eating in America. McDonald’s is no different than any other burger establishment – they serve greasy food that people want and they should be frequented only on occasion. I say all these things because the unwarranted blaming of McDonald’s distracts us from the unhealthy foods that are eaten everywhere else. Is McDonald’s a saint? No. But, let’s understand that we need to clean up our eating at home before sending the clown to the gallows. I recently watched The Founder and was inspired by the amount McDonald’s has positively impacted American society: affordable food to the masses,  a safe place for kids to play,  a livelihood for many struggling workers; McDonald’s arguably is one of the biggest forces for democracy in the entire world. In the end, I write this blog to remind everybody that fast food has benefited us just as much as it has hurt us. What we need to realize is that our homes should be sanctuaries of healthy eating and not rationalizations for crappy food…”well at least these store bought french fries and chicken fingers are healthier than McDonalds’s.” Good luck on everyone’s New Year’s Resolutions.

Shenandoah: The Red-Headed-Step Child

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Two years ago on June 21st I married the love of my life. It was one of those days in which time both stood still and flew by-leaving a host of wonderful memories. Following our wedding day, we spent our honeymoon in Yosemite National Park. I thought it would be a excellent idea to camp the whole week-suffice it to say, do not camp on your honeymoon. After only two days, Christina was complaining about her back hurting and our sex life was in a state of drought worse than California. We ended up getting a hotel for the rest of the trip but still had a great time relaxing in nature. It is our goal to visit all 58 national parks in the United States so we decided to celebrate our two year anniversary with a vacation to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Shenandoah is the red-headed-step child of the national parks system. Essentially, city goers in Washington D.C. wanted a national park in the east similar to those found in the west like Yellowstone. The Blue Ridge Mountains were chosen because of their proximity, natural beauty, and the preexisting tourist development known as Skyland Resort. Skyland was a bohemian complex that sat on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains and was owned by George Pollock. Pollock pushed for Skyland and the area around it to become a National Park so he could get more business. Old Georgy got his wish but the National Park Service ended up disbanding his business after the park’s opening in 1935. Shenandoah’s odd history does not stop there. Since the 1600’s, the Blue Ridge Mountains had been settled and owned by all sorts of individuals-generations of families who worked the land. This area was host to complete American towns with churches, schools, and cemeteries. To make a long story short…these people were compensated for their land and told to leave the park. Some were relocated, some did not leave (their houses were eventually burnt down), and some sued the State of Virginia (they lost).

With that history in mind let’s get back to the anniversary trip. Forgetting the nightmares of camping in Yosemite, I thought it would be an excellent idea to camp in Shenandoah. We got to our campsite and commenced a four-hour long operation to get our site completely set up: pitched the Taj Mahal tent, assembled the stove, stacked firewood, sprayed copious amounts of bug spray, searched for the bathrooms, etc. At about 7 pm we collapsed on our cots exhausted and were ready to go to sleep when the sky turned completely black. I knew this was bad and before the thought could register the wind blew so hard that the tent collapsed on our resting heads. Christina jumped up like a chicken and we soon began an hour ordeal in which we were bracing the tent-spread eagle style-while lightening, thunder, pouring rain, and wind threatened to destroy our dwelling. The rain tarp partly flew off and rain began to drench our sleeping bags, clothes, and books that were on the floor. At about 8 pm it was decided that our camping trip was over. The storm began to wane and we jumped ship with all our wet belongings to the nearest hotel-a very sketchy Budget Inn.

The next day we heard on the news that the storm registered 50 lightening strikes per minute. We survived and ended up having an awesome vacation with a ton of beautiful hiking. The tally of nature that we saw was quite impressive: 5 bears including two cubs, four falcons, a snake, deer, centipedes, a host of fish, and a partridge in a pear tree. The highlight of the trip was a 9 mile hike up to Old Rag Mountain which required precarious rock scrambling and copious amounts of trail mix. In the end, Christina and I really enjoyed the adventure with all its twists and turns. Was it right to kick the people out to make the park? It’s a hard question to answer because the park benefits so many people and wildlife now that it is protected land. I have to say that I am glad it exists and hope to go back in the future when the leaves are changing colors in the fall.

 

Towering Trees to Tiny Ticks

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Christina and I just returned from our first camping trip of Summer 2016. We ventured to Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, Michigan. This park is home to 49 acres of old growth pines which are the last of their kind in the state. White pine was extremely common in Michigan prior to European settlement. However, in the nineteenth century the logging industry ravaged the forests of Michigan and cut down almost all of the white pines. Hartwick Pines was donated by Karen Michelson Hartwick in 1927 and there was originally 85 acres of old growth forest until 1940 when a fierce windstorm destroyed half of the pines. White pine is the state tree of Michigan and they are quite majestic when seen up close. There was a great walking trail in the old growth forest and several hiking trails throughout the entire 9,672 acre expanse. The old trees are very delicate and white pine eventually become susceptible to damage because of their relatively thin trunk to height ratio. Some of the trees in the 40 acres are over 400 years old and the grove was believed to have germinated after a fire in the 1600s.

Being out in nature is extremely relaxing when you are comfortable and properly prepared. Unfortunately, Christina and I found 8 ticks on us after hiking an old railroad trail that had a fair share of grassy areas. Ticks freak me out and Christina was ready to get airlifted out of the campground after picking off that many ticks. Ticks are the creepiest bugs because they can linger on you for hours without you ever knowing it. Thankfully, none were lodged into our skin and I think we are in the clear with Lyme’s Disease risk. After this tick fiasco I am purchasing clothes that are treated with Permethrin which is a safe and highly effective tick repellent that stays in your clothes for up to 70 washes. You can buy these clothes at insectshield.com. Besides the creepy tick scare, the weekend was an amazing mixture of relaxation, learning, and nature loving. I am currently reading a lot of Paulo Coehlo fiction and books on Shenadoah National Park for our next camping trip in June. Get outside and be with nature…make sue to bring some bugspray.

The Hike of a Lifetime

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

-John Muir

One of the top things on my bucket list is to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT is 2,200 miles and stretches from Georgia all the way to Maine. The trail was completed in 1937 and is maintained by hundreds of volunteer clubs. Each year, over 2 million people hike the trail at least 0ne day and over 2,400 complete a thru-hike of the 2,200 miles. A thru-hike is extremely difficult-those who attempt this endeavor take an average of 6 months to complete the expanse and 75% will fail in their pursuit. If you can’t get 6 months off from work then there is the option of section hiking the AT-this officially counts as completing the entire trail and can be completed over a lifetime. My goal is to section hike the trail over a 3 year period. I think one-month stretches twice a year during the best times for hiking would make the trip much more enjoyable. My ultimate goal is to hike the AT along with the Continental Divide Trail (3,100) which runs through the Rockies and the Pacific Crest Trail (2,600 miles) which runs through the west coast.

So the question is why would anyone want to hike over 8,000 miles of wilderness? What is the point? It is a hard question to answer because in a sense it requires one to describe an instinctual urge. I feel better in the woods. I feel more happiness in the woods. I feel alive in the woods. The woods bring me into nature in the most intense way because they encompass every sense: the sight of trees, the songs of birds, the smell of fresh air, the texture of trail beneath my feet. In addition to the surrounding nature, the act of hiking is the most relaxing and pleasant activity. Hiking is the foundation of mankind’s physical prowess. We walked across continents and spread throughout the entire world with our ability to hike. When I’m hiking in the woods my mind is in a proverbial hot tub of relaxation. Moving through the woods tangibly connects me to the earth and to the ancestral urge to explore. Contrast all these feelings with the unnatural state of everyday life: driving in a climate controlled vehicle, staring into a computer screen, shopping at Walmart, watching TV commercials, etc.

I think most of you who are reading this agree with me about the awesomeness of hiking. However, I still haven’t justified why I want to hike 2,200+ miles while carrying a backpack and sleeping in a tent. Backpacking is a humbling experience because you can only carry so much stuff and what stuff you do pack becomes quite heavy overtime. It is the antithesis of our consumer culture where we accumulate tons of stuff but never really feel the environmental impact of our consumption. This antithesis attracts me to backpacking and my minimalist lifestyle delights in carrying only the most essential. So what is the point of hiking all those miles? The point for me is to push myself and see what I am capable of. God has blessed me with great health and I want to utilize those blessings to the fullest. This logic runs parallel to my proclivities for reading and writing-I don’t want my talents to be wasted so I regularly do both of them. We all have goals but unfortunately many of them are misaligned. I want to get a promotion. I want a new car. I want an extra 20,000 a year in salary. I want a remodeled kitchen. I want bigger biceps. Humans need goals and we like to conquer those goals. That is why I want to hike all these miles. It is a challenge that brings me closest to my naturally aligned physical and mental state. What do you think? Would you like to join me?

The Asthmatic Boy who Became the Unstoppable Man Part 2

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Theodore Roosevelt is by far my favorite president. He lived an extraordinary life that in many ways transformed the world we live in today. Do you like National Parks? Thank Teddy. Do you like Wall Street regulations? Thank Teddy. Do you like food that is safe to eat? Thank Teddy. Do you like Teddy Bears? Thank Teddy. His accomplishments while in office were extensive and to completely understand his political mastery you should read Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris. I honestly did not know much about Teddy’s political accomplishments before reading this book. In high school, we were taught that he carried a big stick and was a imperialistic bully. That caricature is quite inaccurate and not even close to his level-headed-fair demeanor in domestic and foreign affairs.

William McKinley was assassinated in September 1901 which transferred the head office to Vice President Roosevelt. The funny thing was, none of the big business men wanted Roosevelt to be president and that is why he was given the worthless position of Vice President. They were afraid that he couldn’t be bought and that their extensive monopolies would be attacked. Roosevelt was not anti-industry but rather respected the need to give laborers more rights to maintain social order and the need to prevent monopolies from controlling prices. During his two terms, Teddy negotiated the end of a major coal strike, brought 40 anti-trust suits to court, broke up the biggest monopoly in the world-Standard Oil, negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese War, won the biggest popular vote landslide in 1904, established 5 national parks, purchased the land for the Panama Canal, proclaimed 18 national monuments, protected 150 National Forests, pushed Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act, hosted the first black man for dinner in the White House, defended the Monroe Doctrine in Venezuala, and won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was able to accomplish all these things because he knew how work the media and befriend almost anyone he met. The “big stick bully” is not how he carried himself; when it came to decision making he took his time and always thought about every outcome with the highest degree of civility.

I really admire Teddy not only for his political accomplishments but his life outside the office. He was immune to discomfort and would be outdoors whenever possible-regardless of the conditions. Nature was his first love and he traveled throughout the US during his two terms hunting, camping, exploring, and vigorously exercising. Along with his love of the outdoors, he was an avid reader who could sit for hours immersed in books of all subjects. He could out smart, out hike, and out eat almost any man he encountered. Teddy’s life is an inspiration for my own life and sadly I am no where close to his manliness levels. I watch a lot of TV, I don’t like to go out in the rain, I need a noise-maker to sleep, I waste time online, and I hike with a walking stick to fend off small dogs. I strive to be more adventurous, more erudite, and more compromising like Teddy and I know it will take me a lifetime. My biggest obstacle to being more like my favorite president is TV; my goal is to watch less so that I can read more and spend  more time outdoors. Small steps must be taken to stand on the great shoulders of Theodore Roosevelt.

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
-Theodore Roosevelt

 

Small Steps = Big Success

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.

-Jim Rohn

What is the key to accomplishing all your goals in life? It is simple, small steps repeated day in and day out leads to success. Whatever you wish to accomplish can be achieved by just small actions on a regular basis. Think about your goal. Is it to lose weight? Become stronger? Write more? Master the guitar? Learn something knew? Be more social? Be less material? Whatever the goal, there are usually things we do to set ourselves up for failure. Below are the top 3 reasons we fail at our goals.

  1. Wrong motivation: We take up a goal not for the betterment of ourselves but for bettering people’s image of ourselves. The motivation should come from intrinsic desires not extrinsic. Ask yourself this one question: Would I still pursue this goal if no one but me could see/acknowledge its completion? For example, would you still want to hike the Appalachian Trail if you had to keep it a secret for the rest of your life?
  2. Too grandiose: Do you have a weird pear shape and think that you can workout enough to look like a celebrity? Are you extremely introverted and want to have 20 close friends? Sometimes we need to be realistic with our goals and not set the bar too high. It is always good to better ourselves but don’t forget that we are all unique and do not possess all the same abilities and talents. The perfect goal is one that pushes us enough to progress and shoot for the stars that are realistically within our reach.
  3. Too impatient: It is easy for us to expect results from our goals immediately. I remember picking up weights for the first time and after a week wondering why I didn’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Make intermittent-measurable steps for your goals so that small wins can snowball into big victories overtime. There is a reason why most people are overweight-uneducated-couch potatoes; it is easy. Bettering yourself is hard and it takes a crap ton of time. Don’t expect quick results, look at all your goals as marathons-not sprints.

So what are your goals? Did you make some goals back in January that are currently gathering dust? Whatever you wish to accomplish try these three steps.

  1. Spend at least 30 minutes a day towards your goal.
  2. Write your goal down and place it somewhere you and others can read it.
  3. Make a small event that can measure your progress

So what does this look like? I am trying to play my guitar again and it is not easy. I love  it when I have mastered a song but the process of learning chords and notes is painful. Hence, I have made the goal of playing at least 30 minutes a day, writing down the song I am currently learning, and setting a date for recording it on my video camera. I am far from perfect in achieving my goals but writing about them helps me and will hopefully help you also.