Max, our pea-brain chihuahua, has been a member of our family for almost two months now. I wrote about Max in a earlier post and since then our friendship has grown significantly. Initially, I saw our friendship as one sided-being that I fed and loved the dog on a regularly basis. But over time, Max has returned the favor by teaching me a key life lesson-contentment. It is hard to be content in this world that always tells us we need “more.” Max has a very simple life and for all intents and purposes seems quite happy. He is either in a complete state of relaxation on the couch or in a complete state of ecstasy while eating-especially when its tortilla chips. From my observations he never thinks about anything except what is happening right in the present moment. If he is on the couch, he owns that couch. If he is on a walk, he doesn’t even know the couch exists. Max is a master at being present. Now, this may be because his tiny brain can’t handle too much thought but nevertheless it is a skill that I am learning from my new friend. At any given moment I am trying to get somewhere, do something, or thinking about the future. It is rare that I am actually a witness of the present and fully taking in my surroundings.
When Max eats a tortilla chip, his one neuron must be overwhelmed by all its intricate details-the saltiness, the crunchiness, the deliciousness, the sheer heaven that is fried corn. When I eat a tortilla chip I usually am not thinking about the chip but rather how fat I will feel after eating the whole bag and whether it is weird to be eating them while taking a shower. When Max goes on walks it is like he is running through a field filled with magical grass and hypnotic trees. When I take a walk, I am thinking about tomorrow’s schedule and questioning whether or not I had pooped that day. My point being, Max is content and I am not. If I were content I would take in each moment and not feel the need to have “more.” I wouldn’t be constantly worrying about the future or trying to upgrade my material possessions. I would be happier and more at peace because all I would need would be the present moment. The next time you eat a tortilla chip, try not to think about anything else, use your “Chihuahua Super Powers” of thoughtlessness. Take a bite and see how much better it tastes. It may be the first time that you have ever consciously tasted something. Who would have thought that my dog, who I thought would never teach me anything, is now helping me see the world in a better way? Thanks Max for your limited mental capabilities, they are helping me to find greater contentment.
At this very moment my stomach feels so fat that it is currently protruding onto my keyboard and obstructing the right-click button. This is a major problem because I am a Registered Dietitian and there are levels of fluffiness which cannot be surpassed. My recent weight gain is a result of my family vacation to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Oldham family vacations are not the type of trips where one lays by a pool and relaxes. No, the Oldham family vacation is more like a marathon where volunteers hand out ice cream cones instead of cups of water. We are all healthy people when not on vacation but we tend to go about our trips as if we were all possessed by some carb demon. From the beginning, bags of chips, cookies, granola bars (not the healthy type), and chocolate populate the car on the 8 hour road trip. We did not eat when we were hungry but rather when we solely glanced over at the carb bag-the temptress entangling us in a dance of seduction that always ended in a lust for more.
Upon our arrival to Minneapolis, we went to the grocery store to gather our precious food for the week. Normally, when I go to the grocery store, my cart is filled with fruit, vegetables, and meat; on the Oldham vacation a cart like this would be promptly doused in lighter fluid and set on fire. The vacation cart is only filled with the most precious carbs that are unthinkable for consumption at other times in the year: double stuffed oreos, Cheetos, Doritos, gallons of ice cream, biscuits, donuts, potato chips, pizza [insert favorite carb]. We get enough food for two weeks but somehow find ourselves back at the grocery store only a couple days later for another hit of the good stuff. Purchasing food at the grocery store is not enough for the Oldhams-we require carbs from all sources. After purchasing the groceries, we headed to a famous ice cream store which serves enormous portions. I decided to order the biggest portion and was presented with a gallon sized bowl of ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with whipped cream-my father and wife circling me like vultures over a dead wildebeest.
This obsession with eating continued throughout the week with an equal obsession with bike riding/walking. You might think that bike riding and walking at least offset some of the eating. Wrong! We biked 15 miles each day, to the point that it hurt to fart, and yet we still couldn’t suck in our stomachs. I walked around the Mall of America for six hours, to the point that I needed a fricking scooter, and yet stretchy pants still felt tight. Each day I though that I couldn’t go on, that I had to go back to my normal diet. Each day I tried to refrain but it was as if I would black out and find myself eating cereal out of a Tupperware container or savoring Chips Ahoy while taking a shower. My low point came on the last day. The last meal. The final countdown. We ate at Olive Garden and then immediately went to get ice cream. After the ice cream I said that my vacation was over and I was finally ready to eat healthy again. One hour later…I must have blacked out again because I found myself in the kitchen eating two microwaved hot dogs sandwiched between a hamburger bun. Do I regret some decisions over the past week? Yes. Did I have an awesome vacation that will be with me in memory and waist line forever? Yes. Am I looking forward to next year’s vacation? Let’s just say i’m already mapping out the ice cream shops.
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.
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?