August Nap

This blog brings me a lot of happiness but I feel the need for a little vacation. For the month of August, I will be taking a break from posting and I will be back after Labor Day. This break coincides with a trip I am taking to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park. Pictures will come in September – especially me getting a selfie with Teddy Roosevelt’s granite head. I am still working diligently on my larger writing projects: Tackle the Library – Indian Independence and my novel American Chestnut. Take a siesta this August and refresh yourself for the fall. I always thought Labor Day should be the official start of the new year.  See you in a few weeks.

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I Hate February

I hate February. February in Michigan is an entire month of dirty black snow piled in the parking lot of Walmart- jamming shopping cart movements and soaking unsuspecting tennis shoes. February, in Old English, use to be known as “Mud Month” and I swear I read somewhere that Native Americans used to call it “Month of Hunger.” February’s only redeeming quality is that it is 28 days long and it doesn’t drag on like January. Sure February has Black History Month and Valentine’s Day but we should honestly move both those events to March which holds more hope and positivity with the advent of spring. My Mom always chirps in when I get sulky over Michigan winters…You know the winter makes you appreciate summer more!” This Michigander philosophy should be the state’s official motto.

Pure Michigan – You Need Brown Snow to have a Summer Glow

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When my Mom says things like this I smile a little because deep down I know it’s 100% true. Once you get used to the seasons there is no going back. I think the change of weather is vital to human health. Have you ever lived in a place where it was the same weather all year round? I have and it destroyed my sense of time and space. Of course, people that live in those areas say it is fine but they don’t know what they are missing. The first legitimate day of spring after a terrible winter feels like a 24-hour orgasm; stepping outside into the sunlight and not having to wear ten layers of clothes is like walking out of a prison sentence. We are designed for contrast and a little masochism.

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The worst thing for our mental and spiritual health is monotony. We need regular changes in stimulus and to look away from the proverbial “white wall” of our daily life. Try to inject various changes into your routine so that dullness and depression don’t creep into your existence. Take a vacation. Go on a day trip. Read a new book. See a play. Go workout. Try some new food. Call up an old friend. Take a walk in the cold.  Spend a day without electronics. Say hi to a stranger. Write a blog post about February. Just try to remember that contrast is the key ingredient to life and without Winter we would never have Summer. I am at the tail end and my own “white wall” in respects to researching Plato for my next installment of Tackle the Library. So in honor of change and contrast, below is a list of all the new books I will be reading starting March 12th. This is a jumbled list of classics and some non-fiction – it doesn’t include six audiobooks which I am still picking out.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
The Anatomy of Story 
by John Truby
African Game Trails 
by Theodore Roosevelt
Maigret and the Ghost 
by Georges Simenon
The Pickwick Papers 
by Charles Dickens
All Quiet on
 the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Confessions of an English Opium Eater 
by De Quincy
The 39 Steps 
by John Buchan
The Subterraneans 
by Jack Kerouac
Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga 
by Hunter Thompson
Monsieur Monde Vanishes 
by Georges Simenon
The Moonstone 
by Wilkie Collins
Junky: The Definitive Text of “Junk” 
by William Burroughs
Another Country 
by James Baldwin

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The end of February also marks the completion of my Novella titled “We’re all Chihuahuas” which will be available in early March. I do hate February but at least the brown snow is good for getting work done. Think of some projects for yourself and start some new goals for spring. Don’t be stagnant and don’t waste your precious gift of life. February is almost over and I can see the sunlight peeking out of the clouds as I write this last sentence.

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

Vacation of Carbs

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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.

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.