Posted by: lessonsfromadog | March 24, 2012

Small Things

My high school year book, like every other year book in America, had a section for a quote.  Mine was “If you’re going to do something, do it all the way”.  Very often I have tried to live my life this way.  When I have a job I give it everything I have. When I work out I try to turn it into a three hour torture session.  I wanted to be a climbing bum, and I lived out of my car in Seattle, getting to the mountains every chance I could.  I did it all the way.

Age changes your perspective.

As I venture further into living a more holistic life, I am learning that it isn’t about going all out and having an all or nothing approach.  I can make small changes.  As I become more educated the 20-something in me wants to jump out and live off the grid, start my own farm and live self-sustainably.  There is a side of the 30-something Justin that brings in reality.  I also suspect my lovely fiancee Kim helps develop the current me.

I have been buying almost exclusively organic foods for the past month or so.  On the surface this seems like a great thing. There are fewer pesticides in the environment, no fertilizer runoff in our rivers, and the food is healthier.  As I delve deeper into the organic, however, I realize that much of the food I am buying is grown on large mono-cultures that are shipped across the country or even from out of country.  I get to feel good, but I also know better.  The gas used to ship my food here isn’t helping the environment, and the large tracts of land dedicated to my organic food lay next to the fields of non-organic food.  None of the food I have been buying at the supermarket comes from an idyllic farm, with mom and pop whistling as my strawberries are picked.  Realistically they are being picked by migrant workers who are also harvesting the fields next door owned by the same company that gives me a choice between organic and non-organic.  Either way I go, I am helping the bottom line of a large corporation.

Having this knowledge can be a bit depressing.  What is the point? Why am I spending more? Well, what I am doing is still making a small difference.  I am reducing the amount of pesticides and fertilizer used.  I am putting healthier foods into my body.  I am really doing more.  By consistently and consciously choosing to buy this food, I am ingraining a way of eating.  I am seeing healthful benefits, and it motivates me to do just a little more.  I will continue to buy from the mono-cultures for the next few months, eating the same foods I am used to but in a more healthful fashion.  Then I will take my next small step.  Kim and I have decided to sign up for a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, this summer.

A CSA is a way to support local farmers in the early part of the farming season, before the profits begin to be realized during the harvest time.  For me, it is a way to guarantee (natural issues like drought aside) that I will have fresh, local, sustainable produce all summer and into the fall.  I can visit the farmers early on, and even go work on the farm myself.  No, I can’t reasonably start my own farm, but I can still get my hands dirty!  I can ensure that the farming conditions are what I imagine them to be, rather than be swayed by the images the grocery store tries to sell me.

I am also going to take what I learn from talking to farmers and try to grow some of my own vegetables.  As I write there are herbs for cooking growing in my kitchen.  I know I can’t go all the way, but I can take one small step at a time.  Every week I try to find a new recipe to make, or learn a little bit more about sustainable living.  I am nowhere near an ideal holistic life, but one small thing at a time brings me closer.

Try to think of one small thing you can do.  Is it stopping the use of plastic bags from the grocery store? Is it only eating meat that you have killed? (I know of some successful Maine hunters who I suspect have plenty of bird and moose meat in their freezer!) Try to think of just one small thing you can do this month and next.  Take an hour out of your week to learn a little bit more.  See where that first step can bring you in a year. If nothing else you can pat yourself on the back for doing a little more, and that’s nothing to feel guilty about. Enjoy it.

Posted by: lessonsfromadog | March 13, 2012

Run Like a Dog

I’ve seen the tee shirts and bumper stickers that proclaim this, and I always thought they were cute.  I have even watched Annie running with abandon as we go through the fields near my house and while we do our joint trail running on nearby trails.  Today, however, I really saw her.  It was beautiful to see, no matter where she went it was always as fast as she could go.  Sprint. Stop. Sprint. Stop. Look back. Sprint to me. Sprint by me. She has no leisurely pace, she doesn’t seem to remember being in the same places as before. For her this is all new, every time.

Imagine. Can you imagine what it would be like to have each place you encounter seem like the first time ever? Can you imagine seeing the world through the eyes of a dog, sprinting because it is all so exciting?  We sprint ourselves, every day.  This morning I rushed to go to work (on my day off) so I could take care of a little bit of paperwork.  I rushed home so I could grab my backpack and hit the trail with Annie, mostly in the hope to get a little exercise.  We rush here and there, but it’s not for the same reason Annie was sprinting around today.  The road to and from work, the grocery store, our children’s school is not new.  Most of us don’t even notice it, yet we might do these same routes five or more times per week.

I realized that her sprinting isn’t just to burn off energy, though she does need to do that, but it was because she was experiencing something new all over again.  That is when I decided to run like a dog, but in my own way.  I slowed down and really looked at the path I was hiking.  I noticed the minute buds forming on young tree branches.  I saw small plants just starting to emerge from the soil along the trail edges.  I saw how the mud left deep paw prints of where Annie had gone.  The boulders along the trail had some perfectly cleaved cracks, revealing the jagged crystalline structure within that had succumbed to the strains of decades of weather.  The outer surface was covered in lichen that survived the mild winter, living off miniscule particles of I don’t know what.  I watched Annie, and she showed me a world I had forgotten.

It is truly amazing what makes our natural world exist.  I started to not only look at what was around me but began to make the connections.  All over the forest floor was a dense carpet of leaves.  Underneath the leaves I could see was decomposing leaves, enriching the soil, giving nutrients to the plants I saw beginning to sprout up.  I saw nurse logs, trees that had long ago fallen over and were in the perfect state of decay that allowed other plants to take root here and grow.  The systems in nature have an innate way of taking care of the system, making the world exist with a rich diversity.  It is really mind-boggling to think of how each small part of nature is connected to each other.

This connectedness is something that we as humans need.  There is a reason stores like Eastern Mountain Sports do as well as they do.  In our increasingly urban world, we need to feel a connection to nature.  We crave the fresh air and peacefulness promised in nature.  We try to mimic it in our daily lives, buying candles that smell like pine trees, or mountain scented deodorant, whatever a mountain smells like.  There are commercials from Subaru that show people exploring the great outdoors, and we reserve campgrounds all summer long, just to get away from the “hustle and bustle”.  While there is no true substitution for time spent in nature, far removed from our daily lives, (even the small trails near my home don’t compare) we can all try to run like a dog.  Try to experience something new all over again.  Really slow down and experience it, and find the joy in whatever it is you are doing.  Even if the joy is just in cutting up vegetables for a salad, or cooking a chicken on the grill, slow down and experience all the bumps and natural imperfections of that carrot, or watch the sizzle and spattering as the chicken fat drips down the ever browning skin of the poultry you will soon enjoy.  Think of how each moment is exciting, and how as much as we might predict, we never know what will happen next.  Annie showed me how to do that today, and I hope her revelations will help you enjoy even just a small moment today.


Posted by: lessonsfromadog | March 5, 2012

Deep Thoughts on a Ski Lift

Despite the fact that today is March 5th, I have not been out skiing once this winter.  As anyone living in the Northeast knows, winter has been a tad more forgiving than usual.  This is great for many, but kind of rough on those of us who really enjoy playing in the snow.  Last week I was out trail running in shorts and a long sleeve shirt with Annie. Then Thursday hit with almost a foot of snow. I had to work everyday since then, but decided to head up today.  Annie was dropped off at daycare, and I was off to the mountain.

I enjoy telemark skiing, which is essentially doing nothing but lunge after lunge down the mountain with 186cm sticks attached to my feet.  If I fall, my skis stay with me, possibly hurting my already arthritic knees even more.  No one has accused me of being smart.  I had never been to Pat’s Peak before, and due to the close proximity to Exeter decided to give it a try.  In terms of destination skiing it’s nothing to write home about. It is certainly a family resort, the place to bring your 4 year old to teach them how to properly slide down a hill.  Being such, the chairlifts move a bit more slowly, and the runs aren’t that long.  It took about 8 minutes to go up, and about 4 minutes to come back down.  I had a lot of time to think.

Much of my thoughts have been revolving around the idea of holistic and what that really means.  I think that the image that flashes into people’s minds are of granola eating Vermonters (sorry Aunt Linda) or of a trendy New Yorker stuck full of needles by an acupuncturist.  While I do think holistic health and medicine play a large part of a holistic lifestyle, I also am trying to think of something even more.  As I was riding up the lift, my thighs recovering from the burn of an hour’s worth of lunges, I began to tally up the receipts I had accumulated for the day.  $46 for a lift ticket, $26 for Annie’s puppy day care, and $34.55 for a full tank of gas. (It was only a little below half a tank).  That put me up to $106.55 for what would amount to three hours worth of outdoor fun.  Wow.  Really, wow.  I thought of the money I was burning through so quickly, and the week and a half remaining until next payday.

Burning through money.  That phrase popped into my head without much thought, but then it struck me as odd.  Here I was, enjoying the outdoors, hoping to get some exercise and burn some calories.  I was certainly accomplishing this, but I was also burning through money.  I have placed a big emphasis on physical fitness, but now I thought of the money being spent and my fiscal fitness.  What kind of financial metabolism do I have?  Do I spend money quickly, or do I have a tendency to store it?  What does this say about me?  What the heck is this blog post getting at?

I began to realize that the holistic lifestyle I am trying to achieve needs to extend not to just my diet and exercise habits, but to my WHOLE life.  This is really what holistic is all about.  What about the carbon footprint I left getting to this ski hill?  What about the energy used  to whisk me (sort of) up the mountain?  I can only imagine the calories burned by the generator lifting me uphill.  I’m sure it was much higher than the calories I used coming back down.  I am not going to pretend to have all the answers, and I know I won’t be making drastic sweeping changes today, but I do think that even just thinking about it is a step in the right direction.  Maybe we can all do the same, and change just one little thing.  I did save a little by bringing my lunch to the mountain with me.  Is that enough to offset the $106.55 I spent. No. But if I bring my lunch everyday I can save money, over $2000 over the course of a year, assuming I spend $8/day on lunch, which is very easy to do.  I’m not going to be perfect, but I will try my best to make this one change.  What are you willing to change in your life?

Recipe of the week:  Portabella Mushroom Burger with Sweet Potato fries.

Ingredients:Organic Portabella Mushroom Cap; Organic Avocado;3-6 cloves Organic Garlic: Organic Tomato; 1/3 cup Organic Yogurt; Organic Onion; Organic Sweet Potato; Maine Sea Salt: Pepper; Olive Oil; Organic Bun or bread (Organic is of course optional)

Cut up a sweet potato into french fry size pieces.  Place in large bowl with enough olive oil to lightly coat fries, a pinch of salt and pepper, and shake with cover.  Coat fries evenly in mixture.  Place on pan in oven at 400F for about 20 minutes.

Spread a little olive oil on 1/2″ thick onion slices, place on grill or in frying pan. Cook until tender (or slightly blackened if you prefer)

Spread a little olive oil on mushroom caps, grill 4-5 minutes per sided.

Cut avocado and tomato in half.  Puree half tomato in blender.

Mix half avocado with with 1/3 cup of yogurt, crushed garlic cloves, and tomato puree.  Stir and mash with fork until you have a creamy consistency.

When the mushroom is finished cooking, place on bun with underside of cap facing up.  Fill this area with avocado mixture, then top with an avocado and tomato slice.  Take the fries out of the oven, pair with burger, Peak organic nut ale, and enjoy!  (Kim really liked dipping her fries into the leftover avocado mix)

Mixture serves 2-4, just add mushrooms.  1 potato is great for 2-3 people.  Invite some friends over for burgers and game night tonight!

Posted by: lessonsfromadog | March 2, 2012

Annie! A dog I trained who taught me more…

The inspiration for it all

Hello!  I am the proud owner of a 10 month old Brittany puppy.  She is a wonderful dog who makes me smile each day I return from work, and who demands only that I feed her and let her out about ten times an hour.  Of course this last part is easily remedied if I take her out for a day on the town, or at least a few hours on the acreage near my home.

Recently I have made a very conscious effort to improve my life.  Like many Americans,  I have a few more pounds than I should and am trying to rectify this situation.  I have been running and I have been trying to eat better.  I have been back and forth for years in my eating habits. I know that I should eat better to keep me fit, but not until I got Annie did I realize exactly how important nutrition is.

I work for a specialty pet retailer, and several of my co-workers are advocates of a raw diet for pets.  I wanted to give my new pup the best possible food, so I decided to research the pros and cons of feeding raw.  I liked what I saw, but I didn’t try it right away.  I went through a bag of premium puppy kibble first, but the results weren’t as firmly positive as I had hoped.  After a few months of the kibble I decided to give raw a go, and wow!  Her stools immediately firmed up nicely.  As a puppy owner you tend to become a bit poop obsessed as it is the best way to see how the nutrition is going.  Raw suited this little girl nicely and she has been on it ever since.

Now I have been feeding her raw for about six months now, and it took nearly that long for me to smarten up.  Of course if she is getting nutrients that are more easily digested then her system doesn’t have to work as hard.  Her stools are firm because the bio-availability of the nutrients is massive.  She doesn’t need to have her system filter through a bunch of extra ingredients necessary to turn meat and fruit into brown pieces of hard kibble.  If this makes sense for her, then of course it makes sense for me!

I have begun to look into food more in depth, reading up on organic, vegan, vegetarian, and as Michael Pollan put it the dilemna of the omnivore.  I have taken the first steps toward going organic.  I choose to eat meat still, but I am trying to incorporate fish that I catch wild, as well as eating birds taken by me during hunting season.  I am fortunate to have a brother-in-law who hunts and readily shares his venison.  I hope to eat more “clean meat” while eating a diet high in organic fruits and vegetables.  Please join me as I take this journey, sharing my experiences and knowledge gained through research and trial and error.  I will be trying to grow some of my own herbs and food, playing with new recipes and meal preparations, and hopefully educating and entertaining a few people along the way.