23 January 2011

Decluttering, Cortisol, And A Glance Back

As I mentioned in the last post, I've been on the road a lot lately. Back at work now, my To Do list is steadily growing and my time off has only exacerbated the situation. My stress level at work now is very high and shows no immediate backing down. Looking at my desk, my inbox, and my To Do list, they are all filled and rather cluttered, giving me a feeling of being unorganized and rather lost. I know from past experience that when I am decluttered and organized my stress level is low and I am more focused. I also know this stress is releasing cortisol and doing so chronically. (Check out Mark's take on cortisol)

It seems that periodically as my priorities change or I am off on some adventure that I return to find my life rather cluttered with debris from old priorities or old adventures. Striving to reduce and remove these occurrences has become a priority. Stress levels stay low when my desk, my home, my life are clean and organized. I sleep better, I feel better, and I can then devote more time to the dogs or with friends. In my house I have been going through each room, keeping only the essentials, and donating, selling or trashing the rest. Having tackled every room save the attic, when I find time over the weekend I go through box after box, mostly filled with past, quasi-sentimental items. With each trip to the nearby shelter or each dump run, I feel more free. Each item out of the house means one less thing to worry about.

Periodically I will come across something that rather defined my past. Having found the Paleo/Primal lifestyle and vastly improved health and fitness, typically when I look back it is with the hope I never go back there. Be it the large or extra-large t-shirts to the countless video game CDs, I am quite happy to part with these items of my past sedentary life. One thing I found recently really stood out to me:

204 SoBe Bottle Caps

Back in the last few years of high school and the first few years of college I drank soda and ate fast food regularly. My drink of choice was the SoBe Orange Carrot Elixir. Finding these bottle caps that I had collected for their unique sayings underneath each made it plainly clear why I gained so much weight during that time. The estimated grams of sugar for each bottle is 57.5. Time two hundred and four bottles is 11,730 grams (25.86 lbs) of sugar, not to mention hundreds of dollars. I am surprised I did not get Type II diabetes. I probably came close:

So this process of decluttering my current life, besides reducing stress and freeing me of material items, gives a feeling of empowerment. I am glad I made these changes I did and I look forward to the life I will lead and the person I will become. It was through the Paleo/Primal lifestyle I learned the difference between surviving and thriving.

18 January 2011

Experiences and Thoughts On The Road

In the past 30 days, the hounds and I have been on the road for over two weeks. I have found traveling to be quite exciting and love visiting friends and meeting new people. If a friend has a couch and the ability to have two large dogs in their home there is a very good chance I'll come to visit. I like to double or even triple book myself when I go to visit someone so that I have countless things to do and if an event doesn't work out I can jump to the next without blinking. The adventure will go on!

The latest trip has taken me to New York City where I got to meet several people in the NYC Paleo scene. I went to an Art De Vany book signing event and got to meet him and Robb Wolf. Being a fan of Robb's podcast, I got him to say "Holy Katz!" and I explained that I had driven up from Maryland and that his unexpected appearance made the night. It was nice being around so many like-minded people. Being my first time navigating the NYC subway and doing it solo, I found the overall trip into the city extremely satisfying. Taking in the sights and sounds, the overall buzz of the people, a part of me now wants to try big city life. I wonder if I could make it work, move with the dogs, and would the three of us be happy living in such an urbanized area.

Art De Vany

Robb Wolf

The Paleohund Pack in Long Beach, NY
I failed to stay Paleo during this last trip. When I am offered a trip to the best burger joint in Long Island, I take it. The times I do best eating Paleo on the road is when I pack prepared meals, rather than eat out along the way. Unfortunately I have to complete for space in the cooler with the dog's food and do not always like my food sitting with raw meat. However when I approach feeding myself like I do my dogs, I do not fail. 

Getting back to my normal routine does not always go smoothly when our sleep schedules are off and I have a bunch of things to do around the house. But even the most intensive travel experiences refresh in their own way. Seeing old friends, letting loose, and deviating from the norm are all parts of my life that I will refuse to part with.

11 January 2011

Hunted, Roasted Rabbit

Sunday morning I drove to my good friend Bob’s farm. The temperature was in the low 20s with a decent wind. After taking some practice shots with the 12 and 20 gauge shotguns we went off to hunt rabbits. Although I was gung-ho about hunting I had a few reservations. First, the shotguns were very simple and had no safety switch. Second, I had never hunted, or shot rather, moving on foot in a group. Ultimately I did not want to pull a Dick Cheney.

I walked into the field with enough shells in my pocket to wipe out several generations of rabbits or take over a small country, whichever came first. Not having dogs, we beat through the brush ourselves. Bob periodically warned me we may not actually see anything. I would respond that I realized that a part of the hunt involves locating the prey. Hell, I was completely satisfied braving the elements, tramping through brush with a gun in hand. I can see the benefit of having a dog root out the rabbits for you. Besides not having to walk through brush and the dog having a heightened sense of smell, it gives the hunter more resources that can be devoted to having the gun ready to shoot.

About halfway through our walk we saw our first rabbit. Neither of us had a good shot at it so it got away. It was the largest wild rabbit either of us had seen. We did our best to track the prints in the snow, but to no avail. Not long after that we had another rabbit appear and that one did not get away. I managed a nice, clean head shot and was quite impressed with myself.

Straight out of Fargo
We hunted longer but saw nothing else. With the wind biting at that point, we grabbed our kill and went back to the house.

Butcher's Board
Bob’s father was very kind and did the gutting and skinning for me. This is something I have full intentions of learning, I just did not want to rough up the only rabbit. We went off to wash the final product and came back to the barn cats having a feast with the entrails. Luckily I had already saved the heart and liver for myself!

Waste Not
Once home I further washed any hair off, wrapped it in bacon and roasted. I expected the taste to be gamier, but it turned out to be rather mild and quite delectable. I think next time, hoping there will be a next time, I will try a stew. I must admit that there is something uniquely satisfying about killing and cooking your own food.

Heart and liver fried in bacon fat = Amazing!

08 January 2011

Unleashed Thoughts

When I looked outside this morning and saw the snow falling the first thought to cross my mind was a question I get asked quite frequently: How do you train your dogs to behave so well off leash?

It is during poor weather that I would do all my off-leash training, so watching the snow fall makes me want to grab the dogs and head for a park. There are a few parks in the county that I live and I would run the trails of each while training for ultras. I realized that as the weather got worse, I would see far less people and the ones that came did not stay nearly as long. It was these moments I started letting Shaman run free. It was those first experiences of running with him unrestrained, the entire park to ourselves, that I got hooked. From the raw excitement exuding out of the dog to the transcendental and primal feeling I felt, trail running was forever changed for me. It was also these running experiences that solidified the bond and the trust I have with my dogs.

Our runs have taken us to some beautiful places.

Being off-leash requires trust.

I realize not everyone has the ability or is ready to run with a dog under only voice control. I am going to put together a basic guide to help people achieve this.

05 January 2011

A Fasted Perspective on Hunting

Yesterday I had a breakfast that included 5 eggs, a thick strip of bacon, and beef liver. A few hours later I ate approximately ½# of ground beef I had cooked from the night before. I ate everything in a 3 hour window (7-10am) with intentions of fasting until breakfast this morning. Ultimately I went out for a small bite to eat for dinner with my local dairy farmer, but that is neither here nor there. What I write about now is when I came home after work before I had the aforementioned dinner.

Steak and Eggs
Over the holiday weekend I picked up some venison from my uncle and thawed it out after I returned home from my New Year adventure. Using my new Cutco Butcher Knife I started cutting one of the huge legs of meat in to meal sized portions for the dogs. Upon coming home from work and putting the venison shown above in their food bowls (in addition to an egg) my hunger became more apparent than ever. I wanted all that meat. It was at that moment I wished I had a larger chest freezer and I had venison all year round. The breakfast and lunch I had was nothing without eating a thick venison steak such as the ones staring back at me. Any qualms I’ve mentioned having with the taking of the life of an animal seemed to be thrown out the window.

After seconds of contemplation I fed the dogs these beautiful steaks and told myself I will become a hunter. I will hunt to feed both myself and the dogs. I brought up this realization at dinner with my good friend Bob of Nice Farms Creamery and it looks like Sunday we will go rabbit hunting on his property. With it being winter and things fairly slow around the farm we should be able to protect his valuable pasture from rabbits, saving it for his dairy cows.

It looks like I will become a hunter sooner rather than later!

04 January 2011

Resolutions for 2011

I never set New Year’s Resolutions anymore. I do, however, set goals this time of year. Several years ago I decided that there should not be just one time of the year to decide to set a goal(s). I like looking at things over weekly, monthly, and seasonally. I also like keeping goals and resolutions dynamic. If I find I am being way too ambitious or things are going way too easy I can make changes that will allow me to still achieve results without ever feeling downright defeated. This keeps the ball rolling and the momentum building. All that being said, here are some of the goals I am setting for 2011 that apply to this site:

One thing I plan to work on is how I act and react to both myself and others. I've found, for example when coworkers are discussing health/nutrition/obesity/etc., that I add more than my two cents worth. Especially with those who are attempting to get healthier I've been pointing out how their ‘low fat’ processed meal is not going to do the trick. I need to back off. My goal is to stay out of it unless my opinion is asked and when I speak I will do so in a ‘mightier than thou’ tone. However, with myself, I intend to work harder and hold myself to a higher standard than before… so generally moving from 80/20 to closer to 95/5. In summary I plan to focus less on others and more on myself. This goal sounds selfish, but it is no use trying to help someone if they are not ready to help themselves first.

Have a Garden
I've fooled around with gardening before, but this year I plan to grow as much food as possible. Partially for the extra exercise, sun and food I will get, but also I hope to have enough to share with friends and family. I still plan to have a CSA share, but I plan to focus on the vegetables that I love to eat and that are not always guaranteed in the CSA share. This goal will help me become more self-sufficient which is always a step in the right direction in my book.

Get More Sun, Get More Sleep
This goal is straight forward. Last year I tried to get 15 to 20 minutes of sun each day and tried to go to sleep as the sun sets. After reading Lights Out I have greatly improved my sleep quality. This year I plan to prioritize both sun and sleep and should benefit greatly.

3 Week Backcountry Hike w/ Dogs
After I have my second knee surgery and when I am able to physically handle it I want to go hiking. I plan to hike the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, all 100+ miles of the Appalachian Trail that runs through it and as many of the side trails as I can. I want to spend 3 full weeks out camping and hiking with the dogs, carrying all of our food and water on our backs. I want to do it staying fully paleo, so I plan on working on making my own jerky and pemmican.  

I think this will be a good starting point.

03 January 2011

Reflecting on 2010

I've found reflection on my past, where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished, helps guide me in setting new goals. I am always trying something new, so when I look back I can see what I enjoyed or what natural talent I never knew I had and take steps to further advance in those directions. From enjoying the new friendships I've made to the happiness that comes from cutting out the toxic people or items in my life, the past few years I know I am doing something right. I have no regrets whatsoever. Amor fati. Below are a few specific things I accomplished in 2010:

In 2009 I ran four ultramarathon trail races. In 2010 I ran far more, totaling over 800 miles of trail races. While this screams chronic cardio, I never race ultras to win, it was all about finishing. I went slower, enjoyed the scenery, and if anything it was more of a speed hiking experience than a race. Through these events I got to see large portions of the East Coast and several portions of the Mid West. The people at these races tended to be lovers of the outdoors and far from elitist. Two things that made these races tougher than before is that I ran in minimalist footwear (my KSO Treks) and I fueled myself eating mostly paleo.

Minimalist Footwear
In addition to running ultras in the KSOs, I also wore VFFs for everything from traveling to working out. And for work I bought several pair of Vivobarefoot models that allowed me the ability to wear more appropriate minimalist shoes. Only on a few occasions, such as outdoor soccer, did I wear non-minimalist shoes. I currently own 3 pair of VFFS and 3 pair of Vivobarefoot shoes and both myself and my feet love them.

Standing at Work
As of April 1st I started standing at work. It initially started when I asked myself the question ‘When am I ever on my feet for over 8 hours?’ This was in regards to my running of ultras and how several would take me 8 to 13 hours to complete. So I started standing at work mainly to get me used to being on my feet for so long. The only time I regretted raising my desk and scrapping my chair was when I first came back to work after wrecking my knee. I at first attempted working propped up with crutches, but eventually brought in a stool. Now that I can stand again I will be back at it until the next surgery.

Food Quality
One of the biggest things I accomplished in 2010 was improving the quality of the food the dogs and I eat. To date, 100% of my food and over 50% of the dog’s food comes from organic/grass-fed/pastured/wild sources. This is and continues to be a pricey endeavor, however I do not regret making this move. Although I've cut things out such as TV/internet at home, new clothes, and more than a few nights out drinking, I’ve gained much in terms of health, friendships with farmers and producers, and my efforts and interest have landed me with a Board of Directors position with a local organic food non-profit and I have been asked to be on an University of Maryland taskforce on sustainable agriculture.

The hounds ending 2010 with a new friend.
The above accomplishments are simply scratching the surface of what I did or experienced last year. Even with my knee injury and a few other setbacks, 2010 was exponentially better than 2009, as 2009 was exponentially better than 2008. While I did not accomplish everything I set out to do in 2010, I could not be more satisfied how everything turned out. It is extremely hard not to look at 2011 or beyond and be pessimistic. Every year will be a Golden Year, every day a step forward. And hell, even if I lose everything but my health and my hounds, I will still be happy.