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June, 2016:

Obsessing about protein on the trail

Planning the menu for backpacking trips is my job. I have two obsessions when hiking: calories and protein. Calories for the energy to keep going, and protein for muscle food.

I hike with a teenager, who has a healthy appetite. When we’re hiking, his caloric intake increases by a lot. It isn’t uncommon for him to finish dinner, then open a power bar to round out his meal. I always worry about planning meals with enough food to keep us happy and healthy.

Calories are easy. A bagel is easy to pack, for example, and it provides carbs for energy. Protein is harder. My go-to source of protein is meat, which spoils on the trail. Still, meat is such a good source of protein that it’s worth it to find trail-friendly options.

For a few years, I relied on pouches of chicken for protein. They’re easy to use, but the heavy water content in them is weight that I would rather not carry. Then I discovered dehydrated chicken. Mountain House sells a can of dehydrated chicken. It weighs next to nothing, and reconstitutes in hot water very quickly, turning into cooked chicken. It’s super convenient, and tastes just like….chicken!

chicken

This is what is looks like dry. Once it’s reconstituted, it’s indistinguishable from cooked chicken.

I haven’t seen this product in stores, but it’s readily available from Amazon (disclosure: if you buy from this link, I will get a microscopic commission):

I like recipes that combine couscous and chicken. Quick cooking and easy to spice up in various ways.

Here’s another good source of protein: tuna fish in foil pouches. Just tear them open, dump it out into a flour tortilla, and you have a quick lunch. Convenient, and 15 g of protein per pouch.

tuna

I bought these at my local grocery store. It’s also available on Amazon:

Summer sausages are also a good source of (salty) protein, but I avoid eating food with nitrates. I found a sausage at Whole Foods that is high in protein and has no nitrates. Again, wrap it up in a tortilla for a convenient, no-cook trail lunch. Add a piece of string cheese for additional protein.

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I read somewhere that the trail is not the place to lose weight: you’re walking all day, carrying a lot of weight on your back, so you’re burning a lot of calories, and you need to keep up your energy. In my experience, I lose a few pounds every time I go backpacking, just from the additional exercise. Getting enough nutrition is the smart thing to do.

Isle Royale, here I come!

For for three people, five days on the trail. I can’t wait!

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My favorite socks (warning: dork alert)

I am a sock nerd. Actually, I am a nerd in a lot of respects. My friends will remember the love note to my favorite pen, which, by the way, is still my favorite style of pen six years later. And now I’m writing about socks. There is no literary value to this post. There is no insight into human nature. There is no interesting story about my work. Just stop reading now. This will go downhill rapidly.

I used to deal with sock chaos. I wear black dress socks to work every day, so I, like many men my age, have a lot of black socks. When a pair wears out, we buy a new pair. So over time, we build up a collection of black socks. But although they are all black, calf-height black socks, they often aren’t all the same brand, so there are slight differences among them. So what? you ask. Black is black, right? Socks are socks, right?

Yes, a normal person would respond. However, I am not a normal person. Therefore I must answer with an emphatic: “No, you fool. Not all socks are the same!” You just can’t wear socks that aren’t exactly the same brand. I can’t explain it, it’s just that way. Every laundry day was a mess: pairing up socks, finding the correct mates, dealing with orphan socks, it was all just torture. This went on for far too long.

Stop reading. This is getting embarrassing.

Every few years, I purge my socks. I buy 10 pairs of new black socks, and throw out the ragtag collection that wastes so much of my time and attention. But soon a sock gets lost, another gets a hole, I replace some, and soon I’m left with the same mess that I was originally in. I seemed to be doomed to repeat this sock tragedy forever.

But then I discovered this sock:

Darn Tough look like normal dress socks, but they are just about indestructible. They’re comfortable. The spandex content keeps them from falling down. They’re long enough so that when I cross my legs, no one can see my ugly white legs sticking out. I could go on and on.

Seriously, stop reading. This doesn’t get any better.

I love these socks. My children received Darn Tough socks for Christmas last year. My younger son was skeptical at first, but now he’s a convert. he takes advantage of the fact that due to the wool content of the sock, they don’t have to be washed after every wear. TMI.

Sure, they’re more expensive than generic socks that I just to wear. But these are guaranteed for life. I own three pairs of these socks. One sock recently developed a tiny hole around the big toe, which my wife unfairly blamed my toenail for. I don’t know what she has against my toenails. There’s a history there, you don’t want to know about it. Anyway, I mailed the poor sock back to the company, and they sent me a brand-new pair.

I could go on about these socks, but I’ll close with one more tidbit: they’re made in the USA. So my sock obsession is a jobs program for US manufacturing. Is that pathetic sophistry enabling my mental disorder? Maybe. But I still highly recommend Darn Tough Socks!

Gentle rain in my back yard

I am really enjoying home leave.

Fire hydrants need flushing

The city government “flushes” fire hydrants every spring. The slow-motion video function of my phone is pretty fun:

A neighbor decided that it would be a pity to waste the water, so he took advantage of the deluge to wash his car:

The housing market has recovered,…

..at least in East Lansing. Normally, I would say that this is a good thing. However, the recovery has bitten me in the butt.

We planned to sell our house and buy a condo. This was our big home leave project.  While still at post a few months ago, our agent told us that selling our house would be easy, but buying a condo would be hard. We laughed and thought how silly that statement was. How hard could it be to buy a condo? we asked.

We are so delightfully naïve.

First, we spend several days getting our house ready to sell. I’m proud to say that we have kept the house up very well over the years: we replaced the roof a few years ago. And we did it right. Many people take the shortcut of putting new tiles over the old ones. That works in the short run. But it also kicks the can down the road. The next time the roof has to be replaced, the job becomes twice as hard, because the next guy has to take down two layers of old tiles, not just one, plus replace any boards that have rotted away in the years that you didn’t look at them because you were too lazy to do the job right in the first place.

Plus we have a new water heater, a new refrigerator, new front-loading washing machine, we fixed the back-yard fence, and called the roto-rooter guy every year to clean out our storm sewer pipe (I hate you, Norwegian maple in my front yard. Not only do you drop helicopters all over the place in the spring, dump approximately seven million leaves on my yard in the fall, but your roots invade my sewer pipe. If you weren’t so pretty and provide such magnificent shade, you would have been firewood years ago).

The cleanup and “staging” of the house took several days. My study never looked so good:

study2

Even the kids’ bedrooms look great. They are usually decorated in a style that can be described as “21st century chaos.” But they cleaned up great:

kid2

The real coup was the basement. We purged 20 years of accumulated crap stuff, and turned one room into an underground living room. This was 100% my wife’s work. She is a genius.

basement2

We thought that we were ready to make the big move.

Then we started looking at condos. What a shock.

Not only are there very few properties on the market, but the one or two that we like are priced too high. We’d be facing a mortgage payment that is almost the same as the one that we now have. What a shocking disappointment. We could easily sell our house, of course, but finding a condo to move into would be a huge challenge. We see that now. Our agent was right. We ate a lot of crow as we realized what a challenge it is to find a good condo in East Lansing.

Luckily for us, we aren’t desperate to move. We have the luxury of stepping back and waiting for a year or so to make the move. So, if we don’t find the right place, we can press the “pause” button on the plan to move.

On the plus side, I have a nice clean house to live in now, and without a stressful move on the horizon, I have some extra time to relax in my house and enjoy my home leave.