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More Baby Prep & Meal Freezing

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Last week was a bit of a debacle because I was without a phone for a brief stint (I dropped it one too many times and went from I'll Just Continue Using My Phone Despite This Giant Crack in the Screen to I Can Literally No Longer Operate My Phone and Must Get it Fixed ASAP within seconds). No phone meant no pictures, which means a delicious vegetarian lasagna was constructed from scratch but there is no photographic evidence to share on the blog. Just know that after our baby arrives, the lasagna waiting for us in our freezer is a cheesy masterpiece stuffed with homemade seitan, mashed sweet potatoes and spinach. Also as you can see in this post, I did have my phone around when I was making a vegetable barley soup. All is not lost.

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For this vegetable barley soup recipe, I turned to The Vegan Pregnancy Cookbook. This book was instrumental to me, especially early in my pregnancy. As I've mentioned before, I couldn't even THINK about dairy or eggs without getting sick during my first trimester. I became a default vegan until I could stomach the ingredients again. My egg and dairy consumption remains significantly less than what it used to be, but I'm now back to eating non-vegan ingredients at least a few times a week. During early pregnancy, though: no way. This book was a godsend.

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Tomorrow I will be 37 weeks pregnant. I can reasonably expect to give birth in 1-5 weeks. Making it this far into pregnancy is surreal because here I am, uncomfortable and cumbersome, foreign in my own body, the most unlike myself I've ever been. On the other side of all of this a tiny person will greet me and become my own. I'm so excited about motherhood because I feel like in some ways it's the most "me" I'll ever be. The love I have for this baby is ready to pour out of me. In the meantime, I sit here uncomfortably waiting.

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Today I read an article about the idea of becoming a mom without becoming a mommy, i.e. entering motherhood without losing a sense of self-identity. In some ways pregnancy feels like a losing of oneself, which I assumed would translate mainly to my body. I've found it's seeped into other facets of my life, too. I've lost interest and drive in certain areas, though I'm not convinced that this is entirely bad. As a writer I've always had a scrappiness that's allowed me to devote myself to projects even when they didn't fully hold my interest. In pregnancy I feel too tired for all of that. I'm too tired to sell myself to editors or to try and write in a way that matches the vision of a company that's not my own. I don't feel like spending my hours doing work I don't love right now. That's a gross and privileged thing to say — let me own that upfront. It's also a true thing to say. Pregnancy is a weird process that brings up a lot of pure and crystalized feelings. I'm too tired for the rest. Am I really losing myself or am I becoming more myself than ever? 

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I love the idea of becoming a mom and not a mommy, of loving and nurturing a human without denying the interests that drove me long before baby came along. I think in particular for women who plan to stay home, the danger of immersive baby and kid culture is real. One minute you're a writer, runner, cupcake baker and book lover. The next you're a mom and housewife whose daily schedule revolves around a tiny human. I'm not saying I'm not excited to care for this tiny human — I am, more than I can even express. I'm saying there's a lot of pressure these days to become a certain kind of mom — the one who packs lunches that look like pieces of art and volunteers to coach all the activities and makes homemade costumes for playtime and hosts weekly playdates that include laboriously prepared appetizers and drinks for the other moms and joins all the Mommy & Me groups and goes from activity to activity and stays up all night gluing pieces from Pinterest-inspired art projects and dresses her kid like a mini fashionista and documents every moment on social media, all while keeping up with the housework and making nutritious yet delicious dinners (and breakfasts, lunches, and snacks) every day. If I become that kind of mother, when will I ever write another book? When will I go for a run? When will I spend time with my husband? When will I sit down with my child and just read and cuddle and be there and not worry about going somewhere or doing the next thing on the list?

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By mentioning any of this, I've already entered the dangerous territory of coming off like I'm judging other mothers. There is nothing wrong with Pinterest-inspired craft projects. There is nothing wrong with volunteering to lead your child's activities. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make your kid's sandwich look like a frog or pirate or ladybug and there's nothing wrong with keeping a clean house. Where things get tricky, I think, is when that pressure seeps in to try and do ALL THE MOM THINGS to the detriment of some or all of the Woman In the World things/ friend things/ spouse things/ independent person things. 

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Do I plan on being ridiculously devoted to my child? Am I ready to give away my time and space and energy and love in a way I never have before? Absolutely. I'll be the first to say it: this little person is going to be my world. I will do anything and everything I can to keep this person safe and happy. But I also want to write another book. I want to return to running. I want to read and bake cupcakes and spend time with my husband, family, and friends. I don't want to feel like a housewife (I frankly already feel like a housewife. It's impossible to work from home and not devote a big chunk of time each day to housework. It's there, in front of you, always.) I don't want to feel like MORE of a housewife. I want to feel like a person who has some semblance of balance despite the level of devotion required for this motherhood position. 

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I think that everything I'm saying is important for me, but I think it's important for my child, too. I want my kid to look at me as a complete person. I remember all the Mom and Dad moments from my childhood, but I also remember my mom as a potter and self-employed businesswoman. I remember my dad as a newspaper editor and tennis player. I remember our shared love of Mexican food and family bike rides, of road trips to Colorado and time spent outdoors. My mom made me a lot of clothes and Halloween costumes, but she had both the skill and desire to do so. My dad made a lot of elaborate meals, but he had both the skill and desire to do so. I do not feel that either of them lost themselves to parenting and although I've never asked, I hope they don't feel that way either. (Perhaps if I did ask, I'd learn a few things. Maybe someone wishes all those Saturday afternoons on soccer sidelines were spent in a yoga class instead. Maybe someone wishes another caregiver had been in rotation to give respite from the endless afternoons with us running around. I don't know, although I'm now curious and will make a point of asking soon.) Maybe it's impossible not to lose yourself just a little in the act of parenting, or maybe I'm blowing the entire thing out of proportion. I won't know until I get there.

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I'm going to have a baby soon and I cannot wait. I'm also going to keep writing, though not necessarily for other people. I'm already giving so much of myself to this one person — maybe I'll try and retain a little bit of my writing identity and make something of it in my own way. Financials are always scary but giving myself away to something I don't truly believe in is scarier. I'm going to believe in my own abilities. I'm going to believe in the relationship this sweet baby and I are about to form. I'm going to believe in our ability to navigate and figure out this new world together. I'm going to believe that I'll find my place again while remaining at home with a child. I'm going to believe that all-consuming "mommyhood" and devoted motherhood are not one at the same, and that I can be good at one without losing myself to the other. 

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Staying Active During Pregnancy (When All You Really Want To Do Is Sleep)

Six months of pregnancy + six half marathons.

Six months of pregnancy + six half marathons.

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Sometimes I think people get the wrong impression of me when they find out I've kept up my running (somewhat and so far) throughout my pregnancy. I've been called everything from badass to hardcore to unstoppable, but none of these descriptors ring true for me. The truth as I see it is that there is one reason and one reason only why I've been able to complete so many half marathons during pregnancy. That reason? I was already regularly completing half marathons before pregnancy. I was already in the physical condition necessary to drag my body over 13.1 miles.

There's nothing I've done during pregnancy to increase my strength or stamina in that regard. Every single week, I've run a little less and a little slower than the week before. During some runs I stop and walk entirely. Other days I skip the run to take a nap instead.

Do I think my routine was pretty badass and hardcore before pregnancy? Absolutely. That's how I was able to break a 1:45 half marathon PR. But since I've been pregnant? I've been in maintenance mode. I have dramatically scaled back the amount of time and effort I devote to running. It may seem impressive to some that I'm still getting out there, but I firmly believe the ONLY reason I'm able to do so is because I worked so hard for an entire year prior to getting pregnant. 

Here are a few things I used to do regularly that I no longer do now: Run fast. Lift weights. Do ab exercises. Do HIIT training. Run on an incline. Go outside and run 10 miles just because I know I can and I like to move my body. I don't do these things anymore. I certainly planned to continue lifting light weights throughout my pregnancy, but I just haven't had the energy. I planned on running more throughout the week, but I don't have it in me. I can complete half marathons still because the muscle memory is there and because I run JUST ENOUGH to not lose my base level of fitness. For the most part, though, I'm not running a lot anymore. 

I'm not saying any of this to disparage myself and try to convince you that running a half marathon while pregnant is nothing. I'm just saying that the reason why I'm still able to carry my pregnant body across finish lines is because I worked my ass off and then some for the year prior to getting pregnant. It's just as simple as that. I worked harder than I've ever worked and thanks to that, I'm still reaping some benefits despite the fact that I've slowed down a lot. 

One of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant was go out and run 16 miles. My body was in the perfect shape to do it and I knew that wouldn't be the case for long. I wanted a super long run so I could navigate and process all the complex emotions I was going through: I was so excited, so happy, so nervous. Until then my longest run was 15 miles, but I knew I had it in me. I had to take advantage of my body's capabilities while they were still available to me.

Could I go out and run 16 miles today? No way. I can still push myself through 13.1 miles in a race setting but as far as runs I do on my own, the energy level is just not there. To me this is the most interesting thing about people finding out I run half marathons while pregnant: they act like I'm out being superhuman but meanwhile most days, I'm home taking a 4-hour nap. To repeat: most days, I'm home taking a 4-hour nap. There's very little that feels superhuman about that. 

At this point in my pregnancy, I'm no longer a hardcore runner. My runs include walking breaks, pee breaks, food breaks, water breaks, and Let's Cut This One Short Today, I'm Not Feeling It breaks. It's important to me to try and maintain as much of an active lifestyle as possible despite wanting to spend my days napping and snacking, so what do I do? This is what I do.

I walk a lot. 

I take a weekly prenatal yoga class. 

When inspired, I do push-ups against the wall, tricep dips on the coffee table, and squats and lunges in the living room.

I run, but much less frequently. 

I walk up hills. 

I park far away.

I take the stairs.

I walk around the neighborhood. I walk the aisles of grocery stores. I walk up to Mt. Tabor. I walk. 

I have a few gentle prenatal workout videos.

Here's what else I do:

I rest. I sleep. I drink a lot of water. I make sure I'm eating plenty of calories. I listen to my baby and my body and cut workouts short when I don't have the right energy level. I avoid working out outside when the temperatures are too hot. I give myself a break because I'm growing a human and that counts for something. 

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This is why I feel a little strange when people act like the half marathons are some sort of HUGE accomplishment. It's not that I'm not proud of them — I am. I just don't want to give the wrong impression. Guys, I am telling you: when it comes to working out, I truly don't do that much these days. I don't have the energy to carry myself through long workouts. I adore my prenatal yoga class, which challenges my muscles but also feels a bit like a glorified nap. I love strolling around my neighborhood. On the days when I do feel like I have the energy, I love going for short runs. About once a month, I love completing a half marathon. For the most part, though, when it comes to my life day in and day out: I'm resting. I'm sleeping. I'm working. I'm in my robe on the couch. There is nothing badass to see here.

And right now, I think that's totally okay.

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Checking In At 27 Weeks

New closet for new baby.

New closet for new baby.

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Today I am 27 weeks pregnant. According to some sources, this means I am entering my third trimester. According to others, I’m a week away. Either way, I’ve made it a significantly far way into this pregnancy. Give or take an early or late arrival, I have 13 weeks to go.

We’ve made a few exciting changes and upgrades these last few weeks. We went from having tiny hole-in-the-wall closets in both our room and the nursery to having normal-sized closets in both. We painted the nursery. (When I say “we” I mean Mike and my mom painted the nursery. My dad and I were in charge of snacks.) Things are starting to feel like they’re coming along. 

As excited as I am about the impending arrival, I’m also finding it impossible not to be stressed about the expenses that keep stacking up. Apparently having a kid costs a lot of money. Who knew? I of course always knew this in an abstract way, but the reality is jarring. For a variety of reasons I’ve had a very dry summer in terms of freelancing, which has coincided perfectly with a pileup of expenses. (One of my main sources of income is for writing that’s used in schools, which during the summer is not in very high demand. I know things will pick up again when September rolls around, but in the meantime my internal voice sounds a little like: Aghhhghggghghghgh!)     

We’ve never been a truly “two income” household because although I’ve always had an income, it’s a paltry income that’s used for specific things like groceries and certain bills. Right now while my paltry income is even less than its normal level of paltry, I’m feeling the burn. As insignificant as it feels to “just” buy groceries, I’m realizing now that it actually is a pretty big help. Freely doing this each week without tapping into our joint account was a beautiful thing. 

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Today is my parents' 43rd wedding anniversary. I feel very fortunate because throughout my life, I was always shown that you don't need a lot of money to build a happy life. I was raised by a journalist and an artist (my mom's pottery studio was in our basement) who created years upon years of happy memories for themselves and their children. So while I do feel the strain of financial stress heavily right now, I feel confident that everything will work out and equally confident that this huge love I feel is the most important thing I can provide for my baby anyway. 

Financial stress (which will be worked out soon enough anyway) aside, things are starting to feel more real and exciting as we get closer to November. I’m also starting to feel more pregnant than ever. I’ve of course been pregnant all along, but my belly has now reached a point where it feels uncomfortable throughout the day and night. I finally broke down and bought a pregnancy belt that lifts my belly a bit when I run, which in theory keeps some of the pressure off my bladder and stops me from feeling like I have to pee every two seconds. I don’t know if it fully achieves this goal, but it is a slight improvement. 

I’m also still dealing with waning energy, a symptom that never truly went away even during that second trimester so many describe as a magical time in pregnancy. The end of the second trimester is a point in pregnancy when so many women experience a nesting instinct that makes them want to clean and organize everything before the baby arrives. I keep wishing that instinct will kick in for me, but for now my instinct to lie down and take a nap every day is still winning out. 

The most exciting thing that happened recently was that Mike felt the baby move for the first time. It was perfect timing, too: he had just professed his love for the baby and placed his hand on my belly when the little cupcake kicked Mike's hand in response. We’ve been trying for many weeks to get him to feel a kick, so it was an exciting and sweet moment for us. 

This lady is broke and tired and feeling more physically restricted every day. But I’m also full of love for my husband and our baby and our little family. I love the improvements we made to the nursery. I love the possibility of everything that’s to come. We had fun building our registry and thinking about our future life together. The expenses are relentless and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it all, but we’re healthy and happy and getting ready. The hardest part now is trying to sit still and enjoy the next few months instead of rushing forward to November, even though we’re so excited to get there.

P.S. I’ve always loved this song and it seems especially appropriate now. 

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Hosting a DIY Beauty Party

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As readers of this blog know, I've been into making my own version of household cleaning and beauty products for a long time now. Making my own shower gels, shampoos and soaps helps me to save money and use less environmental resources. More important to me personally, making my own products means I know exactly what ingredients go into them, which helps me to avoid toxic ingredients that are unfortunately common in many store-bought brands. As a pregnant woman, this helps me to feel a lot better about things. When it comes to the foods I eat, the lotions I put on my body, and everything in between, I prefer to avoid long lists of unpronounceable ingredients. When it comes to DIY beauty products, I refuse to make anything that requires more than five ingredients. I also refuse to make anything that calls for a hard-to-find ingredient that requires a trip to a specialty store. DIY to me is all about simplification.

A small proxy of friends and I are part of a Ladies Night group, where we meet once a month for whatever activity that month's host chooses. In the past this has included dinners, Happy Hours, picnics, clothing swaps, croquet and more. A few months ago, some of my friends expressed interested in learning more about the homemade beauty products I make. I was thrilled to host a party showing them how to make their own. 

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Preparing for this party could not have been simpler. I already had many ingredients on hand but also went to the store to stock up on more. I wanted to show my friends how to make a simple shampoo, shower gel, hand soap and face wash (and at the last minute I remembered a two-ingredient recipe for an eye cream, too). The only ingredients I needed to make all these different products were coconut oil, honey, castile soap, almond oil, olive oil, vitamin E oil, and coconut milk. I also had a small bottle of tea tree oil on hand as an optional ingredient. My friends brought their own essential oils, which were also optional. My friends also brought money to cover the expense of buying ingredients, so nobody went broke in the making of this party. 

As far as supplies, we only needed a few things there too: measuring cups, measuring spoons, a can opener for the coconut milk, and something to stir with. Halfway through the process I also brought out a funnel for anyone who needed it. My friends all brought their own containers to fill. (P.S. I had a lightbulb moment when one of my friends brought a plastic water bottle. Genius! There's no need to buy fancy bottles or containers if you don't want to. Instead of recycling that water bottle, repurpose it yourself by filling it with shower gel or soap.)

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Often when we get together, my friends and I throw together potluck-style meals. Last night was no exception. I wanted to make a casserole-style dish that could feed a large group and didn't contain any dairy since one of my friends is lactose-intolerant. I found this Vegan Spinach & Artichoke Pasta Bake recipe online and I LOVE it. It has all the delicious creaminess of dairy without containing any actual dairy. (Cashews are a miracle ingredient.) My friends, meanwhile, brought delicious bread, crackers, dips, fruit, veggies, wine and macarons. We ate everything out on the patio and talked for hours after making our DIY goodies. It ended up being a fun and sweet night.

All of the recipes I used for the products we made can be found here: A Day in the DIY Life

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I Fell Today.

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I fell today. This is the third time I've fallen running in a period of nine years. The first was about two weeks before my best friend's wedding, when I was all set to walk down the aisle as a bridesmaid. My twisted ankle was swollen and painful for a long time, but somehow magically felt fine on the big day. The second time I fell was about a week before my own wedding. I scratched myself up but didn't experience any major injuries. You can see a scab on my elbow if you look closely in my wedding photos, but other than that everything was fine. 

Today was my scariest fall because it was the first time I fell with a baby on board. The injuries to my own body are obvious from the picture above: I really scraped up my elbows and hand. The skin is raw and painful and because the knee injuries hit right where my knees bend, walking today has been a bit of a challenge. But obviously I wasn't thinking about any of that when I picked myself up and dusted off. Obviously I was worried about the baby.

In talking to a nurse at my doctor's office, I've learned there are a lot of good signs to my fall. First, the heavy scrapes on my knees and hand mean that I braced myself somewhat and therefore my belly didn't absorb all the impact. Secondly, I haven't experienced any scary symptoms like cramping or bleeding. Finally, I'm still feeling movement from my little one inside my belly. Tracking this movement has been difficult because I've only felt sporadic movements up until this point, but I am very happy to report that since the fall I have felt a few more sporadic movements today. Thanks to a lot of amniotic fluid and the still-small size of my baby at 24 weeks, my nurse (in consultation with my doctor) feels confident that the baby is okay. 

That news is wonderful, but it was still a terrifying experience. The irony is not lost on me that in trying to stay active and do something healthy for my baby, I ultimately put my baby in danger by losing my footing. As much as I try to eat healthy foods and use healthy products, I know I'm still ingesting things in the environment that have the potential to be toxic. There's no such thing as control here. (Side note: I've never considered myself someone who felt like she *had* to be in control, but when it comes to the health and safety of my baby it's true I want to control as much as possible.) But in the end, it doesn't matter how obsessed I am about avoiding certain ingredients or getting regular exercise or trying to put my best foot forward for the little cupcake in my oven. Sometimes my best foot forward trips on gravel and knocks me down in the dust.

I know this is only a preview of what's to come — there will be so many scenarios beyond my control when we're raising a child. But with the child still in my body, I'd like to think I can keep things as healthy and safe as possible. When I can't do that, I feel a little defeated.

But what matters is this: The baby is moving. I am not experiencing any scary symptoms. I think I shook both of us up a little today, but from the outside it seems we're both okay. As for me, I won't be attempting to run again until I'm fully healed. And even then, I think I'll get myself to a park or somewhere with softer trails and take it super easy. I love running and I think the running I've done until this point has benefited my baby, but as always I'll listen to my body and do what seems best for my little running buddy. 

Until then, Baby and I are resting with feet propped, ice pack on, and everything erased from the to-do list for the rest of the day. 

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Running Half Marathons With a Cupcake in the Oven

6 weeks, 8 weeks, 15 weeks, 18 weeks and 22 weeks pregnanat

6 weeks, 8 weeks, 15 weeks, 18 weeks and 22 weeks pregnanat

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In the years before I became pregnant, running became a huge part of my life. It was my go-to source of stress relief as well as my favorite physical activity. I've never been very sporty or athletically inclined, but in running I didn't have to be either. I just needed to put one foot in front of the other. In the year 2015, I ran a race every month, ranging from 5Ks to a half marathon. For 2016, I had two goals: to continue running a race a month for as long as I could, and to get pregnant. I knew that if I achieved both goals, they would cross over at some point and play into each other. So far this year I've run seven half marathons — one for each month — and five of them have been with a baby on board. I'm planning on running a few more, and then I'm planning on taking the last few months of the year off. I may do some light running during that time, but I definitely won't be racing. 

Before getting pregnant, I sought out a doctor who would support me with both my baby and my running goals. I was lucky to find someone I relate to and feel very comfortable around; I feel confident having her as my doctor and I think she understands me and what's important to me in a way that not everyone does. She ran throughout her pregnancies, so I knew she would support me during mine. 

Pregnant running is vastly different from non-pregnant running. The goal is no longer speed. My pace has slowed dramatically and it continues to slow each month. I'm also not able to attack certain obstacles (specifically hills) in the same way, or often at all. I never shied from a hill before I was pregnant, but now I slow to a walk every time I encounter one. I don't want to get my heart rate too elevated, I don't want to get overheated, and I don't want to get breathless. This means that I'm going slower (sometimes completely slowing to a walk), I'm skipping the hills, and I'm taking everything at a much easier pace. 

An unexpected side effect of all of this is that during pregnancy, running has actually become more fun. I'm no longer chasing any time goals, so I'm free to go out and just enjoy my runs. Whereas before I would become frustrated if I got tired during a run, now I just slow down, guzzle my water, take in my surroundings, and enjoy the fact that I'm out in the open air. I don't even pay attention to my pace anymore. I stop a lot during my runs to pee. Sometimes I'll stop in the middle of a run and have a snack. I've changed my routes to stick to flatter terrain. During my pregnancy runs, I've noticed more in my neighborhood than I ever did before. Now that I've slowed down, I see more.

Another benefit during my first trimester was that running helped to quell my nausea. There were a few days when I felt too sick to go out, but once I finally got out there I felt so much better. Running has helped me to keep in touch with my pregnant body. I haven't been able to easily maintain strength training or some other forms of physical activity throughout pregnancy, but walking and running are movements I've been able to keep up.

So why run half marathons while pregnant? First reason: I signed up for the races before I was pregnant. Secondly, why not? I was in strong enough condition to run frequent half marathons before I was pregnant and I wanted to maintain that level of fitness for as long as I could. So far, it's been doable. Each of my five pregnant half marathons has been a little slower than the last and I know they'll just get slower, eventually getting too difficult to keep up. 

If I could do it again, I'd probably focus more on slower distances like 5Ks and 10Ks. But I have no regrets about the half marathons I've run. I'm proud of all this baby and I have accomplished together. I'm excited to see what we can continue to do. And I'm thankful that my stress level throughout pregnancy has been manageable thanks to our regular runs. 

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A Weekend Away

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In what will likely be the last time the two of us are able to sneak away together for a long time, Mike and I spent our weekend at quiet cabin in the woods. The cabin is owned by friends who generously let us stay there and use all the amenities. I realized when we there that it's been way too long since we've had a few days with no TV, minimal phone usage, and plenty of time to just enjoy nature and each other's company. 

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In the absence of TV, I started and finished two books: a collection of essays by my talented friend Chloe Caldwell and another collection of essays by my author crush Lindy West. I loved both of them.

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On Saturday we went for a hike that went straight uphill but was ultimately worth the view. 

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We spent a significant amount of time working on a puzzle of various candies. It looks so sweet and innocent, doesn't it? I found my patience for it in spurts, and in between I read my books. My sweet husband worked diligently in my absence, exhibiting once again a level of patience that exceeds normal human expectations.

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We enjoyed a decadent meal at a French restaurant called Rendevous before allowing ourselves the ultimate indulgence of sleeping in until 11:30 on Sunday. 11:30! I was probably a teenager the last time that happened. We squeezed in another hike before Mike hit the hot tub and I basked in the sunshine. 

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Two food-related lessons I learned this weekend: The Not So Boring Bar and Grill in Boring serves amazing veggie burgers and Joe's Donut Shop in Sandy serves the best donuts. We ate our dinners out but made all our breakfasts, lunches and snacks at the cabin. Highlights of this included a sandwich we made both days with whole wheat bread, chili-roasted sweet potatoes (I roasted them the day before we left), nectarine slices, white cheddar and spinach. We also took some of our avocado-egg salad to eat with bread and crackers, plus grapes, kale chips, trail mix and mini vegan chocolate chip cookies.  

Other lessons learned: It really pays to get away, even if it's just for two days.

Sleeping in like a 14-year-old is possibly the most blissful activity on this earth.

Taking a break from technology and spending time in nature is so good for the body, mind and spirit.

I have the best husband (I mean, this is more a fact than a lesson. He just is the best.)

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It's (Almost) The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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If you had asked me a few years ago for my stance on farmers markets, I would have categorized them as one of the most overrated experiences imaginable. This is how I would have described them: You fight through crowds to stand in lines to buy some weird vegetables you don't end up using, which then rot in your fridge. Oh, and that's if you don't forget to bring cash, which you always do, which means you fight through crowds and stand in lines for NOTHING because you can't buy anything anyway. Meanwhile you are guaranteed to encounter all of the following: barking dogs, big strollers you can't maneuver around, and aimless people who constantly stop right in front of you so you have to jump out of the way to avoid crashing into them. What a hoot.  

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But then I realized I was going about farmers markets all wrong. Not only was I going at the wrong time (the middle of the day on a weekend is asking for disaster), I was going in unprepared (seriously, just bring some cash and don't forget your own bags) and with the wrong attitude. Going to a farmers market is not like going to a grocery store, where you make a beeline for the aisles you need based on the list you've made ahead of time and avoid interacting with other shoppers as much as possible. Farmers markets are another experience entirely.

 

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Farmers markets are interesting because a.) you need a bit of a game plan to keep from getting trampled or completely unfocused, but b.) you don't want TOO much of a game plan or it ruins all the magic. This is what my problem used to be: I went into farmers markets with very specific expectations that could not logistically be met and then I left disappointed. Every time. This is one of those times when it's so much better to chuck expectations and just see what happens. 

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In my opinion, it zaps away the fun if you go to a farmers market with a specific list. Inevitably that one vegetable you need is either in a less-than-desirable state or completely unavailable, and then the grand idea you had for dinner that night is ruined. If instead you walk in and let yourself be surprised by what's available, you may end up creating a dish that's completely new to you.

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It's also good to have a general idea of what's in season so you're not disappointed when craving a wintertime vegetable in the middle of summer. AboutFood.com is a great resource for this because they have all kinds of lists: regional lists, state lists, seasonal lists. Since we're starting farmers market season in spring, here are some fruits and veggies that typically do well in spring: apricots, artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, carrots, chard, cherries, fava beans, fennel, grapefruit, green onions, kiwis, leeks, lemons, lettuce, mint, morels, navel oranges, new potatoes, parsley, peas, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, spring onions, strawberries, sweet onions and turnips. 

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If your schedule prohibits you from going to farmers markets any time other than the busiest times, godspeed as you fight the crowds. If you're lucky enough to have some control over when you go, choose wisely. The best time to go: right when it's opening. This is when the selection is best and the crowd is smallest.

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Do not be afraid to improvise. I know so many people who think the only way to cook is by using a recipe. This is not true! Some of the best meals are the ones thrown together last-minute using whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. Here's an easy way to think about building a balanced meal. First, include a healthy complex carb. This could be brown rice, couscous, quinoa, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, a tortilla or a gluten-free grain. Then, include a healthy protein. This could be chicken, fish, tofu, tempeh, seitan, edamame, eggs, whatever. Make sure to include a healthy fat. This could be a dressing made with olive oil, peanut butter, hummus, cheese, nuts, or avocado. Then go to town on fresh vegetables and fruits. These can be raw, roasted, grilled, baked — however you want them. Once you fill all these categories, you have a complete, balanced meal. It's that easy. Tortilla + chicken strips + cheese + grilled veggies = balanced meal. Whole wheat pasta + shrimp or edamame + pesto made with nuts and olive oil + roasted veggies  = balanced meal. Whole wheat toast + eggs + avocado + berries = balanced meal. 

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Another way to approach a farmers market is to use the expertise of the people who work there. Nobody's going to give you a blank look if you ask for suggestions for how to prepare a certain vegetable. Many vendors will be able to suggest either general cooking approaches or specific recipes. These people are experts. Trust them when they say something will taste good.

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Another tip to remember: it's not just about the produce. Farmers markets are a great place to discover local brands of hummus, dips, nuts, cheeses and more. You're also likely to find some amazing lemonade, coffee, baked goods, and ready-to-go food cart meals for lunch or dinner. And don't forget the flowers. Compare the prices of supermarket flowers versus farmers market flowers and in most cases, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the farmers market.

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Sample the products. Even when I wasn't on Team Farmers Market, I had to admit there are few things in life better than a free sample. Sample away, but don't be a jerk about it. If you like something enough to want to sneak another sample, buy it. Don't be that person who lurks around and pretends it's the first bite of cheese you've had all day when really it's your fifth. 

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Let yourself be inspired. I think there is something so fun about going in with the idea that somewhere in that market, you will find all the ingredients you need to make your next meal. You have no idea what those ingredients are, but you'll know them when you see them. This is intuitive eating at its best: letting the fresh smells, bright colors, and crisp textures guide your choices. We've all had those days when we open our packed lunch and think, "This doesn't even sound good anymore." Today is not going to be one of those days. Today you will literally go from farm(ers market) to table, leaving you no time to change your mind about what you want. 

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Aim for simplicity. The best farmers markets meals, in my opinion, are the most thrown together. Cook up some veggies, toss them in pasta with sauce and a little cheese, and call it a day. Make a big salad. Make a simple sandwich. It goes back to my earlier advice of just combining a complex carb with a lean protein with a healthy fat with as many veggies and fruits as you want. That's truly all there is to it. You don't need a lot of steps. You don't need heavy preparation. You just need a few simple, fresh ingredients. 

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Bringing your own cloth bags will save a lot of hassle. If you purchase more than one item, you'll want a place to carry things. Carrying seven different plastic bags from vendors is not fun. Bring your own bags. 

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If you're not a person who loves crowds, farmers markets can understandably be an uncomfortable experience. I'm definitely not a fan of crowds, but I've managed to do a little damage control by avoiding peak times, staying several paces behind people so I don't get frustrated when they stop suddenly, and scouting out the quiet corners and unoccupied benches that always exist at famers markets. There is no such thing as a private farmers market, unless maybe you go in the middle of a freak snowstorm when everyone else has stayed in. You're going to encounter other people, and likely lots of them. Prepare yourself for this fact ahead of time (and prepare yourself for the fact that you'll likely need to park at least several blocks away). Don't let yourself be surprised that so many other people are interested in doing the same thing you're doing on a beautiful sunny day. 

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For me, it was all about switching my mindset. Yes, there will be crowds and noise and chaos. Yes, you will wait in line and the person in front of you will get into a never-ending conversation with the vendor about kale. Yes, you'll get sweaty and slimy and have to walk ten blocks to get to your car. But guess what else will happen? You'll get out in the sunshine. You'll see beautiful, fresh produce. You'll talk to someone who has an idea for cooking asparagus you've never heard before. You'll sample someone's homemade pesto and it will rock your world. You'll witness human kindness. You'll order a sandwich or take home a cupcake and for weeks afterward, you'll tell anyone who will listen it was the best sandwich or cupcake you've had in years. You'll see families, partners, and friends enjoying each other's company. You'll eat a strawberry on the exact day when it's the freshest it could possibly be. You'll go home with a bag filled with fresh food and make a dinner that's so much better than any of the other meals you've made recently. You'll get hooked and discover why farmers market season is the most wonderful time of the year.

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Running 4 Half Marathons in 4 Months is a Lot Like ... Anything Else

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This past weekend I ran my fourth half marathon of the year. 

I'm sure there are lots of people out there who race as often or run as much as I do (and there are of course people who run much more), but I don't know any of them personally. I'm the only person I know who has so far run four half marathons in the four months of 2016. I started thinking about what it means to run this much and what I go through to get to each race day. That's when I realized that running four half marathons in four months is exactly like ... anything else in life. It's challenging. Also, sometimes it's not challenging. Sometimes it's just routine. Running is extremely rewarding some days and borderline heartbreaking other days. Running is boring and exhilarating and everything in between. Running is a place where nothing happens and running is a place where everything happens. 

Sometimes running is easy. My legs start moving and I just go. The movement feels effortless. Some days in life feel easy and effortless, too. I move from one project to the next, tick things off my to-do list, and maneuver through my day like it's nothing. I'm thankful for these days but they're not always the most rewarding. 

Sometimes running is really, really hard. I never know when a hard day will strike. Some runs are circumstantially difficult: it's a big mileage day or the terrain is hilly or the weather is deplorable. Sometimes, though, a run that would otherwise seem easy and smooth just isn't. This could be a quick, flat, three-mile run around the neighborhood — the type of run that normally feels like nothing but on that day, for whatever reason, feels like the hardest thing ever. Each step seems painfully slow. Instead of feeling breathless toward the end, I start feeling breathless a few minutes in. Each minute that passes feels harder than the last and once I get into that mental space of thinking it's hard, it only gets harder.

Sometimes life is really, really hard. Again, sometimes this is circumstantial. Other times a rough day presents itself out of nowhere and all the tasks that normally seem doable suddenly seem insurmountable. These are the days when accomplishing anything at all, no matter how small, feels like a major victory. I hate these days but I think they're necessary, too.

Sometimes running feels so-so. It's neither easy nor hard. It's neither boring nor electrifying. It's just movement. Nothing inspiring is going to come from these runs but neither is any great defeat. This is a lot like life too. There are days that are just days. There's nothing deep about it. It's just doing one thing and then doing the next. Walking one step and then walking another. 

Sometimes running feels deeply demoralizing. I already touched upon the days when running feels difficult, but here I'm talking about the gut-wrenching, soul-shaking, truly difficult days when the only voice that's speaking is the most negative one that lives inside of you. These are the days when you feel like quitting. These are the days when you feel like eating french fries instead of even attempting a run. These are the days when you see the big hill ahead and automatically slow to a walk, no matter how many times you've conquered that hill running before. 

There are days like this in life too. These days are often tinged with feelings of grief or disappointment or loneliness. These days have been rare for me in the past several years, which I'm grateful for, but I recognize the similar feelings that come up on occasional runs. Maybe it is residual grief floating through me. Maybe it is life's way of reminding me not everything is sweet. 

Sometimes running feels like the only possible answer. There is simply no other way to get where I'm trying to go: both literally and physically getting from Point A to Point B but also getting to a place in my mind that I couldn't access otherwise. This is the place where I find myself solving problems. This is the place where I end up answering the questions that plague me. This is the place where I figure out myself and my life and there is absolutely no way I would get to that place if it weren't for running.

This is the way writing works for me, too. If I were to go through all my days without ever lacing up my running shoes or sitting down at my computer to type out my thoughts, I would be adrift. I know because I've been there. I've gone for periods of time without running or writing and it's quite simply my own personal version of hell. There are parts of my brain I cannot access through daily life. I can't access them through conversation. I can't access them no matter how long I sit, focus, and try to access them. I can access them when I'm writing and I can access them when I'm running. These are the only ways to get there for me. This is why I put up with all the challenging days and so-so days and truly demoralizing days. My release is on the other side of that mountain. I just have to be willing to do all the work of getting over the mountain first.

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Morocco Day 8: Majorelle Garden & Our Final Meal in the City

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Gian pulled out all the stops for our final breakfast in Morocco. After a week of waking up to a beautiful spread made for us, we weren't sure how we'd fare when we transitioned back into regular life (though to our credit, we've made an effort to wake up early and make breakfast for ourselves — though a much less luxurious breakfast — every day since arriving home).

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We spent our final afternoon wandering around the Jardin Majorelle. This was one of the most popular sites we visited and for good reason: the brightly colored buildings, lush plants, and sparkling pools of water were stunning. 

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Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought the garden in 1980. After he died in 2008, the ashes of Yves St. Laurent were scattered in the rose garden and a memorial was resurrected on site. 

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Starting in the 1970s, Yves St. Laurant made a collage out of the word "love" each year, which he would send to his friends and clients as a New Year's greeting. All of the iterations of these love collages are housed in a gallery at the garden. 

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Spending our last day in Marrakech in such a tranquil setting was the perfect way to wrap up our Moroccan experience. 

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We thought it would be nice to have our final meal in the city in the same restaurant where we had our first meal in the city, so we returned to Le Marrakchi to get our last rooftop view of the square below. After a week of eating Moroccan food I both loved it and needed a break from it, so I ordered spaghetti. Our waiter executed perfect form when pouring our mint tea. 

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Finally (and by finally I mean way too soon), it was time to say goodbye. Goodbye to Caroline the house turtle. Goodbye to Gian, our extraordinary housekeeper. Goodbye to Marrakech, the magical city that housed us for the most adventurous week of our lives. Mike gave us one final adventure when he left his carry-on bag in the car and our driver left with it, but after some impressive action movie-style sprinting through moving cars, he was able to retrieve it. We still had a long trip ahead of us with a layover in Amsterdam before returning to Portland. We also had several days if not a full week of jet lag waiting for us there, so it would be awhile before the honeymoon felt really "over." But our physical time in Morocco was coming to an end and I know we both wished we could have stayed much longer. This was the biggest adventure of my life and an absolutely magical experience I was so happy to share with my darling husband, the sweet love of my life. 

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Morocco Day 7: Madrasa, Museum, Art Cafe, Cooking Class & Henna

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This was the only day of our entire trip that we slept in. Jian in all her wisdom thought we'd be exhausted after our desert trip and suggested she wait until 10 to come over to the house and serve our breakfast. Getting a few extra hours of sleep after all our early mornings felt quite luxurious. As usual, Jian set out a breakfast spread (pastries, cake, smoothies, tea) that gave us the perfect start to the day. 

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After breakfast we walked around town and visited the Ben Youssef Madrasa, which used to be an Islamic college next to the Ben Youssef Mosque. We saw the living quarters where students once lived and we both agreed that the architecture in this building was even more impressive than in the palace we'd toured a few days prior.  

 

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At this point in the week I just couldn't do another couscous or tagine, as much as I love both dishes. We found a place for lunch that served vegetarian sandwiches, which we enjoyed on the patio with sparkling water and mint tea. 

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After lunch we visited the Museum of Marrakech, a former palace restored and converted to a museum in 1997. Jewish, Berber, and Arab cultures come together in this museum with a mixture of modern and traditional Moroccan art. The big gold chandelier-esque light is the centerpiece of the main room.

 

 

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After the museum we walked to the Henna Art Cafe for our cooking lesson. We arrived a few minutes early, so I enjoyed a virgin mint mojito and Mike had coffee. 

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We were pleased to learn our cooking lesson would be a private tutorial. We learned which spices, liquids and veggies (for me) and chicken (for Mike) to combine in the terra cotta Tangia pots. We learned that Tangia originally started as a quick stew single men threw together at the beginning of the day. They'd drop their pot of stew off at a nearby hamman, where the heat from the hamman's fire would warm the stew up. At the end of the work day, they'd pick up their Tangias and dinner would be ready. We walked our own Tangias down the street to a hamman, where they were lined up alongside other pots by the burning fire.  

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Since the stew would take several hours to cook, we had some time on our hands. First we went back to the art cafe and I got a henna tattoo on my palm. The entire process took about twenty minutes and was very comfortable. 

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We walked down the block to a vegan restaurant called Earth Cafe, where we split a pear tart and even more mint tea. As we were sitting inside, a huge downpour released outside, then abruptly stopped a few minutes later. We went back to our riad to relax for an hour or so, where we discovered the house turtle Caroline had nearly made her way across the room. Go Caroline, go!

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When we returned to the cafe, our Tangias were ready (along with the several other courses: bread, olives, salad, mint tea, mousse and crepes). The staff knew we were on our honeymoon and set us up at a table on its own. Like many other times during this trip, we were treated like royalty. 

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We stopped at a bakery on our way home and picked up treats to eat the next day. We finished the rest of Wall-E, relaxed and tried to wrap our brains around the fact that in only one day, we'd be on a plane back to Portland and our honeymoon would come to an end.

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Morocco Day 6: Sunrise in the Desert and a Film Studio Tour

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This was another early morning. Mike and I woke up around 6:00 a.m. so we could climb a sandy dune and watch the sun rise over the desert. We were tired and the climb was steep, but it was so worth it.  

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We came back to camp and ate bread, pastries, crepes, eggs, orange juice and tea for breakfast. Then we rode our camels back to meet Mohammed at his SUV. This time we were linked with two other tourists during the camel ride, but once back to the car it was just the three of us again. 

Along the way, Mohammed stopped at a souvenir shop and we tried our bargaining skills again. I eyed a bracelet but but their starting price was way more than we were hoping to spend, so that ended that. The man at the shop tried very hard to sell us a rug, but we said no dice. 

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We stopped for lunch (I had vegetarian couscous, Mike had vegetarian tagine, and we both agreed we were getting a little couscous and tagined-out.) 

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Moroccan bread is one of those things that looks deceptively simple but is actually way more delicious than the bread I'm used to eating. Since it was my once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon, I had no qualms about hitting the bread basket hard during the meals. 

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On our way back to Marrakech we stopped in Ouarzazate, a desert city known as the Hollywood of Morocco thanks to all the films that were filmed there. We took a tour of a film studio and saw the sets from the various  movies filmed there, mostly biblical or epic movies. We'd walk down one hallway and see a room set up to look like Egypt and another hallway and find a room that looked like Jerusalem. Giant pillars were made of styrofoam and other props like massive stones were actually light enough to lift with one hand. 

It took several extra hours to make it back home because we got stuck in a convoy of European students in VW bugs making their Spring Break trip to Morocco.

When we finally arrived home after 7, Jian made the most amazing meal — NOT couscous or tagine! — soup, salad, eggplant and tomatoes, bread and fried potato cakes, topped off by a sweet concoction with yogurt and bananas. Jian really spoiled us during our stay. 

After a few days in the hot desert, a shower never felt better. We made it through about half of another animated movie (this time Wall-E) before falling asleep. At this point in the trip it was hard to believe it was coming to an end so soon. 

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Morocco Day 5: Exploring Ait-Ben-Haddou & an Overnight Trek Via Camel

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This was another bright and early morning for us. Gian came over the night before and left us  with everything we'd need for breakfast. Mike and I groggily ate the pastries and cake (cake for breakfast is definitely a thing in Morocco), attempted and failed to make our own tea, and were met at the door by our driver Mohammed at 7:30 a.m. He told us he'd had a difficult time finding the place (we NEVER would have found it without the help of our driver on the first day) but that Gian had talked him through it over the phone, proving yet again that she was so much more than a housekeeper.  

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We walked with Mohammed to the main square where his SUV was parked and started the long 400 kilometer drive to camp. Luckily my parents had the foresight to gift me with a pressure-point anti-nausea bracelet before the trip, because the drive through the Atlas Mountains was incredibly windy. We made stops along the way to stretch our legs and  take in the rugged beauty of the mountains. No matter where we stopped, there was always someone by the side of the road with something to sell — usually dates. Though I didn't buy any, I felt like I was in the right country as someone who loves eating dates.   

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We stopped and walked around in Ait-Ben-Haddou, part of the Ouarzazate province, This collection of dwellings is along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech and was used as the backdrop for scenes in movies like Lawrence of Arabia. The architecture was beautiful and the weather was glorious, but I have to tell you: I was sweating my clothes off. For some reason it hadn't occurred to me that I didn't need to spend the entire eight-hour day wearing the heavy clothes I'd want for the camel ride that evening, so there I was on a beautiful 78-degree day with jeans, wool socks, tall boots, long sleeves, and a vest. Needless to say, I was a little uncomfortable. 

 

 

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We stopped for lunch (salad, vegetarian couscous, fruit) and I lost a little more sweat in the sunshine before getting back in the car and continuing the trip.

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We took one last stop to catch another view of the Atlas Mountains before we drove to the spot where we'd meet our camels. (Mohammed, by the way, was lovely and enjoyed speaking both English and German with us (the latter after he found out about Mike's background). He was especially excited when he learned a new English word, like during a conversation about cheese when he heard "cheddar" for the first time.) 

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We finally reached our destination. Our guide's name was Hasson and he led the camels that Mike and I rode to camp. It was a very bumpy and somewhat uncomfortable ride, but all of that was secondary to the fact that we were really there, riding camels in Africa. (!)

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When we arrived at camp there was a big group of other tourists (mostly German with a sprinkling of English and Japanese). The staff fed us tea, nuts and dates (you never have to go long before your next date in Morocco) and entertained us with African music in an open tent. 

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We were served dinner (soup, vegetarian tagine, fruit) in a separate tent. The tent where Mike and I stayed was private and plush, with electricity and warm blankets on the bed. The bathrooms also had flushing toilets and showers, which is something I did not expect to see in the middle of the African desert. After dinner, our hosts lit a bonfire and played more music and eventually we went to bed — though several dogs stayed up all night barking and the Germans stayed up playing music until the wee hours. 

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Morocco Day 4: Our Day of Opulence

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We had to have one day where we just went for it: spa day, palace tour, fancy ice cream, the works. 

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We started our morning again with breads, pastries, jam, butter, and mint tea. This time Gian swapped out our usual orange juice for a berry smoothie. Gian again proved herself to be an invaluable part of our Moroccan experience when she set up an appointment for the two of us to spend a few hours at a hamman together. 

We walked to the main square and took a taxi to the spa. (The drive was as adventurous as ever.) Since we arrived a little early, we looked around at the outdoor shops and got into a conversation with a friendly man who wanted to show us his wares without pressure to make a purchase. He showed us natural makeups and perfumes and we made a note to come back to him after our spa appointment.

At the spa, we were treated like royalty. After being provided with robes and shower shoes, we went to a steam room that was set up just for the two of us. We relaxed in there for awhile, sweating out the toxins, and then two ladies scrubbed us down and put mud masks all over our bodies. We stayed in the steam room with the body masks until it was time to rinse off. Then we got back into our robes and relaxed in a cooler room while we drank tea and water. Then we were escorted upstairs for the most relaxing side-by-side massages ever. After the massage we came back downstairs and relaxed in one last room, where we were served mint tea and cookies.

We returned to our new friend and bought lipstick, perfume, and eucalyptus. It was a real family affair: the man's dad worked behind the counter and his brother worked across the street at a bakery. Our friend was very sweet and said he appreciated the opportunity to practice his English (nearly everyone we encountered in Morocco spoke our language very clearly). 

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As Mike perfected his taxi haggling skills, we took a cab to a new Western-style mall and sat outside at an ice cream restaurant called Oliveri. They had a full menu just like any restaurant; every item on the menu, though, was dessert. I ordered a concoction with nougat and coffee ice cream, praline and whipped cream. Mike got a mango sorbet cake with a macaron on top. We split a bottle of sparkling water and enjoyed some lovely time in the sunshine. 

We went inside the mall, which didn't have a lot of shops. I finally saw my first indoor grocery store in this country. We bought pasta and a small jar of tomato sauce to make dinner at home, as well as cookies, white chocolate, and Twix Tops (just the top part of a Twix bar). I've mentioned before that I'm a huge sucker for trying sweets and snacks that look different from what I'm used to seeing at home. I was not going to leave Morocco with any regrets. Before moving on, we ate our Twix Tops outside and continued to enjoy the sunshine. 

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After negotiating with a few taxi drivers, Mike got us a ride to Bahia Palace to take a tour. Not to put too fine a point on this, but the taxi ride was once again harrowing. Regardless, we made it out alive. The palace had amazing architecture and tile work, though there were so many people visiting it was difficult to really look around and take pictures. 

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In an extraordinary example of Mike's keen sense of direction, we made our way back to Jemaa El Fna and found another restaurant with rooftop seating. I ordered vegetarian couscous, Mike ordered vegetarian tagine, and Mike enjoyed sparkling water while I had a a nutmeg and date-infused orange juice. We capped off our meal with more mint tea, at which point we had to acknowledge we'd become fully addicted to this delicious Moroccan beverage. After lunch we tried our bargaining skills again at the market and bought our own tea pot and two glasses to bring home. In the market we also located the art cafe where we wanted to return later that week for a cooking class and henna tattoo.

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It was late enough by then that we were able to get a real taste for how crowded the square gets at night. Though it was invigorating to see so much activity, I also found myself saying, "I'm glad we're not in our twenties and have no desire to get out there every night." We came back to the riad, made dinner, ate cookies, and enjoyed  a content evening at home. 

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This Is What a Year of Clean Eating and Regular Workouts Looks Like

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Today is my "fitversary" which means I've been sticking to a mainly clean diet and working out 4-6 days a week for a year. It all started in 2015 when I decided to start using Fit Girls Guide as a birthday present to myself. I was turning 33 and I wanted to get in the best shape possible for my wedding and hopefully a future pregnancy. My birthday was March 12th and I started the program on March 16th.

March 16, 2015

March 16, 2015

I made it a goal to always have fun. I refused to hate, shame, or torment myself. I made foods I enjoyed eating. I found workouts (mainly running) I enjoyed doing. I didn't berate myself for any missteps. I was proud of every small accomplishment. 

April 11, 2015

April 11, 2015

Clean eating made me feel so much better. I stopped popping antacids all the time. I stopped taking so many naps. I got through my days with more energy than I'd had in years.

May 31, 2015

May 31, 2015

I became addicted to the feeling of moving my body. I got in the habit of walking to the grocery store, parking far away on errands, taking the stairs, and adding little bursts of activity (10 push-ups here, 10 squats there) throughout the day. 

July 2, 2015

July 2, 2015

I drastically reduced the amount of alcohol I consumed. It became rare for me to consume more than two drinks a week. I thought that cutting down on drinking would be so much more difficult than it actually was. 

August 7, 2015

August 7, 2015

I never tried to lose weight. I focused on eating real, fresh foods and making exercise a regular part of my daily routine. 

September 13, 2015

September 13, 2015

In addition to Fit Girls Guide, I turned to Jillian Michaels videos and Kayla Itsine's Bikini Body Guide for challenging workouts. I fell in love with the feeling of pushing myself to the next level. 

October 25, 2015

October 25, 2015

I became passionate about adapting recipes to make them healthier. I especially enjoyed swapping cleaner ingredients into desserts to make them less sugary. 

November 29, 2015

November 29, 2015

The more addicted I became to the way clean eating made me feel, the more I wanted to experiment with clean living in general. I began making DIY versions of everything from dish soap and toilet bowl cleaner to face masks and shampoo.

January 3, 2016

January 3, 2016

I was more lax about food around the holidays because it was more important to me to spend time with people I love than to obsess over a few cookies.

February 7, 2016   

February 7, 2016

 

I'm proud of the changes I've made in my body even when it's not at its leanest. Some weeks I work out like mad and stick to clean eating 95% of the time and have the tight body to show for it. Other weeks my workouts are more relaxed, my eating is more relaxed, and my body is a little softer and more relaxed, too. I love both versions.

March 12, 2016

March 12, 2016

Clean eating is a way of life for me. It is my lifestyle. I eat treats here and there and don't feel guilty about it — but generally when I do, I don't feel physically great afterward. Sometimes I have to ask myself if that slice of pizza or cake is really worth the way I'll feel later.

March 16, 2015 on the left and March 12, 2016 on the right

March 16, 2015 on the left and March 12, 2016 on the right

The change in my appearance is nice but the change in my attitude, happiness, and confidence is  what I care about most. Exercise made me stronger, empowered me, and showed me that I'm capable of so much more than I thought. Eating well helped me to realize that the way I feel both physically and mentally is within my control. When I eat well, I feel well. 

March 16, 2015 on the left and March 12, 2015 on the right

March 16, 2015 on the left and March 12, 2015 on the right

I decided on a whim to give myself the gift of health last year on my birthday. It was the smartest decision I ever made and I'm proud of myself for making it. 

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Morocco Day 3: Beach Day at Essaouira

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We again started our morning with pastries and mint tea from Gian, this time with the addition of vanilla yogurt. The weather was perfect: sunny and in the upper 70's, so basically the opposite of Portland.

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Abdu picked us up and took us on the three-hour drive to Essaaouira. Being a passenger in a car in Morocco is an experience that definitely takes getting used to. Most drivers have a fast and aggressive style that includes a lot of honking and close calls. The harrowing drives added a sense of ruggedness to the journey and made it that much sweeter every time we reached our destinations. In the middle of this drive, we stopped to look at goats in an argan nut tree. 

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Along the way, we also stopped at an argan oil-producing facility. We watched as women squeezed the nuts by hand to create the oil, which really makes me think about the amount of labor that goes into our products. Here, we stocked up on honey, almond butter, lotions and soaps to bring back to our families. 

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Abdu dropped us off near the beach and we walked around the marketplace. The stalls here were much more laid back than those in Marrakech: most of the prices were fixed and there was no hassling or haggling. We bought a few trinkets for our nieces and nephews and were relieved when we didn't have to put our nonexistent bargaining skills to the test.  

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We ate lunch along the pier at a place Abdu recommended. I ordered a cheese omelette. Mike had salad, fried sardines, and salmon tagine. You know you're in a committed marriage when you can watch someone eat around fish bones and still love him. We were sitting outside, which was lovely until we were joined by a flock of seagulls and several cats. There are feral cats everywhere in Morocco, which is why as a non-cat person I found myself saying, "I could live here if it weren't for the cats" more than once. The food was tasty and we split a bottle of sparkling water and a caramel dessert. 

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We walked along the beach with our bare feet in the sand and enjoyed the perfect weather. In hindsight I realize I should have at least touched my toes into the water to test the temperature, but at the time we were content to stay on the beach. We sat for awhile on a wall, looking out at the water and taking it all in. 

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We walked back to the main square and bought a few more gifts for our family. We also picked up some pastries from a street vendor, which was exciting because they seemed to have an endless assortment and we could pick and choose what we wanted and pay by the pound. We had some time to sit outside at a restaurant and enjoy some mint tea (for me) and espresso (for Mike) before Abdu picked us up to take us back to Marrakech. 

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The ride home was as treacherous as ever but I was starting to get used to Moroccan driving and getting better about just not watching the road too much (what I don't know can't hurt me). I know I sound like such a repressed Portlander every time I say this, but I just could not believe how clear the skies were and how perfect the sun felt on our skin.

 

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When we arrived home, Gian fixed us vegetarian tagine, mint tea and fruit cocktail. I took a hot bath in our big bathtub and we spent the rest of the night relaxing and reading. I think our first two nights were marked by jet lag and a general feeling of being overwhelmed with sensory overload, but this was the day I started fantasizing about what it would be like to stay in this beautiful country and just never come home.  

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33 Things That Happened in my 33rd Year

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

That picture up there if of me at my birthday party last year. A lot has changed in 364 days.

Today's my last day as a 33-year-old. For reasons I can't fully clarify, I always thought about turning 33 when I was a child. There was something this particular age that epitomized adulthood to my young brain. I always looked forward to it wistfully. When 33 arrived, I was thrilled. And now, looking back on it a year later, I can assuredly say my 33rd year did not disappoint. In honor of tomorrow's 34th birthday, here are 33 things that happened in my 33rd year. 

1.) I traded in a diet full of fake meat, lots of cheese, and tons of pasta and chips for one that focused on clean foods, whole ingredients, and lots of fresh produce, fiber, lean proteins and healthy fats.

2.) I became a person who works out regularly. In years past I've always gone through phases where I'd work out a few weeks or months here or there, but this year I got myself into the routine of legitimately working out 4-6 days a week every week. 

3.) I married the love of my life.

4.) I visited Belgium for the first time.

5.) I refocused this blog to showcase my new interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle through clean eating and fitness.

6.) I received a check from the state of Oregon for over $200 in unclaimed property refunds.

7.) I accidentally shredded said check.

8.) I went to three different bachelorette parties thrown in my honor and spent time with some of my favorite female friends.

9.) I developed a serious passion for running and completed 12 races in 2015 and two races so far in 2016.

10.) I learned how to make cleaner versions of all the foods I love, from cupcakes to cookies to ice cream to macaroni and cheese to lasagna to eggplant parmesan.

11.) I tried trampoline aerobics with my friend Megan.

12.) I tried stand-up paddle boarding with my niece Grace.

13.) I tried indoor rock climbing with my husband Mike.

14.) I spent a relaxing weekend in Bend at a lovely house with a hot tub in the company of my sweetheart thanks to the generosity of a former coworker.

15.) I went from being unable to do even one push-up to being able to bust out 20.

16.) I got legitimately good at doing burpees.

17.) I spent a lot of time writing, working on articles, and babysitting.

18.) I said no to a few invitations I knew were going to absolutely drain me and I did so without guilt.

19.) I spent two different days in two different emergency rooms with two different family members.

20.) I got into the habit of prepping all my meals for the week on Sundays. 

21.) I lost 40 pounds.

22.) I mourned the fact that none of my grandparents lived long enough to see me get married.

23.) I didn't get sick once beyond a minor sore throat or case of the sniffles here or there.

24.) I spent a few days in Paris.

25.) I reached the Purple Level on Nike Plus, which translated to 1,553 lifetime running miles.

26.) I gathered with two other families for our 31st or 32nd (we've lost track at this point) annual camping trip.

27.) I watched a lot of Netflix movies while cuddled up on the couch next to my husband.

28.) I made a raw, vegan, gluten-free cheesecake for my husband's birthday that everyone in my family raved about.

29.) I made clean gingerbread cookies for Christmas that nobody in my family really liked. 

30.) I published a lot of articles that didn't excite me but paid the bills and several articles I felt genuinely proud of, too.

31.) I'm pretty sure I didn't throw up once, which HAS to be a record for me.

32.) I rode a camel.

33.) I planned a honeymoon to Morocco with my husband and we spent a week having the adventure of a lifetime

I capped off my last day as a 33-year-old with a 16-mile run in the rain and am officially dedicating the rest of the weekend to nothing but relaxation and fun. 

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This picture is of me last week, enjoying my natural habitat of daily sweat sessions and clean eating. (As a reminder I'm all for everything in moderation, which means I also enjoyed the heck out of all kinds of food this year, including breads, pastries, and sweetened mint tea galore in Morocco. If you never allow yourself to indulge in anything, I think you're holding yourself back from fully enjoying your life.) Here's to another year that will hopefully be healthy, balanced, fun, and productive. And here's hoping I don't accidentally shred any checks next year. 

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Morocco Day 2: Exploring the Medina, Souks and Food Stalls

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

I started my first full day in Morocco bright and early when I woke up at 4:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. An hour later the call for prayers over the loudspeaker and the crowing of a nearby rooster woke up Mike too. When we finally fell back to sleep we passed out hard, stuck in a deep sleep until Gian came in around 9:15 to fix our breakfast. 

 

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Gian served us a delicious assortment of pastries, bread and crepes with jam and butter, along with orange juice and mint tea. Mike and I quickly realized we could get used to starting our days like this. As I mentioned in my last post, Gian was so much more than a housekeeper. She also operated as a concierge of sorts, helping us organize our outings and assisting us in getting where we needed to go. 

 

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Our riad was located about ten minutes away from Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square and market place in Marrakech. Gian showed us how to get from our house to the square, pointing out the buildings and landmarks we needed to remember to find our way back. She also took us to a restaurant she recommended and got us a reservation for lunch. Though the streets seemed busy (again filled with pedestrians, scooters, horse-drawn carriages and carts carrying goods), she told us this was the quiet time and the square really came alive at night. 

Our first walk through the carts and stalls was a bit overwhelming as everyone tried to sell us their wares. Not yet confident of our bargaining skills, we did our best to walk quickly, browsing but not spending too much time looking at any one thing.

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After walking around the square for awhile, we found respite in a nearby cyber garden, where the calm and tranquil vibe was in sharp contrast to the frenzy a few blocks away. When we got tricked into buying pastries from an older man, we realized we learned our first Moroccan lesson: when someone offers you something and it seems like it's free, it isn't, no matter how sweet the accompanying words.

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As Portlanders, we could not stop marveling at the blue sky. We also noted how incredibly clean everything was. Shopkeepers were constantly sweeping the streets outside their stores and we didn't notice any trash on the ground. When it started to rain right before our lunch reservation, we made our way to the restaurant. 

 

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We walked up a long, winding staircase to reach the top level of the restaurant and sat by a window with a view of the square below. Mike ordered a salad and all the ingredients were served in individual bowls. We shared this as I went to town (for the first of many times on this trip) on the bread basket. To me vacations and bread baskets just go hand in hand. I ordered a vegetarian tagine, which we shared along with a bottle of sparkling water.

 

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Since we were feeling the effects of jet lag on our first day, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and spend some time lounging on our rooftop terrace. The rain that pelted down as we safely sat indoors during lunchtime was mercifully short, unlike Portland rain, so we were able to take our books to the roof and get a dose of sunshine and a small nap.

Exhaustion kept us from heading back to the square for dinner, so we decided to have a true night in instead. We stopped at a "store" (a cart where food and water were served behind a counter) and picked up baguettes of bread, chips, cookies and bottled water. I was on a mission to try anything that looked different from the things I typically eat at home. The chips were ... interesting. The cookies tasted like the cookies I'm used to eating. We made ourselves some lazy sandwiches and again spent our evening curled up on the couch in the living room with books, an animated movie in the background, until we decided to retire early to be ready for a day at the beach the next day.

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