Viewing entries tagged
positivity

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Prepping For Baby: Freezing Vegan Mac 'n Cheese

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Today I am 35 weeks pregnant. This means I can reasonably expect to no longer be pregnant and have a baby in my arms within 3-7 weeks. Three to seven weeks! It's crunch time. 

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Luckily, I'm feeling more prepared than ever. This is thanks in huge part to the shower my mom and sister threw for me this weekend. We had such a lovely weekend — my parents-in-law flew in from California, my sister and her family came in from Phoenix, and a sweet group of friends gathered at my parents' house. I like the term "shower" because I truly felt like I was being showered with love and generosity. Our baby is starting life with so many nice things thanks to the incredible people we know. 

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This week I decided to prep and freeze a big batch of vegan macaroni and cheese from the cookbook Hearty Vegan Meals For Monster Appetites. A monster appetite is exactly what I'm expecting to have when I start breastfeeding. 

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Symptoms I've been experiencing a lot lately: back pain, overheating, breathlessness. I still wake up every morning with Mike because I like the ritual of sitting down to eat breakfast with him before he leaves for work, but I often go back to bed for a few hours once he's gone in an attempt to quell some of the fatigue that's clung to me throughout pregnancy. 

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As my body grows, I feel increasingly vulnerable each time I step outside my front door. Vulnerable is a word I've frequently used to describe my pregnancy. My belly has become a magnet. People openly comment on it and stare at it. I'm carrying the thing I'm most protective of on the front of my body and I don't trust people not to crash into me or invade my space. I want to walk around with a bubble surrounding me at all times. I imagine this instinct will only grow once there's a baby in the flesh. I rarely thought twice about walking down a street alone before I was pregnant. Now this precious thing I'm carrying is prominent and visible. My physical abilities have slowed. My defenses are up. Walking through the aisles of a store feels like a battle.

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The bigger and rounder my belly gets, the more I like my pregnant body. I don't know how I'll feel after birth, but in my pregnancy I've noticed that the desire or pressure to look a certain way has decreased dramatically. I do not feel weird about the weight I've gained. I do not care that I don't wear makeup or style my hair most days. I do not care that there are only a limited number of outfits in my closet that work for me at this point in my pregnancy. There are people who find the physical changes of pregnancy incredibly stressful and I thought I might be one of them, but I'm just not. I'm tired. I'm excited. I'm hopeful. I love thinking about the future life of my little one. I love taking naps and eating good food and taking care of myself during pregnancy, which I know translates to taking care of the baby, too. I see my big belly and I don't know how to be anything but amazed. A little person is living inside that belly. If my thighs and butt have grown bigger in the process of pregnancy, so be it. I can't find the energy to begin to care. 

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I know I say this often, but I'll repeat it once more: having a pregnancy that coincides with a presidential election is stressful. I'm making a big effort to take care of myself and stay calm and keep my energy level positive because I think my baby is absorbing all of it. With so much negativity and toxicity surrounding the election in general and a certain candidate in particular, it can be difficult to not get pulled down with frustration and unease. I'm hopeful about the outcome of all of this and hopeful that I'll bring my baby into a more positive world, but in the meantime there's a lot of negativity and grossness that I'm trying to be informed about while absorbing as little as possible. I know a lot of the frustration and fear has crept in despite my best efforts, and I just hope my baby isn't picking up on too much of it. 

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We missed this week's birth class because we attended a wedding on Sunday and I'll be honest: there's a little less stress in our lives this week. It's not that they don't do their best to comfort and reassure us in the class. It's just that despite the comfort and reassurance, the fact remains that this body and mind of mine will be giving birth to a child soon and I can't really think of anything more vulnerable. There's that word again: Vulnerable. 

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The tofu in this recipe contributes to the creamy texture. This recipe may seem complicated, but from start to finish I don't think it took any more than 30 minutes to prepare.

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For several months now, I've more or less been waking up every hour to pee. It's an annoyance I'm grateful for, since I know it is training me for all those times I'll be waking up with my baby. Having our first child is such a strange experience because I can imagine all the things that are about to happen, but until the baby's actually here it's just a faraway vision.

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Is there anything more comforting than a creamy pasta dish? 

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Last night I went to a reading at Powell's with a small group of my friends. The reading was great but oh man: I was so hot and breathless. I don't know how much longer I can keep up normal activities as I delve further into the depths of a third trimester pregnancy. It may seem simple to sit in a chair for an hour, but when the pool of sweat and feeling of "Am I about to pass out?" hits, the idea of being propped up on pillows on my couch at home grows more enticing. 

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Creamy goodness!

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It feels like there is still a lot to accomplish before our baby arrives, but nothing at this point seems insurmountable. Thanks to an incredible support network of family and friends, we went from having NOTHING to an entire house filled with baby things. What does one even do with that much love? 

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I don't know exactly when this baby will arrive, but regardless of the exact date this is for sure our Thanksgiving baby. I've never been more thankful for anything in my life. For all my fears and worries, I'm mostly excited to meet the person I've been carrying inside me all these months. I know this person will become an individual entity completely separate from me, but right now the connection between us in undeniable. We are inhabiting the same skin. The baby is me is the baby, for now. 

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We're getting ready for you, Little Cupcake. We hope you like our home and our family. We hope you like the smell of a pasta casserole baking and the feeling of our arms wrapped around you. We absolutely cannot wait to meet you. 

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This world is kind of a crazy place, but there's so much love waiting for you when you get here. 

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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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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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How to Start a Self-Love Revolution

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As I've mentioned many times in the past, I'm a big fan and follower of Fit Girls Guide, an online fitness community that promotes clean eating and self-love. For each monthly challenge with Fit Girls Guide, there is a new mantra. This month's is I Am The Revolution. I love this phrase because it encourages us to look inward for our own inspiration instead of seeking it elsewhere. 

At the same time, I know a lot of people are confused about where exactly to start when it comes to starting a revolution. Telling someone to "just love yourself" is not enough to get them going on a journey of acceptance and self-compassion. What does that actually mean and how does one practice it daily? 

I thought I would share a few concrete ways I started a self-love revolution for myself. This is a process that began four or five years ago and continues daily. I know this kind of revolution can seem daunting at first, but I think you'll see from the examples I'm providing that it can be a lot simpler than you might first realize.

1. STOP READING WOMEN'S MAGAZINES

This one pains me as a writer. When I was younger, I aspired to write for these types of publications. Also I don't want to miss out on the incredible writing I know lives in the pages of these magazines. (For the latter I have a solution: read the articles online.)

A lot of quality content can be found in women's magazines and I don't want to underscore this fact, but I also want to point out that the barrage of images — both from the magazine's photoshoots and the included advertising — are not healthy for even the healthiest woman out there. Flip through the pages of a women's magazine and the message you will find over and over again is that you are not enough. You're not thin enough or your hair isn't shiny enough or your fashion budget isn't big enough or your skin isn't clear enough or your body isn't toned enough or your nails aren't bright enough and so on and so on.

These magazines exist to sell  products. Magazines want you to believe that the pop singer with the flawless skin didn't get that way through airbrushing; she got that way because she uses X brand of makeup. That model's hair isn't the result of three hours with a hair professional; it's because she uses Y hair product. We would all be a little prettier and happier if we just bought this outfit or that eye cream or this self-tanner. 

Remove yourself from the cycle of comparison by just saying no to women's magazines. I used to read them religiously (probably at least five different magazines a month) and it's amazing what happened when I stopped several years ago. I no longer felt like I HAD to go get my hands on a certain beauty product because I was no longer aware of that beauty product's existence. I no longer looked at pictures of celebrities or models and compared them to the way I looked in my own life. Eventually, when I did pick up a magazine again, I was struck by the skewed ratio of quality content versus selling. I decided to become a person who didn't want to be sold anything. I decided to accept myself the way I already was, without X miracle beauty product or must-have outfit. Once I ditched the constant exposure to beautiful airbrushed models, I felt a lot less pressure to look a certain way and a lot more comfortable just being myself. 

2. EAT FOODS THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD

I know I'm getting into tricky territory with this one. On the one hand, I hate the way that food is moralized and we're made to believe there's such a thing as good versus bad when it comes to the way we eat. This society puts way too much pressure on everyone, specifically women, to look a certain way and be a certain size and we're often sold the message that the only way to be happy is to not be overweight. I don't buy any of that. I think people should eat what they want to eat, wear what makes them comfortable, and live their lives the way they want to live their lives.

That being said, there is no denying the fact that for me, eating healthy foods makes me feel one way and eating unhealthy foods makes me feel another. Processed foods exacerbate my fatigue. Fresh foods and veggies combined with lean proteins and whole grains give me energy. Does this mean I never consume chips or cupcakes or other so-called "bad" foods? No! It means that balance is always my goal and I strive for a diet that relies mostly on healthy foods and minimally on less healthy ones. To me this has nothing to do with wanting to look a certain way. It has nothing to do with self-punishment. It has everything to do with checking in and realizing that I simply cannot finish off a plate of greasy nachos and feel great afterward. I feel weighed down, lethargic and listless — which is fine if those greasy nachos are an occasional indulgence and those post-nacho symptoms are an occasional side effect. When junk food starts taking over my life, though, it has a huge impact on the way I feel both physically and emotionally. I am far more prone to get an upset stomach or head after polishing off a cookie than I am after eating an apple. 

On the other hand, when I feed myself food that fuels me with the nutrients and vitamins and minerals my body needs, I operate better. My thoughts feel clearer. My energy is bigger. I feel more equipped to take on life challenges that arise daily. So while I don't turn down a piece of birthday cake and don't recommend that you do either, I also make a conscious attempt to fill my life with leafy greens and quinoa and tofu and almonds and garden-fresh veggies and berries. I do this because my physical and mental health depends on it. I simply can't love myself as much when I don't even have the energy to move. 

3. CULTIVATE YOUR OWN STYLE

There are a lot of style rules out there dictating that this type of body needs to wear this type of swimsuit and that type of body should avoid that cut of dress and if you weigh X, cover yourself up and if you weigh Y, go about your days half-naked. To me it's all nonsense. When it comes to putting clothes on your body, I think it all boils down to wearing what you like, what makes you comfortable, and what makes you happy. Period.

If you're 250 pounds and want to wear short shorts, don't let anyone stop you. If you wouldn't be caught dead in a dress even at a friend's wedding, own it. If you want to wear a bikini but are worried what others will think, screw what everyone thinks and wear it with pride. If you want to wear nothing but sweats and T-shirts, go for it. If you get dressed to the nines every day and wake up extra early to do your hair and makeup because that's what makes you happy, do that. Wear what you like. Wear what makes you comfortable. Wear what makes you happy. Follow trends if you think that's fun. Avoid them if you don't. Wear jeans. Wear skirts. Wear the skimpiest swimsuit imaginable. Wear a conservative pantsuit. Show your cleavage. Cover your cleavage. Wear something tight. Wear something loose. Wear something that elicits compliments. Wear something that nobody else likes. It doesn't matter as long as you like it, you are comfortable, and you are happy.  

4. TREAT YOURSELF THE WAY YOU'D TREAT A CHILD

This one is huge because women have a tendency to say horrible things to themselves. Every time you look into the mirror and tell yourself how fat and hideous you are, turn around and picture yourself saying those exact same words to a small child. Nobody — child or adult — deserves to be treated with hatred. Nobody includes YOU. You do not deserve to be treated with hatred. If you would forgive a child for accidentally breaking a plate, forgive yourself for eating an unhealthy meal that left you feeling depleted. If you can forgive a child for saying something inappropriate, forgive yourself for whatever missteps you made today. You can skip your workout and still be a wonderful person. You can weigh more than what society tells you you're supposed to weigh and still be a wonderful person. You can try on an outfit you don't like and refuse to tell yourself you have a gross body, opting instead to realize that all outfits fit all people in all different ways and this one just didn't quite work out. Hug the child in your life, hug yourself, and move on. 

Several years ago I read this piece by Sarah Koppelkam and it became the Bible for how I treat myself and others. Now that I am pregnant, I've been thinking about this concept anew. This is a short piece of writing and I encourage everyone to read it from start to finish. If you want a revolution of self-love and body acceptance, this is the way to get there. Use this as a guide for talking to your daughters and sons. Use this as a guide for talking to yourself. Memorize the words. Tattoo them on your body. Live them. There's your revolution. 

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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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Cupcake in the Oven

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My darling husband Mike and I are so excited to be adding a new member to our family in November. We can't wait to meet our little cupcake and in the meantime, we've been learning a lot about pregnancy. If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that the way I envisioned my pregnancy and the way it's actually playing out are unbelievably different. If there's two things I know for sure, it's that this is okay.

I could not have anticipated how tired I would feel. I had this vision of pregnancy as this time when I would be motivated to sit down and write a book and attack my household chores and prep healthy meals and be full of endless excitement and energy all day, every day. It was like that, just like that, for a few weeks. But then the fatigue hit. Then the nausea followed. Then I realized there would be days when the single most productive thing I'd do all day was finish a writing assignment for work while reclined on the couch in between naps. I realized there would be days when I'd never change out of my robe. There would be days when I wouldn't make it out of the house. There would be days when I'd settle onto the couch to take "a 20-minute nap" only to wake up from a dead sleep five hours later. There would be days when I wouldn't write at all. There would be days when I would not work out. There would be days when I would not make it to the store or muster up the energy to fix a healthy meal. There would be days when I would eat chips and days when I would eat ice cream and days when I would go back to bed after my husband left for work and not wake up again until the afternoon. There would be days when a walk around the block was all I could handle. There would be days when I'd say, "Pizza? Absolutely. No way I'm cooking tonight." There would be days when I would throw up my breakfast and days when, no matter how exciting the prospect of our impending little one was, I simply could not work up the energy to feel joyful.

There were other days, too. Days when I did get dressed. When I did get more than just the bare minimum of work requirements done. Days when I ran half marathons. Days when I put together healthy feasts and cleaned the house and ran errands and felt like a productive member of society. I feel like what I've experienced in pregnancy is such a small preview of what's to come with my child: there are going to be such good days and such bad days and so, so many days in between. 

I'm not having a picture-perfect pregnancy, but I've seen enough turbulent and even life-threatening pregnancies to know I'm lucky. Am I enjoying every second of it? No, and anyone who says that didn't experience nausea or exhaustion. But I'm enjoying most of it. And though it's taken me awhile to get here, I'm finally to the point where I'm excited to share my experience. 

As a longtime vegetarian, one fear I had was that I'd crave meat during pregnancy. For the record, if this had happened, I would have eaten meat. I'm not depriving my baby of anything. Instead, the opposite happened. During most of my first trimester, my aversion to eggs and dairy products was so strong I had to avoid them almost entirely. This is how I found myself becoming a Mostly Vegan. On the rare days when the thought of eggs or cheese didn't make me want to throw up, I absolutely took advantage and got myself an omelette or grilled cheese. Most days, though, my body just wasn't having it. So I listened. 

The egg/dairy aversion lifted in my second trimester and I've been incorporating (small amounts of) eggs and dairy back into my diet. I've realized that I actually do like to limit my intake because the difference in how I feel when I eat a lot of it versus none is substantial. Most days I have either a small amount or none. Some days (I'm looking at you, Saturday) I have pizza AND nachos AND an ice cream sandwich. And then I wake up the next day and remember why Iife is more fun for me when I don't eat like that. In the end, it all balances out.

The first eight or so weeks of my pregnancy were somewhat breezy. I was tired but I didn't have any nausea and I had enough energy to more or less keep up with my regular workouts. Weeks 9 - 14 or so were more hellish. This was when I discovered that those cute late-night ice cream cravings pregnant women are always having in movies and commercials are B.S. A pregnancy craving is not "Oh my gosh, I just have to have some ice cream RIGHT NOW and I'll send my husband out to get some even though it's 3 a.m. because it just sounds SO GOOD!" A pregnancy craving is "There is literally one food and one food only that I can think about and not want to throw up, so I will do whatever it takes to get that food." For me that food was always something super salty like sour cream and onion chips or Wheat Thins, which was super bizarre for me because before pregnancy, I rarely used even a pinch of salt when cooking. Salt was just not my thing. In pregnancy, salt is SO my thing.

Before I was pregnant, I was running 150 miles a month, six days a week, at a sub-8-minute mile. Now I'm running about 55 miles a month, 2-3 days a week, and I'm creeping up on a 12-minute mile. I knew I'd be running slower and less, but I didn't expect things to decrease this much. What I discovered is that there were a lot of days when my energy level was simply too low to fathom going for a run. On those days I tried to walk instead, but even then there were some days I just had to skip and let myself nap instead. I've long been a proponent of listening to my body and giving it what it needs, but it is only in pregnancy that I've learned just how easy I need to go on myself sometimes. I am simply not willing to push myself for the sake of pushing myself when ever fiber of my being is telling me to rest, rest, rest. I know my body is responding to the needs of my baby — so if my baby needs me to rest, I'm going to rest.

I've been working very hard to supply my baby with an extremely nutritious and balanced diet. Once the nutrient quota for the day is hit, I allow myself treats. I do this often. Why? Because I'm HUNGRY and my baby is hungry and we already ate all the things we're supposed to eat, so now we're going to finish the day with an ice cream sandwich and not feel bad about it. Before I was pregnant, I so rarely ate the kinds of snacks I'm eating now. In the first trimester it was all about chips, crackers, toast, popcorn, and whatever salty morsels I could find. Lately I've been drifting back toward my natural sweet tooth, which means that first and foremost I've been eating a lot of fruit, and beyond that I've been having sweet treats of the ice cream and cookie variety. I try to make my own when I can and stick to cleaner brands when I can't — or occasionally I just go for it with the processed crap. I do. I thought I wouldn't get that stuff anywhere near my baby, but every once in awhile it sounds so good I incorporate a handful and move on with my life. Last night I had frosted animal cookies after eating a vegetable-heavy dinner. Balance, balance, balance.

So far the changes in my body have been both subtle and extraordinary. Pregnancy has a way of making you feel hideous by causing a slew of physical effects simultaneously. It's not just that you're gaining weight. It's that you're gaining weight at the same time your face is breaking out and the same time your hair is getting super dry and the same time your nose won't stop running and the same time your feet and legs are swelling up and the same time you have no energy to do anything, much less put on a cute outfit or do your hair or wear makeup. Huge kudos to the women who say they felt/ feel most beautiful when they're pregnant because that's been a difficult costume for me to wear. I'm not glowing; I'm sweating. My weight gain isn't going exclusively toward an adorable baby bump; my butt and legs and arms are getting bigger, too. I don't feel radiant; I feel tired.

That said, do I get what "they" say about being amazed by your body's capabilities during pregnancy? Yes. I've felt so much of my vanity float away during this process, partly because I'm too damn tired to give that much thought to how I look and partly because I recognize there's something truly magical about what's happening to my body. There is a human growing inside of me! Some nights I catch myself complaining to my husband about how big everything is getting and the fact that I keep breaking out along my jawline and the weird way a lot of clothes look on me right now. He always reminds me that underneath all that surface bullshit, our baby is living and growing inside of me. So maybe I don't feel my cutest right now, but maybe feeling cute is so beside the point anyway.

Would I trade this body for anything? No. There's a little cupcake baking in this oven and the bigger that cupcake gets, the less I care about the state of the kitchen. Let there be flour on the counters and batter on the floor. I can clean things up after this cupcake is born. Or I can not clean things up, and focus my energy elsewhere. Either way, there will be time. Right now I have more important things to worry about. 

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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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Cupcakes & Cocktails

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fresh Berries

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fresh Berries

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Mike and I hosted a Cupcakes & Cocktails party for Memorial Day and not surprisingly, he was in charge of the cocktails and I was in charge of the cupcakes. For his part, he infused vodkas (and gins, I think? I dunno — this wasn't my area) with ingredients like mint, black pepper, dill, cucumbers, basil and jalapeños. I personally haven't had a drink in 2016 but the crowd drank up his concoctions and seemed to love every sip.  

S'mores Cupcakes and Banana Split Cupcakes

S'mores Cupcakes and Banana Split Cupcakes

There was nothing "healthy" about this party, and I for one think there's some value in that. We're in another cycle where a lot of news sources are picking up stories about "the dangers of clean eating"  that suggest a rigid adherence to healthy eating leads to orthoexia, an unhealthy obsession with eating right. I've written in the past about the problems I have with these types of articles, which I think unfairly link clean eating with eating disorders when in fact the disorders are a result of overzealous rigidity and not the clean, healthy lifestyle I know and love. The lifestyle I know promotes balance and moderation, not severity. 

Apricot-Glazed Almond Cupcakes

Apricot-Glazed Almond Cupcakes

I think the best way to counter this popular view of clean eating as something dark, dirty and dangerous is to live a balanced life in which food is never the enemy. There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet, we empty our kitchen compost daily. I am the queen of whole grains and there's nothing I love more than a good tempeh or tofu. Nine times out of ten, I'll choose salad over fries. I'll choose water over soda. These daily choices make it so much sweeter on those days when I do go for the fries or the brownie or the root beer float or the nachos. I have those days too. They're infrequent and therefore they're special. I enjoy them without guilt or shame, which is how I think life should always be enjoyed. 

Root Beer Float Cupcakes

Root Beer Float Cupcakes

So maybe I fight back by making cupcakes. This is my way of showing the world: here's something I love. It's not particularly healthy, but I made it with my own hands and it tastes good and it brings me joy to share it. And I know my husband gets joy from sharing his fun cocktails, which also have no nutritional value but have the effect of bringing people together and offering refreshment on a hot, sunny day. And I know we'll eat salad for lunch today and everything balances out. 

Blueberry Lemon Creme Cupcakes

Blueberry Lemon Creme Cupcakes

I am obsessed with food in the sense that I spend a lot of time thinking about it, shopping for it, preparing it, and eating. I love finding delicious recipes. I love playing around with seasonal produce. I love discovering the flavors and textures my tastebuds respond to most. And though I spent my younger years being obsessed with food in a less healthy way, I now refuse to play the game that requires me to feel bad or guilty for eating a certain type of food or equate my self-worth with the items on my plate. There are times in life when you just want to eat a cookie and I refuse to believe there's anything wrong with that.  

Pineapple Right-Side-Up Cupcakes

Pineapple Right-Side-Up Cupcakes

So I make cupcakes. Sometimes I make really healthy cupcakes, the kind where I swap sugar for mashed banana and oil for avocado or unsweetened applesauce. Other times I make the full-sugar, full-fat, fully loaded versions. I think there's value in both. More than anything, I think there's value in gathering with friends on the patio on a warm day to enjoy food, drinks, and company. In fact, I think experiences like that are the most valuable thing in life. 

Eat cupcakes. Eat kale. Ride your bike all morning and sleep all afternoon. Order the salad instead of the fries. But every once in awhile, order the fries instead of the salad. Ditto for dessert: satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit at the end of your meals. Then one day, go for the ice cream sundae. Enjoy every bite. This summer, enjoy the heck out of corn on the cob and fresh watermelon and big fruit salads and spinach and artichokes. Equally enjoy an ice cream cone or salt water taffy or s'mores here and there. 

Look around. Notice the people with you. Notice the environment you're in. Notice your mood. Notice your comfort level. Are you with people you love? Are you enjoying the scenery? Are you happy? Are you content? This is what matters. Whether you had a "perfect eating day" or you scarfed down cupcakes at a party, this is always what matters.  

P.S. Even those these weren't particularly "healthy" cupcakes, they were all vegan and six out of seven of them were gluten-free. I hate excluding friends with food restrictions from enjoying the foods I make and I love experimenting with ingredients to try and make dishes that work for everybody. 

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It's "Bikini Body" Season

http://the-toast.net/2013/10/02/girl-tips-2/

http://the-toast.net/2013/10/02/girl-tips-2/

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'Tis the time of year when magazines are splashed with headlines about achieving the perfect "bikini body." Like most things geared toward women, "bikini body" is a made-up term designed to make women feel like they are not worthy of wearing a certain type of clothing unless they have a certain type of body. As the cartoon above so aptly illustrates, this is nonsense.

If you have a body and you want to wear a bikini, wear a bikini. If you have a body and you don't want to wear a bikini, don't wear a bikini. If you want to become physically active and eat healthier foods as a means of feeling better about yourself, do that. If you want to work on toning your body as means of achieving a physical goal, do that. If you want to accept yourself exactly as you are even though you ate three cupcakes today, do that.

But whatever you do, don't buy into this story that's sold every year to women — the one that tries to convince us we need to change who we are in order to fit a certain ideal about how we're "supposed" to look. Wear what you want to wear. Do the physical activities you enjoy. Eat the foods you want to eat, aiming for a balance of healthy foods and treats in moderation. Put on a bikini no matter your size or situation. Or if you don't want to put on a bikini, don't. You're in control of your own body. You get to decide.

I'm a big fan of saving the energy most people put toward worshipping celebrities and instead investing that energy on the people in my own life — and myself. It means a heck of a lot more to me to listen to my mom and friends than it does to listen to a movie star I've never met/ will never meet.

That said, if you MUST look to a celebrity for guidance, here's a list of celebrities making body-positive statements that don't promote unhealthy ideals. If you're feeling low on confidence, steal some of theirs.

And for eff's sake, NEVER bash another woman for how she looks in a bathing suit or any other type of clothing. If you do, guess who will hear you? Your 12-year-old granddaughter will hear you. Your 8-year-old niece will hear you. Your friend who's struggling with her own body image will hear you. And then guess what you are? Part of the problem. A big part of the problem.

“I’ve just never cared what people think. It’s more if I’m happy and confident and feeling good, that’s always been my thing. And more so now, since having a family — I don’t seek out any other acceptance.”
--Kelly Clarkson

“I’m healthy and happy, and if you’re hating on my weight, you obviously aren’t.” 
--Demi Lovato

“Far too many women are much more hurt by being called fat or ugly than they are by being called not smart or not a leader. If someone told me that I was stupid or that I wasn’t a leader or that I wasn’t witty or quick or perceptive, I’d be devastated. If someone told me that I had a gross body, I’d say, ‘Well, it’s bringing me a lot of happiness.’”
--Mindy Kaling

“Don’t compare yourself to anyone."
--Minnie Driver

“I’m never going to starve myself for a part … I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner.’ That’s something I was really conscious of during training, when you’re trying to get your body to look exactly right. I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong, not thin and underfed.”
--Jennifer Lawrence

 “I think that whatever size or shape body you have, it’s important to embrace it and get down. The female body is something that’s so beautiful. I wish women would be proud of their bodies and not dis other women for being proud of theirs.”
--Christina Aguilera

“I’ve never wanted to look like models on the cover of magazines. I represent the majority of women and I’m very proud of that.”
--Adele

 “My main beauty tip is don’t say that negative thing when you look in the mirror. It just isn’t healthy. That lack of beating up on ourselves — that’s my new mantra. Happiness is the best makeup; a smile is better than any lipstick you’ll put on.”
--Drew Barrymore

 “You know, it gets easier and easier. My fears came true: people called me fat and hideous, and I lived. And now I keep living.”
--Lena Dunham

 “I refuse to worry about something that I could not change … I am not a woman whose self-worth comes from her dress size.”
--Kristen Bell

 “While I admit that the dress didn’t photograph as well as it did in my kitchen, I will also admit that I felt very pretty. In fact, I feel beautiful.”
--Pink

 “As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, ‘I love my body.’ Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, ‘I am so proud of my body.’ So I make sure to say it to Mia [her daughter] because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.”
--Kate Winslet

"Girls of all kinds can be beautiful — from the thin, plus-sized, short, very tall, ebony to porcelain-skinned; the quirky, clumsy, shy, outgoing, and all in between. It's not easy though because many people still put beauty into a confining, narrow box ... Think outside of the box ... pledge that you will look in the mirror and find the unique beauty in you."
--Tyra Banks

"I keep telling myself that I'm a human being, an imperfect human who's not made to look like a doll, and that who I am as a person is more important than whether at that moment I have a nice figure."
--Emma Watson

"My smile is my favorite part of my body. I think a smile can make your whole body. I want women to know that it's okay, that you can be whatever size you are and be beautiful inside and out."
--Serena Williams

"To all girls with butts, boobs, hips and a waist, put on a bikini — put it on and stay strong."
--Jennifer Love Hewitt
https://mic.com/articles/89705/there-s-a-new-chart-on-getting-a-bikini-body-that-every-woman-needs-to-see#.ZetycYT9s

https://mic.com/articles/89705/there-s-a-new-chart-on-getting-a-bikini-body-that-every-woman-needs-to-see#.ZetycYT9s

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Mojo Slump

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I grabbed the photo above from the Women's Running Instagram page. It summarizes my current life well.

Here are the topic titles I originally bounced around for the post: 

Not Feeling It
I'm Tired!
Meh

I've been a little low on the mojo front lately. This isn't to say I haven't been taking care of myself, but I've been pretty exhausted and a little burnt out. As a result, I've had to let a few things go. This is one of those things that happens in life sometimes. My work load has been bigger these past few months, which is not something I want to complain about but definitely something I've had to factor into my schedule. Last night I did something I haven't done in a LONG time: stayed up working on a deadline. It was a nice reminder that I am not in college anymore and I do not enjoy staying up past a certain hour at my age. 

So what's to be done when we hit a lackluster slump? To me, a loss of mojo always signifies that it's time to go back to the basics: basic meals, basic workouts, basic schedule. I know myself well and I know there are times when my energy goes through the roof; during those times I can make  multiple-course meals and conquer new workout routines and load up my days with to-dos. During slumps, though, I know it's more beneficial for me to keep it simple. One-pot meals. Walks in the sunshine. Lots of self-forgiveness because I know I'm operating at a lower level than I normally do, and I also know that's okay.

And maybe that's the most important piece of all of this: to recognize where I am right now, to accept what my body and mind is capable of right now, to make the modifications I need to make right now, and to feel completely okay about not being an absolute badass at the moment. I don't need to be an absolute badass all the time. I'm allowed to be a softer person when that's what I need to do.

Right now, that's what I need to do. I'm fixing myself healthy meals. I'm going for light runs. I'm doing significantly less strength training than I normally do. I'm napping significantly more. I'm working a lot. I'm letting some daily household to-dos slide. Normally when the sun comes out, that's my time to thrive after a long winter fighting against Portland's darkness and rain. This year, it's working out a little differently. This year, this is my time to be a little more tired and to take it a little more easy. This is my time to listen to what I need — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. And what I need right now is pretty basic: I need to eat good, nutritional food. I need to move my body. I need to get enough rest. I need to meet all my work deadlines. And the rest? The rest has a way of working itself out, especially since I happen to be married to the most helpful and supportive person on this planet. 

So I'm covered. I'm doing what I need to do for me right now. I know my energy will return again and I know it's okay that I'm a little low-energy right now. I think the important thing for anyone going through an energy slump is to continue taking care of yourself in whatever way you can. And always, always be nice to yourself. You're no less awesome when you're a sleep zombie than you are when you're a half marathoner. Embrace it all.  
 

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For Those Who Don't DIY: A List of Resources

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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 spend a lot of time on this blog talking about recipes for homemade versions of beauty and household products. I try to keep these recipes as easy and affordable as possible so they don't seem overly ambitious to the person who just wants to spend a few bucks and a few minutes whipping up her own soap.

Even at its easiest and cheapest, though, I recognize that there can be DIY obstacles. For one, a person may just not have the interest to make her own products. I get that. I'm a person who has no interest in sewing or fixing things around the house or trying to build something. Nine times out of ten, if there's something I need, I will buy it. Beauty and household products (and food) are my only exceptions. But DIY beauty and household products might not be your thing. You may have no desire to gather the ingredients together, find a container, and clean up afterward. I hear you.

Another obstacle: necessity. I recognize that for most people, that moment when they need something RIGHT NOW is not necessarily the moment they want to spend putting it together themselves. If you run out of makeup and  have a party to go to in a few hours, you're not necessarily going to want to take the time to blend arrowroot and cocoa powder, adding a teaspoon at the time until you get the perfect shade. I hear you again.

Also, there are some things that I wouldn't even know how to go about making on my own. How does one make sunscreen? Is there really a DIY way to make nail polish? With all this in mind, I wanted to make a list of resources I've used to help me make choices about the products I buy. Making my own products is great, but sometimes it's nice to know there are natural, safe store-bought options, too.

By the way, I just purchased the sunscreen in the photo above. I haven't tried it yet, so it's too early for me to give a review. All I know for now is that the ingredient list is minimal: zinc oxide, shea butter, coconut oil, sesame oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, beeswax and vitamin E. None of this matters, of course, if it doesn't protect me from getting burned. I'll keep you updated after I try it out. 

Without further ado, here are resources I recommend using when you're looking for products with fewer unpronounceable ingredients and more skin-friendly, earth-friendly appeal.

THE BEST ALL-NATURAL (AND AFFORDABLE!) BEAUTY PRODUCT SWAPS TO HELP YOU QUIT YOUR DRUGSTORE HABIT
Source: WellAndGood.com
What It Is: This super-helpful article takes commonly loved beauty products (think Cetaphil face wash or Jergens body lotion) and suggests safe, effective, cheap products to try instead. We all want clean skin, right? But wouldn't it be nice to get that clean skin without a side of chemicals? If you agree, you'll love this list. 

7 SAFE + AFFORDABLE SKIN & HAIRCARE BRANDS
Source: KrisCarr.com
What It Is: Kris Carr is a natural living goddess who came back from cancer and now devotes herself to clean living. From green smoothie recipes to safer nail polish ideas, she's the go-to girl for knowing what's healthy and safe for the body. This list shows seven skincare and haircare lines committed to safer products. 

ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP'S 2015 GUIDE TO SUNSCREENS
Source: EGW.com
What It Is: The 2016 list is coming out soon, but for now the 2015 list is a good reference point. This site includes a list of the best sunscreens, the worst sunscreens, and lots of tips for staying safer in the sun. 

THE BEST NON-TOXIC NAIL POLISHES
Source: KrisCarr.com
What It Is: I love Kris Carr so much, I'm citing her twice. This time she went to work testing less toxic nail polishes and gave them a score based on their animal testing standards and hazard rankings. 

KIND CLASSICS: NATURAL MAKEUP
Source: TheKindLife.com
What It Is: Actress Alicia Silverstone has made another name for herself as an outspoken vegan activist who advocates for healthier living through nutrition and external products. This list is a few years old but is still relevant today and includes her recommendations for effective makeup with minimal ingredients.

THE 75 BEST NATURAL & NONTOXIC MAKEUP PRODUCTS
Source: TheBeautyProof.com
What It Is: With prices ranging from $5 to $85, this is a no-fuss list of safer makeup products with links to everything. This blog does not fail in its promise to be all about "finding exceptional non-toxic makeup and skincare products."

My biggest advice when it comes to both beauty and household products is this: Stop, drop, and look. Look at the ingredient list. If you don't recognize something, look it up. If you look up an ingredient and feel disturbed about it going onto your skin and into your bloodstream, ditch it. There are always safer alternatives. I understand there are so many causes bigger than makeup to fight for, but choosing more natural skincare products is something I know I can do. I can choose safer products for myself. People around me may be inspired to choose safer products for themselves, too. If enough people went this route, we could send a message to big makeup and beauty companies that we're tired of all the chemicals they're casually loading into their products. We're tired and we're ready for an alternative.  

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No Thanks To "No Excuses"

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This piece from Women's Running by NYC Running Mama resonated with me. NYC Running Mama (real name: Michele Gonzalez) talks about how she used to live by the "No Excuses" mantra when it came to running and training.

This mantra gained traction several years ago when the self-proclaimed "No Excuse Mom" posted a picture of herself looking extremely toned and fit while three small children clung to her. The caption for the picture was "What's your excuse?" and the implication was that if a busy mom of three could find the time to work out and achieve that body, surely anyone could do it. 

This is a common refrain in the fitness community. We're often reminded that we all have the same number of hours in the day — it's a matter of how we choose to prioritize them. And for some people, workouts always win. No matter how busy a person gets. No matter what else is going on. No excuses.

In her piece, NYC Running Mama talks about an evolution that led to rethinking her "No Excuses" stance and opting instead to forgive herself for missing a run here or there. "The reality is that there are excuses," she says. She goes on to point out that "running is not our job or how we make our living. So sometimes priorities get in the way of training. That is okay. And not only is it okay — it's normal."

I love this. I'm typically the type of person who does prioritize working out, generally making space for it about six times a week. Lately, though, that's had to change. It's had to change because of a shift in my schedule. Due to the amount that's on my plate right now, there's simply no way I can work out six days a week and feel healthy. Other projects are requiring my attention right now. And like NYC Running Mama said, that's okay. 

Forcing yourself to work out on top of a crazy schedule can seem like the right thing to do, and some days it is. Some days, though, you just need to give yourself a break. Pushing through can have a detrimental impact not just on your happiness, but on the way you look at your training. "Constantly putting running first may make you physically strong, but you could be worn out or overtrained (mentally) or you may begin to view running as something you have to do. These can impact race performance, even more so than a few missed workouts," says NYC Running Mama. 

Indeed. Exercise is an outlet. It's a stress-reliever. It should be something that's looked forward to. If it's not, and if it's instead viewed as something that needs to be forced and squeezed into a jam-packed, stressful day, it becomes the enemy. Something to dread. And then even when you do squeeze it in, you don't enjoy yourself while doing it. 

Life is constantly shifting. Pressure ebbs and flows. An insurmountable schedule that presents itself one month eases up the following month. What you don't have time for on Tuesday you might have time for on Thursday. A project that's demanding so much of your attention right now will eventually be completed. 

Look at your life. Figure out what your present circumstances are. If you're presently able to take on daily workouts, go for it. That's wonderful. That daily sweat will likely make you a happier person. But if your present life is asking you to take it down a notch, that's okay too. If you become an every-other-day exerciser or if you have to trade some of your runs for walks or if you have to do whatever you need to do to avoid having the rest of your life crash and burn, it's okay. 

Don't make excuses every day because then they're just that — excuses. But if you need to take a day off here or there, allow yourself to do just that. If you encounter a "No Excuses" type who judges you for it, let her judge. Anytime someone judges someone, it's more a reflection of what's going on with them than the other person. And with that said, don't judge the "No Excuses" types either. Props to them. Props to anyone who makes exercise a priority despite a hectic schedule. When you encounter these types at the gym, tell them they're doing an awesome job. But you know who else is doing an awesome job? The person juggling her job/ kids/ whatever other responsibilities who makes it to the gym once a week because that's what she can handle right now. Props to her too.

We're all living our lives, making choices, and doing a fine job.

 

 

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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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My Ideal Food Day (AKA My Birthday)

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This was my birthday breakfast sandwich from Next Level Burger. It contains a whole grain English muffin, tempeh bacon, organic tofu, tomato and spinach.

Last year for my birthday, I gathered a group of nearly thirty people and rang in my new year at a pizza parlor and bar. I stuffed myself with pizza and beer, made homemade cupcakes, and had a great time. This year I was exhausted. After a whirlwind year that included a wedding, honeymoon, and two overseas trips, all I really wanted to do was lay low and relax. No party. No big get-together. Just a simple day. So that's what I did.

But simple or not, one thing was for sure: I wanted to eat good food. And I wanted to eat good food all day long. I wanted every piece of food that passed my lips on my 34th birthday to be something I LOVED. So I made it so. I started with a fresh tempeh and tofu breakfast sandwich that tasted so good, I didn't miss the egg or greasy cheese I typically pile on that type of sandwich. Once I got off to such a fresh, clean start, I wanted to keep the delicious food train rolling all day.

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I went to Harlow for lunch and ordered the special, which was a a sweet potato and veggie hash with tempeh, pepitas, scallions and jalapeño cashew cheese. I knew this would be a good birthday because after I ordered the cashier said, "Ooh, you're lucky, that's the last one" and immediately went to the board and erased the description of it.

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I'm all about indulging my sweet tooth on special occasions, so after lunch we went to The Maple Parlor and I loaded up on vegan soft-serve carrot cake ice cream and as many fun vegan toppings as I could fit in my bowl, including gummy bears, chocolate chips, sesame cracker bites, graham crackers, sprinkles, berries, ginger and pieces of waffle. I'm a big fan of Maple Parlor because they cater to all kinds of diets: vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, you name it. I generally stick to the vegan offerings when I'm there because they're delicious, though I've heard from good sources that the non-vegan options are great too.

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Things only got more delicious as the day went on. We went to dinner at Harvest at the Bindery and ordered a four-course small-plate meal that was honestly one of the best meals I've ever had. Between my parents, husband and I, we split cornbread, grilled chickory, pumpkin romesco (pictured), veggie chips, corn cake, sun choke gratin (pictured), lonesome whistle grits, grilled mushrooms (pictured) and mushroom trumpet BBQ. Not one dish disappointed. My non-veggie family was impressed. To me, this was plant-based eating at its finest. 

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This was followed by chocolate hazelnut pie that was delivered by our waitress with a birthday candle and a sweet speech. "Before you make your wish," she said, "here's my birthday present to you. Think about that one thing you're going to put into the world this year. It has to be something that ignites you, something that makes you come alive. It has to be something that brings you joy. It has to be something only you can do. And whatever it is, you have to commit yourself to doing it." Such a lovely moment provided by a stranger. 

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Of course there was still room for cake when we got home. My darling husband made my new clean vanilla cupcakes with macadamia-coconut frosting, which we topped with strawberries for a deliciously satisfying food finale. 

All I wanted to do this birthday was eat good food. Thanks to all I've gone through in the past year, my definition of "good food" has changed. In the past I would have wanted cheesy pizza. Heavy pasta. Cake loaded with sugar. Buttery popcorn. Fried jalapeños with cream cheese. French fries. Lots of wine. The works.

This year I still wanted "the works" but I wanted ingredients that would make me feel GOOD instead of making me feel bloated or giving me a headache or making me want to take a nap. My mission is not to be the food police. I don't ever want to tell people what they should or shouldn't eat. If eating Cheetos makes someone feel good, I think that's wonderful. But I've learned a lot about my body. I know what foods make me feel good. I know what foods make me feel terrible. And though I still think life wouldn't be life without at least a few of the terrible foods thrown in, I'd much rather spend the majority of my days eating clean food that fuels me, energizes me, doesn't weigh me down, and makes me happy to be alive. So this year on my birthday, I celebrated this awesome revolution in my relationship with food. I proved to myself that healthy and delicious can be synonymous and I enjoyed every bite.

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