Category: Travel

Monterey and Carmel

Monterey and Carmel

We were up and out early on Saturday. We took the scenic route to Monterey along the coast. Monterey is as lovely as I had imagined. We went straight to the marathon expo at the Portola Hotel. It was not difficult to find, just follow the Boston Marathon jackets and race tech tees. There was a line of people waiting to get their photo taken in front of a Big Sur International Marathon sign. I thought, what’s the big deal? Well I didn’t realize at first that the sign had the names of all the runners. Of course I jumped in line. Thankfully the names were in alphabetical order. Carlos gets his photography skills from me!

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We wandered down to the wharf in Monterey. We took some photos and saw a few sea lions.

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We had time to kill before we could check into our hotel so we decided to drive to Carmel to scope out the finish line area. We found the finish area easily and then went straight to the beach. It was beautiful out, but a bit chilly. Carlos and Orlando played soccer. Carlos made friends with JD the black lab.

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I lounged and watched people perfect their selfies and social media posts. You cannot believe how long it takes a group of four women to coordinate a simultaneous jump for joy and have it captured on camera. It actually takes less time to do that than it does for boyfriend to photograph girlfriend throwing her scarf in the air, over and over and over again. How cute??!

We discovered we were very close to one of the entrances to the 17 Mile Drive around Pebble Beach. If you are into gorgeous scenery, slow drives, and imagining what it would be like to live in stunning homes then this is well worth the $10. Orlando and I loved it. We dream of one day building our own seaside home on our land in a small beach town in Mozambique. Of course it will be nowhere near as grand as the homes we saw. We stopped at many of the landmarks on the ocean and that gave Carlos the opportunity to climb on the rocks so he was happy too.img_2532-1

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Back in Monterey we checked into the Munras Inn. The room was lovely, but we would have preferred a vacation rental that offers a little more space. Lodging is expensive in the Monterey/Carmel area. For anyone planning their trip to the area specifically for the marathon, plan early and check out VRBO, Home Away, etc. in Pacific Grove, Monterey, and Carmel. Had I started planning a little earlier we might have found a property at a more reasonable price, although these areas are pricey in general. Our hotel was a little less than a mile to the Marriot where I would catch the bus for Big Sur on marathon morning. It was an easy walk and with so many runners out I wasn’t worried about being alone. My family was very appreciative that I didn’t wake them at 3:45AM to drive me.

I thought about attending the pasta dinner, but the only seatings were at 4:30 and 5:30PM, but we were still out in Carmel. We found a local Italian place. I had a sub-par dish of spaghetti. It was a bit disappointing because running a marathon is really my only excuse to enjoy a big bowl of pasta.

There is a ritualistic process that takes place the night before a marathon. First I lay out my clothing for the race. I always put the safety pins in the bib unfastened. I set up all of my necessities. Most importantly I set as many alarms as I can especially when a race requires a 2:40AM wake up call. I was terrified I wouldn’t wake up on time for the race.

Then I was asleep in a matter of minutes once I got into bed. It was a beautiful, relaxing day, but I was excited and anxious about the marathon.

 

From the Redwood Forest to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

I adore traveling and exploring new places. When I travel I want to experience as much as I possibly can no matter how much time I have. Running marathons has provided me with an excellent excuse to travel. When I got word I had been accepted into the Big Sur International Marathon I figured we could work in a visit to San Francisco.

I do my best to get to know what might be of interest in the area we are traveling to, but I rarely go so far as to plan an itinerary. Traveling with a young child and two adults with very different interests does not lend itself comfortably to a nice neat travel itinerary. I have learned to embrace spontaneity especially after having Carlos. We might not do every museum, aquarium, or attraction, but we try to do something that makes each one of happy along the trip.

We landed in San Francisco around 10AM, collected our rental car, and hit the road. Our first few nights would be spent near the marathon. We stopped in Palo Alto for lunch. The weather was gorgeous. YELP guided us to Tender Greens at an outdoor mall. It’s a chain restaurant, but it had something for all of us and we were able to sit outside. I had the Happy Vegan salad. It was excellent.

With no plan in place, I looked at the map and decided since it was a beautiful day and we had spent hours on a plane we should go walk around somewhere outside. We found the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and saw our first redwoods.  But before we got to the park we stopped for a coffee at the White Raven Coffee & Tea House in Felton, CA not too far from the park. I’m from Massachusetts, but nowhere near Boston. There are people in Mass that have no clue there is west of Worcester. Yet here in this café in a small town in Northern California we met two women who had lived in even more remote areas in Western Mass and they didn’t know each other. One had spent a summer interning at a farm in Shutesbury, MA which is home to my favorite little lake, Lake Wyola. The other was from Heath, MA, a very small town even further west. It was a fun irony. We enjoyed chatting before moving on to the park.

We parked on the street and hiked into the park. Once we found the loop of redwoods we walked around the park in awe. The redwoods are so much more unbelievable in person. They seem to go on forever.

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Next stop…the beach, Carlos’ happy place. We walked along the kitschy Santa Cruz boardwalk and within minutes Carlos was in the water.  The water was freezing, but he didn’t care.

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Dinner was another YELP find, Earthbelly Restaurant in Santa Cruz. Orlando and I enjoyed the black bean bowl.

We spent our first night in Salinas, CA because I accidentally forgot to reserve our hotel in Monterey for that night. The hotel was nothing fancy, but it was fine because we really just needed to sleep. It was a great first day in California.

Big Sur International Marathon recap is already up here.

Big Sur International Marathon 

Big Sur International Marathon 

I can’t remember if my alarm actually went off or if I woke up on my own at 2:40AM. I slept like a rock, but then I was wide awake. Marathon mornings don’t usually start quite this early, but nothing about this marathon was typical. First let’s back track to last summer.

A friend, fellow runner, and Pacific coast native wrote to me about the Big Sur International Marathon lottery for first timers. I threw my name in and figured it was a long shot. It took me three years to get into Chicago. I don’t play money lotteries, but perhaps I should because I got into Big Sur too. Of course I had heard of this notorious marathon and it was on my running bucket list. I knew a little bit about it namely that it offered spectacular views of the Pacific coast line. My family and I had never visited this part of the country so the race provided us with a wonderful travel opportunity. I am more than happy to run a marathon if it means visiting and experiencing a new place.

Back to the crack of dawn on April 30th. I buzzed about the hotel room quietly disturbing no one. I showered, dressed, and ate half of my pre-marathon bagel with banana and peanut butter. Fueling for this race was interesting. I always try to simulate race day on my long runs, but I often left the house between 5-6AM for a long run and that would have required a 1-2AM wake up. I had a plan in my head and fortunately it worked out.

Then there was the question of what to wear. I was expecting a much cooler temperature in the early morning, but it wasn’t bad at all. I left the hotel at 3:45 and walked a little less than a mile to the Marriot to catch a bus to the starting area in Big Sur. I was wearing a long sleeve over my T-shirt and I had another shirt in my bag along with a pair of gloves. I never needed the second shirt. I tossed the old long sleeve I was wearing at the finish line. I was extremely grateful for the gloves prior to the start because my hands were cold.

Around 3:45AM I joined throngs of runners on the street in the dark all headed to various bus pick up areas around downtown Monterey. Starbucks was open. The Marriot lobby was a buzz of brightly colored running gear as people gathered to wait for the buses. I was expecting a bumpy ride on a school bus, but was instead pleasantly surprised by a very comfortable motor coach bus. I boarded and before I knew it we were on the road.

I chatted easily with the guy seated next to me. We discovered we were the same age and running Big Sur for the first time. He was from San Francisco and ran with a large running club there. He has run the SF marathon more than once. He has also run Grandfather Mountain Marathon, touted as America’s toughest marathon. He will be one of only 40 participants in this year’s Inca Trail Marathon in August. He directed me to Weather.com’s list of the World’s 15 Toughest Marathons. San Francisco is number 15 and Big Sur is number 13. So many races, so little time and money!

We arrived about a half mile from the starting area and we were guided through the dark by the flashlights of kind volunteers who graciously gave their time to help in the early morning hours. I moved along listening to the hum of conversations around me. It is really hard to describe how bizarre this all would have been to me about 10 years ago. I am not sure where I imagined life would take me, but this certainly was not it. Yet here I was just hours away from beginning my 8th marathon, trekking along in the dark with hundreds of fellow runners in a quiet forest on the coast of California with half a bagel, chia water, and a stick of body glide in my bag. As foreign as this all would have been to me 10 years ago it now makes perfect sense.

The starting area was busy. People everywhere. Lines forming for port-a-potties and bag check. Coffee, tea, hot cocoa, bananas, etc. offered to all of the runners. I found a spot a bit away from the crowd and settled down with a small cup of coffee for the nearly 2 hour wait. The coffee helped warm my hands and it actually tasted great. I finished my bagel. Soon I was chatting with a couple of women next to me. One had done 24 marathons and was training for her second Iron Man triathlon. The other was running her 3rd marathon. The conversation flowed effortlessly until it was time to consider entering the long queue for the toilets. It’s all about timing! I chatted with another woman in line. Whenever I mentioned I was from Massachusetts, the first question was “did you run Boston.” I can’t wait to someday answer yes. Big Sur hosts the Boston to Big Sur challenge for runners who want to do both races. This year the races were about two weeks apart, but in previous years runners had only 5 days rest between Boston and Big Sur.

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By the time I lined up at the start there were less than 10 minutes to go. The sky was clearing and I was treated to my first glimpse of the tranquil surroundings.

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The gun went off and I watched as the first wave started. My group was next. I fell into a comfortable pace heeding all the advice I had read. Don’t go out too fast. Save your energy for the hills. Enjoy the peacefulness of the forest. Soak it all up.

The one thing I was most nervous about was running without music. For many runners this probably sounds absurd, but it is how I have always run. I did do parts of my long training runs without music. I admit that I often don’t even really hear what’s playing, but it helps keep me motivated and the beat keeps my feet moving. Big Sur race instructions state:

Because the safety of all of our participants and volunteers is our first priority, we ask that you leave your headsets at home and instead let the incredible scenery, music we provide on the course, and your fellow runners serve as your motivation and inspiration. 

I read one previous race participant’s blog post who had similar concerns and he wrote that he only put on the music for the long climb to Hurricane Point. I figured I would bring my headphones and do the same. I was instantly entertained by the excited  runners around me. I picked up bits and pieces of conversations in many languages. Then as the crowd thinned out I enjoyed the soothing sounds of nature, bubbling brooks, birds, a distant waterfall maybe. It was beautiful. I just ran. No pressure, no time goal, no urge to do anything more than what I was doing in the moment.

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Around the 10K mark the forest gave way to coast line. My photos do not do the views justice.

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The expansive ocean vistas that sprawled out to my left were stunning. To my right were vast green caverns and cliffs. It was breathtaking and when you didn’t think it could be more beautiful you would crest a hill and be treated to an even more incredible view.

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Don’t forget to look behind was another common piece of advice from previous participants. It is not something you typically do during a race, but it really is a must in the Big Sur marathon. Appreciating the views from behind gives you a unique perspective of the course.

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There was a light playfulness to this race as well. The mile markers were all sponsored and featured funny commentary and photos. They were all different and became one more thing to look forward to as I ran.

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I knew about the long roughly two mile climb to Hurricane Point that begins after mile 10. I saw it laid out ahead long before I reached it.

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The music of the Taiko drummers at the foot of Hurricane Point energized me as I started up the ascent, but once the music was out of earshot I put my headphones on to keep me pumped up for the climb. The weather was ideal on race day. There was a little headwind as I pushed myself up to Hurricane Point. It was a long climb, but when you are looking out at the most beautiful scenery it doesn’t seem quite as difficult.

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I knew that before I even reached the halfway point I would begin to hear the melodic tune of the infamous Bixby Bridge piano player.

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I took off my headphones in preparation. When the bridge came into sight and the sweet strains of the music touched my ears it was magical. I couldn’t see the grand piano or Michael Martinez, the man playing it, but the music and the view moved me to tears. I wasn’t prepared for such a rush of emotions. I felt like I was on top of the world, literally.  In that moment I knew it was a privilege to be a part of this marathon.

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The second half of the course is a true test of strength and endurance as you tackle hill after hill.

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My shins seemed to cry each time I started on a downhill. I stayed at a slow, but steady pace and power walked the steep hills. I paused here and there to snap photos. I stopped at nearly every aid station to refill my handheld and to slather on pain relief cream on my left calf. It seized up during my final long run the week prior and despite tending to it with massage, foam rolling, bio freeze, rest, etc. all week, I felt a twinge of tightening early on in the marathon. The cream helped a lot.

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At the mile 23 aid station a woman asked about the famed strawberries and was told there were none this year. What?!! A collective frustrated sigh could be heard from all the runners who overheard. Fortunately the aid volunteer was mistaken and about a 1/4 mile ahead we were treated to the most delicious, juicy local strawberries. I was in heaven. The strawberries redirected my mind off of the discomfort in my legs and onto the happy party in my mouth. Everyone including myself seemed to perk up.

The hills never seemed to let up and as I stared ahead at the hill jutting from the mile 25 marker I reminded myself that it all I had to do was put one foot in front of another. I was almost there. I could do this. I turned around briefly to remind myself of how far I had come to get to this point, and then I powered up that hill.

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This is not a spectator race. Because of the road closure there is no way for friends and family to cheer the runners along the course so I knew I was very close to the finish when I finally heard the spectators. I saw Orlando and Carlos and the finish line. My eyes teared up again. I remember crossing the finish line of my very first marathon 5 years ago and it has been the same feeling each time…awe, disbelief, pride, and gratefulness. I did it! I completed the Big Sur International Marathon. It was a truly amazing experience and a life changing journey from training to finish.

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Waterville Valley – Memorial Day Weekend

Waterville Valley – Memorial Day Weekend

We spent a wonderful Memorial Day weekend at Waterville Valley in NH. Orlando and I had been once before a couple of years ago. The entire time we were there we kept saying, “Carlos would love this.” We were right!


Waterville Valley is a really easy 3 hour drive from our home. It is a beautiful area nestled in the White Mountains. The area is beautiful, peaceful, and quiet. We stayed at the Black Bear Lodge. We had a very spacious room with a separate bedroom, living room and kitchen. The hotel was located close to the Town Square where you can find shops, restaurants, and activities. 

I got up early and enjoyed  a couple of long solo hikes. Carlos and Orlando opted for swimming and soccer. It is a laid back environment with so many things to do; kayaks, paddle boats, tennis, golf, and biking. You can even go ice skating year round in the indoor rink. Outside of the resort I had no cell service at all. It is really nice to disconnect every now and then. It was a perfect short getaway. 

On the way back we stopped in Hanover, NH for lunch and a walk through the Dartmouth Campus. My husband and I are both enamored with New England college campuses. It was a gorgeous day to take our time getting home.

There is one thing I loath about weekend trips and that is having to go grocery shopping when we get home. Not this time! I put in an order for Peapod grocery delivery because I had a code for free shipping. I had time to unpack, prepare for the week, and clean up the refrigerator.  Around 8pm my groceries were delivered right into my kitchen! An easy end to a great weekend. I will most definitely be doing that again.

As Machambas

The Machambas of Chokwe 

Machamba means farm in Portuguese. I can’t remember how I came to explore them first, on foot or by bicycle, but it changed my entire Peace Corps experience in Mozambique. Chokwe escaped the danger of land mines because it is a center of agriculture in fertile southern Mozambique. This meant the land was safe to explore.

During Mozambique’s war for independence from Portugal and subsequent 15 year civil war approximately 171,000 land mines were planted throughout the country leaving Mozambique one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. The war ended in 1992 and Halo Trust entered the country in 1993 to began the dangerous, tedious, and courageous work to clear the country of land mines.  On 9/15/15,  Mozambique was declared officially landline free years ahead of schedule.

I remember crossing the bridge over the canal for the first time. Before me the lush green fields spread out as far as the eye could see. The dusty trails visible by their contrasting caramel brown color weave through the fields with no end in sight. I spent hours exploring the land. It was my sanctuary particularly on the days when nothing seemed to make much sense linguistically, professionally, and personally.

After time I grew to know the fields and where the trails led to, but still I was convinced I would find new paths to follow which kept me coming back. My presence there was confusing for a long time to those who worked in the fields until eventually I became a familiar face. A smile and good morning in the local language Shangana usually made people brighten, some would even stop to talk usually to find out where I was going.

The machambas are now the view from the front of my new home in Chokwe. I have asked Orlando inquire about buying the unsettled piece of land across from our house to ensure that I will always have a view of the machambas. Our house is a short walk from the bridge that takes me over the canal and into the maze of dirt paths through the agricultural fields. It was a perfect choice for our home in Chokwe where Orlando’s family still lives.

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A view of our house (the one on the right) from the fields

My first solo walk in the fields since arriving in Mozambique made me feel that safe familiar feeling I felt many years ago. I breathed deeply the fragrant aromas a blend of fruit trees, passing animals, mostly cows and goats, vegetation, a smattering of floral scents, and fresh air. I smiled as I set our along the canal remembering my almost daily walks or bike rides on this same trail.

On an overcast day the clouds hang low in the sky adding a smoky mystique to the land below, but the contrast of the women’s brightly colored capulanas worn on their heads, around their waists or to hold a baby snug to their backs is like a splash of watercolors on a grey canvas. On a clear day the sun hangs high overhead like a ball of fire suspended in a sea of turquoise. The heat is oppressive and there is no shade cover when you are in the machambas making the already backbreaking work seem heroic.

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I wonder what the Mozambicans think of me leisurely walking or biking through the fields. I try not to think about that too much as I enjoy the fresh air, wide open space, and peacefulness around me. It’s where I do my best thinking. I often slip into a meditative state waking to find I have gone further or longer than planned. I like the quiet and I use the opportunity to listen to my breath, my thoughts, and the universe’s messages for me. My time in the machambas brings clarity to deep pondering questions.

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It is the Machambas that endeared me, mind, body, and soul to this dusty often harsh crossroads town in southern Mozambique. The sunsets and sunrises over them are amongst the most brilliant scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Each day brings new beauty from the sky. The machambas served as a trusty friend, reliable counselor, and a calming respite whenever I needed them. I feel as though I have returned home every time I reunite with my beloved machambas.

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The House in Chokwe

Orlando and I are the proud landowners of two plots of land here in Mozambique. We are  financially unable to purchase land in the US, but given the relatively low land prices here in Mozambique it was a wise decision to invest in land here.

Our first purchase was a simple square of land high on a hill overlooking the lagoon of Bilene. We opted for the spanning view of the crystal blue water over a waterfront plot on the backside of the lagoon. We are both drawn to expansive views. The waterfront land was isolated and offered a lovely sight of the water, but it abutted land already owned by a resort. That signaled potential future issues namely a busy flow of people bringing with them noise and litter. After touring the waterfront land we were driven to the land on the hill. I think we both knew instantly that it was our land. I would have accepted any decision Orlando made because this is where he is from and I wanted him to feel most connected with the choice, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt when I saw the land on the hill that it was his preference too.

These are older photos from when the wall was going up around the land. The photos obviously don’t do the view justice.

Orlando worked hard to secure the purchase of the land in Bilene after our 2009 visit to Mozambique. I admire his tenacity. Like most processes here in Mozambique buying property is no easy task, complete with a great deal of bureaucracy, red tape, bribes, and paperwork. My brother-in-law assisted with the transaction, but the sale was not concluded until we next visited in 2011.

The land has a mandatory wall surrounding it, a specially made sign designating it as ours and some fruit trees. There is a family nearby that is paid to care for the land and the fruit trees. One day we will build a home there.

After renting homes in Chokwe during our visits in 2009 and 2011 we had talked about the possibility of building a small “dependencia” on my in-law’s land. A dependencia is a small house which is typically devoid of a kitchen and bathroom as those activities are usually done outdoors. Cooking is done over a coal stove and many bathrooms are still outdoor latrines. My only stipulation was that our dependencia have a functional bathroom indoors. At some point Orlando was confronted with the opportunity to buy land in his hometown of Chokwe, where I also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The plot was in a newly developed area which was once vacant land housing an old ruined stadium and a newer soccer stadium. We had seen the development on our visit in 2011 and I didn’t need much convincing that it was the right place for us to build a home. Orlando worked through his brother to secure the land purchase. I think it went a little more smoothly than the first time he bought land.

Orlando got the land cleared and started the ball rolling for construction to begin during his solo visit to Mozambique in February of 2015. He returned from his trip motivated and energized by the prospect of having our own home in Chokwe. The first order of business was to build a dependencia for my brother-in-law to live in so he could also guide the construction of the main house. I’m happy to see that his dependencia has a small kitchen inside and an adjoining bathroom which is much fancier than a latrine. I know Orlando feels a sense of security knowing that his brother is watching over things.

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Our house was initially meant to be a small two bedroom home to provide us with a comfortable place to stay when we visit. I stay a safe distance from decisions affecting the land here. I am included in discussions and dilemmas surrounding the building process, but I tend to be less opinionated about it than I am about other issues. Orlando made a sacrifice leaving his family to relocate to the US and although he has carved out a successful life there, I know he misses home. I want this home to feel as though it is about him. After some thought and conversations with his brother and friend here he decided to make the home much bigger than originally planned. We now have a three bedroom, two bath home complete with a large open living room/kitchen space, and a garage. I’m not demanding and I actually prefer to live in simple surroundings, but my one request again was that I have a nice functional bathroom for my visit in December.

I was assured “my bathroom” and the bedrooms would be ready for our visit this December. Unfortunately I know Mozambique all too well and like most things here construction is also slow. We have walls, a roof, windows with screens, doors, bare bedrooms, and some semblance of a bathroom. It turns out the bathrooms were built too small and they furnished one bathroom with the basic equipment to function for our visit, but once we leave it will all be ripped out. The two small bathrooms will be joined to form one large bathroom and there will be a second bathroom installed on the other side of the house.

We spent the first night in Chokwe in a hotel so Orlando and his brothers could prepare the home for our stay. The bedrooms had beds, a reed mat and mosquito nets that we brought with us. After a couple of days I requested a strong rope be strung up in the closet and hangars so I could move our clothing out of the suitcase. I also bought a plastic shelving unit to house toiletries, under garments, socks, and some books I brought. Surprisingly that was enough to make me feel settled.

We lost water most days from morning until late in the afternoon so I took a few bucket baths. That I can handle. When I did shower in my half done cement bathroom it was no shower curtain, but given the heat the water felt refreshing anyway. Carlos actually opted for bucket baths in my brother-in-law’s bathroom. He has no interest in the “weird” cement shower. Considering some of the bathrooms I have had here in Mozambique this one, although not my dream bathroom, is not the worst I’ve had to use.

Orlando has spent a great deal of time discussing future plans of the house with the construction crew. He is not thrilled about how some of the process has gone, and he would like to rectify that as the project moves ahead. His immediate goal is to finish the house and rent it until we return for our next visit. There is an abundance of need for rentals in Chokwe because of all the aid organizations working in town.

I’m proud of what my husband has done. It is nice to have a place to come home to that we can call our own. It grounds us and connects us always to this place where we first met, fell in love and got married.

Healthfest Day 2 – Rich Roll

A few years ago I began thinking about doing ultra marathons. There is something intriguing about distance running and last year I thought I was ready to make the leap to trail running and ultras. Turns out I was wrong or at least my body decided it wasn’t the right time, but I still have a fascination for people who run extremely long distances.

I stumbled upon Rich Roll’s book Finding Ultra. It was an interesting read about Rich’s foray into ultra running and his life story from a promising collegiate swimmer to a desperate alcoholic. He found his way out of addiction and eventually into a plant based lifestyle. He rediscovered his love of swimming and took on new interests in biking and running. He went on to compete in the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii. This is an exclusive competition which is comprised of a 6.2 mile swim, 261.4 mile cycle and 52.4 mile run over 3 days.

Now you can find Rich Roll on his podcast by the same name. His podcasts have inspired me, motivated me and taught me to think big, dream and keep striving for more. I first heard about Healthfest on one of his podcasts. It sounded interesting and it was a great opportunity to hear speakers with a message that resonated with me.

I must admit I was a little star struck in Marshall, TX. I know most of the people in my life don’t even know who I’m talking about when I refer to the likes of Rich Roll, T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Garth Davis, etc. What struck me instantly was how generous the speakers were with their time. They all seemed very open to meeting their audience and chatting with them.

I tend to feel minimal in most social situations. I was very reluctant to approach the speakers. However, about 20 minutes before Rich Roll’s talk on day 2 of Healthfest I went outside for a short walk and coming straight towards me on a deserted street was Mr. Roll himself. I knew I had to say something. So I outstretched my hand and introduced myself. He was kind, shook my hand and chatted with me for a few moments. As I’ve said attending Healthfest was really about getting outside of my comfort zone and exposing myself to a new experience. I definitely did that in more than one way.

The last talk I attended on Day 2 was Rich’s. Since I’ve been following him for a while his talk was not really new to me.

How To Live More Sustainably & Thrive

Rich Roll

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Some take away points from Rich’s talk:

  • 108 million dieters in this country have yielded a $20 billion/year industry
  • We are addicted to foods that fail us, medications that treat symptoms not the problem and lifestyles that lead to illnesses.
  • Everyone has the time to live a healthy lifestyle. It’s a question of priority.
  • Stop trying to hack the journey. The journey is the destination. Invest in the journey.
  • One industry is destroying the planet more than any other and it is industrialized livestock agriculture.
  • It requires 660 gallons of water to develop 1 hamburger.
  • It takes 1000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk.
  • 110 animal species are lost daily in the rainforest.
  • Vegans produce 50% less CO2

 

 

Healthfest Day 1

Friday, March 27, 2015

I drove about 45 minutes from Shreveport, LA to the small town of Marshall, TX. My hotel was practically on the highway exit to Marshall so I checked in and then set out to explore the town.

Marshall Texas Court House
Marshall, Texas Court House
Quiet street on a Friday afternoon in downtown Marshall, TX
Quiet street on a Friday afternoon in downtown Marshall, TX

There was not much happening in Marshall. I expected to see more people with the conference set to start in just a couple of hours, but the town was very quiet. I read that a few of the local restaurants were offering special vegan menus in honor of the conference so I grabbed a quick lunch at Sweet Sabine’s Restaurant. I enjoyed a veggie wrap and a delicious vegan carrot ginger muffin.

The conference opened late in the afternoon at the Marshall Conference Center. I checked in around 4:30 and made my way around the small vendor area. I watched the Vitamix guy do his thing and grabbed a sample of his green smoothie. I was mostly in awe that some of the main presenters, like Dr. T. Colin Campell (co-author of the China Study), Matt Frazier (No Meat Athlete) and Christy Morgan (The Blissful Chef) and were just walking around chatting with people. I have read their books and blogs anonymously and there they were chatting with folks and posing for photos. I suddenly became very shy! I felt a little out of place wandering around by myself.

Inside the large conference room a small vegetarian chili competition was happening. I tried the three different chilis and voted for my favorite which had almond butter in it. Sounds strange, but it really was delicious.

A local fitness group did a zumba presentation while people began to fill the auditorium in preparation of the opening night of Healthiest 2015. I sat anxiously in the third row with my glasses on and notebook in hand. How badly do I want to go to college again?!! Dr. Campbell was literally about 3 feet away from me politely talking with anyone who approached him. I posted about it on Facebook and a few friends insisted I try to talk to him or at least get a selfie with him. I couldn’t do it!! Instead I took a photo of him talking to someone else. He’s 81 years old!

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Dr. T. Colin Campbell

Mayor Ed Smith and his wife Amanda opened the conference with a short discussion of the origins Healthfest. It began as part of the Get Healthy Marshall Texas movement which was started by the Smiths. Mayor Smith was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. After transitioning to a whole foods plant based diet the cancer was halted. Mayor Smith and his wife have encouraged and motivated their community to take charge of their health through their own enthusiasm about living a plant based lifestyle.

They introduced the keynote speaker, Rich Roll. I’ve mentioned him on the blog. I have been listening to the Rich Roll podcast for a few years now which feature a range of guests from the likes of well known health and wellness experts, bloggers, athletes and inspiring people who have overcome diversity. These people are truly living their dreams and motivating so many along the way. Rich told his story, one that I’ve heard on the podcast and read about in his book, Finding Ultra.

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Rich Roll

Next up was Dr. T. Colin Campbell with a discussion of his famed book, The China Study, which essentially chronicles the link between nutrition and chronic illnesses. He also touched on the subject of what many find difficult about adopting a whole foods plant based diet (WFPBD).

The Origin and Meaning of The China Study
The Origin and Meaning of The China Study

The last presenter of the night was Chef AJ. She’s a performer and is clearly at home on the stage. Her talks are informative with a heavy dose of comedic grit thrown in for texture. She’s got a witty sarcastic humor that resonates with me. She also looks amazing and attributes her svelte body to the rather rigid oil free, whole foods plant based diet she has been living for years. Her message is all about eating to the left of the red line something I will discuss in another post.

Chef AJ telling Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss
Chef AJ telling Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss

The night ended with the winner of the Chili cookoff being announced. I returned to the hotel tired, but excited for the next day of the conference. I browsed the Healthfest schedule and tried to decide which sessions I really wanted to attend the next day as so many of them overlapped or were held at the same time.

Winter Outdoors

Carlos was born in December. I remember that winter was fairly mild so I took him outside from the time he was 2 weeks old almost every day. I would bundle him up in his car seat and take him for walks. The fresh air was good for both of us.

I’m almost always cold. My family thinks I’m ridiculous as I walk around the house with my space heater carrying it from room to room. Winter was always a time to hibernate. Since Carlos came along I have learned to embrace winter. If I can’t move to Arizona or Mozambique then I better learn how to enjoy the winter.

It started with sledding. It’s one of our favorite winter activities. I dare you to try not to smile when you’re sledding. Impossible!! I have been taking Carlos sledding since he was 1. The hills have gotten bigger, steeper and make my stomach lurch a little, but still impossible not to smile. It is also the one winter activity we can all do as a family. My husband is like a kid again when he sleds. He is always volunteering to take Carlos and his friends sledding.

When Carlos was 3 my sister bought him 3 ski lessons for his birthday. The program was called Ski With Me I’m Three. It was fabulous. Carlos loved it! I really wanted to try it, but the next few winters I think we only made it out a couple of times for him to take a lesson. Last winter Carlos took a lesson and then spent the afternoon going up and down the smaller area of the mountain for beginners. The second time we went I finally took a lesson. I loved it! At the beginning of winter this year I rented skis for Carlos because it’s much cheaper than renting them each time. In late November I hit up the tent sale at the mountain we usually go to and decided to buy myself some skis. We took advantage of the discounts being offered that day and bought season’s passes too. We have already been a handful of times. I have no clue what I’m doing, but it’s fun and feels great being out there. We typically ski at the smaller area which has a J-bar that takes you up to the top. I am a disaster when it comes to getting off the chair lift. I think I need a lesson on that alone. Carlos is doing great though. Orlando is afraid to try it, but he loves coming with us. We are working on getting him to agree to take at least one lesson before the end of the season.

When Carlos was 4 he started a Learn to Skate program. Unfortunately the program was extremely unorganized. It was a mass of children on the ice with only a few instructors. He spent the entire time doing his own thing which was basically walking back and forth across the ice on skates. I started taking him myself to the public skate hours after school. It had been many years since I skated, but it was kind of like riding a bike. I got right back up there and while I’m no Dorothy Hamil, I manage to stay upright. One afternoon at the rink I met a guy who coached a skating program for adults at UMass Amherst. I joined the program and was really enjoying it until I got unbearable, painful shin splints from skating. I couldn’t believe it, with all the running I was doing it was skating that caused the shin splints. There is a lot of pushing into the lower legs and my shins couldn’t take it. I had to stop going to the lessons, but I still go skating with Carlos for fun. I have my own skates and I keep them in the car just in case. Carlos has since joined a different Learn to Skate program which is phenomenal. This is his third year and he is doing great. They learn all different techniques and now are doing mostly stick and puck drills.

Winter hasn’t stopped me from running. Sometimes it is tough to get motivated to get out there, but once I do I’m always surprised at how great it feels.

Orlando and I went snow shoeing a couple of years ago and I would love to try that again. We snow shoed up a local snow covered mountain. It was so peaceful and beautiful.

This weekend we are in Lake George. It’s a ghost town in the winter, but the lodging rates are a bargain. We are staying a condo rental. It’s very cozy and comfortable. We’ve enjoyed lounging by the fireplace, but we’ve been getting outdoors as well. Yesterday morning I went out for a chilly, but scenic run by the lake. Later in the morning we went tubing. It was a first for all of us and we loved it! It’s like sledding turbo charged. We had a blast. Then we went down to the frozen area of the lake. We wandered around checking out the ice fishing holes and sliding around. There is something so refreshing about breathing in the winter air. It just feels cleaner.

Carlos plays outside almost every day even in the freezing cold temps, snow and sometimes rain. I don’t force him to, he wants to especially if it’s snowing. Embracing winter has made it possible for all of us to stay active and healthy throughout the winter.

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Fort Ticonderoga

I won’t give a history lesson here, but if you are interested in the Revolutionary War time period or have children who are studying it and you don’t live too far I would highly recommend visiting Fort Ticonderoga. It was immensely interesting and very engaging for all ages.

Before I get to the fort let me rewind to the early morning. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run in a new place so I set off on foot to discover a little bit more of Hague, NY. I was expecting a crisp cool fall morning, but the temperature was warming up quickly. The area is very hilly, but beautiful in every direction. I ran back past the Hague Market, along a wooded trail and then up a huge hill where I came across an old cemetery. I stopped at the cemetery and walked around a bit before heading back to the resort. The foliage was so rich and colorful. My run was slow with lots of photo breaks.

After my run I grabbed Carlos to go kayaking. We each had our own kayak and we rowed out away from the dock in silence, Carlos leading the way. Carlos went to a kayak camp this summer for a week. I watched him in awe as he maneuvered the kayak effortlessly over the calm water. He was confident and strong. We didn’t talk much and just enjoyed the peacefulness of the lake and the gorgeous scenery.

I could have stayed out there all day, but we really had to get back to the cabin and get a move on if we wanted to make it to Fort Ticonderoga. After checking out of the resort we returned to Libby’s for breakfast. Then it was time for the main attraction. From the parking lot it doesn’t look like much, but once we passed through the welcome center which houses the gift shop and restaurant you go through a door to be greeted with a spectacular views all around.

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We wandered around for about 20 minutes awaiting the next tour. There was a wall with chronological information. You could peruse the cannons on display. The fort was strategically built overlooking the outlet of the La Chute River which connects Lake George to Lake Champlain. This was an important area because it essentially linked New France to New York.

Fort Ticonderoga was built by the French beginning in 1755 and originally called Carillon. The fort changed hands a number of times. In 1759 the British defeated the French there and took control of the fort for the next 16 years. In what is considered the first American victory of the Revolutionary War, Fort Ticonderoga was captured on May 10, 1775 by Benedict Arnold, Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys.

The tour began with a lengthy history by our very intelligent and sarcastically witty tour guide.

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Once inside the fort you could roam around checking out the various rooms like the shoe workshop, the tailor’s shop and a bunk room. There was also a museum on the top floor of the building with historical artifacts, weaponry, clothing and paintings.

We were invited to return back outside of the fort to watch a demonstration of muskets being fired.

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From there we took a tour of the King’s Garden.

The corn maze adventure was next on our list. It was actually quite easy which worked out great since it was beginning to get very warm out and we were all hungry for lunch. We ate lunch on site and enjoyed the gorgeous views. On our way out we were given directions to Mount Defiance. For a small fee you also received a ticket to drive up Mount Defiance just across the river from Fort Ticonderoga. During colonial times the mountain was deemed too steep to fortify with troops and weaponry despite the major vantage point from the top until finally in July 1977, British General Burgoyne ignored past skepticism and brought his cannons up the mountain forcing the Americans to abandon the forts below.

Once at the base of the mountain I did my best to convince Carlos and Orlando to hike up the mountain. It’s only about a mile up. They reluctantly agreed and complained the entire way up! Wimps!! However, once at the top we were treated to amazing views all around.

We decided to take the nearby ferry across Lake Champlain into Vermont on our way home. The small ferry crosses in only 6 minutes on cables to a dock directly across the lake. You can even buy Vermont maple syrup and a few other goodies on board.

Whew! That’s it for our weekend getaway. I would highly recommend checking out north western Lake George and the Ticonderoga area.