Enough with the Plastic

The most disturbing part of our time in Morocco has been seeing the proliferation of trash littered everywhere. In city streets, country roads and even in the remotest parts of the Sahara. I keep wondering whether any groups organize “clean up days” the way we do at local beaches and such. If so, they may get added to my favorite charity list.

As we sat on the train racing from Marrakech to Casablanca, I pulled open my curtain to look out on open fields. As my eyes adjusted to the sunlight, I was saddened as I realize the landscape is dotted with plastic bags.

When we were in the Sahara, we stopped in a small palm grove for a picnic. We were disappointed that within a campfire site people had left their trash. Cans, bottles, etc. Even as we visited Erg Chegga, one of the remotest dunes in Morocco, our guide found (and thankfully picked up) a plastic bag.

In the states, particularly in California, we teach our kids the “leave no trace” ethic when in the wilderness — what we carry in, we carry out. We’re pretty obsessive about recycling (I have not seen a single recycling bin in Morocco). And more and more, we’ve stopped buying water in plastic bottles — drinking from the tap and even making our own sparkling water. That, of course, has not been possible in Morocco, but even in Europe it was hard to get plain old tap water in a restaurant (only one restaurant in France offered it).

Not sure whether it’s a sense of guilt over my own contribution to the problem, or worry about the impact of all plastic that I’m seeing everywhere, but it’s weighing on me. As we were packing up our tent and getting ready to leave the desert, I picked up two empty water bottles. I looked at Jeff and asked what we should do with them. He voiced what I had been feeling: “I’d like to take them all the way back home to make sure their recycled.”

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A Rainy Day in the French Alps

Yesterday, we flew into Geneva and were met by my parents to kick off a full week with them in the lovely French town of Chamonix. After a nice lunch overlooking Lac Léman, we started up the mountain. About halfway up, it started raining and it’s been raining ever since.

Truth be told, the rain is just what the doctor ordered. I’ve been struggling with a cold the last couple of days and it was nice to slow down and spend the day resting. We went into town for lunch and got to explore the town a bit. And every once in awhile, we’d be able to see bits of the mountains around us.

I’m told that when it does clear, we’ll have a perfect view of Mont Blanc from the little chalet we’re calling home this week. For now, the most I’ve seen is Glacier des Bossons, which I think is pretty impressive, but my dad tells me is nothing to write about in comparison to what I’ll see when the sun comes out.

Until then, I just plan to enjoy the time with my parents and take advantage of the time to read.

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Traveling without the Extra Pounds

Nearly two years ago, I began to pay attention to my weight. The scale (and my doctors) told me I was definitely overweight and my BMI told me I was bordering on obese. On Christmas Day 2011, I started a food journal. I recorded everything I ate and did my best to estimate the calories. It worked. Over the course of about 9 months, I lost 45 pounds — reaching my target weight. Happily, I’ve kept them off.

Since that time, people have often asked me if I felt different. In all honesty, most days I don’t notice. However, this week, I’ve noticed.

There have been multiple times over the last couple of days as we’ve trekked through Lisbon and Madrid when I’ve realized I would not have been able enjoy this as much if I was still carrying those 45 pounds.

There are some simple and basic things that have made me take notice of the advantage of being smaller, notably many European water closets are quite tiny. This trip I’ve realized exactly why they are called water closets, since I’ve been in many that clearly used to be closets! They are a tight squeeze the size I am now, it would have been downright uncomfortable to manage before.

And, don’t get me started on the shower stall in our train cabin! I remarked to Jeff this morning that our cabin would have been impossible to maneuver and truly miserable if we hadn’t both lost the weight we had.

But most notably, my ankle has not locked up.

My right ankle was reconstructed when I was 16 and I have fairly severe arthritis. Two years ago, had I been walking even half as much as we’ve walked the last three days, I would have required a day of down time to recuperate and I would have been searching for the nearest soaking tub in the hopes hot water would loosen it up.

No doubt, my legs are sore, tired and I desperately need to do some yoga hip openers, but my ankle has held up remarkably well.

I’m grateful to be at a healthy weight and able to squeeze in as much exploration as possible.

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Exploration and Invention in Portugal

On our final day in Lisbon, we set off to Belém to learn more about Portugal’s explorers. In particular, Vasco de Gama, whose explorations led to the creation of a spice route that led to Portugal’s economic dominance for many years.

We visited his tomb at Jerónimos Monestery, which is a beautiful example of Manueline architecture. But while in the neighborhood, we also learned more about an invention of the monks who lived in the monastery — the pastéis de nata. While in Lisbon, we had more than our fair share of these yummy little custards cups, but apparently we saved the best for last. Apparently the original and secret recipe of the monks of the Jerónimos Monastery is handed down now through Pastéis de Belém. I’d heard a lot of hype about this little pastry before we went and I was prepared to be disappointed. Boy was I proved wrong. Not only was the custard perfect, the crust was surprisingly crispy and flakey.

After enjoying that tasty treat, we learned more about Portugal’s leadership during, the Age of Discovery. Quite a lot to be said for this relatively small country.

We left Lisbon Wednesday night to take a train to Madrid. We crammed a lot in three short days, enjoyed every minute, but know there was so much more to experience.

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Estoril, Cascais and Bairro Alto

Yesterday, we kicked off the first day of our time away. After flying overnight to Lisbon, we rallied and hopped on a train to see the coastal towns of Estoril and Cascais. Rested and recovered on the beach.

We had some early evening petiscos on Praca do Comércio, overlooking Ponte 25 de Abril, which looks like a replica of our hometown Golden Gate Bridge.

That evening, we got an extra late start and ended up exploring the streets of Bairro Alto for a late night dinner. We ended up at Zapata, a hole in the wall restaurant that we never would have found if we had been looking for it. We’re fairly certain a Portuguese grandmother was in the kitchen cooking for us.

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Restarting

It’s been a long time since I last posted. Time to get back in the habit!

Today, I’m fascinated by the decision by the American Medical Association to declare obesity a disease.

I’m honestly of two minds about this:

By declaring obesity a disease, I believe that it will receive increased attention and focus from doctors — a much needed change. But I worry that declaring obesity a disease will stigmatize and alienate those most in need of support from the medical community.

What do you think?

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Week Thirteen: Rodeo Beach

On Sunday, April 1, Ethan and I were on our own. After a torrential downpour on Saturday, when I spotted blue sky on Sunday morning, I was anxious to get out and take advantage of the weather.

Ethan and I hopped into the car and drove over to the Marin Headlands. Fortunately the weather held and we were treated to a lovely morning out at Rodeo Beach. We wandered around Rodeo Lagoon, played on the beach for a bit and then checked out the Marin Headlands visitors center. Following the storm on Saturday, the surf at the beach was rough. You could see the waves breaking not just on shore, but out at sea. I was happy to be on the beach and not in the water.

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