Alyssa’s Costa Rica Adventure: Arenal

Oh, Double Chinners, how sad I am to be back in the Estados Unidos! I just had an amazing vacation in Costa Rica. My husband turned 30 this year, so we decided to celebrate the milestone with an awesome vacation. Airfare to Costa Rica was a steal, so we snatched it up and jetted off to CR. My father-in-law came along, and together, we zigzagged around the country, up unpaved roads, down muddy canyons, and across many, many, giant mountains, breathing in the beauty of the rain forest. I’ll split these posts into a few as there are just way too many things to tell you about. I’ll start with Arenal, a picturesque town at the base of a giant, dormant volcano (though active until five years ago).

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We stayed at Mountain Paradise Hotel, and Trip Advisor definitely didn’t lead me astray on this one. Each room was its own private bungalow, with a stunning waterfall rock shower, private patio with outdoor bath tub, and two rocking chairs for admiring the flora and fauna. Can you believe this room was about $89 a night? Yeah, me neither. They even knew to send me a tabby! (Just kidding:this little kitty found her way to me after discovering we were eating sandwiches. So, I named her Torta.)

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On our second day in Costa Rica, we decided to explore the Arenal Hanging Bridges. While these bridges wobble and sway a little bit, they’re no Indiana Jones bridges. They’re reinforced steel with plenty of hand rails. We hired a local guide, and climbed two miles into the rain forest. We saw two kinds of monkeys, Howler and Squirrel, tarantula holes and eventually, a tarantula, all kinds of birds, and the prize of the trip: a sloth! Had it not been for the guide, I would have never known that this tiny, brown ball of matted fur was a sloth. We used his telescope to zoom in and catch a peep of his blinking brown eyes. Did you know the Spanish word for sloth is Perezoso, which literally means lazy? Also that the sloth only comes down from the tree tops once a week, to poop, because if he pooped right from the tree, predators would easily sniff him out, climb up the tree, and enjoy a sloth dinner.

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We climbed varying degrees of distances before we got to an amazing waterfall. It was pretty much paradise to see this tumbling, picture-perfect waterfall nestled in hills of lush, green vines and blooming plants. We posed for a couple quick photos before climbing the hill to the final and highest hanging bridge. No words can do this view justice, so I’ll just show you.

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See? It’s been a bucket list item of mine that I can now cross off my list to see the rain forest. Especially as our natural resources disappear, it’s important to take in their beauty while you can. The beauty was endless in Costa Rica. We were all pretty thoroughly impressed, and headed back to our room for a brief rest before our night hike into the jungle.

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With a guide from Arenal Oasis tour, we set out into the rain forest with flashlights and our rain jackets in search of frogs. Though it took awhile to spot our first one, I had fun bantering with the guide, who spoke a universal language in which I am fluent: sarcasm. We spotted a few toads, millipedes, and stick bugs, and then, he asked us all to turn off our flashlights for a minute. Holy crikey, the rain forest is DARK in the jungle. Total immersion of darkness plus humidity plus the sounds of singing birds, chirping frogs, crackling leaves? Super cool. He pointed out a type of fungus that glows in the dark, and sure enough, as we looked around we could see blue fungus glistening in the darkness, like magical mushrooms. In the light they looked just like another ordinary stick on the ground, but in the darkness, oh how they shine.

We spotted two poisonous pit vipers, which are actually fairly small snakes (or at least the ones we saw, were).

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Then, we all looked around aimlessly trying to find the red eyed tree frog. This frog is the image of Costa Rica, and I have no doubt you’ve seen his image every where. Finally, the guide called us over and we spotted this lovely specimen lounging in a banana leaf. He kindly posed long enough for me to snap two of my favorite photos of the whole vacation, and then he scurried up the banana tree and back to his safe shell of darkness.

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How frickin cool is that, right? We headed back to our hotel, where we enjoyed frosty libations in the waterfall pool before tucking in for the night, lulled to sleep by the sweet croaking and crooning of exotic frogs and the occasional warbled “meow” at our screen door. The next day we were off to Monteverde… one of the few cloud forests in the world. Stay tuned !

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Happy Thanksgiving from the Double Chin Diary!

Wow – I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving. 2014 has been a year of learning, and I’ll reflect on that in a month, but here are some things I’m grateful for today, yesterday, and always.

  • I’m grateful for YOU. Sometimes I feel like this blog is just a creaky old soap box I step up on that nobody reads, but I know that’s not true when I get an email from somebody who says I inspired them to go kayaking even though they’re plus sized, or that they’re newly diagnosed with PCOS and looking for information. A blog is just a diary if it doesn’t have readers, and I’m proud to say the Double Chin Diary is actually a bonified blog. Also, you readers help bring me opportunities – like attending Fitbloggin’ 2015 as one of their social media managers. Hooray! Thank you!

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  • I’m grateful for my health. Sure, sure, I have terrible allergies, PCOS, and the occasional case of anxiety – but for the most part I am healthy, capable, and getting closer every day to this whole being fit thing. Our health is genuinely a gift we take for granted until it’s too late, so I’m glad I can recognize my body, though imperfect, is just fine.

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  • I’m grateful for my family. I’ve been blessed with cool parents, siblings I’m super close with, awesome in-laws, and my sweet husband. They make me a better person every day, and I’m proud to be a Lofgren Curran.

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  • I’m grateful for closure. This year, we lost my mother in law to cancer. Around this time last year, we learned of her diagnosis, and it’s awful that just one year later she’s no longer with us. One of the only positive parts of losing her is that we were able to spend time with her before she passed, to tell her how much we loved her, and how we knew we’d see her again. Many people don’t have this opportunity, so this year, I’m grateful for the fact that no words were left unsaid. I still feel her all around me, like in this amazing rainbow that arched over us as we walked the 3-Day this past weekend.

    Photo via Susan G. Komen 3-Day Facebook

    Photo via Susan G. Komen 3-Day Facebook

  • I’m grateful for the 3-Day. What may have started as an exciting new job managing social media for the 3-Day has turned into a life-changing experience. Not only do I adore my co-workers and job duties (AND I get to work from home), I feel like what I do has real value in giving back. I walked my first 3-Day this year, raised over $3,300, and saw first hand the impact that this walk has on people facing cancer.

    This is why I walk.

    This is why I walk.

  • I’m grateful for a cozy home. Matt and I have lived in our little bungalow for six years, and while it’s not perfect (who designed a bathroom with the light switch behind the door?!), it’s warm, cozy, and holds our vibrant little family of two adults and two fur babies.560538_10100449850528036_1856930000_n
  • I’m grateful for my friends. There’s friends in my life that have been around since I was a spunky little spitfire (Hey beek!), to friends I met at work (Hi Jason and Juan!), to friends I met in grad school when simultaneously crying and laughing was the norm (Hi Julie, Virginia, Em), to new friends (Aubrey, the Erins, Jenn… the list goes on), to friends I work out with (Hey Susannah!). I have so many awesome friends, way too many to list here, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them and their many endearing quirks.

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  • I’m grateful for travel. This year, thanks to work, I got to see Michigan, Twin Cities, Seattle, Philadelphia, and New York City. Next week, I’ll be on my way to Costa Rica. In March I’ll be going to the Bahamas. Matt and I pinch pennies all year to afford travel, and it’s one of my favorite things. Exploring the world is a great way to relax, rest, and reflect on all these amazing things that make life life.

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    Whereever you are today, I hope you take a quick moment (or a long one!) to reflect on what you’re thankful for. No matter what crappy hand life has currently dealt you, there are people out there who have it much, much worse. Sending you love and light for a wonderful Thanksgiving, and thanks for being YOU.

Out and About: Alyssa Explores Sequoia National Park

This year has been a weird one in terms of vacations — rather than one week in one particular place, Matt and I have ended up going on lots of mini trips this year. One of those mini trips was to celebrate Matt’s 30th birthday. His request was for trees – lots of ’em. We ended up booking a cozy cabin on Air B n’ B and headed up north to Sequoia National Park, about 3.5 hours from where we live in Los Angeles. The first picture below is when you’re about an hour outside of Sequoia. The last hour of the drive is very curvy and into the woods.

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Here’s the inside of our cabin. Note the VHS player, which enabled us to indulge in film classics like the Birdcage and Mrs. Doubtfire (We’re still missing you, Robin Williams.)

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We woke up the next morning after our arrival and headed to the Trail of 100 Giants. It was an easy three mile loop through a gorgeous… well, trail of giants. Giant trees, that is! The first picture shown below is of two trees, each over 240 feet long, that fell after a storm. Insanity!

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After a few hours exploring the Trail of Giants, we headed off to Dome Rock, a secret little vista that overlooked all over the Sequoia Canyon, recommended to us by the park ranger. This place was incredibly stunning, and we showed up at just the right time, when a storm was rolling in and the clouds were dramatic and gray. The only slightly freaky thing about this place is there are no stairs, no guard rails (and a 5,000 foot drop, as warned by the ranger), and no civilization – so if you see a hungry bear or happen to take a tumble down the rock face, well, you’re on your own. Matt and I were the only people at this place, so when he was scurrying over rocks and up into trees I was lecturing him about how if he fell, we’d be up Shit Creek without a paddle (and without cell service!). We hung out for about 30 minutes and then had to hightail it down the mountain when hail starting hurling down on us.

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How amazing is that view, right? There ended up being so many parts of Sequoia we didn’t even see, like the General Sherman Tree, but now I know for next time that we need much longer than two days. This part of California usually gets all the buzz for Yosemite, but now I know that if you stay just an hour or so south, you’re in for some incredible scenic viewpoints and a quieter, more mellow vibe; with no cell phone reception or wi-fi. (Sometimes that’s paradise, as long as you don’t fall off a mountain.)

Have you ever been to this part of California?

Alyssa takes on New York in 36 hours!

Hello hello! I’ve just returned from a beautiful wedding in Northern California that I’ll tell you about soon, but first, I have to share photos from my whirlwind trip to New York. I was on business in Philadelphia and decided when my trip ended that I had to go to New York. I’d never been, and NY is just an easy 1.25 hour train ride from Philadelphia. Matt and I packed up our stuff on a Monday morning, and arrived to New York at noon. When I first got out of the train and was greeted by sky-high buildings, honking yellow taxis, and people in business suits swarming around the train station, I instantly knew I would love this city. It felt like a more urban version of Los Angeles, with the frantic pace and bustling energy I see so often around me in my city of Angels. Matt and I checked into our tiny, overpriced hotel and headed off to Shake Shack to have lunch with our dear friend Sarah, a Los Angeles transplant. After an awesome burger, we went off to the Met, where I geeked out over the Egyptology room. Did you know the artwork behind me is from approximately 15 BC? Incredible!

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After the Met, we walked through Central Park. This park was so incredibly calming; and I learned that Central Park is basically just reserved land to keep some of New York’s natural elements intact. It was so green and lush and at points really did feel just like you were walking in a forest. We stopped near this fountain to hear a cello player and violinist fill the air with famous classical pieces, and I just wanted to soak up all of the beauty around me.

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Then, we headed over to Times Square to check it out and also get some dinner. Times Square was one of those things that was cool to see, but a brief walk through was more than enough for me. I’m not a huge fan of tons of light and noise and people, and at night time after a crazy jetlagged weekend, all I wanted to do was eat some pizza and head to bed. We hit up a tiny little corner shop, I don’t even remember the name, and got our first New York pizza. We really lucked out, because it was AMAZING. We started with a slice of white pizza and veggie supreme, and then decided to really go for it and share a piece of pepperoni. This deep-dish, sauce on top, Chicago girl was impressed.

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Then, it was off to bed, and the next morning, we had brunch with another awesome friend, Nick. After brunch, we went to Greenwich Village for a food walking tour! A coworker of mine recommended Foods of NY tours, and I’m so glad I took her recommendation. For just over $50, we got to walk and talk with our awesome tour guide Bari on the beautiful streets of Greenwich Village, learning about history, and tasting nine different foods of New York, including pizza, herbed olive oils and truffle butter, arancini, meatballs, cookies, eggplant rollatini, fresh foccacia, cheese, and cannoli. Arancini are stuffed rice balls which are coated with breadcrumbs and fried. They were traditionally known as a peasant food because most people had rice, and it was a new way to eat rice, and we all know that variety is the spice of life.

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My favorite tasting of the tour was this miniature cannoli. Holy smokes was it delicious! The crackly “shell” was the perfect complement to the light and fluffy cream inside, with just a hint of lemon zest and studded with chocolate chips. I could go for one of these right now..

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We also stopped by a beautiful little restaurant called Palma that was pretty much a real-life display of everything I love in design. Palma had fresh flowers and rustic wood everywhere, book cases loaded with old books, sparkling glass trinkets, and fragrant herbs tucked into tarnished old pewter. The room shown below was actually the family’s original home and is 200 years old. The restaurant is directly in front of this building, and one day, they had to open Palma up  for a dignitary as they were out of space in the main dining room. (My memory on this is fuzzy, so apologies if I’m making anything up.) Basically, word got out that people could eat in the family’s kitchen, and it became so popular they eventually had to move out, build a house upstairs, and let their original home become an extension of the kitchen. Howard Stern is a big fan. Can you see how wonderful it would be to be with your friends and a great bottle of red in this cozy little carriage house? I definitely need to make reservations to eat here when I go back to New York.

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For this foodie, the tour was an awesome way to get to know one of New York’s neighborhoods and get some walk-training in at the same time! I’ll definitely be trying out some of their other tours when I head back to New York, which I hope I can do in the near future. 36 hours in NYC was enough to let me know that I need to take a proper vacation there one day, probably at least a week, to really get a feel for the city. There’s SO MUCH more I wanted to see and do; like a broadway show, checking out the High Line, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, seeing Lady Liberty, visiting Ground Zero, going to the Natural History Museum, etc. I can’t wait to experience the Big Apple when I have more time on my side. For now, I’m so glad I got the chance to experience another amazing city. Have you been to NYC? What did you think?

Blissfully Unplugged: Camping in Lopez Lake

Hello everyone! This weekend, I went camping for my third annual grad school girls camping trip (here are the posts from 2012 and 2013). I met these ladies in grad school, and we quickly bonded over an insatiable need for caffeine, the horrors of mass communication theories, and how many times we cried each week. I jest (kind of. grad school aint for sissies). We drove north from Los Angeles to Lopez Lake near Arroyo Grande, which is about an hour south of San Luis Obispo. Our campsite was “Buck 12” and was on a shady hill looking over the madmade Lopez Lake, surrounded by oak trees. Isn’t this beautiful?

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We set up our tent on Friday night and made a fancy gourmet dinner of fire-roasted hot dogs and chili cheese fritos, in addition to s’mores. In typical Alyssa fashion I enjoyed the indulgence at the time, but later paid for it when I woke up at 1 a.m. in a swirly nauseous junk food haze. I was really excited this camping trip to try out my new Klymit Static V Camping Mattress because for the past two years I’ve relied on a yoga mat or towel to shield my soft body from the unforgiving rocks. This year I splurged a little and got this camping mattress, which comes to you the size of a Nalgene water bottle, you blow it up with 15-20 breaths, and BOOM! Instant mattress. I was really happy and surprised with how durable and comfy this thing is… and it totally doubles as a fashionable skirt. See?

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We woke up the next morning and headed out on what was supposed to be a 1.1 mile hike, but ended up being about four miles because we got lost several times trying to actually find the trail. It was all good training for the 3-Day, especially because it was in hills, in the middle of the day, in the sun. While we tried to find the trail, we enjoyed seeing the numerous deer at the campground who were totally unafraid of humans.

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We finally made our way to Blackberry Trail and were so excited we had to take a picture with the sign. The hike was beautiful, with lots of fluttery butterflies, shady fern groves, and brambles of berries. Because we’re awesome, we actually got on to another trail after some other hikers had told us they had seen a bear on it (Yes, we wanted to see a bear!). Sadly, we did not run into any California Black Bears, though I did hear one huffing and puffing around our tent later that night (bears have a very distinct huff n’ puff style breathing. See?)

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Training for the 3-Day has really shown me how important the right shoes are, and I was happy for this hike to be wearing my Ahnu Women’s Sugarpine Air Mesh Hiking Shoe. I actually won these on Facebook (and so did my friend Julie – see? She’s wearing hers, too!), and I have to say I’m loving this shoe for hikes. They have plenty of support around the arch and toe box, and the grip was great as we scaled up loose dirt and tip-toed down shale-covered ravines. Plus they come in cute colors in a size 11, which is actually a big deal because most shoe manufacturers stop making cute things past a size 10 (thanks, Ahnu!).

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After our hike, we schlepped back down the mountain to the Marine store, treated ourselves to a well deserved cheese burger, and then hiked all over the campground again to go lay on the lake beach for a few hours. Sprawling in the sun felt SO GOOD. Then, it was back to our campsite for dinner for night 2 – ceasar salad and JIFFY POP! Jiffy Pop is kind of the best thing ever when you’re camping, just because it’s so fun to make over a fire. You basically shake it like crazy and then watch the foil on top turn into this huge martian head filled with delicious buttery corn.  It’s worth the $2. Do it!

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I think I so badly needed this camping trip because early Saturday morning, my phone ran out of battery and I was able to super unplug for the whole weekend. As much as I love tweeting and instagramming, there’s nothing like taking a break from being “on” and spending time really being present, like the amazing colors in this sunset, or the tiny tomato plant growing in the camp water fountain — or, even better, laughing with my friends!

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When was the last time you went camping? Are you a fan of camping or is it not for you? I definitely love camping but have learned over the years it’s better to go a little closer to “glamping” and splurge on things like a sleeping pad, bringing a table cloth for the camp, and choosing a campground with showers. Those little things can make a big difference in your comfort level! What did you do this weekend?

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*I was not compensated in any way to write about the sleeping pad or Ahnu shoes, just wanted to share two things that made my trip less campy and more glampy. There are affiliate links in here which will earn me a few pennies if you end up deciding to check either item out 🙂

Fitbloggin’ 2014: It’s all about the people.

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since Fitbloggin’! I had the most amazing time exploring Savannah, but it wasn’t the beautiful dangling moss, delicious cheese board at Alligator Soul, or cushy soft bed at the Hyatt that made it so great; it was the people! My first Fitbloggin, I let my nerves control me, and I was too shy to strike up conversation with “famous” people like the wonderfully talented and kind founder of Fitbloggin, Roni, or Carla, an awesome tattooed lady blogger with some bad-ass perspectives on life. I had a good time, but I didn’t really throw myself in. So the next year, in Portland, I threw myself in, and I left a changed person; full of excitement and a renewed sense of endurance towards this lifelong path to health. My first Fitbloggin, I worried I’d be the only fat person, or I’d be too much of a “baby blogger”, or that my hair would be too blonde, or whatever. Nerves can tell you strange things, but they’re just fears, that’s it. So if you’re thinking about coming to Fitbloggin – come. So you don’t have a blog yet or haven’t started one? There’s still something for you. So you’ve gained weight, not lost? I was in this boat in 2013 and all was A-OK, and helped me get back on track. So you have anxiety and prefer hiding in your bedroom? Come. Lots of people at Fitbloggin’ are introverts, too.

I know I’ll inevitably miss someone, and for that, I’m sorry (I’m going off the photos I have), but please take a few minutes to check out my friends below. I could gush on and on about each person, but I’m instead going to share a short and possibly random snippet of who I perceived them to be. (Don’t worry, I’ll reserve my judgements about their fashion sense, breath, and hair styles for myself. KIDDING. I’m not a mean girl. (only to myself).

From Left to Right:

1) Emily of Big Life, Little Blog. Sweet, smart, my generous chauffeur from Atlanta to Savannah. Makes me laugh all the time!
2) Matt and Sam. Funny, welcoming, awesome zumba king and queen along with Sue.
3) Brooke of Brooke Not On a Diet. Inspirational, took on a fluffy woman’s mag, knows good beer.
4) Sarah of Losing Weight and Having Fun. Makes a mean cuppa tea, hilarious. My 4 a.m. insomniac texting buddy.
5) Paula of Runnin Paola. My neighbor (no, seriously – she lives like 10 mins away), great smile, smart, likes ghosts.
6) Nik of Bariatric Foodie. My 1st Fitbloggin friend, pro blogger (FOR REAL), always bright and bubbly. Loser of lots of weight!

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7) Liz of Prior Fat Girl. Fellow 3-Day walker (Hooray!), lovely, friendly, welcoming Minnesotan with irresistible E2.
8) Heather of Yummy Sushi PJ’s. Yoga star, open, honest, sweet.
9) Kay of Weight Chronicles. Reads my blog! Fun person to talk to. Positive, happy, kind.
10) Emily (You know her now!) and Dani from Starting at the Middle. Dani: true Southern hospitality. Great perspective on life. Gettin’ hitched!
11) June of Simply June Bug. Old skool Fitcation friend. Birds of a feather. Poetic, honest, brave.
12) Deanna. Smart cookie, awesome person to sit next to a drag show. Good dancer.

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13) Martinus of 300 pounds and running. Enthusiastic. Bow-ties. Makes me want to try running (again).
14) Melissa of The Valentine RD. All around awesome lady. Registered Dietitian. Lover of Duran Duran!
15) Margo of Brooklyn Fit Chick. Cat lady, like me. (We’re showing off our cat stickers in this pic.) Welcoming, bubbly.
16) Emily of Fit & Free with Emily. Selfless, generous, inspirational, some have said she could be my Fitbloggin twin.
17) Heather of Divas Run for Bling. Great smile, happy, fun! Must pick her brain about compression socks!
18) Sam and Heather. You know them already 😉

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19) Leah of Mamavation. Fearless, leader, nurturing. So-Cal girl, throws great parties. Founder of Fitcation and Shiftcon. (Want to go to another amazing health oriented conference? Go to Shiftcon in October in Los Angeles! April will be there!)
20) Kris of Kris Gets Healthy. Lost 120 pounds! Brave, sharp-witted, sweet fellow Minnesotan (Midwestern love!).
21) Denise of Almasdays. Awesome live blogger (she covered Avocado session!), sweet, bubbly, bright.
22) Nik, Dre of Mission Meltdown. He’s insanely talented at photography, videography, and even rapping! Super welcoming.
23) Kenlie of All the Weigh. One of the first bloggers who ever replied to me! Warm, smart cookie, amazing baker!
24) Dani, Emily, and Emmie of Authentically Emmie. Visionary, funny, wardrobe I wanna steal. Inspirational.

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And for 25, my sweet Fitbloggin’ roomie, Kelly of No Thanks to Cake! Kelly and I met at last year’s uber emotional Fitbloggin’ session, where I ugly cried about all the jerks in Thailand who wanted to tell me what a cow I was. (Actually, it was elephant, and it sucks that it happened, but it IS one of my most highly read blog posts, so ya know, there’s that…) Kelly is one of those people that lights up a room wherever she goes, and our room was certainly mega watts brighter with her beautiful smile in it. We called ourselves the Avocado room, because Kelly was also a winner! Kelly’s home base is in Colorado, where Fitbloggin 2015 will be! I can’t wait to have a personal tour of Colorado with the expert herself.

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And #26… the awesome ROBBY of Fat Girl Vs. World! I met her in Baltimore, and have always loved her brave, fearless writing on her blog. We took a pretty amazing photo in Baltimore that was meant to be a kickboxing pose, but it just looked like I was pooping, so I won’t share that again… but you know. She’s rad. and huggable. and inspiring!

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and #27… the Fitbloggin Famous Alan! Alan is seriously one of the most upbeat, positive, inspirational peeps ever. He and I occasionally text, and he always finds a way to brighten my day. Do you know he’s lost a TON of weight and does triathlons? Rockstar status, achieved.

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I know there’s no way I’ve recapped every amazing person I met, but these were the pictures I had. If I met you and you want my elevator pitch of how I’d describe you, chime in below! I can promise you – Fitbloggin’ is an amazing community. You’ll notice many of the words I used to describe people were the same: kind, welcoming, happy, bright, inspiring, brave. This community is a tribe of good-hearted people who all care about the health and happiness of YOU — and that’s a wonderful thing. <3