Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Sound of Settling

Some girls crave a night out with the girls after a hard day. Others need to buy something pretty to make them feel better about life. Still others turn to food as a way to fill the void and make them feel a little less stressed.

I've tried all of these methods.

But I forgot how much simply being out in nature comforts me.

Moving back to Santa Barbara has been really good, but really hard at the same time. I don't have time to feel lonely, so that's not the issue. As soon as I moved back, I took on three jobs, joined two different gyms and have been trying to manage keeping straight A's in my courses.

So far, it has been mostly easy. But then there are days like today. Days when I should be driving to the airport to board a plane and land in Seattle to spend my birthday weekend with the love of my life and my wonderful parents.

Then the storm hits and I spend the morning skipping class to try to figure out how to fix the damage that is a cancelled flight followed by another cancelled flight. It makes me anxious and upset. I easily could have spent the morning in bed watching Bones and feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I put on my shorts and walked out the door.

It was perfect weather and the sky was clear. I hiked 11 miles in the backcountry of Santa Barbara and I feel so much more relaxed.

My friend's husband is a neurosurgeon. He is in the process of writing a book about the brain and how nature influences your intelligence.

I truly think exploring a new trail or seeing a new sight is exhilarating and therapeutic to me.

I encourage you to find that thing that calms you down and helps you reanalyze your life and how good we have it. I can fret about not being able to spend the evening with my boyfriend, but ultimately, I am able to see him eventually. Some people are not as fortunate; they are stolen from their families, lose a loved one to cancer or live on a different continent.

Remember where you are and how good your life really is. Don't settle for feeling bad about your day. Turn your frown upside down and find a way to spend some time doing the things that make you that irrisistable, one-of-a-kind beauty.

That's all.

(Drops the mic)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Three Tarantulas and a Bear Enter a Race (Part 4)

We have all seen it done in the films: Men and women lined up against the inside of an airplane, suited up and ready to jump. This is what I pictured when the employee told me I would squat and she would strap into my harness with me. My jump looked a lot different than what I had imagined.

When the van pulled up to the airstrip, the hefty pilot shuffled his extra jiggle out of the driver's seat and the entire van moved with the weight displacement. Glancing over at Nick, I could sense his unease. His face was lacking color and his eyes were alert. I touched his hand and he looked at me with a forced smile. As the instructor droned on about his brother competing in his first triathlon, I could tell Nick wasn't listening. His one fear is heights and I was forcing him to kick that fear in it's atm-ass-phere.

Looking around the strip, I only saw one plane. It was a single seater, no way was it ours. The moment I denied its purpose was the same moment the pilot opened the door and heaved himself inside.

Oh bugger.

Nick's instructor crawled in after from the other side. Nick followed him and I wondered how anyone else would be able to get inside. As I held the door up in the air, feeling its force pushing down on me, my instructor climbed inside and I followed suit.

The insides of the airplane had been completely stripped, except for the pilot's seat. The ground, the walls: All that was left was the aluminum framing. We were smashed in; Nick's back pressed against his instructor's chest, my foot in Nick's lap, my armpit on his instructor's ear (after a race... I'm sure he loved that smell) and my instructor's legs under mine. It was what some may refer to as a "tight squeeze".

I reached across Nick's instructor to grab my boyfriend's hand. He looked out at the ocean of Pismo Beach then tweaked his neck backward like an owl to look at me and give me a nervous smile. "You got this," I urged and giggled, half out of nervousness that I might be the cause of my boyfriend's death, half out of trying to comfort him.

The pilot suddenly dropped the plane toward the earth and our stomach's followed Newton's Law Of Motion while our body's followed the principles of gravity. He twisted right and tilted left as far as he could without turning the airplane on its head. I felt like I was in the first scene of 007: Spectre.

"The jump will be twenty times worse than that," someone said. That someone may have been me. Probably not going to win the award for Most Comforting Girlfriend of 2015.

As we gained altitude, I felt the tap on my shoulder. It was time. I placed my hand on the ceiling so as not to bump my head when I shifted my bodyweight onto my toes and came into a very low crouch. The instructor strapped into my harness then we eased our way to the open door and I sat on the ledge, feet hanging from the plane. I felt the wind resistance threatening to pull me out of the plane, but my instructor, despite her size, had a lot of strength. She kept me seated on the edge then I felt her rock me back and forth three times before we dove forward, head first toward the earth. We didn't stop tilting though; I saw the plane three separate times as I somersaulted through the sky. When we finally straightened out, I could feel my cheeks lifting upward toward the sun as my body left them behind.

We soared through the sky, performed tricks, waved to Nick as he did the same. The background was golf courses, dehydrated fields and ocean as far as we could see.

My instructor pointed to the original lot where we parked. It was a third of the size of my high school football field. She labeled it our "landing spot" then let out our parachute. Our college frat friends were back and "Free Falling" was shaking the speakers of their Volvo. As the harness pulled on every inch of my pelvic girdle, I lifted my legs and we landed with a heavy thud on the uneven dirt.

I watched as Nick and his instructor did the same.

"We just jumped out of a plane," he said, as if I had been napping through the entire thing. "I have to call my mom!"

Monday, November 2, 2015

Three Tarantulas and a Bear Enter a Race (Part 3)

As Lopez Lake became just a dot in my rearview mirror, my cell phone chirped, letting me know I had regained Sprint coverage. There was a voicemail waiting for me.

“Hello, Ashlee. The forecast is calling for rain tomorrow. Can you come in this afternoon? Call us when you can.”

I called, trying to avoid using vocabulary that might allow Nick to put the puzzle pieces together.

This is Ashlee, you left me a voicemail… Yes, I see how that could be a problem… Could we come in 20 minutes?... Great! See you soon!”

“Nick, we are making a side trip,” I told him.

“Where are we going,” he inquired.

“Don’t worry about it,” I tried to sound sly, but he knew exactly what we were going to do.

We pulled into a parking lot in a sketchy part of town. My bike was locked to the top of my car, but I didn’t know how safe it was to assume it would be there when I returned. This was not Montecito.

“Are we skydiving?” I couldn’t surprise my boyfriend with anything. He knew exactly what we were doing.

As we walked around the strip mall searching for the building, a woman with colorful hair, inked arms and a burrito in her hand sauntered up to us. “Ya want me to take your picture in front of the skydiving sign?” Her smile was so big, I felt like she was an old friend. “Don’t worry,” she reassured. “I won’t steal your phone. I work here!”

We did our classic #whoanilee pose then followed the girl inside.

“Alright, so it’s getting windy outside,” she got serious. “We need to get you out there as soon as we can or else you may not be able to jump. Usually, we would need you to watch this safety video then fill out some paperwork, but since we are in such a rush, you can just fill out the paperwork while the movie plays in the background.”

“What is the movie,” Nick asked.

“Oh, you know, just safety stuff and how to jump. A lot of people die skydiving, so it’s important to know what to and not to do.”

“Should we be watching this, then?” I asked, nervously.

“Definitely,” she nodded her head, eyes wide, smile still on her face. “A woman recently flew out of her harness because she had her arms in the wrong position. The instructor caught her and held onto her belt the whole way down. It was a close call!”

“But we should still fill out our paperwork while watching the safety tips,” my brain was wondering how it was going to focus on both things at once.

Static played on the small television screen, followed by some tuning of the picture before a man with the most magnificent beard came onto the screen. He spoke about the importance of holding your arms and body a certain way during the jump and fall.

I read the first paragraph of the first of seven pages:

The likelihood of getting injured or dying is very likely. Initial here.

The second paragraph read:

I understand that I may lose a limb while skydiving. Initial here.

This continued for seven straight pages.

I could almost here the thoughts in Nick’s head: What has she gotten us into? This is crazy.

He was uncertain about the whole thing and it was obvious. Quietness overtook him and his body movements were rigid. I can always tell when Nick is uncomfortable in a situation. This situation was turning into the worst birthday gift ever.

The woman handed us directions to the landing pad. “Our bus already left, so you’ll have to drive yourself there. It’s not far,” she reassured us. I think she read the fear in the wrinkles of our faces. “My girlfriend and I jump all the time. It’s amazing. You’ll want to come back again and again!”

We drove out to the Middle of Nowhere, Pismo Beach. Peter Gabriel told us that the light and heat were in our eyes, but that didn’t calm us down. Both Nick and I were wondering if this was the smartest decision; I still had to race the next day and he really didn’t want to die 8 days before his 27th birthday.

Turning past a few warehouses onto a private dead-end road made us think we may be lost. “I think that big grassy spot with the four boys was where we are supposed to go,” I told him.

“The four kids?!” he seemed astonished that I would even toy with the idea. “That frat party?! If those are the instructors, we are getting your money back.”

We drove past the boys again. They were total bros, clad in tank tops and board shorts. Gel held their hair in perfect spikes pointing from their scalp to the sky. All eight eyes turned and watched us drive past, but no one waved us over. Could that really be where we were supposed to go?

“Just pull in and we will ask,” I told Nick.

The boys danced around their car as we parked next to them.

“Are you skydiving? We just woke up this morning and our buddy opened the door and said we should do it. This is everyone’s first time,” the shortest of the frat members spoke quickly. “Have you guys done this before?! Oh, look! There are our friends!”

We watched as two parachutes danced in the air. Someone turned on Tom Petty’s Free Falling. As we watched the two jumpers land, we saw how harmless the sport looked. All of the blood was restored in Nick’s face and our lungs began taking in normal amounts of oxygen.

After the first group packed up and drove away, the instructors prepped us for the upcoming jump. The female was 5 inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than me. She had pink streaks in her hair and gages in her ear. Listening to her talk made me yearn for adventure and freedom. The male was even shorter than she was and his gages were a size bigger. Tattoos lined every inch of visible skin. He was from Puerto Rico and I couldn’t tell if he was so quiet because he didn’t speak English or if he really just didn’t give a hoot about anything going on.

The pilot leaned up against a post smoking a cigar. “This is my last day,” he chuckled. “See you (fowl word) never.”

“What is your plan,” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“If today is your last day, what do you plan to do next,” I clarified.

“I’m going to work at Jack in the Box.”

I laughed.

He looked at me, offended. “Really though.”

“Oh…” I couldn’t think of anything more to say.

“You a Seahawks fan? I saw your watch,” Nick saved me by changing the subject.

For the next 10 minutes, we listened to the story of how our Californian pilot became a Seahawks fan. When he finished, the instructors told us how we were going to jump. The picture she painted made me think of the jumpers seen in movies, sitting along a bench then jumping out of a decent-sized plane one-by-one.
“When I tap your shoulder, you’ll come to a squatting position onto my lap. I’ll hook into your harness then we will sit on the side of the door and rock three times before tilting forward and falling out of the plane,” she instructed. “Got it?”

It sounded easy enough.

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Rain, Wool Socks and a Good Friend

We stood there for over an hour, occasionally shifting our body weight from leg to leg to keep the blood flowing. I gripped my coffee, hoping its heat would transfer into more than just my fingertips. She pulled her jacket tighter to her thin frame. Despite the cold weather, we stayed on the sidewalk, exposed to the elements, and we talked. One conversation would interrupt the last, not allowing that topic to come to a close. If I didn't have a test for which to prepare and if she hadn't had a piece of her forehead biopsied an hour prior, I think we would have remained in that spot on the sidewalk speaking about life until the sun had released itself from our sky. It was in that moment that I realized she was no longer my mom; she was my closest friend.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Three Tarantulas and a Bear Enter a Race (Part 2)

Nine weeks of focused training led me to this moment: Smiling with my hand on my wetsuit-clad hip, pretending that the picture being taken was the most important thing I would do all day. Nick gave me a quick good luck kiss and walked me down to the dock where people were splashing their feet and warming their bodies to prepare for the upcoming exercise.

Lining up with the other women, I put my pink swimcap over my blonde braids and looked at the athletes I was up against. Only two swimmers were in the water, the rest of the women were on the shore, conversing about breakfast and final bladder emptying. My eyes scanned the crowd: Strong women, fast women, brave women... and me. To beat these women, I would have to swim my strongest, bike my fastest and run my bravest. The challenge was in front of me and all I had to do was stretch my arms forward and grab it, one stroke, one pedal, one step at a time.

Nick stood on the dock, his overgrown blonde hair peaking from beneath his cap and his smile attempting to exit the sides of his face. I gave him a slight grin, trying not to convey the fact that I was filled with pure stokernous (what you get when you combine the emotions of being stoked and nervous at the same time. To be honest, I was ecstatic to have him there cheering me on. This would be his first time seeing me race! And I couldn't think of anyone else I would rather have kiss my lips at the finish line.

At the same time though, I was nervous. What if I got a flat tire? Or if I was the last swimmer out of the lake? Would he be disappointed that we drove all this way? That he had to take time off of work? I had to push these thoughts out of my head and remember that none of that would happen. Even if it did, it wouldn't matter because I was here to compete and to have fun doing it.

The countdown began and I looked over the water through goggled eyes. I had this.

My goal swim time was to hold a 2:26 pace and be out of the water in 38 minutes and 57 seconds. I beat that with a 2:19 pace, exiting the water in 37 minutes and 13 seconds.

I ran up the launch and into the transition area, exiting in 57 seconds less time than I had planned. Taking a big bite of dry Picky Bar while I swung my leg over my Felt DA4, I began the first climb out of the marina.

The day was perfect. Sun was shining on the earth and my tires were at the exact PSI I needed to feel strong. I passed three men on their bikes and smiled to myself. Swimming may not be my best event, but maybe I could take some people off my list on the bike. Holding an average pace of 19mph, I watched as the vineyards and volunteers encouraged me along. Then the turnaround came. It was time for some hill climbs. I turned a corner and there was a... tarantula?! Was that really a giant spider I saw or was it a rat?!? A rat would make more sense, but the furry creature definitely had more than 4 legs! Maybe I was seeing things... maybe I was pushing harder than I thought I was... but I'm pretty sure I just saw a tarantula.

The arthropod must have scared my biceps femoris, because my pedal stroke sped up a little bit and I finished the 25 mile bike portion 23 seconds under my goal time!

Transition was not as smooth between the bike and the run and my legs felt heavy as I embarked on the two lap hilly 6.2 mile course. "She's still smiling," some guys commented. "That cutie in the braids has a huge smile on her face. She must be having fun!" I whipped my head back and gave them the cheesiest, toothiest grin I could muster, then I darted away... at a much slower pace than to which the word "darting" usually refers.

When I crossed the finish line, Nick was there waiting for me with a smile and open arms. I was so excited to see him that I almost forgot to collect my medal and give my timing chip back. My boyfriend was proud of me, but more importantly, I was proud of myself. Race one down, one more to go! Knowing I had placed, we stuck around for a couple of hours and watched football and played arcade car racing games until the award ceremony.

On the drive back home, I told Nick we had to make a pit stop; little did he know I had big birthday plans up my sleeve!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Three Tarantulas and a Bear Enter a Race... Part 1

Back at it... It's only been a year. Hello, hello? Is anyone out there? Is this thing on?

Sorry I left you all. I know you have missed me greatly. There are just only so many seconds in a day yet so many workouts to fit in, patients to teach and clients to correct. But I'm here! I'm here. Don't go away!

For my 28th birthday yesterday, I decided I needed to do more of what makes me happy. Writing this blog was definitely an endorphine releaser for me. So here I am!

And not only am I back on the blog, I am back on the race scene, too.

This last weekend, the boyfriend and I drove down to California... aw, home. I took four days off of work and packed my camping gear for the best vacation ever!!!... or so I thought. Turned out we didn't camp... In fact, it turned out we didn't really vacation. We sat. And sat. Raced a little. Then sat some more. Ugh. We didn't drive the coast at all. We didn't see the Redwoods like we planned or camp along the sand as I hoped. But at least I was with Nick and he is not an eyesore.

We drove into Pismo Beach Friday afternoon and, after checking in at our friend's hotel (shout out to The Oxford! You should definitely stay there! Great hotel!), we drove (some more) out to Lopez Lake where the Scott Tinley Tri Series were to take place over the next two days.

Funny thing about Lopez Lake: There is a $10 charge per day just to get into the marina. Say what? I remembered this tidbit of information from three years ago when I last competed, so Nick and I parked outside of the gate... we thought we had them fooled. Apparently, you have to pay to park outside of the gate as well. So not worth it. Next time, I'm skydiving into the marina (we will get to that later!).

Anyway, as we turned the corner to cross over the lake, I noticed the water level was low. We all know California is going through a drought, but this looked like Wildflower 2014 all over again! The place where I usually do my practice swim is literally sand now. Just sand, not even a puddle of water! Not even a drop! They even moved part of the mountain bike course to go through that sand... worst idea ever (again, we will go over that later)!

Nick and I parked the car and rode our bikes to the packet pickup. After grabbing my two bags (oh, did I mention I did two races back-to-back. Yeah. That was something), we biked over to the sand that was once water and hiked our way to the muck and mud where dead fish were strewn across the sides. Hastily, I put on my wetsuit and looked at Nick with my squinty brown eyes. "You look huge," he said. Let's just say he will never see me in a wetsuit again!

I did my little ten minute routine, speeding up then slowing the pace. Every once in awhile, I could see my hand in the water and it looked like a catfish ready to eat me for dinner. Then the water would suddenly get warm (no, I did not wet myself) and I would flee to the shore for safety. "It's only been 7 minutes," Nick would say. Reluctantly, I would go back out again wondering if he really would be able to save me if that catfish took me under.

When my Garmin beeped ten minutes into the swim, I hustled back to the muddy bank and climbed my way through the muck and back to Nick. With eyes wide, he choked back a laugh.

"Do I have muck on my face," I inquired.

"Just a little," he stifled the giggle.

We grabbed my race packs and rode our bikes back outside the gate to the car. Gnats gnawed at our bare skin under the heat of the midday sun. Nick's patience was wearing thin. I promised him we would make the bike ride short, but that promise was unfulfilled when we were given the wrong directions for the mountain bike route. We were lost and dehydrated by the time we found the road. I told Nick I needed 30 more minutes on the trail, but I would meet him back at the car. An hour later, I found him swatting at invisible flying objects.

Not wanting to irritate him even more, I agreed to run alone from our hotel. With that, we loaded the car and cruised back to Pismo Beach.

My legs never felt the run, but my belly sure felt that delicious Italian dinner we had with Nick's friends in San Lois Obispo!

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Flat Ab Challenge Final Week

Only a few more days until we take the tape back out and measure you up! I hope you have been working on your cardio and strength, but even if you weren't as spot on as you had hoped, I encourage you to measure and test; take those pictures! Just see the difference and maybe find a little motivation to go one step further!

Today, I am posting the final ab video. Again, there are five movements, which should each be completed for 30-60 seconds five times. I apologize for lack of a full film. My phone does not allow me to upload full films, I guess. Some people had trouble watching my last one, so I went back to the explaining version. Though they are quick explanations, you can always pause the film or write each exercise down before doing the sets on your own!

A few weeks ago, my girlfriends and I went to see Katy Perry perform in Portland, Oregon. While in town, we ate at PF Chang's, my sister's favorite restaurant. We ordered the lettuce wraps, but as I looked down at the wrap, I couldn't help but notice all of the grease dripping off from the tip. Could this really be the healthiest option?

This week, I have found a healthy lettuce wrap, which is gluten- and dairy-free (celiacs, rejoice!).
Healthy Chicken Lettuce Cups
Recipe from Steamy Kitchen’s Healthy Asian Favorites
serves 4

  • 1 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil, such as Canola or Vegetable
  • 1/2 pound ground chicken breast
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 1/4 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely minced
  • Minced fresh chilies or jalapeno – more or less depending on how hot you like it
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 lime juiced
  • 1 teaspoon gluten-free soy sauce
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce, leaves separated into “cups”
  • 1 handful of cilantro & mint, cut into finally chopped
Heat a wok (or large saute pan) over high heat. When hot, swirl  1 tablespoon of oil and add the ground chicken. Use your spatula to break up the meat and spread out of the surface of the pan. Cook until browned, about 3-4 minutes.
Push the ground chicken to one side of the pan and swirl the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil. To the oil, add the shallots, red onion, garlic, and fresh chilies and saute until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add fish sauce, lime juice and gluten-free soy sauce.
Serve with lettuce cups and herbs.