Weekending: Kayaking Through Hell and High Water

You know that feeling when you wake up from a nightmare? When you’re heart’s pounding, and you’re frantically trying to figure out if what just happened is real? Yeah, that happened last weekend, but it was real. I was wide awake.

I can’t think of a time I’ve been more terrified than last Saturday.

Bill’s birthday is July 15th, and this year, it landed right after our big move from California to Florida. After the pain in the ass that is moving across the country, the two things that really killed us were how expensive it was and how much STUFF we have. I heard Bill complain about this for over a month, so I knew that I needed to get creative with his gift this year. He wouldn’t want me to spend very much, and he sure as hell wouldn’t want me to bring any more stuff into our house. (Oh, how different we can be sometimes…) So after racking my brain and researching for days, I finally settled on something that I thought my sports- and exercise-loving husband would get excited about: a four-hour kayaking tour of Fort Myers Beach and the surrounding area. I found a good deal with a local company and booked it, still a little insecure at not having something physical for him to unwrap. 

After trying to surprise him by scheduling it without him knowing, I failed miserably three times and finally gave it to him over homemade birthday paella during our candlelit dinner. He seemed pretty happy with it. Mission accomplished.

It took a few weeks to find a time to go – the first weekend Bill just plain old needed off, then he hurt his back playing basketball – but last weekend it finally worked out. Or so we thought. We got up early, which in our household is 8 a.m. with Bill’s work schedule, and headed down in the direction of the beaches to meet our tour guide. We pulled up to a group of eager kayakers who were mildly disappointed. A thunderstorm was hovering right over the beach where our kayaks were pointing, and our guide informed us that we needed to wait it out a little bit to see what it was going to do. A stroll down Fort Myers Beach and an hour and fifteen minutes later, we finally got the go ahead to come back and push off. When we arrived back at the dock, we were the only two there. Where was the rest of the group? Nowhere to be seen, but maybe they had decided to reschedule. The guy took us over to our boats, and I noticed there were only two, quickly realizing we were on our own. Okay, not the end of the world. The guide started to describe the best places to explore, and his directions were so lengthy and complicated that I had to ask him to repeat them again. He then told us that he had printed out some maps, but they had blown away. Um, I’m sorry… What? Apparently, printing them off again was a little too much, so he sent us out without them. But as he was explaining this, three dolphins swam by a few feet into the river, and I instantly ignored the red flag feeling in my gut. Mistake #1.

We shoved off anyway.

IMG_6128Well, the trip started out well. The water was calm as we headed down the river channel to where the bay opened up, myself repeating his instructions in my head. There was wildlife all around us, and everything was going exactly as I expected, as I was snapping away with the camera on my iPhone. Observe, a wild pelican.IMG_6129

The uneasy feeling soon returned, though, as we paddled out into the bay. The wind seemed to have lingered after the storm had passed through, and the water was choppier than expected, but still manageable. We hooked to the right as instructed, looking ahead for what the guide had called Bunch Beach. We were told to pass the beach in search of an inlet that would lead us to the mangrove tunnels. Well, as it would turn out, that beach was not only quite a ways farther than he lead on, but it was also the longest beach known to mankind. “Just on the other side of the beach” turned into an hour of hard paddling through rougher and rougher water. Soon I was getting pushed closer and closer to the beach, the waves crashing over the side of the kayak and soaking me through. It only got worse until all of a sudden I was washed up on shore, BEACHED even, utterly and completely surprised to find myself amid large, flat, gray rocks. That was until I looked down, and the surprise turned to horror as I found myself swarmed with not rocks, but the most alien-looking creatures covering the sand and sliding toward my boat. As I would later find out by Googling “flat gray shell beach animals” – impressive, I know – they were Atlantic horseshoe crabs that looked a little something like this:

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(Image via http://bio1151b.nicerweb.com/Locked/media/ch33/horseshoe.html, as I was too scared for my life that I did not take a picture and got the hell out.)

I had never seen anything so hideous before in my life and began screaming, all while trying to push my way back into the water with my paddle – a tough feat when fighting the breaking surf. When I finally got myself back out where I needed to be, I didn’t know what else to do than just paddle my little heart out in the direction I was unsure I should even be going in the first place. Well, Mistake #2, as I found myself way ahead of BIll and alone, still shaken up from my wash up the shore. But I finally found the inlet and sat in silence while I waited, and when he finally caught up he wasn’t happy with me, but at least we were back together and out of rough water. IMG_6132

We headed up the river to what we thought would be our destination. After that little adventure, we were pretty stoked to be there.IMG_6133We soon came to a bridge so low we had to duck to glide under it, but what we found on the other side was a little disappointing. We could only go about yay far into the so-called mangroves before we had to turn around.IMG_6131The “amazing tunnels” our guide had been touting left much to be desired, and we voiced our complaints loudly as we turned around to head back. Mistake #3, as the universe was about to invite us to put our money where our mouth is. About halfway back to the bay, Bill capsized. My immediate reaction was terror, as we are in Florida and only God knows what could be in that water. But as he made his way safely to shore by a conveniently located boat ramp, he did not get eaten, and I lightened up enough to snap a photo and laugh (just a little). IMG_6134

As he climbed out of the water and emptied his sinking kayak, we noticed a tour guide had just met up with two men at the boat ramp, and the group was preparing for a tour. A guided tour. Like I thought we were getting. This lady’s schpiel seemed pretty legit, so I urged Bill to ask her if there was another way back to our starting point than heading back out the way we came. She pointed us in the direction of the mangrove tunnels from which we just came, directing us to glide back under the bridge, turn right, head through the lagoon (sounds pleasant), and through the passageway to on the other side. “It will put you out right by the Fort Myers Beach Bridge.” That sounded a lot more enjoyable than the first two hours of our trip, so when Bill turned to me and said, “Do you trust her?” I replied with an emphatic “Yes, let’s do it.” Looking back, this was Mistake #4, as my answer should have been “No way, man. Let’s not.” 

It looked as if we made the right decision, especially gliding through the calm waters into the gorgeous lagoon. Looks pretty friendly to me.IMG_6140Arriving in the lagoon, fish were jumping everywhere, and I immediately spotted a giant egret poised up in the trees. On the other side, however, the passageway she had described was nowhere to be found, and we seemed to have reached a dead end. This is when, as if on cue, the woman came into the lagoon and called out, in complete smug seriousness, “I’ll show you the way for 50 bucks.” She tricked us, the witch. But just then, I spotted a small pink ribbon hanging from a tree in the distance, which our original guide had briefly mentioned marked the way for kayakers. As we headed towards it she disappointedly yelled that we were right on the money, and although I was nervous heading into the small covered mangrove tunnel, I was sure it couldn’t have been that bad, right? WRONG. 

Surrounded by mangrove tree branches and roots to the left, the right, and above, the space was a little tighter than expected, but doable. Cool, even. That is until Bill called from behind, “Um, Ash? Just keep looking straight ahead okay?” Uh, why? “Just do it, okay?” Well, of course, I looked, and I was terrified to realize that the mangrove trees surrounding us were crawling with thousands and thousands of tiny black tree crabs that looked like spiders, a little something like this:

Mangrove Tree Crabs

(Image via http://www.easttennesseewildflowers.com/gallery/index.php/Seashores, because again – too terrified to even think of taking a picture.)

There were lines of them climbing up the trees to our right. They were sitting in every crevice to the left. They scuttled and scurried across branches a foot above our heads. I let out a small groan of fright as I realized that there was no way out but forward. It was so narrow that I couldn’t see Bill behind me, and there was no place to turn around. Through the crab-infested trees was our only choice.

Then the way became narrower. And the branches above us got lower. The roots hanging down began to block the way, and the only way through was to slowly navigate this way and that, leaning to the side here and ducking down there to avoid hitting the branches all around us. It was obvious that one small bump could potentially drop at least fifty crabs on our kayaks. That, I could definitely not handle. This is about when I started crying. It got to the point where I was shimmying down in my kayak to make myself as horizontal as possible to clear the branches. Gliding under the low-hanging bark meant the crabs were scurrying inches from my face, and I starting wondering when I was going to wake up.

Well, I most definitely woke up. About thirty minutes into this detour from hell, after just clearing one of the most difficult maneuvers so far, I heard splashing and choice expletives come flying in from the back. “Bill, are you okay?” I asked through tears. “BILL?!?!”

“Um, sort of. YES. Yes, I’m fine. That was just a really low branch.”

I hadn’t realized that if I was having trouble navigating through this hellhole, my 6’7″ husband was probably not having a great go of it either.

Then it hit me. “Bill, are you still in your boat?”

“No. No, I am not.”

“ARE YOU IN THE WATER?!?!” 

Instant sobbing. Like, audible gasps, terrified mumbling, whimpering-like-a-small-puppy, SOBS. Not only were there tree crabs taking over the forest around us, not only were there horseshoe crabs infesting the shores, not only could we not see the bottom of the dark muddy water… But we live in Florida. I am not any sort of expert on Florida wildlife, but I do pride myself on my vivid imagination. This looked like prime alligator territory to me. My husband was in the water, I could not see him, there was absolutely nowhere for him to get back in his kayak, and I was scared for his life. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it out alive before. Now I was SURE that we wouldn’t. 

So I continued to paddle at a snail’s pace (that was a joke, since of course my kayak was steadily gathering snails on the sides as well during all of this… get it?), I could hear Bill falling farther behind as he waded through the murky water. A cacophony of ows, ahhhhhs and ouches could be heard from behind me, and we spent the next terrifying minutes of our marriage engaging in a dialogue to the tune of ARE YOU OKAY YES I’M OKAY ARE YOU OKAY I THINK SO ARE YOU OKAY YES ARE YOU? each time praying that the other would answer. Every rustle I heard in the trees caused my breath to catch. Every stick in the water caused Bill’s life to flash before my eyes. It finally got to the point where I could hear the panic in Bill’s voice when he asked if I could see the end of the tunnel, and I knew I needed to find it to make both of us feel better. After an hour of this, it finally appeared.

When I pulled out of the trees, I was relieved to see a calm river channel yet again, complete with jumping fish and roosting birds, except we were not where the guide had promised we would end up. Having no time to worry about being utterly lost, I turned my boat around to look back down the tunnel. I couldn’t see Bill. IMG_6137It sure looks pretty in that photo, but let’s get a little closer. This is the widest, tallest part. I was just in there. For an hour. My husband was still in there. With the crabs. And the imaginary (maybe) gators. And I am weeping like a child while taking this picture.IMG_6138Ever the drama queen, I began screaming wildly for Bill, still sobbing, and I didn’t hear a response. I knew he must be so far back that he couldn’t hear me, and the minutes that followed while waiting for him to round that corner were the longest of my life. He finally made it, but our struggle was not yet over.

It soon became clear that even here there was no shore for Bill to use to get back in his kayak. He was still in the water (IN FLORIDA), and I urged him to grab on to the back of my kayak so I could pull him. He did and held tight to his kayak with the other hand. Luckily, around the first bend we saw enormous houses along the water (each worth millions I suppose), and each with their own boat dock. It was no easy feat dragging another person and a water-logged kayak over to the closest dock, and ever the rule-follower, I was sure we were going to get caught. Bill tried climbing out on the first dock, but quickly smashed his toe on the wooden posts under the water before realizing there was no way to get back in his kayak. So again in the water he went, and I dragged him to the next dock. which had a kayak launch built right in. After hoisting himself out of the water and struggling to get his water-filled kayak up on land, and after losing his beloved Minnesota Twins hat down the river – which I promptly paddled frantically in pursuit of – I looked back to find Bill safely in his boat. We were still lost, but having managed to keep my iPhone safe in a plastic bag this entire time, I prayed for my network to cooperate. My maps app gave us an idea of the general direction, and we paddled, exhausted, on our way. 

The rest of the story consists of disbelief, weariness, and the longest paddle back. We finally docked our boats, our guide muttering something infuriating about our “little adventure”, and we couldn’t wait to get home. Bill’s feet were bleeding from the souvenir gashes he sustained from God-knows-what in that tunnel, and despite slathering on sunscreen, the tops of my thighs are pretty much third-degree-burned. 

To be honest, it took me so long to write this post because I just couldn’t do it until now. I haven’t been so exhausted or terrified in awhile, and I kept getting anxiety every time I thought about it or relayed the story to someone. However, it IS over, and my only consolation is that I did say I wanted to get Bill an adventure for his birthday. You know, something exciting we could do together. A memory we could keep for the rest of our lives.

Hey Bill! Remember that time I got you the WORST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER? 

Okay, that was too soon, but we’ll laugh about it someday… right?IMG_6139

Weekending: Run or Dye!

I am a child at heart. And not just a child, but an awestruck puppy-hugging, rainbow-chasing, bubble-blowing, anything-with-sprinkles-loving small child. So imagine the squealing that was going on inside the composed grown-up shell we call my outward appearance when THIS happened:

Are you kidding me?! A giant party with dancing and loud music and everyone throwing COLORS at each other??? And these people are SOBER?! (Well, for the most part anyway.)

Basically, what I’m trying to say – but my giddiness won’t let me – is that last weekend, Run or Dye came to San Luis Obispo. This is a huge deal. Years ago, I stumbled across the Holi Festival, a Hindu religious festival of color and love, and since then I haven’t been able to get the gorgeous images out of mind. Witnessing this in person was bucket-listed immediately. So as you can imagine, while I am dying to attend the actual Holi Festival in India, the rising popularity of color runs in our culture is definitely something I’ve gotten on board with. However, for some incredibly frustrating reason, I have missed any and all of the sort that have come remotely near my current location, which has resulted in fairly intense depressive episodes any time color run pictures bombard me through Instagram or Facebook. To make sure that this never happened to me again, I took matters into my own hand by Google searching any and all organizations that travel with these events, even sending in my own request to the Color Run to set up shop at the Madonna Inn at some point (no such luck). But I put my name on every list that would give me alerts on when one was coming around, and lo and behold, earlier this year I got my first announcement from Run or Dye. They got my name, they got my number, and they got my money – all in less than two minutes. I’ve never been faster, cheaper, or easier in my entire life.

After so many painful years of waiting, wanting, and anticipating, my dream finally came true.

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Of course, no color run could be complete without asking yourself, “Which of my amazing friends would be most likely to lose her shit to the same extreme that I will?” and then recruiting said friend to experience wonderland with you. Meet the fabulous Katie, who is by far the closest thing to a small-child-at-heart as I am.

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Here we are, temporarily clean. Please note the sweetness that is my leggings, courtesy of Forever 21.

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Oh, the anticipation.

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The funniest thing about this race is that we were so preoccupied by the “color” part that we almost forgot about the “we-are-running” part. Check out the beautiful El Chorro Regional Park, right off Highway 1 between here and Morro Bay. I will be back here, mutt in tow.

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In all honesty, I wanted to punch some people because 1) they were walking, and 2) I WANT TO RUN THROUGH THAT. (I didn’t punch anyone.)

Check out this quick video, and be sure to listen for Katie revealing her real age at the end.

BEYOND ADORABLE.

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Can’t wait for the blue!

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3.1 mile domination.

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As it turns out, the run itself was not the greatest deliverer of color, but it was sure as hell so fun to run through it all. The after party, however…

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…was delightfully out of control, even at 9 a.m. We finally joined up with some of my favorite people – Courtney, Emily, and Ryan – and I’m definitely winning in the “Must Have Rubbed My Face In It” category at this point.

In fact, it got laid on so thick at one point that…

Yes, that was necessary.

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So there you have it. It has been a LONG time since I have had that much fun or that much permission to let loose. We all agreed afterward that we are all hoping to find one in a bigger city and do it all over again. I mean, who wouldn’t want to relive that?

Now, what is the obvious thing to do after a morning like this? Well, go to brunch of course. In public. At a place that serve mimosas (i.e. classy).

Looking. Like. This.

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Peace.

 

Midweek Muse: Commit

this is my commitment

to live up
to the spirit
that is in me

-source unknown

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find it… feed it… free it.

Get Your Cute Butt Out the Door: A Working Girl’s Musings on Exercise

There is a question that I get asked often, and that is how I manage to motivate myself to go to the gym after a long day at work. It’s a topic that comes up frequently in the following forms:

  • Friend: I was going to go to the gym tonight, and then I decided not to… Now you’re making me feel bad.
  • Coworker: You’re so good.
  • Husband: I can’t imagine having to go to the gym after work. I don’t know how you can do that.
  • Friend: YOU’RE GOING TO THE GYM TONIGHT?!?!
  • Another friend: I’m going home to sit on my couch and watch TV. I’m exhausted, and I don’t know how you do it.

It’s true. I go to the gym a lot, and it’s often after a full(+) workday. But don’t get me wrong: this is not something that has come easy. I used to go months without working out. In fact, if you had conducted a close study of my health and self-care habits in college, you might be utterly disgusted. After class and work and meetings and rehearsal and dates and friend time and on and on and on, the last thing that I wanted to do was stand up, change and exercise. No thanks. But now that I’m older and much more educated, I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much time.

Now there are definitely some life circumstances that contribute to making it to the gym so often, but I want to make a huge disclaimer. This is not your out. Yes, I do have a husband who works most nights, leaving me at home to do as I please. Yes, I don’t have to cook a dinner for a family of four. I am able to put off chores until the weekend if I so choose. If you have those things, I genuinely congratulate you, but they are not to be used as excuses. Dictionary.com offers the definition of an excuse as “a plea offered in extenuation of a fault or forrelease from an obligation, promise, etc.”, and in this case, that obligation or promise is to take care of yourself. Excuses are for someone else. Working out is for yourself. If you are legitimately too busy, or have a family, or can’t physically get there today, fine. But take a minute to think about how taking care of yourself actually benefits your mind, your family, and your relationships, and I think you’ll realize that excuses are not accepted here. Sorry.

I used to be captive to my excuses. I would tell whoever would listen and hope that it would make me feel better, that this little feeling in my stomach that felt like I was doing something wrong would go away. Want to know how I made it go away? I started doing what I was supposed to, but all the reasons I was telling myself were bullshit. True, honest-to-God bullshit. I was the only thing holding myself back, and it turns out that the real trick to exercising on the regular was to change my MINDSET, not my circumstances, This took a lot of initiative and a swift kick in the proverbial pants to start educating myself and becoming aware of my body, my thoughts, and my self-talk. And then on top of that, I had to change it. Like I said, not an easy task.

But here I am today, hoping to make it a little easier for you to get your cute butt out the door and in shape by giving you some of the tips that have helped me get to the amazing place where I have (shockingly) found myself, Getting out the door is no longer as hard as it used to be, and the payoff is incredible. Here is what personally changed my mind, my body, and my life.

1) I’ve fallen in love with my gym.

Notice I didn’t write “I’ve fallen in love with THE gym”. That’s because I have tried a few in my area, and they never quite fit. All throughout college, I had access to a huge recreation center right on campus, and I hardly ever went (except for hip-hop class – that was great) because despite strict dress code rules of no tank tops or super short shorts, it was an absolute meat market. I went to a huge state-of the art gym in the community for two years, but I had to wait in line for cardio machines, for weight machines, for classes, for everything. I spent $50 a month to stand around. Oh, and it was a meat market. After all that, I finally settled on the one that was right for ME. I go to Equilibrium Fitness for Women, an all-women’s gym less than a mile from my house. Everyone here is supportive, welcoming, stoked on life, and okay – yes, female. I never wait in line, the girls at the front desk no my name, and I’m surrounded by badass empowered women every time I walk through the door. I found where I wanted to work out, and now it feels like my other home.

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2) I turn my excuses to skip my workouts into reasons to exercise.

It is so easy to make excuses to skip workouts, and one of the best things I’ve done is commit to getting honest with myself. For example, I HATE getting ready (i.e. showering, blow drying my hair, doing my makeup) more than once in a day OR any time other than in the morning. Lunchtime workouts just do not work for me. I can’t do it. Therefore, since I’m going to get a workout in, I know I have to plan my them as either my first or last public outing of the day. That way I can make myself presentable for the rest of the day after getting sweaty, or I can shower right before I hibernate for the night. I also hate washing my hair every day, and the truth is, I don’t need to so I tend to go the every other day route. But when I work out, I SWEAT. So how do you get to the gym a majority of your days when it would just be so easy to say, “I don’t want to have to do my hair” tomorrow? Well, I do my hardcore workouts on hair-washing days and then plan a yoga class and light cardio on the others. Easy-peasy. Maybe this sounds ridiculous to you, but we all have those excuses we are secretly ashamed of. You know, those ones we rationalize in our heads, but know that if we said out loud we’d get an eye roll to put us in our place from the nearest person, no matter stranger or closest friend. But who cares?!?! OWN YOUR EXCUSES. Once you do, you can turn them into reasons. Now I always try to workout on hair-washing days, because that to me is a reason to get a weight lifting session in, not skip it.

3) Do what you FEEL like doing.

The key here is not to ask yourself whether you feel like going to the gym. By then you’ve already given yourself “NO” as an option. But if you ask yourself instead, “What kind of workout do I feel like doing?” then you’ve eliminated the possibility before you even realize it. Too tired for cardio? Yoga or Pilates. Want to get outside? Go for a run, or if that sounds like it sucks, walk your dog. Have a bad day? Take a combat class, and get out your anger. Feeling like turning your brain off? Find a magazine and park yourself on an elliptical. Hate even the thought of working out? Go dance your ass off, for God’s sake. The truth is that ANY workout is a workout, not just the hardcore ones. If you don’t feel like leaving your house, give yourself permission to do push-ups on the stairs or pop in a Jillian Michaels DVD. It doesn’t matter how long or short your workout is. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing right now. Comparison will do nothing for you. Check in with your bad self and do what you feel like, because as long as you’re moving, I’ll count it. So move!

4) Find what gets you pumped.

ONE new song on my iPod = Instant change in my mood about working out. The new issue of Women’s Health magazine in my mailbox = Four to seven days of inspiration, depending on how fast I devour it. But the thing that really gets me excited? (And disclaimer, I am totally unashamed for what I am about to reveal.) NEW WORKOUT CLOTHES!!!! I love the way I feel in brand new exercise gear. And yes, I am that girl rocking neon in the worst way in the corner of the gym. I don’t care if it’s obnoxious! I LOVE it. My highlighter yellow Nikes got me through my first half marathon. I feel like a boss in the purple UnderArmor tee my sister-in-law got my for Christmas. I kick ass when I wear all black in my combat class. Once I figured this out, I started to spread out my purchases. New yoga pants here, new sports bra there. It keeps me excited, no matter how weird it sounds. My newest obsession? THESE BABIES.

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I can’t wait to put them on! So find your song, your subscription, your hot pink leopard print kicks, and rock them. Whatever gets YOU out the door.

5) Most importantly, make your working out about getting, being, and staying HEALTHY, and nothing else.

This one takes work, and the effort is two-fold. First, you have to start educating yourself on health and wellness. For instance, you know that the sticky stuff you lick on an envelope to seal it? Well, that’s called gum arabic, and they put it in M&M’s and marshmallows. Gross right? I don’t want to put stuff like that in my body, but I would have kept doing it had I not just chosen to read about it. There is so much information out there, and it’s just waiting for you. Whether you prefer blogs and websites or magazines and good old-fashioned books, it’s there, and it will change your life. The second part of this is you need to decide what being healthy means to you. To me, it’s not just a state of being, it’s a lifestyle. It means exercising and eating right, yes. But to me, it also means getting 8 hours of sleep, reducing my stress level as much as possible, having supportive relationships in my life, maintaining a healthy weight, going to all of my doctors regularly, and generally living clean. So why do we each have to define “healthy” when we could just look up the definition the easy way? Because once you take the initiative and define it yourself, you’ve just found your ultimate motivation. You will not get off the couch unless you feel compelled to, and once you attach real meaning behind your action, you will do just that. Promise.

There is a quote from Dr. Wayne W. Dyer that goes as follows: “Don’t die with your music still inside you.” Well, there is a whole lot of potential living inside your kick-butt self right now, just waiting to be set free. Don’t just let it sit there! Go out there and release your energy into the world. I’ll meet you at the finish line.

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P.S. Check out my sick new Lorna Jane jacket. That puppy has already gone on a run, on a hike, AND to yoga class since I got it with my step-sister a week ago. No shame.