Crossing Off One of My 2015 Goals!

24 08 2015

I’m not sure I ever put this in writing for the world to read, but one of my goals for 2015 was to get scuba certified.

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When the words first fell out of my mouth earlier this year, I was like, “Whoa, that came out of nowhere.” But then I realized that it actually didn’t. In Cozumel, my friend Courtney who is an avid diver, went scuba diving with Bill, as he was the only other person in our group who was certified. When they got back, we looked at the pictures together and I was just in awe. It was just so beautiful down there. I mean, here I was swimming at the surface, diving down every five seconds to get a closer look at all the amazing sea life below me. I must have said (in my head) “OOOHHHH FISHIES!” a gazillion times over the few days we were in Cozumel. I love the water, and I grew up by the beach. So why the heck wasn’t I certified to dive?

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Since moving to Tampa, I’ve noticed a plethora of dive shops- heck, I live less than a mile from 3!! I don’t recall ever seeing one when I lived in Jersey or DC (though I guess I wasn’t exactly looking for one either), but here they are hard to miss! I did a little bit of research and learned I could do the coursework online and then make arrangements with the shop to do my pool and open water dives. That sounds easy enough…but it would sure be more fun if I had friends doing it too. A few weeks after I had made my purchase, I got a text from my friend George, who told me that he and a few of his friends were working with an independent instructor to get certified. He extended the offer to me, and I was happy to join their group for pool work and dives!

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Fast forward to the first weekend of August. My classmates and I drove up to Blue Grotto dive resort to get in our first open water dive in the fresh water. We drove through some miserable rain (as had been the standard weather for the last several days) but finally the sky cleared up, making for a beautiful afternoon. We signed our waivers, watched the safety video and then headed over to get our gear prepped.

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When you look at Blue Grotto from the deck, it just looks like a big, natural swimming pool. The opening is not that big. Thankfully, since the weather hadn’t been that great and it was getting late on a Sunday afternoon, there weren’t many others there diving. I can’t imagine enjoying the dive there with many more people then just a few small groups.

Blue Grotto

We got in, did some prep on the surface before submerging. There is nothing like the first time you’re under water in open water. What a surreal feeling- there you are, 30 feet under water, breathing, and off in the distance there are little fishes just swimming around. You’re weightless, neutrally buoyant, just taking in the underwater world around you. Words can’t describe how cool this is.

We did some skills on the platform, came up for a surface interval before going back down again for our second, deeper dive. I have to give a huge shout out to Blue Grotto because we were there later than closing time (we got a late start), and they let us stay to get in our dives, no questions asked. It was MUCH appreciated, so that we didn’t feel rushed or require yet another trip up there to finish up our skills.

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We came up from our second dive close to 6pm, and we were one step closer to being certified! Next up: Open Water in the Gulf!

I was away in Madison the weekend the rest of my classmates went diving, so it was just me and my instructor John this past weekend for my final check out dive. I met up with him at Blue Water Explorers in Bradenton. We boarded a boat with another group of students, their instructor who was also the dive master, and the captain of the ship (who was the owner of the company that runs these dives every day of the year – with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas). Everyone was very friendly and the dive master and captain were super knowledgable.

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It was a perfect day- the sun was shining, the water was 89, the seas were <1 foot (in other words, flat as a pancake!), and visibility was about 20 feet. We anchored at a man-made reef, and John and I went down for our first dive. We did a skill and then spent the rest of the 40 minutes underwater exploring. Man, it was SO AMAZING down there! I really wish I had an underwater camera (the above underwater shots were from one of my classmates. doh)- but we saw snapper, spades, angel fish, hog fish, lizard fish, sea biscuit, sea urchin, sea cucumber, star fish, and a decent sized sting ray. The most interesting creature to me was this spidery looking crab that John placed in my hand. It looked like a daddy long legs with two teeny tiny claws on its front two legs. I’d never seen anything like it before.

On our first dive, I was definitely a little nervous. Turns out, 20 feet visibility wasn’t as great as I expected. There was lots of “Sarasota snow” as they like to call it- particulate- floating in the water, which made things  a bit challenging to see. It didn’t help that I have a really bad habit of exhaling through my nose and fogging up my lens. I stayed close to John and we went around the “reef” several times. It was getting close to time for us to surface, and I could tell that John was looking for the anchor. Unfortunately, neither of us could find it, so we free ascended. Thankfully, we weren’t that far from the boat when we surfaced.

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We took a 30 minute surface interval before heading back down again. This time, we used our compasses to navigate from the anchor point to a spot we marked with some shells. I was also way more comfortable on this dive, now that I knew what to expect. As we were down there I was just struck by how vast the ocean is and how tiny we are in this one little spot exploring. It’s an entirely different world down there- so many different species carrying on with their “normal.” How incredible is it that I can be down there to catch a glimpse?

After about 30 minutes under, we found our way back to our marker, and then back to the anchor line. (Phew.) We ascended and when we popped up, John said, “Hey, Guess What? You’re a diver!” Hooray!

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I got off the boat with a huge smile on my face; I am officially PADI Certified! Thank you so much to John for being such a fantastic instructor!

Now, time to figure out when my next dive will be!





Homemade Kombucha

11 07 2015

The first time I ever tried kombucha I remember thinking it was gross. I believed that “fermented” was code for “sour” or “rotten” tea and I didn’t go out of my way to buy it at the grocery store. Bill on the other hand loves kombucha. He’d be drinking a bottle and would offer me a sip, and I used to always turn up my nose and turn him down. Even so, he kept offering every time he had some (isn’t he sweet?) and eventually I gave in, taking a swig of whatever flavor he had. As time went on, this pattern continued, and I soon found myself asking for a few sips before being offered. Yup, I was converted to a kombucha fan. I guess it is an acquired taste?

Unfortunately, kombucha isn’t cheap. We try to only buy it when it’s on sale at the grocery store, but sometimes, you just can’t help it. So, we started doing some research and realized that it seemed pretty easy to make kombucha at home. Why not give it a whirl ourselves?

And that we did!

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And you know what? It was pretty good! If you’ve got a bit of patience and you can get your hands on a SCOBY (more on that soon), you’re in business!

Here’s how we brewed our first batch:

Step 1: First, and most importantly, you have to have a SCOBY. SCOBY stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. Um what? Basically, bacteria and yeast form this jelly looking disc that sits on top of your tea. It helps the fermentation process and keeps the perfect environment for the sweet tea you’ll be converting to kombucha below it.

How do you get it? From fresh kombucha! One of our good friends brews kombucha at home and she gave us two jars of her homemade, plain kombucha. We loosened the caps on the bottles and then let them sit unrefrigerated for several days until they each started to grow their own SCOBY. It’s important to loosen the cap, because the yeast is releasing CO2, which, if in a closed bottle, will make it explode! I’m pretty sure you could also buy a bottle (unflavored) at the grocery store and leave it out of the fridge.

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You can see the SCOBY forming at the top of these two bottles.

Step 2: Make sure you have a container for your tea. We ordered a large porcelain container with a spout to hold our brew. You certainly don’t need one this big. You could use anything really as long as there are no metal parts. Oh, and no plastic- it leeches out into your brew! They also say to keep your SCOBY away from anything metal.

You also need some cheesecloth or similar material to cover the opening. It’s gotta let air in and out, but without letting dust or any other material inside to contaminate your tea.
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Step 3: Get your tea! Black and green tea are preferred. I haven’t experimented with flavored teas, but from what I can tell they don’t work as well. Because we would be brewing in larger batches, we bought a big tea ball.

We had some green tea at home already, but we ordered some loose-leaf black tea from Mountain Rose Herbs.teacollage

Step 4: Now that you have all your supplies, you can brew your tea.

For this batch, here are the proportions I followed:

3 liters of filtered water

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons black tea

3 teaspoons green tea (aka 3 tea bags)

Boil the water and sugar. Add the tea and let it steep. Let cool completely. <– That is super important because if it is too hot it will damage the SCOBY.

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Step 5: When your tea has cooled (I usually do it the next day), add your tea, some starter kombucha, and your SCOBY to your big container. Cover with cheese cloth, and wait. In this case my “starter kombucha” was the kombucha from my friend that was growing the SCOBY.

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Seven to ten days later, you’ll have fresh kombucha!

The beauty of making kombucha at home is that you can taste it along the way, and when its flavor is to your liking, you can bottle it and stick it in the fridge so it stops fermenting!

If you let the kombucha ferment too long, it will turn out really vinegary- so just make sure you’re tasting it along the way.

If you want to flavor it, it is recommended that you do that separately, and not in your main vat with the SCOBY. We haven’t tried that yet- it’s good enough plain!

So, there you have it! See, it’s pretty simple!

Have you tried making kombucha before? How’d it turn out?





Consistently Inconsistent

8 07 2015

You may have noticed that there has been a severe lack of run, bike, or swim posts lately. Yeah, that’s because there hasn’t been a lot of that going on around here. I’ll be really good, and for a few days in a row I’ll have some semblance of a workout routine. But then, life happens and I push off workouts because triathlon just hasn’t been a priority to me this season. I’ve been consistently inconsistent.

The one thing that really benefited me last year was my consisteny. I made nearly all my workouts despite weather or travel or other obligations. I had a big fat scary goal (which also happened to cost a good chunk of change) and I made training my priority so that I could accomplish that goal. Sure, I did miss out on some time with friends. And I spent a lot of time sore or and sleepy. But, I was in the best shape of my life and I crossed the finish line of my Ironman in less than 12 hours. I’m darn proud of that.

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This year, training has taken a back seat to other things. I’m hanging out with the friends I said “no” to more times than I wish to count last year. I’m wearing a lot more “real” clothing and far less spandex. I’m enjoying sleeping in on the weekend and checking out fun events in town, even if it means I’m staying up until 1am. It’s quite easy to fill the time that was spent on a saddle, in the water, or pounding pavement last season.

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I got out my calendar last night and realized that the one race I had actually signed up for this season, Challenge Florida, is 4 months away. That may seem like a ways off, but for a 70.3, NOW is the time to put in the work, especially when you haven’t been doing much of anything in the past 4 (more like 6) months.

A few weeks ago I was casually talking about the race with my friends and flippantly said, “I could always drop to the Olympic” as though I didn’t need to train seriously for that. (Newsflash Steph- you still need to train for an Olympic. It will HURT if you don’t train and be really ugly. Not the smartest idea.) Well, last night I told myself that no, I was not going to drop down in distance (only for injury!) – that I wanted to do the entire 70.3. I want redemption on this race.

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I did the race back in 2013, and though I was happy with my successful completion of my first half ironman, I now knew what to expect. I liked this distance, and wanted to give it another go. I tried to put together another good race at the Gator Half in 2014, but unfortunately I got a flat and the run was short! I still did well, but I knew that I wasn’t done with this distance.

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So, it’s time to get back out there and do the work. I know I’m going to need to make some sacrifices, but I hope to have a good balance of training and life. I’m a little worried because I know I’m so far behind where I would like to be right now. I wonder if the fitness level I had last season is even achievable again in a short amount of time. But, one thing’s for sure, I WANT to get back out there and compete in another 70.3. I want to put together a solid race. And the only way to do that is to stop being consistently inconsistent, and just be consistent.

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