Wednesday, February 24, 2010


At work we have a "stress-be-gone" bowl that is filled with candies or chocolates of some sort. Today there were Dove chocolates, and although the good half of me said, "No Ashley ... leave them there. It's not worth it," the baaaaad half of me said, "Ashley you NEED that chocolate. If you don't have it you'll die. EAT it Ashley ... EAT IT!!!"

So I took one.

But I opened it up, and it had a little message inside (as they usually do). My message was "Keep the promises you make to yourself." AH!!! I promised myself I wouldn't eat JUNK until after the Miss USA Pageant! And Dove KNOOOOWWS! So obviously I couldn't eat it in fear that Dove might tell the judges about my overpowering lack of self-control. YIKES. So I taped the foil wrapper to my desk so I will always be reminded. We leave in two months, this is no time to mess around, Temptation! What the heck?!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Butterfly Effect

Mahatma Ghandhi once said, "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it."

Sometimes I think about the steps that led me to where I am today. I think about how different my life may have been had I done even just one little thing differently. Perhaps you've heard about the Butterfly Effect. According to Wikipedia, "The butterfly effect is a metaphor that encapsulates the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory; namely that small differences in the initial condition of a dynamical system may produce large variations in the long term behavior of the system." In layman's terms, it means that even the smallest occurrences could have a big impact on the future: The butterfly effect -- the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in South America can affect the weather in Central Park.

Why is this important to me today?

I am very focused on being as prepared as I possibly can be at the Miss USA Pageant that is to come about in May. In addition to that however, I am very dedicated to the other obligations and responsibilities that make up my daily life. I care about my full time job as an art director and graphic designer at Robinson & Maites, I still hold a passion for my private work as an artist including my piano and harp performances, modeling, acting, photography, hand-made book binding and crafting, and more. I still itch to be involved in volunteering and getting children more involved in the arts, and I still have a very competitive drive in sports and fitness related things. I wish to network more, I wish to increase my overall knowledge about politics and the world, I wish to further develop my speaking in Italian, I wish so many things! There is just so much to this world, and I want so very badly to taste every part of it. But all of this thinking makes me wonder: "How the heck did I get here?"

How did I get on this road to Vegas for the Miss USA Pageant? How did I get so lucky to earn the job I have, working for the most wonderful boss in the world who is completely 100% understanding of this once in a lifetime opportunity? How did I get such a wonderful, loving and supporting family who wants nothing but the world for me and will be there for me no matter what? How have I tried and accomplished so many things thus far in my life that have completely shaped me, and how does my drive to try even more stay fueled? It's mind-boggling for me to think about the steps I've taken to get here and how it all falls right into place. It's kind of crazy! I was always an athlete, a musician, an artist, and a bit of a goody-two-shoes, over-achiever type of girl. Until about 2008, I had never even watched a beauty pageant let alone compete in one or know anything about them what-so-ever. But watch how the butterfly effect worked to get me here ...

1. Somehow, I got into the Accounting Program at one of the top 5 accounting schools in the nation -- the University of Illniois at Urbana-Champaign. When I got there and decided within a week that I wanted absolutely nothing to do with accounting, I switched into an art program where I knew I'd make less money, but would be more happy. It was this program that taught me what it really means to be hard working, disciplined and organized -- a trait I NEED for the job of Miss USA, should I be so lucky to get it. It was lucky too, that I was attending a big university that would accommodate both areas of study for an easy switch.

2. During this time, I met a boy I would go on to date for two years -- Mark. Mark taught me to care about my self-image; to not follow suit of the other girls that posted drunk pictures on facebook or did other things that might hinder their image. He taught me to always carry myself as well as I would if I were meeting the president of the United States or any other important figure. He made it clear that if I never said anything bad, then I wouldn't have to whisper. Without this, I may not have as clean a background, who knows?! And maybe I wouldn't be Miss Illinois USA.

3. Mark loved fish and owned a very large fish tank. One day he was browsing through fish forums online when he met Steve. Steve lived in Champaign as well, and the two decided to meet, talk fish talk, and become friends. As I continued in my art program, I decided I needed a job. Mark remembered Steve worked on campus and asked him to get me an interview. Steve succeeded. I interviewed for a position in a computer lab, making sure no one brought food or drinks by the computers and refilling the paper in the printers should they run out of it. I worked there for half a day when my new boss discovered I was an artist. He remembered that ATLAS, the web development part of that office, was looking for a new designer for their websites and decided to pass his new employee (me) over to them for a better position. After an interview, I got the job.

4. As the new web designer for ATLAS, I met Adam who worked there as well. Adam was in the art school at the U of I just like me, and we both found it odd that in such a tiny program, we never met. But alas, we fell in love. Mark and I broke up. And I began a whole new chapter of learning. However, Mark was crucial because not only did he ultimately lead me to Adam, but he also taught me so much about my self-image, which would later help me to best portray my true self as Miss Illinois USA.

5. While we were dating, Adam's sister randomly decided to send his picture to a modeling agency in Chicago. Adam got a contract. Adam's modeling career took off and I began to think, "Hmmm ... I wonder if I could do that too." So I tried, since one thing I will forever and for always believe is, "You won't know until you try." I got a contract as well, and life began to blossom as it never had before. All the while, however, I continued to study hard and tried to learn web coding as much as possible so I could someday advance in my job at ATLAS and be more than just the design-girl.

6. Then I studied abroad and spent all my money. When I returned from Europe I was desperate to earn back some dollars and start up my savings again. Not sure what I wanted to do, I went to Craigslist. I saw an add for a scholarship program for Miss America. Interested only because I had recently gotten involved in modeling (thanks to Adam's influence), I decided to explore it further. I ended up sending my information off to the Miss Illinois USA Pageant, and within a weeks time I was contacted for an interview.

7. The next thing I know, I'm the 2nd runner up at Miss Illinois USA. With my competitive nature kicking in more than ever, I was determined to go back and win the next year. And with a crazy-ton of hard work, I did.

8. So if I hadn't changed majors, if I hadn't met Mark, if I hadn't wanted a job, if I hadn't met Adam, if I hadn't been adventurous, if I hadn't spent all my money abroad, if I hadn't thought of Craigslist, if I hadn't had the modeling experience and confidence, and if I hadn't run across the add for Miss America, I never would have been here. Its just so strange how everything fell into place and it makes me truly believe that everything happens for a reason.

But what does this have to do with what Gandhi said? "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it." Because I'm working SOOOOO hard, but what I'm doing can be considered insignificant. In 100 years, will it matter that I made websites? Will it matter than I got in a swimsuit in front of millions of people? Will it matter than I haven't had chocolate in weeks? No. It really won't. But it's important that I do it anyway, because this is my life. This is what will influence lives for the future. Everything I do, everywhere I am, will undoubtedly have some little effect on something else, even if its as simple as causing someone to spend ten minutes of their life reading this blog post instead of something else. Those sorts of things certainly happened for me. I mean come on ... if Mark didn't like fish, I wouldn't be Miss Illinois USA! That's pretty crazy to think about.

There are about 10 hundred million other crazy coincidences that have made me who I am today and I can get emotional thinking about it all. It's as if I was meant to be here ... as if I was made for this life. Does anyone else ever feel that way? Isn't it just so strange?! I love it!! I wouldn't want anything other than what I have right now, and for that reason alone, I'm going to give the Miss USA Pageant my absolute best shot. Insignificant or not, it's important to ME, and the development of who I am, and that's pretty significant.

Happy Monday, everyone. :)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jennie Finch

Friday night I attended "A night with Jennie Finch" at the Round Barn Banquet Center in Champaign, Illinois. I was excited for this event because it gave me a good excuse to travel to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were I graduated just a little less than a year ago. I was finally able to visit with some of my friends who are still attending school, and whom I hadn't seen for quite awhile. But in addition to all that, this event was also my first one with Miss Teen Illinois USA, Alexis Atkins. Her and I would finally get to spend some time together ... and we were going to an event with a celebrated celebrity!

Jennie Finch is an American softball player who pitches for the USA national softball team. The team won the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics and a silver medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics. It was neat to meet her, because not only is she absolutely GORGEOUS and majorly sweet, but she is widely regarded as the most famous softball player of all time. When I spoke with her about her family, her four year old son Ace, and what she planned for the future ... I was in awe. Her goals, dreams and aspirations were along the same lines as mine, and although we are shooting for two completely different dreams ... the feelings of hard work and dedication are the same. It goes to show that it doesn't matter what your dream is ... if you work hard for it, you will be that much closer to achieving it.

Jennie said this: "Compare it to taking a test in school. If you studied your butt off for that test and know the material in and out, when you show up on test day you can't wait to get that paper in hand because you know you can ace it. However, if you slacked off and didn't focus ... if you just didn't put the right amount of time in and didn't truly prepare the best you possibly could ... then when test time comes around you will be having feelings of anxiety and will question yourself. It's the same thing with softball or any other competition. If you know you have done everything you possibly could have done to prepare, then when you get there ... you're ready. You are prepared and confident and know that nothing can stop you."

That's what I want to feel like on May 1. When the day comes for me to board that plane to Vegas for the Miss USA Pageant, I want to walk with my head held high, excited for the adventure to come, and knowing that no matter what happens, I've done everything I could, I'm fully prepared, and I'm ready to show it off.

Jennie was an inspiration, a beautiful girl, and just a true gem. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to speak with her. I'm sure I'm not the first girl she's ever inspired to go for her goals ... but I admire her for giving me a little extra boost.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gracie Chews

This morning before leaving for work I decided to play with the new puppy ... she's really excited about chewing everything in the house, but she's so cute I just can't find it in my heart to stop her. LOL, I'm such a push over!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Great Weekend

This last weekend was pretty gosh-darn great. Mom and I took a little weekend get-away to get some business done, and we spent a good amount of time bonding and learning and having lots of fun. Over the course of the weekend we met with a fitness guru who was able to write up a detailed eating plan for me for the next ten weeks as I continue to prepare for Miss USA. It's going to be rough, but as he said, "You can do anything for ten weeks." When I asked him what to do when I got the urge to cheat he said, "Well, people are just people, everyone has to cheat once in awhile. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to the Miss USA Pageant in 10 weeks, so you're not going to [cheat]." WELL! That'll knock me into shape alright!! Gotta be good for ten weeks, ah! Here I go!!!

When Mom and I arrived home we found something to be a little off in the house. First of all, Dad, Carlyn and Lucas were all hovering around the kitchen and entryway ... kinda weird. Then we noticed that there were big wooden boards built to block off all openings between rooms that had carpet. Only the tiled areas had been left open. After about .0003 seconds of wondering what the heck was going on, it came to me -- "OHMYGOSH WE GOT A PUPPY!!!!!" Looking for the little puppy everywhere I was like a kid at Christmastime. Finally, I found the precious little baby asleep in one of the kitty cat's heated beds. She is sooooo tiny and so adorable and is just a complete bundle of energy and excitement. She's so little she can't even really walk right yet, and she stumbles and trips over herself all the time. It really was love at first site. I'm so excited for the new baby!!!

However, the kitties need to get used to her. My stupid 13 pound cats are TERRIFIED of the little 3 pound dog. LOL. I'm sure they'll get used to it eventually. :)

AND HERE SHE IS! Our little booger, Gracie. Mmmmm, so cute!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reasons you may be overweight

While searching around for good stories on Yahoo! I found some interesting information about simple ways to avoid being/becoming overweight. I thought I should share!

1. Use smaller plates. Men's Health Magazine says that a larger plate tricks your eye into thinking you're not eating as much when you put more food onto the surface (and your mouth!) Try using a smaller plate and you may end up eating less in the end.

2. Don't eat while looking at food. If you are overlooking the buffet or facing the kitchen, turn the other way. The site of food can trick your mind to think you still have to eat more. And when at home, store food in the refrigerator and in the pantry ... keep it off the countertops where you can see it! Another trick ... don't put your food on the kitchen table while you're eating dinner. If you leave it in another area you will have to get up for seconds instead of just grabbing it from right in front of you (when you may not actually be hungry!)

3. You don't have to clean your plate like momma always told you. If you're full with food still remaining on your plate, just call it quits and wrap the rest up for later.

4. Chew to pieces. Overweight people tend to chew less than lean people. Take the time to chew and taste your food slowly before swallowing and moving onto the next bite. You shouldn't feel rushed while you're eating ... take your time and enjoy what you're putting in your body!

5. Don't just dive into the buffet. Take a lap around to see what is offered first. That way you won't fill up on things you don't really want and can avoid overeating.

6. DON'T SKIP BREAKFAST! You've heard this a million times, but its true. Men's Health says that skipping breakfast can increase your risk of obesity by 450 percent!! Try to eat some lean protein and fiber will help get your metabolism going while keeping you full until its time for a mid-morning snack or lunch. Think eggs, fiber cereal, protein shake, etc.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Valentine's Day Cards at Children's Memorial Hospital

My mom and I traveled together to Children's Memorial Hospital yesterday morning to create Valentine's Day cards with the kids. I was a little nervous about how the day would go down, because I planned this event all on my own rather than simply attending something that had been requested of me. I wasn't sure how many kids would be there, what we would be able to do together, or how they would enjoy their time best. I brought a few boxes worth of various art supplies that I was able to collect, as well as a couple games for us to play together. Although we didn't make it to the games, I think the Valentine's Day Cards were a lot of fun -- the young kids really had a good time with stickers and glue and glitter!

The idea to go to the hospital came to mind because I am trying so very hard to get more creativity into children. I feel strongly that children are lacking creativity and imagination ... at least compared to what it was like when I was a child. I also feel that being able to focus on something, particularly something like making hand-made art, can help to take your mind off of the rest of the world, even if only for a moment. It can help to get the bad stuff away, and possibly relieve stress and worry. And just for that moment, I think I helped the kids to smile, to care about their imaginations and their creativity, and to have fun. :)

Being at the hospital was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as Miss Illinois USA thus far in 2010. One of the young girls, Sarah, made a card for me with the most perfect poem (written right on the spot!) about having a heart. It is so precious and I'll cherish it always. Its moments like this that make me so happy to be Miss Illinois USA!!

Until next time ... smile! And for those of you in Chicago, get your snow shovels ready ... it's coming!!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Aimee Mullins

I received a link to this video from a friend who thought I may find it interesting. Well ... it turns out I did find it quite interesting, and therefore, I would like to share it with you.

Aimee Mullins is a record-breaker at the Paralympic Games in 1996, and has built a career as a model, actor and activist for women, sports and the next generation of prosthetics. I was impressed during her discussion on the way others fear people with prosthetic body parts -- she brings up a great point when she reminds us that there are women (and men) everywhere with "false" body parts such as breast implants, hips replacements, false jawlines, hair implants, and more ... but we don't view them with as much awkwardness as we view someone with prosthetic legs. It's interesting food for thought, don't you think!? I began to wonder why this is, and have not been able to come up with an ingenious answer. I'm wondering if any of you have ideas or thoughts. If so, please share!

:) Happy Friday boys and girls. I hope you're looking forward to a nice, relaxing, football filled weekend just as much as I am!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lots of Fun Events!

Last week I attended three appearances: the first was at Divine Providence Catholic School in Westchester, the second at Northern College in Dekalb, and the third at the River East Art Center in Chicago.

At Divine Providence I had the opportunity to speak with two groups of students -- one group age K-4 and the second 5-8. The younger kids were soooo cute and very attentive. It felt great speaking to them and was so much fun answering all of their questions! I'm just glad none of them asked me if I lived in a castle like the girls at Kelly's birthday party did, lol! The older kids intimidated me a little bit because I feared they wouldn't care about anything I had to say. Instead, it was just the opposite. They listened very closely and seemed to be taking everything I said to heart. They asked really great questions and some have even sent me messages since then letting me know that I have inspired them! Some even want to know more about the pageant as well as other things I do in my "normal" life. Its soooo rewarding to think that I may have influenced these kids in a positive way. Again, it reminds me why I wanted to be Miss Illinois USA in the first place!

Later in the week at Northern College, I attended two basketball games (one girl's and one boy's game) between two rival high schools -- Dekalb and Sycamore. It was a lot of fun! With over 6,000 people the crowd was rowdy and the energy was high. I was delighted to get to walk out to mid-court to present the trophy to the winning teams and also hand out some of the awards to the different sponsors at half time. I even got to use the big microphone to speak to the crowd while I was there, something I had never had the opportunity to do at such a large event! It was really exciting! I got to meet with a lot of young children as I signed autographs and took pictures ... and I truly felt like a celebrity as they yelled to me, holding out and waving around their arms to try and meet me as I made my exit at the end of the night. It really was an amazing event with a lot of truly wonderful people.

One funny story I have about the event in Dekalb though ... just to prove that Miss Illinois USA isn't perfect!! At the half time of the boy's game, they had asked that I walk down to the court so that I could hand out some awards. I made my way down there, with my mom and a few security people following in line. As I got to the court level I walked behind the hoop, past about 50-100 high school girls and boys all dressed in yellow to cheer on their schools' basketball players. They were cheering at me, yelling and screaming things like, "Hello Miss Illinois, over here!! Hi!" I turned to wave to them, but continued to walk toward the court. As I turned back forward it was time for me to "step UP" to the main court, not realizing that there would be any kind of difference in level of ground and completely tripped in the most obscene and obvious way ... in front of the whole stadium, including all of the high school kids! My first thought was, "Well, maybe I just got this out of my way now so I won't do it at the Miss USA Pageant!!!" After I presented the awards on the court I lead the line to EXIT, making an extreeeeemely dramatic step DOWN, just to sort of make fun of myself, creating light of the situation and letting the kids and the audience know that it is OK to laugh at yourself sometimes. They applauded and smiled, and I think all ended well :)

And finally, to wrap up the week I attended a benefit for Pediatric Cancer at the River East Art Center in Chicago. This event was neat because it was a group of over 500 people between the ages of about 25 and 35. We ate hors doeuvres including fruits and things from a chocolate fountain, and I sipped sprites and kiddy cocktails as I walked around the gallery space meeting the guests and taking pictures. At the end of the night, the announcer decided it would be fun to auction off a kiss from Miss Illinois USA to benefit pediatric cancer. I ended up raising $150 by giving someone a kiss on the cheek and a personalized autograph and picture. Yay!

So the week went well, and I'm looking forward to the three events I have scheduled for Thursday and Sunday of this week. I'll be giving a talk at another school, attending a benefit for diabetes, and then heading off the children's memorial hospital to make valentine's day cards with the kids! It should be another great week, and I'll be sure to tell you all about it as soon as I can!

:) Happy Tuesday!