Monday, March 26, 2012

Did I just travel to Paradise...'Yah mon!'

I was recently blessed with an amazing opportunity to travel with Dan for work. He was asked by his company to travel to the Turks and Caicos Islands (a chain of approximately 40 islands (of which 10 are inhabited) located 575 miles southeast of Miami – south of the Bahamas and north of the island of Hispaniola (the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) to audit a construction company that is currently working on location in the islands, but are headquartered out of Saint Joseph, Missouri (where Dan’s firm resides).

This trip to paradise had a wavering start, but amplified just how relaxing and beautiful the experience was going to be the moment my feet hit the sand. On Thursday, my day began in Kansas City at 3:30 AM, I was scheduled to take a flight to Atlanta leaving MCI at 5:00 AM. From Atlanta, I had a connecting flight, which would fly me into Providenciales Turks and Caicos. My scheduled arrival in Providenciales WAS SUPPOSED to be 12:48 PM on Thursday, March 22nd. That however did not occur.
The flight leaving Kansas City was delayed due to maintenance, and despite my best efforts (running from the east side of the Georgia airport to the west side…through 5 different terminals to be exact…in a dress…Home Alone style) I missed my connecting flight to the islands.

Two additional flights (one on a completely different airline) and 16 hours later, I arrived in Providenciales at about 9:00 PM. One could have easily become upset with the additional travel hassle and unpredictability of the day, but I was so eager to be on a vacation that even spending a day reading the entire first book of the Hunger Games in a variety of airports was an enjoyable experience.
There are so many details that I want to write about, because I want to savor as many memories as possible and have a descriptive recall of this amazing trip to read in the future, however I am not writing a book, just a blog…so I will keep it ‘short.’

There are many memorable pieces from the trip, but I will highlight the gems.

Turks and Caicos Islands were recently taken over by the British, because prior to 2010 the previous independent government in power was full of ‘corruption.’ They have adapted some British norms, while keeping the customs of the islands. Driving on the left side of the road has been implemented now, however interestingly enough, they operate under American currency (largely because American tourism is the ‘oil’ of their economy). Observing Dan adjusting to driving on the left side of the road, especially around the commonly found 'round-abouts' will be a memory permanently ingrained in my mind. Ha!
Dan and I were very fortunate, because his colleagues at the construction company were locals, their guidance was invaluable. We also became friends with our resort's bar tender, (big surprise there) so he too had suggestions as to where we should visit. They were the ones who told us that given the right atmospheric conditions and a clear sky, a green flash can be observed when the sun is close to a distant horizon and sure enough during our last dinner on the beach, we saw the green flashes streak through the sky. Breathtaking!

Our new found friends were also the ones that suggested that we go conch hunting and to eat at Da Conch Shack. A perfect reminder that there are still places that fresh can mean more than being from the produce section of the grocery store. We ate conch several times while we were there. Though catching the conch and watching the local fisherman create and serve us our very own, impromptu conch ceviche was amazing, my favorite was cracked conch, which despite its name is simply small pieces of conch deep fried (a tastier cousin of the fried calamari appetizer found throughout the U.S.).
On Friday, with our guides Lucky and Darren at the helm, we head out into the deep blue sea for a three hour tour of Iguana Island (the Turks and Caicos rock iguana is a critically endangered species of lizard. Turks and Caicos has 50,000 rock iguanas, the healthiest population of rock iguanas in the Caribbean), snorkeling at the reef and conch hunting.

We head into the sea grass and muddy sea floor just off the shore of an uninhabited island. This is where our tour differs from the usual snorkeling trip as Darren leads us into the water to look for conch. My foreignness was as clear as the turquoise, Caribbean water at this point. Despite the suggestions from our guides, (the gentleman who do this for a living) I decide to not wear my flippers. I thought it would be ‘easier’ to dive under without flippers.

The conch live face down interspersed within the grass, with grass growing directly on their shells to help camouflage them from their predators, including us. It takes great effort to locate these mussels. After a few failed attempts, I decide I rather back float instead so I can take in the gorgeous surroundings, unaware of the powerful current pulling me towards the rear of the boat/onward to Cuba. Ha!

I look up when I over hear another tourist conch hunting asking for help. He had to be thrown a life preserver; because the current had pulled him a significant distance from the boat and he could not get back. When I realized I was currently floating towards him, I figured I should probably begin swimming. Ha! My mind and body were saying SWIM and the current was saying NO YOU WON'T. As Dan recalls the current, “at one point I was swimming as hard as I could, yet the same rock I was looking at through my goggles was not moving away from me.” I am alive, which means I obviously made it back to the boat, but it was one hell of a work out making our way back to safety. Ha-ha!
That evening I ate a scrumptious, wild mushroom risotto in a beautiful outdoor landscaped garden terrace at a swanky restaurant called Lemon.
On Saturday, our day began with music and ended with music. Literally, I woke up to Bob Marley’s voice playing over speakers on the beach (we had a beach side room and slept with our patio doors open each night). The music was coming from our resort’s beach barbecue that takes place every Saturday. Dan enjoyed the Jerk Chicken, while I enjoyed the Rum Punch.

Another, unforgettable memory was when Dan faced his fear of heights and went para sailing with me. Just breathtaking, I will let the pictures convey that experience to you. At one point, we saw a shark, string ray, or barracuda. It was too hard to tell which one it was, because we were 500 feet in the air.
Later in the evening, we ate another delicious meal perched on the shore of Grace Bay Beach at Hemingway's, a beachfront restaurant (that is where we saw the green flash sunset).

We concluded the evening, our last night out in the islands, at Wine Bar. We planned to meet our bar tender/new best friend, James there after his shift ended at our resort. The Wine Bar is a little slice of a big city in the little island community and is a popular hang-out for the locals. It was here that I danced the night away, while Dan observed on the side. Ha-ha! Being the only girl on the dance floor with fair skin made my dance moves even more unforgettable.

Those memories along with several others (watching KU win at a local pub, giving an elderly, local man with amputated toes a ride, buying a Blessed Virgin Mary bracelet from a local woman on the beach, breathtaking hues from inviting waters, the care-free nature and hospitality of the locals, watching two kids marvel at the 4 feet deep hole/sand castle which was created for them to spend hours playing in, the sounds of crashing waves while falling asleep each night, fresh sea food with each meal) are worth a life time. Relaxation was unavoidable and rejuvenation ensured.
Four fast days later, Dan and I had to say goodbye to paradise. As we boarded our plan, a local, older gentleman (who sounded like Louis Armstrong) repeatedly thanked us for visiting (in the most sincere tone imaginable) and I told myself we would be back. That is a promise I intend to keep.

Iguana Island

Male Rock Iguana

 Conch out of it's shell...Dan, who hates sushi ate it too.

                                       Surrounded by sparkling water!
Conch shell discovered on our Conch Hunting excursion.
                                           Picture before dinner at Lemon.
                                                  Sunset outside our patio.

 Para sailing...going up, up, and away.
                                           Our para sailing guides.
                                                   That's us way up there.
                                     The green streaks at sundown. Pretty amazing!
                                               Sunset dinner at Hemingway's.
                                             Wine Bar! Danced the night away.
                                                Proof that Dan para sailed!
Just 'swinging' 500 feet in the big deal.
                                              Para sailing view of the island.
                                                 Da Conch Shack!
                                            Another para sailing view.
View from our patio.

Leisurely reading on the beach.

                                                So sad to have to say goodbye.
                                           Our plane back to the States.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Be an Inspiration!

I had the privilege of attending the “18th Annual Women’s Sports Celebration,” hosted by Win for KC. The banquet featured local, inspirational female athletes. The award winners were chosen because they exemplify the value of sports and fitness –emphasizing both the physical and character building advantages of participating in sports.
The theme of the banquet was “Be an inspiration.” A round of applause goes out to the coordinators of this event, (specially Sarah Dee, an Our Lady’s Montessori Parent/Board Member and WIN for KC’s very own Interim Director) I left the lunch feeling encouraged, motivated, and blessed to have been a witness to such beautiful women.
All of the speakers were of great quality and inspiration, including the Key Note Speaker, Abby Wambach, who was named 2011 Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.
I, however, was inspired most by Frances Neunuebel, who won Price Chopper’s Youth Sports Girl Award. Frances, a local sophomore, was diagnosed with an aggressive, malignant brain tumor. Despite her physical limitations, Frances refused to stop competing in sports, never once did she ask, “Why me, God?” Her attitude was inspiring, positive and faithful, when she responded, “Why not me, God?”
We all face adversity in our lives. The faith, ambition and resiliency of this young lady has inspired me. May I remember that everything happens for me, not to me.

May you be inspired too!  

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Today happened to be my birthday, however life does not just stop for birthdays. Today also was an everyday ordinary, full of activity day. From the moment I stepped into the classroom at 7:30 AM, to the moment I took off my sneakers after my evening run at 10:30 PM, (with a lot of commotion in between) I was as busy as a fish peddler during Lent. Ha! ;)
Another year has come and gone and as I embrace my 26th year of life, I have decided to welcome some recent advice-live in the moment with the appreciation that everything happens for me, not to me.
I was so grateful for the gift of a respite today—for the 30 seconds or a minute or two minutes during which I had no obligations-to read and hear the kind words written in birthday cards, emails, texts and voicemails from friends and family members, to chat with the delightful people I have the privilege of spending each and every day with at work, and to be stopped by more children than I can count for a birthday hug.
Amongst a day filled with activity (work, evening class, evening meeting, dinner with friends, and homework) those small moments can so often get easily overlooked…we then are susceptible of becoming too busy to be a friend, too busy to talk to God, too busy to work out, too busy to work on a relationship, too busy to study, or too busy to stop to receive a hug from a loving child.
God has given me all that I have-my life, my love, my abilities and resources. Count my blessings!
So as I embark on my 26th year of life, I intend to be mindful of and savor such moments throughout my day. By quieting my spirit, taking deep breaths, and humbly asking for enlightenment, I hope to expand, grow, even transform into the ideal self that God has intended me to be and add value to the lives of people around me using my own special talents.

So here’s to waking up tomorrow, just like I did today…feeling happy, glad to start another day and perhaps hour by hour I can continue to discover some new blessings that are headed my way. Thank you to everyone who contributed in one of the most rewarding birthdays yet.
Birthday Cake from my dad with the following card: "To hell with yogurt! Nuts to beans! Tofu sucks and so do greens. It's time to take a well-earned break...screw the carbs and hit the cake."