Are You Experiencing One Wild and Precious Summer?

By: Shannon Boatwright

Oprah has inspired me. There, I said it. And I know I’m not special with this ‘being inspired’ moment, as millions – probably more – are inspired by the woman on a daily basis. But I have to admit, I’ve been aching to write. I even told my husband the other day, “I want to write a book.” He responded with, “What about?”

My response, “I’m not sure.” I know I have something to share. In fact, I have a lot I could/can share. But where to start?

The other week, my Mama dropped off some magazines for me, which she occasionally will do. When she’s done scouring the pages, she’ll hand them over for me to enjoy. In this case, she left the June 2017 issue of Oprah’s O Magazine. After sitting on my kitchen island for almost two weeks, I finally had a day in which I felt relaxed enough to truly sit down and enjoy flipping through a magazine. This particular day was July 4th. My children were out of town with their father, and my husband and I had the day to enjoy together. No work, no commitments. At first we felt the pressure to go do something, go to the lake, party with friends, do something spectacular and cool on this holiday. But, we gleefully discovered we were on the same page and wanted nothing more than to just relax, do nothing, and enjoy being together. We avoided the South Carolina heat, did nothing spectacular, and loved every minute of it. As we basked in our uneventful day, I read through the pages of the magazine, consistently being pulled in by article after article. By the end of the day, I was in awe at the realization that I could not put the magazine down and had been inspired by not just one article, but so many that I had folded down more page corners than I think I ever have in any magazine. Each writer inspired me to think of things that I want to write about and share with the world in hopes that I could in turn inspire someone, fill their heart maybe, bring a smile to their face. It’s a wonderful, sometimes indescribable thing when that happens. It’s something us writers live for and absolutely love when these unexpected moments of inspiration capture our time and attention.

So what do I share now? Well, the cover of this particular O Magazine issue is all about summer and it wasn’t just the glorious beach picture with Oprah that caught my attention, but the headline that says, “Your One Wild and Precious Summer”. Something about this wording caught my eye and peeked my interest. It wasn’t until nighttime that I got to the article that belonged to this headline. Page 87 – the title page – contained a short paragraph that got me thinking. Then I noticed the asterisk – it’s an explanation, or tease if you will, about that intriguing headline…it said:

“*If you’ve never read Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day,” please do. It inspired this headline, and it will surely inspire you.”

Oprah and your fabulous peeps – Mission Accomplished!

I immediately picked up my phone, Googled Oliver’s poem, and voila! Next thing you know I’m searching for an image of the poem and posting it on my Instagram.

Yep.  I was indeed inspired.

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

As I was letting the words, phrases and meaning of the poem sink in, I started falling into that typical human trap of thinking negatively…blah, blah, blah, wah, wah, wah, …

Then, I realize, oh my gosh…Mary, Oprah, I HAVE been living a fabulous summer. What!?

Like possibly one of the first summers in which it actually does feel wild and precious.  

Yes! Quite honestly, I don’t want it to end. I worked so incredibly hard this past school year. Always on the go, always exhausted, always looking forward to better things, better times.

But this summer has been different for me. Not just a regular teacher’s break from the insanely busy school year, but I was actually blessed with the chance of a lifetime.

I’m gonna admit here that I honestly don’t know the words to describe what I hope and pray will not end up being a once in MY lifetime experience… At this point, I still feel like it was all a dream. And I promise you I am not over-exaggerating.

I was graced with an all-expense paid trip to Europe. I traveled through the South of France, all along the French Riviera – shopping in Cannes, Hollywood dream-like dining in Saint Tropez, even a dreamlike visit to Monaco, staying in Sainte-Maxime, France in one of the most gorgeous homes I’ve ever set eyes on, much less visited. I consistently pinched myself in an attempt to remind myself that the whole experience was actually real. Closing out my 9-day journey was a visit to Switzerland – a magical place that totally captured my heart, so much so that I think I will forever fantasize about retiring there. And, the bonus was that I had the privilege of enjoying this adventure with my amazing, sweet Mama – my rock, my truly forever BFF – as we were hosted by most precious, dear friends of hers.

Whew…. deep breathes and overwhelming, heart-warming joy fills me at just the thought of these amazing friends of my mother’s…

Needless to say, I could write novels, even movie screenplays, based on the beautiful things, places and people that I saw and the incredible stories that were shared with me. My heart and mind get overwhelmed just thinking about the fabulousness and preciousness of it all and the true blessing of meeting these truly incredible people.

I’ll possibly, hopefully, eventually share more about this-out of-MY-world start to my “wild and precious summer”. But for now, I thank Oprah and Mary Oliver for reminding me that it’s solely up to me how I live out my all too-short-summer. I have the power to make it fabulous. And though my summer of 2017 certainly got off to an insanely fantastic start, I plan to do my best to “squeeze every last drop of bliss and awe, out of this, my untamed summer.”

As Mary Oliver hints in her lovely poem, life is short! The way I see it, we get one chance to rock it, be our best and truly live it up!  I have a feeling she and Oprah would agree with me.

So how do YOU plan to make the best of it? Let’s start with this season currently in our midst. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious summer? 😉

Viva Las Vegas

By: Ashley Whisonant 

Las Vegas is known for excess in almost everything! On my most recent work conference trip, I decided to do my Vegas trip a little differently. I wanted to enjoy myself, but see some of the other sights. I enjoyed a glass of wine or two, but I also ate some amazing food and saw some gorgeous attractions that were FREE!

Let’s start with the food, shall we?

After I arrived from the long flight, I was craving a juicy burger. Gordon Ramsay has a fun burger joint in the Planet Hollywood hotel. The wait staff was attentive, the décor feisty, and the food delicious. My Hell’s Kitchen Burger was moist and full of flavor.

For breakfast one morning, I ventured over to the Paris hotel for a French crepe. My crepe was filled with creamy lemon curd and fresh strawberries, and was topped with lemon pound cake and homemade whipped crème. This was a breakfast for champions!

What Vegas trip is complete without some pool time?! I found a few hours to lounge in the sun at the Bally Hotel and Casino pool. Freezing cold water, but great views!

Looking for some free exploring and fun?

The hotels and casinos are themed to the max. They remind me of the theming Disney World resorts take on. Obviously there are adult twists mixed in!

I visited the gondolas at the Venetian, admired the ceilings, and toured the gardens in the Bellagio.

Can Las Vegas be done differently? Yes! You can leave without gambling or drinking to excess and still enjoy yourself. Travel away!

My Top 3 Disney Sweet Treats

By: Ashley Whisonant

My boys and I just returned from five days of Disney fun last week. It was certainly a whirlwind, filled with family and fun.

Our family are huge sweets lovers. I made it our mission to find the best sweet snacks or desserts that Disney has to offer. Here are our top three picks and where to find them!

Zebra Dome Cakes: Found in Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

zebra-cake

Four of these beauties come in a container. (One was gobbled up before the picture!) A thin, soft cake layers the bottom with a chocolate Kahlúa cream dome. AMAZING!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Milkshake: Found in 50’s Prime Time Café in Hollywood Studios

ppbje

We added chocolate syrup to this deliciousness. Do not make the same mistake as our family and decide to share just one. Each adult NEEDS one of their own. You can thank me later.

Fruit and Nutella Waffle: Found in Sleepy Hollow in Magic Kingdom

waffle

This was HUGE. It was the perfect combination of creamy hazelnut spread and sweet fruit with the crisp waffle. I could eat this for a “healthy” breakfast since it has fruit….right…?

If you are visiting Disney World in the near future, make sure to add these three treats to your list!

Celebrating 40

By: Chaunte McClure

Amid my excitement about turning 40, I created a short list of ways I wanted to celebrate. I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I usually don’t make a big deal out of birthdays. That’s just the way it was in my family, but I’m changing, because now I have a greater appreciation for life and I’m grateful for every single day, no matter what’s packaged in it.

During my thirties, darkness seemed to hover over me; even when there were rays of sunshine, they seemed to quickly find a hiding place behind the clouds. Many days it seemed I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but it was just a shadow and I’m still walking – walking in victory.

So, yes, I ought to celebrate and enjoy life and so should you. Go places you’ve never gone and do things you’ve never done. It’s my desire to accomplish both every year. This time, I went to DR, but you don’t have to travel to a Caribbean nation. I wanted to, in honor of the big 4-0.

Here’s a peek at what I did:

Flying High

parasailing

While relaxing on the beach and hiding from direct sunlight under the resort’s palapa umbrellas, I had an impulse to fly high. I watched other tourists take flight and from below,  it looked so fun. My husband didn’t even take me seriously when I said I wanted to parasail. After inquiring about the cost, he hurried back to the room to get money before I changed my mind. There was no turning back though. This 40 year old had the audacity to sail through the air while attached to a boat. I guess if I was really daring I would’ve gone solo, but the tandem ride put me at ease. I was a little nervous on the way up, forcing myself not to look back for fear of having a nervous breakdown. Once we got to the highest altitude, I was fine, even looking down to see what I could identify below in the beautiful, clear blue waters. If you ever decide to give it a try, remember, it’s mind over matter. Just enjoy the flight and the views!

Getting Dirty

celebrating 40

We also had some dirty fun while riding the countryside trails in a dune buggy, splashing through mud and squinting through the occasional dust clouds. It certainly was an interesting way to see the authenticity of the Dominican Republic, passing modest, colorful homes, the cutest kids waving hello, farmland, and makeshift roadside stands while making stops at Macao Beach and a natural cave. Minus the fumes we inhaled from the other dune buggies, this was an awesome experience. By the way, ladies, no need to shampoo or curl your hair before this ride.

Horsing Around

horseback riding

I expressed interest in going horseback riding a few years ago, but I never really pursued it. Fortunately, it was an activity offered with one of our excursions. After saddling up, I was praying the horse didn’t detect my anxiety or take off galloping around the ranch without the rest of the group. Thankfully, they were obedient to their trainers. While making our way around the ranch, somehow, perhaps because of the peaceful ride, my mind drifted to the 23rd Psalm. In between hearing the Spanish dialogue between the two guides, I kept thinking about the shepherd and green pastures. I never made the connection between it all, but I’m sure it’ll come back to me in the form of a sermon, or maybe a blog entry.

Making Memories

celebrating 40

That vacation is in the books, but it was fun making memories and sharing some of them with you. I have one more month in 2016 to celebrate turning 40 and four more before I turn 41.

I’m fabulous at 40, and I’ll still be fabulous at 41. Oh, I had a birthday photo shoot, too.

Turning 40

By: Chaunte McClure

Milestone birthdays tend to generate excitement among individuals and this one was no different for me. Last year this time I was looking forward to turning the big 4-0 and I was making celebration plans for 2016.

On my to-do list was to take a trip out of the country. After a few months of deciding where to go, my heart was finally set on the Dominican Republic.

In October, we took to the skies for about a four-hour flight to the beautiful Caribbean Island for some time to unwind, celebrate me and learn more about a different culture. Hurricane Matthew had me on edge a bit because I thought he would rip through DR and force us to cancel our trip. Not so! For six days, I got to soak up the sun and make new memories.

Domincan RepublicDomincan RepublicNot all of the Dominican Republic is attractive. Resort life keeps your mind on R&R, blocking the reality of what life is really like on the island. We spent most of one day exploring the countryside, where Dominicans live and work.

Domincan Republic

They work for very little, I might add. According to our tour guide, on average, they make about less than $400 per month. Because of tips, resort employees usually earn a little more annually. Teachers are on the higher end of the scale earning about $900 monthly.

Domincan Republic

One of our tour stops was at a public school tucked down a dirt road where sugar cane grow several feet high in nearby fields.

Domincan Republic

For the first time since I was a child, I got to taste sugar cane. And like this vacation, it was sweet!

I’ll share more later this month.

Don’t Ever Say ‘No’ to a Life Experience

By: Stacy Thompson

antarctica

Antarctica

I once read an article about a study by Cornell University psychology professor Dr. Thomas Gilovich in which he noted “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation.” Meaning, although buying material things will provide initial happiness and excitement, the feeling fades through time as one becomes accustomed to the new object and then seeks to move on to the next material thing. (Anyone else singing Madonna’s “Material Girl” in her head?) To contrast, Dr. Gilovich’s study indicated that over time, those who spent money on experiences noted increased satisfaction and reported that the experiences became an ingrained part of the person’s identity, and in general fostered greater happiness.

I have traveled not only early on in childhood (moving around with my Army Dad) but since settling in Columbia, my parents have continued to place a premium on creating experiences for us individually and as a family. As the real world has taken over (i.e., jobs, mortgages and other responsibilities), I still believe that breaks from reality through travel are an absolute must – which is why I have for several years repeated to my mother my new mantra, I will never say ‘no’. Yes, it’s a double negative, but it is nothing but positive!

penguins1

Penguins!

Below are some of the experiences that have become a part of me (the international version), and a short list of excursions I highly recommend as additions to your bucket list:

  1. Antarctica – Truly one of the most remote, untouched and amazingly beautiful places on Earth. The coldest, driest, highest and windiest of all continents also boasts fascinating villages of tuxedoed, flightless birds that captivate for hours!
  2. Brazil – Became my second home when I moved there in high school and again during graduate school. I’ve studied there and worked there, but can attest to the fact that there is no place better to actually LIVE. The people are full of love, music, dance and true appreciation for taking each day as it comes.
  3. New Zealand – Trapped in a rental car with your parents for two weeks??? To some it may sound like the perfect nightmare, but for me it was beyond a perfect dream, particularly when that place was the land of the Kiwis. It boasts a gorgeous countryside, charming natives and just enough thrill-seeking (bungee anyone?) to keep you on your toes.
  4. Zambia – A nation within the last continent I had to touch to reach all seven, but the one that touched my heart the most. No touristy stops during my time there, but the dedication of the missionaries living there and the lives they constantly impacted will stay with me forever.

    everest

    Mount Everest

  5. Nepal – Not simply my most challenging trip ever, but one where the people made the adventure even more meaningful. My mom and I hiked on foot from Lukla (the most dangerous airport in the world. Google it, you won’t be disappointed) to Kalapathar, the overlook to Base Camp of Mt. Everest. It took over two weeks to complete the “Mother of All Bonding Experiences.”

Don’t ever say ‘No’ – and may the sum total of your experiences be beyond anything money can buy!

Introducing Our New Every Woman Bloggers: Meet Stacy Thompson

Stacy ThompsonAs I sat watching the Rio Olympic Games, several things occurred to me – for one, I’m thrilled that people had a chance to see the beauty of one of my all-time favorite cities in a country that I consider my second home (more on that later). Second, I’m in awe of all Olympic competitors – those we see on the podium and those who may only swim, run, flip, twist, ride or shoot in one event for a few brief minutes, but nonetheless will (and should) forever be known as an “Olympian.” Third, I wonder how many kettle-bell, barre, pilates, spin and hot-yoga classes I would have to endure to look half as amazingly strong as multiple-gold-medal-winning, mother-of-three Kerri Walsh Jennings? And finally, how do I possibly introduce myself and my upcoming musings in one brief paragraph??

I’d like to say that I threw my name into the hat to join this cool, diverse and really REAL group of women bloggers because I had something important or profound to say or contribute. But truth be told, I just have some pretty unusual, remarkable and sometimes amusing stories to pass along. I’m an attorney, but won’t be giving legal advice (goodness knows there is enough of that to go around); I’m a daughter, but won’t be complaining about my nagging mother (as she is one of the most inspirational, awesome people I know, I’ll be bragging instead!); I’m a mom, but to fur-babies only (so you’ll get amusing anecdotes and I don’t get any back-talk or eye-rolls); I’ve traveled the world (touched them all – all 7 continents, that is) but am a proud long-time resident of Lexington County and an even prouder South Carolinian, so get ready for unusual travel tales interspersed with some crowing about our county/state while bestowing a few “Bless their hearts,” for those who haven’t had the pleasure of savoring sweet tea or boiled peanuts and for some reason think that a proper tailgate consists of buying a bucket of chicken, bag of Ruffles, pre-made pimiento cheese (oh, the humanity!) and a roll of Bounty to “enjoy” while milling about next to the car (with no team tents, myriad tables, assortment of chairs, et cetera, et cetera) – seriously, let me enlighten you on how we roll in SEC/ACC country!  And yes, that last sentence was stream-of-consciousness and such a run-on sentence that I shudder to think of diagraming it! (For those born in the 90s or later, back in the olden days, that is, in the mid-1900s, children were forced to diagram sentences, an exercise designed to infuriate and frustrate middle-schoolers throughout the nation, serving no actual purpose but satisfying to the OCD-inclined Grammar Police – and as a result, I not only know what a gerund is, but thanks to my 6th grade English teacher I can confidently state that you must diagram those bad boys on steps!)

I hope you enjoy reading all of the contributions on this blog – there are some amazing women that I now have a chance to be associated with, and I’m excited to see what they all have to say.  Many thanks to Lexington Medical Center and the Every Woman Blog – grateful for this opportunity and the weeks to come!