Well Done…

By Stacy Thompson

I apologize profusely to the administrators of this blog for my late submission, but those that read my last post will understand…a few days ago I realized a dream and made it to the Rooftop of Africa – and I will forever be changed for the better because of it.

After an exploratory day in Moshi, followed by a tour of a coffee and tea plantation, our group was hesitantly getting to know one another while already beginning the process of mentally preparing ourselves for the challenge ahead…which wasn’t too far from our minds or our sight (the view from our lodge made the challenge inescapable…)

Picture 1

The following day we took to the trail and began the greatest adventure with three days of hiking, covering nearly six thousand feet and thirteen miles among a background that transitioned from bamboo rainforest to moorland.  An acclimatization hike to Zebra Rock took us from Horombo Hut and 12,340 feet to over 14, 000 feet and a taste of the heights we would soon soar to…

Picture 2

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards – Kierkegaard

Our hike continued forward and onward to Kibo Hut – 15, 520 feet – and a ride through “the Saddle” a wide, flat plateau with our destination peaks looming ahead and a light meal awaiting us in the final hours before the final ascent.  Our pace deliberately slow, we could see up ahead the challenge of the mountain ahead while our minds repeated the Swahili phrase “Pole, Pole” (“Slowly, Slowly”) to ensure we met our goal.

Picture 3

We dined on soup and some bread around 5 pm before retiring (all 12 of us men and women together in the ultimate bonding experience!) to a room of bunkbeds and our sleeping bags to catch a few hours of rest – knowing that we were to be awakened at 11:00 pm to start the arduous climb.  Yes, we were told that the purpose of the late-night start was to reach our goal at daybreak, but in truth the journey through the scree slope is best taken without seeing the angle of the climb (pretty much straight up!) and the distance to be traveled (over 3,000 feet) – exhaustion and freezing temperatures tell the body to sleep, but the overwhelming drive to reach the top combined with the constant vigilance of the Tanzanian guides keep one foot in front of the other until the most glorious sight of an African sunrise is seen on the horizon – as said sun begins to rise, our goal becomes a reality; as the scree ends and the boulders are overcome, Gilman’s Point is reached…

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In the end it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years. –Abraham Lincoln

So Gilman’s Point (18,652 feet) is a legitimate summit, as is Stella’s Point (18,885 feet), however, just a few short feet (OK, about 500 feet, and with severely decreased oxygen levels) away is Uhuru Peak – the real, true Rooftop of Africa and the ultimate goal – I’m not going to lie, the last hour wasn’t easy, but was made infinitely better by the glacier view.  Looking out over the clouds is surreal and being surrounded by volcanic cones nearly overwhelming, but the focus to attain our goal remained (despite the oxygen-deprivation, sleep-deprivation and overall exhaustion!!).  After over eight hours of hiking, straight up, in mostly dark, we reached the highest peak…

Picture 5

Picture 6

Yes, that’s me, celebrating the only way I know how – by displaying the garnet & black!!

 

Life is either a daring adventure…or nothing at all – Helen Keller

So six years ago my mother decided (after getting her Medicare card in the mail) that life was too short to just sit back and make a bucket list – it was time each and every day to live that bucket list.  So she climbed a mountain, with no experience, with no expectations, but simply because she needed to try and do it.  After she climbed Kilimanjaro, I admit that although I was unbelievably impressed, I didn’t really understand what drove her to do it.  Later that year I joined her in climbing a mountain (Machu Picchu)…and have done so every year since then.  Climbing the physical mountain is an accomplishment and our ultimate goal, but overcoming the physical challenge is so much more than that – even though I love our trips together and the days we spend on the trail, I enjoy even more the hours spent in the stairwells and trails (modest inclines that they may be) preparing for each trip.  The challenge my mother undertook to conquer the World’s Highest Free Standing Mountain was not just a jump-start to a bucket list, but a new progression of a mother/daughter bond that will only continue to grow in the years to come.

Well Done…

As I was descending and had reached the forest once again, I passed a Tanzanian guide with two very well-groomed (recently showered) hikers – as he passed, we greeted each other with the traditional Swahili “Jambo” (hello) – he then asked “So you climbed the mountain?” to which I replied “Yes, yes I did.”  He then asked “did you make it to the top?” and I replied “yes, yes I did” – there was a pause, and I heard him quietly say “Well done” – those two words filled me with so much pride and a sense of accomplishment I will never forget.  Well done – yes, yes indeed.

Resolutions rewind

by Jeanne Reynolds

This time last year I posted that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I like to set a few new goals each year.

To recap those thoughts, goals focus on accomplishment rather than fixing what’s wrong. They feel positive instead of punitive. I may not achieve all my goals in any given year, but putting them in writing helps me clarify what’s important to me.

What I rarely do, though, is pull the list back out and check my progress toward those goals. Yeah, I kind of know in my head the big things I accomplished during the year. (Some of them end up in my Christmas letter, when I get around to doing one. Christmas letters: love them or hate them? Discuss among yourselves.)

Since I went “public” with my goals last year, I thought it only fair to share the results. And two things surprised me:

  1. I had forgotten most of the items on the list.
  2. I did better than I thought.

Here’s a look:

 

  • Run a half-marathon in under 2:05. Yes! I ran the Palmetto Half at Sandhills in
  • 2:03 and change. I have to confess this wasn’t exactly a stretch goal since it’s waaay slower than I used to run, but coming off some injuries it seemed reasonable.
  • Paint our bedroom and get new linens and towels. Yes! We ended up getting nearly the whole inside of the house painted a calming gray. Love. It. For those interested, I went with an all-white bed and mossy green towels in the master bath.
  • Obtain and complete at least 3 freelance writing jobs. Didn’t take even the first step toward this, except in my mind. Realistically, this won’t happen until I can cut back my hours on my “real” job. Maybe this year.
  • Lower my golf handicap to 14. Surprisingly, yes! I had some good rounds in the summer and fall, bringing it down to 13 something. Of course with our recent weather I’ll be back where I started, but at least I know it’s possible.
  • Finish the first phase of landscaping in the natural area of our Cat Island home. Hmm, sort of? Another pesky hurricane drained a good bit of our resources but we’re making progress. Unfortunately, a couple rows of wax myrtles that will one day be a huge hedge aren’t yet making a dent in the use of our yard as the neighborhood ball field (you can probably hear my husband saying “I told you so” in the background). But someday … And we did plant four new trees to replace some of those lost in the 2016 hurricane.
  • Take a special getaway trip to celebrate a milestone birthday. Not yet – see hurricanes above. Instead, the trip will be this year to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Rome, Tuscany and Amalfi coast, here we come.Italy guidebook

So now it’s time to set some goals for 2018. I’m going to take a little longer to think about that. But based on points 1 and 2 above, I realize it’s not the goals themselves but the act of setting them that matters. Most of us get so busy just charging through each day, we seldom stop to think about where we’re going. Just taking some time to think about what’s important to me – and what I might be willing to do to reach it – is a good goal in itself.

Greatest adventures

By Stacy Thompson

In about a week I’m going to embark upon one of my greatest physical and mental challenges to date (but more about that later). As I sat down to write this post, I intended to reflect on the coolest adventures I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, but then very quickly realized that the list very clearly centered around one person – my mom.

There are many forms a mom may take, but mine has generally gone a little beyond the norm – I have, since I was very young, always noted that mine was “not a real Mom” but in the best possible way – as some examples, and as my list of greatest experiences/adventures ever, following are some of my mom’s best ringleader moments:

  • “What are you doing this weekend?” – these were the words I heard one Tuesday evening from my mom. The Saturday that followed included jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 11,000 feet with a couple of experienced jumpers at the ready to assist if our chutes didn’t open. Fortunately, the chutes opened quite nicely and we were left with an empowering, exhilarating experience of a lifetime!
  • Flipper was flippin’ awesome! We’ve had a few amazing animal-related experiences together – cuddling a Koala, hugging a monkey, getting up-close-and-personal with a giant clam and enjoying snack time with a joey in a kangaroo’s pouch – but sharing the waters with a dolphin ranks pretty high on the list!
  • “If I tell you…you cry…then you no go” – these were the words of our Peruvian guide on our treacherous way to Machu Picchu – the days were long, but worth the ultimate prize in our visit to one of the world’s wonders! It was the first of many hikes we have taken in the past several years, and started a trend that I hope will continue for many years to come!
  • Ultimate Hike – 30-mile hike in one day? Sure, why not, particularly when it means raising funds for children’s cancer research. The mother-of-all-bonding-experiences was a blast…even despite the snake – please enjoy our video journal…

https://www.facebook.com/stacyt11/videos/10209175407371613/

https://www.facebook.com/stacyt11/videos/10209175618896901/

  • “Go ahead…I dare you” – a/k/a “When in Rome…” So, our actual experiences in the Eternal City were pretty tame, but our adventures in the home of the bungee-jump, Queenstown, New Zealand, were anything but. Mom decided that we needed to engage in the home-town past-time and plunge 180 feet down a rocky cliff attached to an oversized rubber band. I stood on the platform over said cliff until our guides deigned to dare me to jump…so yeah, that one I blame on Mom and the overly exuberant Kiwis!
  • Mother Goddess of the Earth – base camp of Everest – we made it to 18,500 feet, trekked through a snowstorm and managed to survive without a shower for 6 days. The trip to Nepal and all its glory was unforgettable, unimaginable and indescribable – we truly loved the people, our Sherpas, our Yaks and our memories of The Peak of Heaven.

 

And finally, a trip we will not be taking together, but one that I am taking entirely because of her.  A few years back, after attaining her Medicare card, my mother took on the ultimate challenge to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – 19, 341 feet, the Rooftop of Africa and Mountain of Greatness.  At the time, I thought she had really lost it and did not understand why she would put herself through something like that.  Then she returned and spoke of the beauty of the hike, the serenity of the climb and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment at the summit of that great peak.  So I’m once again following my Mom’s direction and in her footsteps – she will be with me every step of the way and hers is the hug I look forward to most upon my return!  I only hope to make her proud and to share one more great adventure!!

 

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.