A Vacation From My Vacation Planning

By: Azure Stilwell

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I think I need a vacation from planning our family vacation. It always starts with where do we get the money? Once we get that figured out, it then becomes a question of where do we want to go? There is always more than one suggestion to this question and at least one totally out of budget suggestion. Which means I will be trying with all my might and brain cells to figure out how to make the big request happen, and inevitably it won’t because again it is beyond budget. So, we will finally settle on a place, and then comes the part where everyone’s schedule has too match up. By this time, I am already worn out but must continue for the sake of a family vacation, because what is summer without one?

So, we have our budget, we have our place, and we now have our dates. Now onto what to do at said place so we don’t spend the entire time sitting in our hotel room or vacation rental trying to figure this out. I spend hours of time and research finding the perfect places to see or things to do. I almost have this down to a science now. Once our itinerary is set, we are ready to go. It is also at this point that I am slap worn out. This is why I am all for a vacation from vacation planning. I do love the time we get to spend together though so in the end I suppose it is worth all the time and effort.

Hope you enjoy your summer vacation!

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!

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.

An Apology on the Plantation

By: Chaunte McClure

Kingsley Plantation

Whenever I decide to go on vacation, I usually don’t plan daily activities in advance. It was no different on my spring break to the Sunshine State. The one thing I was sure of is that I wanted to go to the beach. Down I-26 to I-95 we traveled for a weekend getaway. I wanted to stay in Jacksonville Beach, but it seemed impossible to find a vacancy in that area. We found a quieter spot in what must be one of Florida’s best kept secrets – Amelia Island. (Or maybe it’s that I don’t get out much.) It’s just off the coast of northeast Florida and we got to enjoy the crashing waves of Fernandina Beach. I just love the sound of the ocean! After arriving, we relaxed a while and took a walk on the beach before sitting a spell to continue enjoying the sights and sounds. Just before going up to the room, I asked a manager for restaurant recommendations. She gave us a few, but we went with the casual option – The Salty Pelican. No regrets at all. Good food, good service and a good filling.

The next morning I savored the sunrise, then gave some thought to things to do. After breakfast, our first stop was Kingsley Plantation. A class I was taking on African American Church History prompted this memorable visit.

While driving down the nearly two-mile dirt road, I wondered what life was like for slaves back then, as I did most of the time I was there. I think there were a couple dozens of visitors there, one group and a few families.

Once upon a time I would have never set foot on a plantation, but I’ve gotten past those reservations that once kept me away. While scrolling the grounds, walking from the barn towards a nearby interpretive sign, I noticed an older white lady taking a couple glances at us as we approached. She seemed a bit uncomfortable, but she said hello and asked, “Do you mind if I ask you something?” Two young girls, who I later learned were her grandchildren, seemed embarrassed that their grandmother had asked. Nervously, she proceeded, “As African Americans, how does it make you feel when you come here?” After explaining that I come with an open mind and I understand that it’s an awful part of history that can’t be erased, she apologized. With tears in her eyes, she said, “Well, I’m sorry for what my ancestors did. I apologize for them.” She mentioned how disturbing the photo she had just seen of a slave with countless lashes on his back after whipped for God knows what. After continuing our conversation for a few more minutes, she again apologized, but this time for interrupting our tour. No apologies were necessary because I appreciated the fact that she took the time to engage in conversation with us. Little did she know, that was an integral part of my experience on Kingsley Plantation, and it’s a great memory to hold onto.

But I can’t leave out the rest of the trip because that’s where I had the most fun that day. Jacksonville Landing was our next stop. The online reviews weren’t the best, but we thought we’d give it a try. There was a gumbo festival and live music going. While enjoying lunch on the waterfront, we did some people watching and perused the shopping center. That didn’t take long because many of the spaces are vacant and I wasn’t interested in most of the retailers there.

Jacksonville Beach, however, was the place to be! That’s where all the people were hanging out and having a good time. We joined in on the fun at the Springing the Blues Festival where there was live music, good food and vendors from across U.S. (We even met and supported a vendor from Columbia.) Of course I couldn’t pass up a walk on the beach and a stroll down the boulevard. I had a nostalgic moment, to the days when the boulevard in Myrtle Beach was THE place to be.

Now I’m ready for a vacation to the Caribbean! Any sponsors out there?  🙂

Vacationing Close To Home

By: Shannon Shull

Vacationing close to home… Just Do It!  Sometimes we think in order to take a true vacation, we have to book flights and take days off from work. Not so, I say, not so. Every one of our grand states has visit-worthy, intriguing locations. And goodness knows, though we’d love to have the time and money to take a week or more off to really do it up right and experience the ultimate vacation, most of our schedules and budgets just don’t allow that pleasure. Wouldn’t  ya just love to fly to Tahiti maybe? Journey to Italy? Skiing in Vale? An Alaskan cruise maybe? In my case, I’d love to visit friends in Los Angeles and New York or head back to one of the many places I’ve gotten to visit for work, but never had the pleasure to experience as a vacation…Las Vegas, Aruba, & Colorado.

Truth is, most of us just don’t have the time, much less the money, to make a glorious mac-daddy vacation happen. So how does one escape and get that oh-so-priceless getaway to re-charge and step away from the day-to-day grind? Vacation close to home! Seriously, it can be done.

The Pineapple Fountain, Charleston, SC

The Pineapple Fountain, Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC - an ulitimate vacation destination

Charleston, SC – an ulitimate vacation destination

I am lucky enough to live in the South and we have a wealth of vacation-worthy locations to choose from within a very short driving distance. I recently managed to take a quick weekend getaway – a little birthday celebration escape – to the amazing, rich with history, glorious, Charleston, SC.  I didn’t even take the whole weekend, just a one night, almost two-day escape from my enormous, overwhelming to-do list. Yes, I admit, it was a bit of a tease. It was very hard to leave, to say the least. But, it was still a refreshing getaway that helped invigorate me so that I will HOPEFULLY have a little bit more energy to survive the mountain of stress that is my life.

Charleston shines

Charleston shines

Gorgeous architecture...

Gorgeous architecture…

The gorgeous architecture of Charleston, SC

The gorgeous architecture of Charleston, SC

Growing up in the ole South, so close to Charleston, SC, one can tend to take it for granted.  I had the pleasure of visiting this grand locale last year for one of my many Zumba training sessions. But for some reason, with this recent getaway, though very short, I was reminded of the historical beauty of Charleston, SC. Not to mention, the incredible food and shopping opportunities! I think I could’ve spent days just taking pictures of the architecture. Needless to say, I have developed a great appreciation for Charleston and all its glory. It is certainly vacation-worthy – even if it’s only for a day trip.

Lookie Lookie...

Lookie Lookie…

The most amazing She-Crab Soup at the restuarant Toast on Meeting Street!

The most amazing She-Crab Soup at the restuarant Toast on Meeting Street!

So my point with this blog entry is to remind you that you don’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a fancy vacation. You can experience a lovely getaway in just a short drive within your own state! Allow yourself the chance to recharge and get away…take a vacation close to home.  😉

New Bucket List Item – Visit A Waterfall

By: Katie Austin 

As we plan our vacation time, whether to old favorites or new destinations, why not include a visit to a waterfall?  Yes, you read that right – a waterfall!  When I think of a waterfall, my first thought is Hawaii. Then I read an article on GrindTV.com and was surprised to read that there are several waterfalls throughout the Grand Canyon.

Here are a few of the breathtaking pictures from the article:

 Waterfall

Waterfall

Waterfall

Wow! The pictures are amazing! You can see/read more about the waterfalls in the Grand Canyon here.

Have you visited a waterfall? If so, where? Do you know of any other waterfalls located in the United States?  I can’t wait to plan my trip and I will be sure to share pictures when I return.

Wishing everyone a wonderful week and remember – live each day to the fullest!