Truly blessed!

I hope y’all had an amazing holiday weekend.  Celebrating Independence Day is not only fun but important.   I send out my most sincere appreciation and thanks to all the men and women who are serving in our military, whether stateside or abroad.  I pray for your safety and I laud your bravery.  You’re all hero’s as far as I’m concerned.

Sam and I had an awesome weekend with family in Northwest Arkansas.  We visited with aunties and uncles, and my sister and her family, and one of my brother’s was able to make it as well.  We sat around and told stories on each other for hours.  We laughed ourselves silly, and ate non-stop.  I’m still bloated from all the yummies and will probably have to walk around for a week with my pants unbuttoned!  Sam and I stayed in a fabulous little hotel – it was an old textile mill that had been converted to a luxury hotel.  Some of the original water wheel was still in place and there were lots of bits of history scattered about the property, not to mention beautiful gardens and waterfalls.  On Sunday night we had front row seats to an awesome fireworks display, and the kids snapped off firecrackers, and colorful fountains, and smoke bombs like crazy.

And the icing on the cake….we came home yesterday afternoon to a happy group of animals and a garden that was still alive!!!  An enormous thank you goes out to our friends and farmsitter’s, Molly and Dan – you guys rock!!!  We wouldn’t have been able to make this trip without all your help.


Maui – its a whole lotta fun!

Monday afternoon Sam and I returned home completely exhausted and jet lagged from our trip to Maui, but with so many special memories.  This trip was an achievement award through Sam’s work, and this is the third year we’ve been invited to attend (first year was Cancun, and last year was the Dominican Republic).  This year was by far our favorite!

Hawaii has always been one of those places we’ve both wanted to go to; however living on the East coast makes it nearly impossible – between the travel time and the airfare expense we just could never quite justify it in our budget.  So when the announcement was made on our last night in Dominican Republic the year before we were more than hopeful that Sam would earn another spot in the exclusive Wolters Klure Achievement Club.  I love my husband – he’s such a hard worker!

The trip over was fairly uneventful – we left ATL around 9:00 a.m. and flew to Dallas.  We only had an hour layover in DFW, so we grabbed a quick sandwich on the way to our next gate and promptly boarded our plane.  It was a biggie!  We pulled out our noise-cancellation headphones (TIP: never travel without them!), our books, the Kindle, and our travel pillows.  We chatted briefly as the remaining passengers boarded the air-bus and then settled in for a butt-numbing eight and a half hour flight.  There were two in-flight movies, which were both surprisingly enjoyable and we only encountered an extra hour’s worth of travel time due to a storm that had settled over Maui airport.  Upon arrival, we laughed ourselves silly as we watched hundreds of folks pry themselves from their seats and proceed to deplane with obviously numb limbs.  There was all sorts of flailing going on (and plenty from us too)!  Gosh I love long flights…….NOT.

Anyway, we arrived to our resort around 5:00 p.m. and were greeted with an authentic lei reception – purple plumeria leis for me and a braided jade lei for Sam.  We were quickly ushered to our registration area where we each received a free pair of Maui Jim sunglasses, our room keys, some spending cash, and complementary (virgin) Mai-Tai’s.  What a great start to a perfect vacation.

Our room was lovely.  Painted in a subtle lime-y yellow-green with crisp white linens, and floral pillows.  The balcony over looked one of the many gardens, and the ocean was visible through the palm canopy.  Our first dinner was planned for 7:00 p.m. so we set to unpacking – only to discover that the bottle of Downy wrinkle release had leaked all over Sam’s luggage.  Ack!  Potential disaster……but fortunately, I’d packed his suitcase in layers so only the top third of his clothes were really wet (mostly his drawers).  Disaster avoided, but ironing was certainly in order.

Dinner our first night was lovely, but freezing.  Because of the earlier rain storm (the one that delayed us by an hour), the night temperature dropped significantly once the sun set, and the wind was just howling.  Our dinner was outside, of course, and most of us hadn’t thought to pack jackets, even though all the literature we received prior to the trip suggested we bring a light jacket or sweater.  My thinking (as was most people’s) was, it’s the middle of April…in Hawaii…how cold can it get?  I was wrong.  Very wrong.  It was cold.  And I was wearing a dress.  A short dress.  Needless to say, I had to shave my legs again before I went to bed.

Day two was just as windy and cold, but fortunately we had the awards meeting in the morning, so we were all hunkered down in the ballroom until lunchtime.  Sam and I spent the remainder of our afternoon snorkeling.  Yep, that’s right people, I voluntarily swam in a gigantic toilet.  And I liked it.  Believe me, this is truly a first.  I hate the ocean.  Correction, I’m afraid of the ocean.  Sharks live in there.  In case you haven’t seen Shark Week on Discovery channel lately, sharks still eat people.  They find us irresistable.  I look like a giant, white, marshmallow floating around in the water – and who doesn’t love marshmallows I ask you.  Anyway, after much reasoning with myself, I decided that if I’m going to die of shark attack, I would rather do it in Maui than anyplace on earth.  So I forced myself to get into the water.  I thought Sam was going to die of excitement.  I was sure I was just going to die.  But in the end, it all worked out fine, and we even saw a few fish – small fish, which were obviously vegetarian, based on the fact that they didn’t immediately attack me and start devouring my flesh.  I felt comforted by that.

Dinner was once again outside, and this time I dressed a bit smarter – long capris.  It wasn’t warm enough though, so we left early and headed for the shops in the resort.  Yes, that’s right, I way overpaid for a hoodie.  But it says Maui on it, so what do I care?!  I think I nearly lived in that sweatshirt the rest of the trip, only taking it off for our hike through the jungle.  It was a god-send really.  But, I wasn’t the only one who was being a baby about the cold weather.  Sam bought himself a jumper as well.  It’s red and looks very snappy on him.

Friday was our excursion day.  When we received notification that we’d been invited back to Club this year, we received a whole list of optional excursions we could do.  There were the typical things like zip-lining, ATVing on the beach, Jeep rides through town, horseback riding, spa packages, snorkeling and catamaran rides, and then there was hiking and waterfalls.  That’s what we choose – we wanted to see some of the island while we were there, and we figured we wouldn’t get a chance to rent a car and go driving around on our own.  I think Sam would agree that this was by far the best excursion we’ve ever taken, and that’s saying something, because we loved the one last year in the Dominican Republic.

Our guide, Tony, was awesome.  If you ever get to Maui, I encourage you to check out Hike Maui Tours.  Tony has been with this company for years, and he knew everything.  He shared with us about the history of the islands, their peoples, their cultures, and some fun facts that none of us would have ever guessed.  He told us about Maui’s unique climates (there are 11 of them on this one tiny island!), its agriculture (or lack of), its indigenous plants and trees, and tons of other stuff that I just can’t remember.  The hike itself wasn’t hard at all, even though we were traveling up the side of the mountain (really, I’m not kidding you – I wouldn’t lie about something like that – I’m not big into sweating), and we made frequent stops along the trail for photo ops and botanical lessons.  Once at the top of the trail we had a quick lunch overlooking a breathtaking waterfall, and then climbed down the side of the mountain on a rope – really, a rope.  I can’t make this stuff up.  I was scared out of my mind – I hate heights.  I made Sam go first, in case I fell – at least I knew I’d have a softer landing that way!  I know, I’m a giver.

At the bottom of the cliff we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the waterfall pool.  It was freezing cold, and completely exhilarating – I’d so do it all over again.  Sam was the first one in the water (after the guide that is) and he goaded the rest of us into following him into insanity!  Boy am I ever glad I listened to him – it was the most amazing experience of my life.  We took a group photo under the waterfall – it was better than any massage, I can assure you of that!  We spent close to an hour playing and swimming around before heading further down the river to the next waterfall.  It was a twin falls, and the current was much stronger.  The guide didn’t think we could get in, but that didn’t stop Sam – he headed straight for the water like a dog to a fresh bone.  The guide shrugged his shoulders, smiled and headed in after Sam.  Again, after a few minutes of photo ops, we all stripped down (to our suits – don’t get excited here – we’re not that kind of crowd) and headed in.  I didn’t think it was possible, but the water was even colder than that last pool.  But we didn’t let that stop us.  We dove off the cliffs into the waterfall, we swam under the falls, we splashed around like a bunch of school kids at summer camp, and one of our group even found himself a coconut!  I felt like a kid again.

Dinner on Friday night was a picnic under the stars on the top of a golf course overlooking the ocean.  This had the potential to be the most romantic night of them all had we not been so exhausted from the activities of the day.  The view was spectacular.  The sunset was magnificent.   But the wind was bone-chilling.  The food was highly disappointing.  The music was jazz (translation: it stank majorly).  And we left early.  We weren’t alone.  People were lining up to catch the fist bus back to the resort, and you could tell how disappointed the organizers were.  But how can you predict the weather?!  It wasn’t their fault, at least the weather part.  Everything else, well, it just wasn’t our tastes.  No biggie – there’s always one major disappointment in every vacation.

Saturday was originally planned as a free day.  On our way down to the garden Sam and I decided we were going to eat, grab our snorkel gear and head back out to the beach before it got too crowded.  Then we were going to move to the pool area, hit the water slides and the water elevator, and spend the remainder of the day lounging by the pool scoping out all the celebrities.  Did I mention the celebrities to you yet?  No?  Okay, I’ll get to that in a minute.

So we have our day all planned out – we’re both happy with the plan, and looking forward to relaxing.  We get to the chapel lawn, and we see hats on the tables.  Color coordinated hats, to be exact.  Ugh-oh.  We quickly feel our daily plan being sucked down the drain.  As we sit down to breakfast we’re informed that these hats indicate our “team” for the morning event.  We had been previously led to understand that this “activity” was completely optional…..oh well, so much for a relaxing day at the water’s edge.  We were team khaki.  We didn’t win.  But we had fun.  Well, at least I did.  Sam’s not much for games of any kind.  He got over it though, and at least pretended to have fun.  Well, fun might be a bit of a stretch – he’s competitive at least.

After lunch we managed to find our way out to the pool and we enjoyed the water slides, water elevator, lazy river, and several mean games of water volleyball.  My team got beat 4 to 1, but I had a blast anyway.  I don’t think I’ve ever been invited to play water volleyball – I’m not the most athletic sort of gal, but I was actually not the worst player on the team.  Kegan was.  He was 7 and could barely touch the bottom of the shallow end.  It made me feel much better about my own ability to have him as a part of our team.  As always, the ‘Big T’ (definition: this is my phrase for too much testosterone) made an appearance, and there were a few people, who shall remain nameless at this time, who got a bit too competitive about it, but overall it was a great afternoon.  And I didn’t even get sunburned too badly.

After we were thoroughly wrinkled up we headed back to our room for a wee rest.  It was about 4:30 p.m. and our final gala dinner was at 7:00 p.m.  Warm showers were the first order of business.  Once my body was thoroughly washed and slathered in the resort’s amazing Honey Mango lotion I found myself propped up on the bed.  My first thought was, “I can’t go to sleep.  I can’t go to sleep.  I need to get dressed………….”  The next thing I knew, someone had stepped out on their balcony and sneezed.  I jumped to attention, only to realize I had in fact fallen asleep.  And not just lightly.  I was dead asleep.  Mouth wide open, drool runnin’ down my cheek, snoring.  The whole shebang.  Crap!  I jumped up and loudly blurted out in sleepy slurs – “Sam, quick, you’ve gotta wake up…we’re gonna be late.”   Then I looked at the clock – certain it was past 7:00.  I’d only been asleep for 20 minutes!  Whew.  That was a close one.

The gala dinner was the typical fare – surf and turf, tatters, salad, rolls, and dessert.  There was live music – thankfully it was much better than the night before.  We stuck around for the toast and then headed out for a quick constitutional around the grounds before slipping off to our room and back to dreamland.  I’m sure there was more snoring and drooling, but I can’t confirm anything at this time.

Sunday arrived too soon, as usual.  We stopped into the chapel on our way to breakfast for a quiet Sunday morning prayer.  The chapel was beautiful and old, and it smelled like every old church I’ve ever been in.  The stained glass windows were colorful depictions of the Polynesian culture.  There were no Bibles on the intricately carved pews.  There where however kneeling benches.  Sam found that useful as a foot rest.  It was somewhat disappointing to us though.  The only Christian symbol in the entire building was a large, golden cross on the communion table, and even that could be put away if the user so desired.  But I’m sure our prayers were just as loud in God’s ears as they would have been if we were standing in the middle of the Crystal Cathedral.

Our flight out was at 5:00 p.m. and our shuttle was set to leave the resort by 2:30 p.m.  We spent the rest of our morning and afternoon wandering the gardens, gazing at the ocean, holding hands and lazily strolling through the lobby, and people watching.  As I mentioned above, our resort was flooded with celebrities.   Reba, Adam Sandler, Jennifer Anniston, Nicole Kidman, Andy Roddick and his supermodel wife, and a bunch of other people I don’t even recognize.  They were getting ready to film a movie at the resort, and there were paparazzi everywhere.  I’ve never seen so many SLRs and telephoto lenses in once place at a time!  I must tell you that in all the excitement, I didn’t see any one of these people; but I also wasn’t looking for them.  Strangely, I’m not one to get star-struck.  I don’t watch many movies, and all the junk I see on the tabloids just turns me off of the celebs.  I appreciate their talents – they truly do have a special kind of craft, but other than that, I think their lifestyles are mostly despicable.  Call me prudish if you must, but I just don’t see the glamor in it all.  Anyway, several people in our group did see them though.  Lot of them had their  photos taken with the stars; shared quick conversations, and were caught in the act of general star-gazing.  It was amusing.

The flight home wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the flight down – the flight was packed, and we were exhausted and just wanted to sleep.  But the plane had other plans for us.  There were some mysterious electrical issues that weren’t discovered until after we’d taken off.  Oh it wasn’t life threatening, just annoying mostly.  The reading lights were completely possessed.    We tried to turn them on and they wouldn’t work.  No biggie, we’ll just sleep.  Wrong!  Just about the time we’d drift off to sleep the lights would pop on.  And not just our lights.  The lights in the seats in front of us and behind us would come on too.  It was intermittent and completely distracting.  It was like trying to sleep in a disco.  It wasn’t happening.  The in-flight movie was a dud too – the Incredible Mr. Fox (or something like that) – I do not recommend this movie unless you’re already catatonic.  Oh, and did I mention that the air wasn’t working either?  Yeah, it was lovely…and aromatic.  By the end of the flight I was certain we’d gone to India, based on the odor in the plane anyway.

All complaining aside, it was an amazing trip – so worth it!  If I had the opportunity to go back, I’d take it in a heartbeat.  Sam and I both agreed that we could easily live in Hawaii.  The landscape is rugged and beautiful.  The people were so friendly.  The pineapple was to die for.  The prices were astronomical though, so I don’t see us moving there anytime soon.  Although we are considering a church plant.  Anyone want to support us?

The Paradisus Palma Real

Our vacation to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic was wonderful. The resort was truly amazing. The people were incredibly friendly and helpful. Our excursion on the Reef Explorer was fabulous (I got a massage!). The beach had the softest sand I’ve ever been on. The Caribbean ocean was picturesque, as always. And the food was abundant (although not amazing). Here are a few photos from the trip.

Here’s a view from the lobby – crystal blue water as far as the eye could see!

A view of the pool – it wrapped all the way around the back of the resort.

Sam snorkeling on our Reef Explorer excursion.

Sam holding a stingray – he swam with both the stingrays and the sharks!

The beautiful and abundant tropical fish on the reef.

The tide-break just beyond the reef.

The night sky over the beach.

On our way to dinner at Passion restaurant – very gourmet – very shee-shee! Possibly the best meal we ate the entire trip.

There was some very interesting pieces of artwork and sculpture around the resort.

This is what vacations were meant for – lounging poolside! Look at those pasty stems…

Enjoying the breeze on the beach.

All good things must come to an end though…here we are waiting for our shuttle to the airport. Sam was less thrilled to be going home than I was.

Vacation has officially begun

And I celebrated by having a bowl of cheese ravioli, a small portion of rice and an Oreo McFlury. My sweet tooth has been satisfied. My tummy is very full. And I feel incredibly guilty. I am so looking forward to our time in the Dominican Republic and I can’t wait to get to the beach. Y’all have a great weekend and I’ll post photos next week. Adios!