Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bahama Mama Magee

A tradition I started when I became a flight attendant was to travel to an international destination for my birthday each year. Usually I don't have the slightest idea where I may be going, I just know that I'm leaving the country for a week. This year however, I knew in advance that we would be traveling to the Bahamas because it just so happened to coordinate with Lyndee and Mark's wedding. Lyndee and Mark have become very close friends of ours and we considered ourselves so fortunate to be invited to such a small intimate wedding on the beach that they were having. Plans were made a year ago to attend their wedding and so come May 18th we hopped on a plane and headed down south.

I had never been to the Bahamas before and neither had Chad so we went into it with no expectations. All I had to go by was the beautiful pictures from the Atlantis resort website where we were staying. Lyndee had arranged a block of rooms at the Coral Towers so we booked our stay around March. We only had to put down half the cost of the room and the rest we would pay after we left. This gave us some piece of mind knowing that if, for whatever reason, we weren't able to make it, we would only loose a couple hundred dollars.

Seeing as this is a travel blog I'd like to give you, the reader, a sense of what to expect should you ever find yourself heading to the Bahamas for vacation or wedding. I can only comment on the Atlantis because we didn't venture outside of the resort except for one night. Here is a list of things you should know before you go:

1. Everything is Expensive! - Ok so this is what we were told by dozens of people before we went. So much so that my husband and I started to panic before we left. We hadn't budgeted THAT much money for the trip (considering our usual destinations are in central america we don't think about cost being an issue so much). Here is what you will spend your money on: alcohol, the casino and food...probably in that order. After a day or two the sticker shock wears off and you grow accustomed to the $10 big bottles of water and $34 room service pizza.

Go ahead, enjoy the $10 drinks

2. When you do spend your money - As far as alcohol goes I recommend going into town when you arrive and buying a bottle of absolute vodka and the local beer kalik or sands (import beer such as coors is extremely pricey). Keep this on hand to pre-game before you go out at night. You can take alcohol anywhere on the property except into the clubs and no one blinks an eye. However, know during the day you will see everyone drinking $10 pina coladas and you WILL want one. So just give in. The best deal I found was bartering with the guys on the beach who will make you a drink in a coconut (ask for coconut joe). We were able to get 4 drinks for $20 plus I tipped him. They will come to your chair and offer one as you relax by the beach so give in.

When it comes to the casino you'll need cash so bring some with you, set it aside for gambling and resist the urge to hit the ATM when you lose most all of it.
Your best bet for eating at the resort are the restaurants around the pool area where you can get a hot dog, chips and a coke for $7. There is a starbuck's and jamba juice at the Marina village where breakfast will run about $10 depending on the sandwiches and drinks you get. As far as dinner goes just know that most everything closes early so a late night snack is going to cost you upwards of $35 from room service. The buffet is ok but it will run you $100 for two people and, in my opinion, was not worth the money unless you can eat $50 worth of food.
The first night we went to Senior Frog's for my birthday and Chad and I split a meal that cost about $15. I highly recommend Senior Frog's as it has excellent food and drinks and a fun atmosphere. You'll just have to pay a cab to get there. Also a cab to and from the airport will run about $40 so make sure you have cash for that as well.

Senior frogs - home of the yard drink


and dancing on the bar

3. Your room card is your life line - The Atlantis operates like a cruise ship so you use your room card for everything. I recommend putting your room on the credit card you plan to use when you get there that way, at the end of your stay, you can "check-out" via the room tv. You can also keep tabs on how much you are spending on the room tv. There are only a few places at the Atlantis that take cash and every place else will have a sign up that says, "room cards or credit cards only." Usually when Chad and I travel to another country we take out all the cash we plan to use and spend it as we go so we can monitor what we are spending. This also helps cut down on service fees and in smaller parts of the countries we visit they don't even have card machines. Whatever you do, don't lose your room card!

4. Watch the time - I could not find one single clock on the property except for in our room. Since neither Chad nor I, wear a watch, this made things a little hectic. After all, when you have a wedding to attend you don't want to be late....but time sneaks away when you are out at the pool! So bring a watch with you. Also note that nothing is open from 4am until 11pm with the exception of room service at night and Starbuck's, Jamba Juice and the very expensive breakfast buffet in the morning. You won't even be allowed to buy alcohol until 11 because none of the poolside bars open until then. On a positive note this is how I learned what time it was in the mornings - once I saw the food and beverage stands open I knew it must be 11am.

5. The early bird gets the best chair- If you want a good seat at the pool or beach you must get up and out of your room by 9am. Simply put, once the cruise ships dock and those people come to the resort you will be hard pressed to find a chair that has a shade cover on it. And yes you will see lots of people from the cruise ships at the Atlantis (look for their Carnival logo towels). When you first wake up and head to the pool you must obtain a wristband by showing your room key at the towel stations. You will need your wrist band to get around at the water park and through the hotel. If you don't have a wrist band you can show your room key until you can obtain one. We tended to move around a lot from pool to pool and from beach to waterpark so we were never too concerned about finding chairs. However, it will infuriate you that most people throw a towel on a good chair, then leave it there the rest of the day never to even enjoy their primo spot.

I snagged a prime beach chair

6. You won't want to leave - Of course you won't want to go home at the end of your trip but what I mean is, you won't want to leave the property once you arrive. I was told there were several souvenir shops and fast food restaurants outside of the Atlantis that provided cheaper options than what was offered on site. What no one tells you is, the property is huge. I mean ridiculously huge and it takes awhile to walk from one end to the other. So once you are settled on the beach in your prime spot chair, you won't want to leave and go outside the resort for lunch or shopping. Which is exactly how those who designed the Atlantis intended it to be. I actually found some of the best items to purchase for souvenir's at the airport and Marina Village.

the Atlantis is seemingly endless

7. Dress Down during the day, up at night - As always I packed too many clothes to bring on this trip. What I didn't take into account was that I would spend pretty much 9am to 7pm in a bathing suit (the pools close at 7pm as does the beach FYI). After that the Atlantis turns into a Vegas-esque atmosphere with women and men dressing to the 9s. This means almost obscenely short dresses for the women and high heels, neither of which I packed. Men will not be let into the Aura club if wearing shorts (the Dragon club doesn't care but closes earlier). So bring a bathing suit for the day (you have to cover up in the lobbies so carry something with you) and your party clothing for night. If you go in town however, the atmosphere is pretty casual.

look your best at night

8. Prepare to be harassed- There are several beaches surrounding the Atlantis but only one of them isn't private and you'll know it when you are on it. This beach is where you will find jet skis, para sailing, hair braiding, sarong's, shells, coconut drinks, drugs, banana boat rides, booze cruises, snorkeling, bracelets, necklaces and earrings all for sale. You will be constantly approached to buy any one of these things with jet skiing being the one most often offered. These people are not a part of the Atlantis and the Atlantis does not recommend you use their services. However, I found these guys to be polite and usually walked away after you told them "No thank you." If you want quiet, head towards the Cove where you won't be interrupted.

find the beach that looks like this

not this:

9. Act a fool -
Tourism is the number one reason the Atlantis exists and pretty much the heart of the Bahamas. Without tourists, the island wouldn't be able to sustain themselves. As such, you can pretty much get away with whatever you want and no one bats an eye (with the exception of taking pictures in the casino...they do NOT like that!). I thought the staff was extremely friendly and accommodating and for as loud as our group was we were never treated poorly. I can't reveal exact details but let me just say, we tested the limits of security and they put up with us with extremely good humor!

you can make a human pyramid

have a crazy room party

10. Expect hidden fees-
You know how I said that we were warned the Bahama's is expensive? Well it should be clarified it's not the food and drinks you have to worry about it's all the service fees. Fortunately for us, we had stayed out until 4am partying the night before we left so, when we checked out via the room tv, the sticker shock wasn't so painful. Here's a list of things besides food and alcohol we were charged for:

*utility fee $14 a day
*pool fee $3.50 a day
* housekeeping $10 a day
*bell hop $12 (we never even had them bring our bags to our room but they charge whether you use the service or not so USE IT)
*international taxes and fees per day (on top of what the credit card company would charge us)
*internet $14 per day (if you use it. The internet cafe is $4 an hour)
*mini bar $2.50 for a bag of cookies which chad didn't even initially take but the mini bar measures in weight so once you pick something up you've bought it
*$10 bottled water from the room

And that's just what I can remember. We stayed 4 night so our grand total was about $1300

For what you get at the Atlantis I really cannot complain about the cost. I found it a cross between being on a cruise ship and being in Vegas. The weather was perfect the whole time and the rooms were spacious with comfortable beds and we had a pool and beach balcony view. I never felt threatened the whole time we were there and it is overall a perfect vacation destination for couples, college kids or families.

Lyndee and Mark could not have chosen a better spot to be married. They raved about the treatment they received and were upgraded to an amazing penthouse suite for staying there. The food they had for their wedding was excellent and the bartender at their open bar could make the best goombay smashes or bahama mama. Chad and I didn't even get to do half the things we wanted like swim with the dolphins or visit the straw market, but rest assured we will be back.

Congratulations again to two of my very best friends!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The SEVA Project comes to a close

Yesterday I taught my final Seva yoga class. As some of you may know, as a part of earning my yoga teacher training certification I had to complete a community service project. The project involved four hours of planning and then 6 hours of teaching friends and family yoga classes in exchange for donations. The suggested charity (for people like me with no idea who to give back too) was The Gathering Place which is a drop in shelter for women and children. This shelter is 95% privately funded and so it obviously relies heavily on the general public to make donations to keep it going. I had decided after looking at their urgent needs list, that every week I would pick a different item off this list to have my friends donate. This was their "payment" for the class and an easy way for me to center class themes around the donations to let them know how much their participation meant.

Since April 17th I have been collecting donations from each class, soliciting everything from peanut butter to baby wipes. Obviously the bigger the class the bigger the donations and so week two won out with 13 people and a huge pile of toothbrushes and toothpaste. I feel very fortunate to have had such a great group of people attend all of my classes and every week it was a surprise as to who might walk through the door. I was able to see old friends I hadn't seen in ages as well as having friends come who had never taken a yoga class in their lives. Some people came every week which inspired me to have the courage to change up my flow and try something new.

Because I taught Saturday and Sunday of this past weekend I knew I probably wouldn't have a huge attendance in either class. It's just hard for people to attend two days out of the weekend, (nor did I expect them too) but I still had a great turn-out nonetheless. Saturday's donation was canned food:

and Sunday's was shampoo and conditioner:

While I was happy to have completed the hours of a project that ended up meaning so much to me, it was a bittersweet moment to know it was over. I hope I planted a seed or created a spark in many of my friend's lives so that they will continue to return to my classes. More than that, I hope I inspired them to think about others and what it means to give back. Each person may have only contributed a small item, but to the person on the receiving end these items mean the world.

And so today my husband and I loaded my car up and took the donations to The Gathering Place:

I still could not believe how many donations I received from all my generous friends. Walking into the shelter was a happy moment for me. Seeing the women's faces at the front desk light up as we brought in all these bags. They asked me if I needed a receipt, you know to write all this off on my taxes, and I said no. I don't think they believed me so they asked me again if I wasn't sure I needed one. I told them that these items came from so many people...I couldn't take all the credit for them.

On the way out I passed the women in the lobby who were receiving the benefits of the Gathering Place. I saw other women walking out with food and clothing. And I got that feeling inside, the feeling that only comes from giving to others without expecting anything in return. It was a powerful emotion.

This is only the beginning of my yoga journey. I still have to complete 9 more internship classes and then who knows what is in store. But I will always remember my first class I ever taught...how nervous I was. I will remember my second class and how many people came that I never thought would. I take with me, from this experience, the lesson that in life people will surprise you. They will amaze you with their kindness and capacity to be unselfish.

I could not have reached my goals if it wasn't for all of those who attended my classes. While I wanted to practice yoga and to teach others what I had learned....my main objective was to raise donations for the shelter. I measured my personal success in how many people I could get to care. And I believe with my whole heart I achieved this goal.

So thank you to my final Seva class. I wish I had taken a picture of every class but that just didn't happen. I'm sure there will be plenty more opportunities in the future...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

30 Before 30

In a few days I will turn 30, yes 30...an age I once thought of as old but also a milestone. There were certain goals I wanted to accomplish in my life before 30, mainly goals I set in my 20s. While I never had a bucket list of things to cross off per say before I reached this birthday, I knew there were choices in my life I needed made to get me to where I wanted to be when I reached this age. But as they say, life is what happens while you are busy making plans. So, of course, not everything happened in the way I wanted it too but it happened exactly how it was supposed too. And so looking back on these years I decided to make a list of everything I considered an accomplishment that I achieved in these past 10 years. I chose to focus on the happenings of my 20s because I think this is where I first realized I had control over my future. As opposed to life before my college years when I was living under my parents roof without an income. So here's my list in no particular order other than how I remember these things:

1. Graduated college - in 4 years with a degree in Journalism: although I only used my degree briefly writing has always been my passion and I have a piece of paper to prove it

2. Moved out of Alabama: don't get me wrong I love my home state but I always felt like a little bit of an outcast. I wanted to move away to a place where I could carve a life out for myself and be my true self

(one of my first weekends in colorado)

3. Found a job and stuck with it: Becoming a flight attendant might be a dream for some but it was just a paycheck for me and a way out of the south. I promised myself I'd stay at least five years and here it's been six. While it's not something I want to do forever it's afforded me amazing opportunities and I found and secured this job all on my own.

(I've met some cool people along the way)

4. Bought my first car: without the help of parents. My loan and my title in my name

5. Got a passport and filled it with stamps

(costa rica May 2006)

6. Visited my dream cities of Paris and New York

7. Flew first class international and experienced sleeper beds, champagne and filet mignon at 38,000

8. Rode an elephant in Thailand through the jungle

9. Met Chad: lived with my first boy, became engaged and got married and it's been an amazing adventure with my best friend ever since

(from the first night we ever met)

(to our wedding day in July of last year)

10. learned how to slalom water ski

11. Learned how to alpine ski and the meaning of "fresh pow pow"

(first day skiing ever at winter park)

12. Became a model: well a promo girl for Miller Lite anyways but I got paid to walk around bars and hand out beer, make public appearances, sign autographs, take pictures, and met some of my very best friends to this day

13. Became a centerfold: appeared in the Mile High Sports magazine as a part of my miller lite gig for their snow angels issue two years in a row and the second year I got the two page spread...a dream come true for me.

(year one Snow Angels)

(second year in a row with a blown up pic from the magazine at the launch party)

14. Bought a house

15. Made a completely new group of friends from anyone I knew in high school or college

16. Went through yoga teacher training, completed the 200 hours and taught my first yoga class: after taking 2 years of yoga I wanted to give back to the community what the practice had brought to me and I've never been happier since

17. Bought a dog: I've had several dogs throughout the years but my parents never let me have one when I lived at home so my first dog, a border collie named chance that I had in college was a dream come true. Of course my current dog is the one my husband bought me, but I'd like to think those dogs I had before were preparation for my sweet vizsla

(the latest love of my life- Bebe)

18. Became a blonde - a true blonde not just the dirty, mousey blonde hair color I had all my life until I discovered the power of bleach

19. Started and kept up with this blog and hopeful to turn it into a book of memoirs someday

20. Gone to my first professional football, hockey, baseball and basketball games: all in Colorado and all surprised me how much I enjoyed them

21. Played hippie for a weekend: from Bonnaroo to Phish in the Everglades for the Y2K New Year, I have camped out and experienced the magic of a weekend music festival

22. Hiked and fell in love with Colorado's 14ers: there are 54 peaks over 14,000 feet in Colorado and last year I climbed my first 14 (my goal was 8). I plan to hike 20 this year and my last 20 next summer to complete them all. I've also set my sights on hiking to Everest Base Camp next year and to the top of Everest in this lifetime.

(on the way up my first 14er Gray's peak)

23. Taken a solo road trip through Colorado

24. Changed my body into a workout machine and gained muscles I never knew I had

25. Learned how to do crow pose in yoga

26. Taken a vacation to a destination that I picked that day with no plans in mind of where to stay or what I would do when I got there and it was one of the best vacations of my life (Belize last year)

27. Ran a 5K: on Thanksgiving day none-the-less

28. Rock climbed and made it *almost to the top

29. Watched the X-games in Aspen

30. Traveled to a new country every year for my birthday since I was 26th - This year's is the Bahamas

Every year up until this point of my life has been an adventure. While my 20s were amazing and I discovered a lot about myself, I'm excited to carry what I learned these past years into the next chapter of my life. I am so much stronger now mentally and physically and I have come to realize that it's only myself who stands in the way of what I want to happen and what actually does. Anything I put my mind to I can do. Which is why I'm not sad to leave my 20s behind because I know this only means I have new dreams to discover and to accomplish. I never thought I'd have ever become a yoga teacher or gotten married, moved to Colorado or bought a house, become a flight attendant and traveled the world and made the friends I have. So I can only be excited about the years ahead of me. I don't look at it as getting older, it's just realizing how much life ahead of me I still have left to live.

A happy Birthday to me this year indeed...

Monday, May 2, 2011

SEVA Yoga Project

(picture: The eleven attendee's of my very first yoga class!)

As part of my graduation requirements to receive my yoga teaching certificate I have to put in ten hours towards a community service project. Four of those hours would be actual preparation and the other six would be teaching a one hour class. These yoga classes were to be geared towards friends and family with me donating my time and my students donating items that would go to The Gathering Place.

I decided to start my six classes on the 17th of April mostly because I wanted time to prepare my project after finishing the intensive workshops. I initially sent out an inquiry to my friends on Facebook asking who would be interested in attending my classes and gathering email addresses. Once I had all of those (and a huge response I might add) I contacted my friend Lisa who is a graphic designer to help me design a flier to send out. It was a little intimidating and daunting to actually add my classes to the google shared calendar letting the other yogi's in teacher training know the time slot I would fill and then sending out the email...but once I hit send there was no going back.

My first yoga class happened to coincide with my in-laws being in town (for which I will save for another post) and it couldn't have worked out better as then I was guaranteed to have at least three people in my class including my husband! Their friend Randy who was in town ended up joining as well along with my friends Sarah, Lyndee, Mark, Leanne, Kim, Bryan and one of my fellow teacher trainee's Reagan. I must admit I thought it would be easy to speak in front of my friends but seeing them there, all eyes on me waiting for me to guide them through a class was scary. I felt the butterflies in my stomach and my throat close up as I talked about my theme at the beginning of class. Once I put the music on and began teaching though I began to relax...and before I knew it the hour was up!

Since then I have taught 3 more classes with a generous outpouring of support at each. For my second class I had 13 people and the donation item suggested was toothbrush and toothpaste. Look at how much I collected:

As you can see people were more than kind in their donations. My idea for my service project was to select an item from The Gathering Place's needs list for people to bring every week. I felt that way people would know exactly what to bring and the shelter would get exactly what they wanted. While I know this isn't the route my fellow teacher's took I feel this has worked very well for me and made it easier on my friends and family to know what part these items play in the giving process.
This past week was Gatorade for Saturday:

And baby wipes for Sunday.

It's incredible because every week as I drive to the studio there has been a moment of doubt. Who will show up? Will anybody come? What if I can't do this? When I had 13 people in my second class I was blown away. This Saturday I had 9 and Sunday I had 8. Many have come to every single class and several have taken their first class ever with me. Friends that I would have bet good money on that would never attend a yoga class in their lives have shown up donation in hand, mats under their arm, eager to learn something new. Everyone has told me how fun it's been for them or how much they sweated or how hard the class was.

There's been highs and lows. My voice has been shaky. I've forgotten the right and left side. I'm struggling to find my true yoga voice and sometimes I find myself confused on how to turn my thoughts into words which lead to my students actions. I've changed up the flow and tried new poses. I've laughed with them, I've blanked out, I've come up with playlists I love. Every week, every class has been a learning experience for me. Some days, like Saturday I feel the doubt and I lock the door to the studio behind me wanting to bang my head on it and rip myself apart for how horrible I felt I taught. Then there are days like Sunday where I walk out of the studio feeling so happy and excited for the next class I can't wait to go home and jot down new ideas for next time.

I decided to teach yoga because one day I felt like it just wasn't enough anymore to be telling my friends about the benefits of yoga and how much I loved it....I just wanted to teach them but I didn't know how. I feel like this practice has given so much to me and all I wanted to do was share it with everyone around me. And as my service project comes to an end I realized I still want to share yoga with my friends. That I want to continue to offer a free class to them by donating my time if they'll donate theirs and we can practice together. Who knows maybe they will end up buying a membership where they can take yoga from teachers who are farther along in their yoga journeys and have more to offer. Or maybe they'll want to follow me wherever I go. I don't care if I get paid or not I just want people to take a yoga class and if the only way they will do it is if they can get it for free, well I'll be that person to offer it to them if they want. It just means that much to me to spread this around.

I will say I am prepared for disappointment in a lot of areas along the way. While my SEVA project has taught me I have some really amazing friends and family, it's also made me realize there are many other people who don't come through like they say they will. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that not everyone wants to do yoga or workout or take an hour to do something for themselves while helping give back to the community. Some people won't try new things or step out of their comfort zone and I have to learn, as I am, not to take it personally. It's not about me and all I can do is try. If I inspire one person out there to try yoga...if I can just plant the seed that gets them interested in their health and taking charge of their life, well then I have done my job. And I will continue to try and inspire others along the way. Because I know I have to be reaching someone out there...or else I wouldn't have this urge to keep going.

And there's a long road ahead