All the Places a Plane Goes

Last year, I crisscrossed the United States more than a few times and traveled overseas.  As my Nana would affectionately say, “Girl, you have a lot of miles on your butt!”  Much of my travel is attributed to my professional life, but whether I’m learning about new innovations at medical schools or enjoying time off, I look for the small beauties in new places and things.  That can be anything from –

  • Exotic tree branches or flowers that collectively produce fragrant winds or shade under the California sun;
  • The fullness of the trees along the perimeter of Olympic Park in Georgia;
  • The perfectly aligned bales of hay along the South Dakotan flatlands;
  • The trio of sail boats slowly cruising along the river in Wisconsin;
  • The presence of the sun’s shadow as it radiates among Nevada’s popular skyscraper hotels;
  • The sensory jolt from the Cajun spice, vibrant jazz tunes, and boisterous locals in Louisiana; or
  • The smell of bread and pastry dough from Parisian or Italian cafes along narrow cobblestone streets.

I have definitely been fortunate in my ability to move about the world and explore the definition of life through someone else’s eyes.  In each of these places, I’ve met enthused, indifferent, lively, subdued, and impolite people.  All with a story (perhaps some far too long for my typical abbreviated Uber rides).  All with a perspective.  And all with a personal connection to the geographic location in which I managed to temporarily house my suitcase and carefully organized work binder and fact books.  But, what I take away from all of my recent travels is the greatness of creation – of things to look at, paths to trek, and conversations with other beings.  Because life is not about the number of places you can say that you’ve been but the quality of the connections you make to your surroundings.  Hats off to a great year of discovery…and food!  Phenomenal food!

Holiday Honor

Community – a vivacious movement of influence that makes us aware and moves us forward

Over the course of my life, I’ve volunteered for many organizations and service projects and enjoyed those opportunities to bring goodness to others.  But, my recent participation in National Wreaths Across America Day was an experience that I’ll never forget.  I’ve heard about it in the news and in conversation in the work social hub (that’s now the millennial version of the water cooler) these last few years, but I don’t think I truly understood the magnitude of preparation and labor involved.  To be honest, I had never even been to Arlington National Cemetery despite my familial roots in the D.C. metropolitan area until a few weeks ago.  In my quest to do more of what I’ve never done, give back, and explore what’s right in my backyard, I decided to donate and volunteer for National Wreaths Across America Day.

On a designated day in December, fresh wreaths are placed on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery and other veterans cemeteries across the U.S. to honor those men and women who sacrificed for our freedom.  This effort is organized by Wreaths Across America and completely funded by individual wreath sponsors, corporate donors, and volunteer truckers who desire to pay tribute to soldiers and their families.  The 2015 event was held on December 12th, and there were literally thousands of volunteers lined up to receive the wreaths driven all the way from Maine by a convoy of trucks that would be placed on the headstones.  Enough funds were raised for a wreath to be laid at every headstone in Arlington National Cemetery.  That’s about 400,000 individual headstones!  The cemetery is massive, which I soon discovered after walking about 10 minutes and still finding myself a long way off from the middle point (oh man, my feet!).  It’s huge!  The even bigger moment for me was seeing all of the volunteers from places near and far gathered to share in this orderly act to simply say thank you.  Everything from the smell of the evergreen to the kids innocently playing in the grass while gripping small American flags in their hands was so moving.  And then when you see the wreaths with the prominent red holiday bow lined up on every row, it’s an image that just stays with you.  Participating in this event reminded me of the vigor and grace of a united community.  It made me even more proud to be an American and further appreciate the gentleness of life and this memorial that I drive by every day on my commute to the city.  It was also a delight and privilege to witness the regality of all the different branches of the U.S. military honoring their own.

Most days we probably don’t think about the cost of freedom unless it’s something that directly impacts our family or lives.  But, this event made it very real for me and further demonstrated the priceless value of what we can do when we exercise the power of community.  I extend my sincerest gratitude to our fallen heroes, known and unknown, to their families and friends, to my grandpa and other relatives who have served, and to all those who serve in the armed forces today.

Desert Dreams

Have you ever dreamed you would ride a camel?  I didn’t either.  In fact, that thought had never crossed my mind until I found myself sinking in the sand of the Dubai desert!  I ventured to the United Arab Emirates in 2012 to visit my mom who spent a year overseas for work.  Of course when she first proposed the idea of coming to Dubai I was elated!  Then, after the plane ticket was purchased and I realized how many hours I’d be in flight, I was slightly anxious about how I would entertain myself for that long 30,000+ feet in the air.  But, somehow you have a way of figuring things out when an opportunity arises that you just can’t let pass you by.

I still rave about my trip to Dubai.  It was one of the most best experiences of my life!  My mom did everything she could to ensure that trip was amazing.  You remember in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York when Kevin first walks into the Plaza Hotel and stands there in awe.  That was me at the front door of the hotel we were staying at for the week.  I honestly had never encountered splendor of that magnitude.  Meanwhile it was almost midnight, and I’m wide awake and jet lagged trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I’m actually in the Middle East.  The next week I found myself cruising the Dubai river, perusing gold souks, admiring the beauty of mosques, dune bashing, shopping, and even meeting a few new friends.  That was also my first exposure to desert temperatures, so I learned a new meaning of hot!  The funny thing about life is that sometimes you get opportunities you don’t even dream of.  God is just that good.  I’m a small town girl from a single-parent home.  While I had my share of field trips to museums and local beaches, traveling internationally was not always in the family budget.  So, I’m grateful to my mom for all the sacrifices that would ultimately place us across the world for this journey.  The best part about this trip was not all the glamor and opulence, because just like any other city, there is a certain level of disenfranchisement.  Traveling to Dubai helped me learn how to dream bigger and expect greatness in all things, because no matter where I’ve been, there’s always something more to blow my mind.

Cousins in Catalonia

When I was in grade school, I fell in love with the Spanish language.  I’m still trying to determine if my admiration was a result of my ability to conjugate verbs quickly or if my teachers just brought in way too many Spanish dishes for the class to try.  By the time I graduated, I had spent five years learning a foreign language and made it my goal to one day travel to Spain to see one of the cathedrals from the books and indulge myself with authentic paella.  Well, in 2012, I finally made it!  By then, my Spanish skills were quite rusty, but I remembered enough to read signs, order food, and get directions.  When I look back on that trip, I still can’t believe how much we were able to see and experience in such a short period of time.  In fact, I was just laughing with my cousin the other day about how she had to buy another pair of shoes to save her feet from misery, lol.  We stayed in Barcelona, but also took a day trip to two surrounding cities, including the birthplace of Salvador Dalí.  As a lover of architectural design and eclectic style, I was truly amazed by the depth and detail of so many of the sites in these cities, particularly La Sagrada Familia (Just beautiful, and to this day, not finished!).  And at some point, I lost count of the cups of gelato and café sandwiches I consumed.  This was my first trip to Europe, and I’m grateful for all the fun and crazy memories with my cousin.  We make good travel partners!

 

Tropical Diversion

This year I celebrated a milestone birthday! I think it’s still sinking in!  God is good!  I vowed to myself that I would spend some time commemorating the occasion somewhere I’ve never been before with people who I can’t imagine my life without. Since I knew it needed to be a short vacation, I hopped on a plane and eventually set foot on the sandy shores of the Dominican Republic!  Everyone we met at our resort was kind and personable. I think our resort agent (pictured below) was secretly hoping that Niecy would make the D.R. her new home, lol.  We sunbathed (with sunblock of course…this post just reminded me to replenish the SPF 100), went horseback riding through slightly rugged terrain, and went swimming in the ‘Hoyo Azul’ at Scape Park at Cap Cana (gorgeous, but freezing!).  While I must admit that I wasn’t particularly impressed with the food after several days, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to venture into a land full of unknowns for me and spend countless moments reflecting on the ups and downs of the last three decades with two of my favorite people.  Each time I travel internationally, I fall more in love with the vastness of the world and the myriad of cultures that constitute humanity.  Thankfully, as winter draws near, I’ll have plenty of beach photos with my girls to laugh and reminisce about.  I think we even managed to perfect a few must do beach poses!

A Local Luxury

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to spend some of my weekends scouting venues and attractions in my local area. Over the summer, I had a chance to tour Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna, VA. This site has always been on my list of places to visit simply due to my affinity for flowers and landscapes, but my interest was further heightened after receiving my first DSLR camera a while back.  And due to my work in event planning, I also know that it’s a popular venue for weddings and other events, so I basically needed to get there!  I can confidently say this was a well spent afternoon marveling at nature, learning about the architecture for some of the exhibits, sharpening my photography skills, and simply taking some time to slow down and reflect. I even caught a glimpse of a photography session with an Indian couple that must have been for their engagement or wedding.  They looked amazing!  Don’t ever think you have to go far to find beauty.  It’s literally all around you!  Here are some of the photos I snapped.