When life gives you lemons, make teddy bears!

Janie Kathryn begged and begged to build a lemonade stand this past spring and Easter weekend we honored her request. It was a fun family project. After a successful first sale that benefited the Mid-South Food Bank, we decided to give it another whirl.

Once again we spread the word on facebook and started baking muffins, a fitting snack for a morning cup of lemonade. So many of our friends and family went out of their way to pass by and make a purchase. Many even made donations to Janie Kathryn's worthy cause. She specifically requested to spend her money on "toys for children." So, I guided her good intentions toward the teddy bear wall at The Memphis Child Advocacy Center.

After a quick three and a half hours, we sold out of lemonade and called it a day, with $134.50 in revenue. We packed up our leftover muffins and delivered them to Fire Station #21 and headed over to Build-A-Bear Workshop.

We arrived at Build-A-Bear and carefully selected eight bears  for Janie Kathryn to "build". Each bear was stuffed with a red satin heart before Janie Kathryn filled it with stuffing. Of course, we had to hug each one of them to make sure they were just snuggly enough. Once she gave all eight bears an air bath (to remove lint and loose fur) we headed to the cash wrap, where she paid all by herself.

We left Build-A-Bear with two huge, bear-filled bags and headed straight to The Child Advocacy Center (CAC). The mission of the CAC is to serve children who are victims of sexual and severe physical abuse through prevention, education and intervention. Simply put and in six year old terms, the CAC is a safe place for kids who might be hurt or scared and in need of an adult that will help them feel safe. The teddy bear wall is stuffed with lots of cuddly bears that offer young visitors a little comfort and security.

"Sexual abuse of children occurs in every class, race, religion, neighborhood, cultural and ethnic group." The CAC believes that child abuse is a community problem and no single agency has what it takes to provide assistance to abused children and their families.The organization was one of the first child advocacy centers to house child protection and investigative agencies under one roof. And under that roof employees and volunteers are hard at work promoting the vision of a community where children are safe and families are strong.
The Memphis Child Advocacy Center is such a worthy cause. It was such a pleasure to meet Executive Director, Nancy Williams and Donor Relations Specialist, Deirdre Oglesby. These ladies were kind enough to tell us about how volunteers make an impact in the lives of Memphis children. It turns out it's not just Teddy Bears you can donate. Check out these other ways to donate or volunteer for the CAC!


Pack for a Purpose

When my family was preparing for our Caribbean vacation I found out that our Beaches resort offered several "extras" for which we could sign up. Scuba diving and snorkeling were not top on my list, but the Sandals Foundation Reading Road Trip really peaked my interest. I signed up to take this trip to a local school on the island and read to students, fostering reading comprehension skills. What more could an aspiring teacher ask for in a vacation!?

I immediately began researching schools on the islands. I looked for photos and reviews from people who had participated in past excursions. Somewhere in all my googling I came across an amazing organization called Pack for a Purpose. This non-profit helps vacationers help people in the communities where they are visiting.

Before departing for a trip, you can go to the Pack for a Purpose website, enter your destination, and search for opportunities to donate much needed medical, school, and craft supplies, clothes or even sporting goods. The website even offers tips on how to best pack your goods to make the most of your space. How cool is that?

Since we were able to check three pieces of luggage, I decided to dedicate an entire bag to our purpose-- bringing books to the school that I would be visiting in Turks and Caicos. I was a little late in my discovery of this mission, so I wasted no time finding books to fill that suitcase. We scoured the shelves of the Goodwill Bookstore to find "like new" books. We emptied the gift closet of my stockpile of re-gift books and going-out-of-business finds. I ordered several classroom library sets from Scholastic Book Clubs. When we ended up with 93 books, Janie Kathryn rounded it up to an even 100 by donating a few of her own books. The bag was heavy!

Much to my disappointment, my Reading Road Trip ended up getting canceled. Apparently,when were on vacation the students were in the middle of achievement testing.
I get that. I still feel good about our donation and my discovery of this great organization. I can't wait to pack for a purpose again. And friends, please explore their website and consider packing for a purpose the next time you travel.

Turks & Caicos

Oh, vacation...the good, the bad, the beautiful. Perhaps this recap and review will help future Caribbean travelers.

Let's start with the bad...er BAD. I'm not sure which was worse, the airport accommodations on the island or the mysterious virus that plagued the resort and my 6 year old daughter. Well, it happens that the mysterious virus was Norovirus and the Health Department ordered the immediate closure of our resort on the day of our departure from the island.

One might say that, "Other than 1 of 8 travelers getting sick, we really dodged a bullet. After all, the resort closed as we were leaving." No biggie, right? WRONG! Apparently, as we were waiting on ground transportation to the airport, 180 travelers were being informed that their Beaches reservations were being transferred to other resorts. Those 180 travelers were about to board a plane in Charlotte, a plane that was bound for Turks and Caicos (TCI) to pick us up and take us back to the U.S. Well, guess what! Approximately 90 of those passengers decided not to board the plane. Unfortunately, their bags were already aboard and for the purpose of security had to be removed before the plane could depart.

So, after waiting in the ridiculously long security line (it extended outside and doubled around), we moved into the overcrowded waiting area where we waited for our plane for 4 hours. In case I didn't paint this picture clearly enough...  The waiting area was open-air, 90ish degrees, and large enough to comfortably hold about a quarter of the people who were sweating it out.

TRAVEL ADVICE: Never travel to or depart from TCI on a Saturday. Traveling on any other day of the week will enhance your vacation experience. Ask anyone who has ever made the ill-informed decision to book a TCI vacation from Saturday to Saturday. This one little bit of advice would have prevented 50% of the BAD parts of the vacation. The other 50%, the Norovirus, is a risk you take when you gamble with buffet food at an all inclusive resort.

Okay. Now that's out of the way. Let's move on to the good and the beautiful...

I'm going to jump right in with my favorite part of the vacation... the gorgeous crystal clear water and the our location in the Italian Village of the Beaches Resort. Seriously, Italian Village is the best. It seems to be the newest. It has the best pool and the best access to the powdery sands of the waterfront. I didn't take any obnoxious photos of food. We mostly enjoyed the various buffet-style restaurants. The one reservation about which we were excited turned out to be a let down- Kimonos. The high-energy hibachi concept is great in theory, but mediocre (at best) in execution. Beaches is expanding this restaurant. So, with any luck it will live up to its potential in the future.

Before I continue, I should also mention that this photo of my daughter frolicking in the water was taken by a Beaches photographer. Booking your free 30 minute photo session is a MUST, but be prepared to pay for those beautiful photos!

We signed up for several of Beaches' extras. The Island Vibes Kitty Katt Cruise, shown in the background of the above photo, was a much anticipated experience for the whole family. Unfortunately, the Norovirus caused my daughter to miss the boat, along with her grandparents who stayed behind to tend to her poor little tummy.

It turned out to be for the best that she was not able to make this trip. Though children are welcome, it definitely appeals more to adults. The snorkeling part of the adventure seemed a bit much for younger kids. The crew limits snorkeling to 20 minutes, which is perfect for newbies like myself, and drinking is prohibited until snorkeling is completed. During this excursion, our catamaran made a stop on Iguana Island, where guests were escorted around the island in search of conchs and iguanas. We decided to skip the reptile-hunting and take pictures instead. The view was amazing!

Another extra that Beaches offers is a visit to the world's only conch farm. This trip was a great way to integrate some education into our vacation. I will warn you though, before you get to the conchs, you take a historical detour through the island. And if you have the same guide that we did... he knows nothing about the pre-colonial history of the island. You're better off reading a book.

Misguided historical references aside, meeting the locals and learning about the life cycle of the queen conch was well worth the endeavor. And be sure to pronounce it correctly. Saying anything other than "konk" will get ya quickly corrected!

Our last excursion was with the lovely couple, Alistair and Betty, who own and operate the Undersea Explorer- Semi Submarine. These two were as delightful as the underwater experience itself.  Alistair captained the semi sub, while Betty narrated the beautiful scenery. There were several times when creatures swam by so fast that we missed them and Betty radioed for Alistair to turn us around in pursuit of sting rays, sea turtles, barracudas. This happy duo made sure we didn't miss a thing!
 Sergeant Major Fish (Bumble Bee Fish)
 Spotted Eagle Ray
 Great Barracuda, Staghorn Coral

That about sums up the trip!
Except for "packing for a purpose", which will just have to be another post.