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Giving Back to Belize

19 Sep

As a parent, I feel that one of my many responsibilities is to teach my children about compassion and  giving back to others.  It is no secret that American children have it really good.  We live in a land of fancy stores, well manicured homes, and a great education system compared to much of the world.  Most American kids don’t really understand the reality of true poverty.

So, when it comes to teaching my kids this concept, it can be hard.  I, like so many parents, can easily  get caught up in our daily life of material things and stuff.  We are a society caught up in iPhones, video games, and celebrities.  It is truly a difficult task  for our young people to see beyond that.

While vacationing abroad, I always make a point to stop at a local school, village, or library.  In past years, I would stock up some needed donation items to distribute to local charities.  Our family would show up to distribute our donations and my kids would love the attention and praises of being told how kind they were.  Honestly, this attention would overshadow the meaning of why we were there.  I never had much success with impacting my kids for more than the time it took them to get their next virgin pina coloda.  I really wanted to make an impact in their  young minds, but have had little success in the past. On our recent summer trip to San Pedro, Belize, a different approach was attempted (this tactic was somewhat by mistake, dictated  by luggage restrictions).  We showed up empty handed, except with a basketball from our local University, and thought we’d send a monetary donation after returning home.  The focus of this visit turned away from my kids and onto the true meaning of the less privileged kids of Belize.  The visit was all about observing and really seeing the needs of the children who attend this tiny school.

The reality of  the struggles this school in Belize faced was a sobering experience.  The soccer field was dirt, buildings sat over a swampland,  and the level of poverty shown in the homes near the school property was unlike anything we have ever seen.  Yet with all the obvious obstacles this school faces, they have amazing success in educating some of the poorest children in San Pedro.  After spending almost an hour touring, learning, and asking questions. my kids were impacted.  They left quiet (which NEVER happens with my crazy bunch) and asked questions for hours.  I knew they were impacted.

Upon returning home to the U.S., my kids genuinely wanted to give back.  They decided (on their own) to donate many of  their old toys and sell them at a yard sale.  With the help of some donuts and juice, they were able to raise $75 to send to the school.  They were on a mission and deeply touched by their experience in Belize.  My youngest even asked for his birthday, instead of a remote control car, to send that money to the kids in Belize.  It’s not a lot, but every little bit helps! Most importantly, they were looking beyond themselves and felt like they were giving back to the kids of Belize.

So my goal, as a parent, is much more then just this one small school in Belize.  The bigger picture is what I hope for with my children.  I hope to raise compassionate adults, who realize that the impact of  giving can touch so many lives.  I hope that as adults, they too will find the importance of giving back and teach their children to do the same.  If every parent could just pass on a little bit of this way of thinking, our world would surely be a better place!

Click HERE for more information about Holy Cross Anglican School, Belize

Tropical Paradise

27 Aug

When I was planning our 2012 summer family adventure, I was looking for something unique.  Something a little more adventurous than the typical beach vacation and a way to expose my kids to some new experiences.  I wanted my kids to do things that were beyond anything they could have ever imagined.  Through hours of research and planning,  I finally decided on Belize.  Having already made a trip to this tiny country (minus the kids), I had a good idea of what to expect and thought that it would fit the bill for my active brood.  I was right.  The kids had a blast, enjoyed some amazing experiences, and even learned a bit along the way.  Mission accomplished!  Our adventures in Belize began in the jungle and continued with some “chillaxing” on the island of Ambergris Caye at the Coco Beach Resort.

Coco Beach was the perfect tropical family resort.  Two bedroom condos, amazing pools (with an unbelievable climbing and sliding structure), swim up bar, and a staff that loved kids (or at least faked it really well).  I will admit that Coco Beach was not the easiest place to get to.  The trip started on the mainland, included a quick puddle jumper flight over to Ambergris Caye, a taxi to the dock, and lastly a quick boat ride to the resort.  While getting to this tropical paradise was a little draining for me (ok, totally exhausting), it was all part of the adventure for the kids.  They were totally fascinated with the 12 passenger plane and the a boat doubling as a taxi was totally amazing.  The minute we arrived to Coco Beach, the torture of the long and hot day became a distant memory.  This resort is fabulous!

With my kids being so programmed to associate beach vacations with boogie boarding, Belize was quite a surprise.  To be honest, at first my kids were upset when realizing that Belize was not going to be like other beach vacations.  There are no waves, so playing in the surf and boogie boarding was off the table.  After about four thousand complaints about the no wave situation, the little monsters finally listened to all the other great things that Belize had to offer.  Swimming with sharks, petting sting rays, spear fishing, sailing, and exploring the island on bikes or a golf cart.  The kids were sold on Belize and never looked back.  We spent the days keeping active and the evenings out exploring the town of San Pedro.  Perfect combination of activity and relaxation!

Ambergris Caye (and the Coco Beach Resort) was total paradise for the whole family!  By the way, if you’re wondering…yes, that is my kid swimming with an 8 foot shark.  No lack of adventure in Belize!

Belize Zoo

2 Aug

I must start this off by saying that I am not a zoo person.  The thought of spending an entire day (and a spending a small fortune) walking around a zoo, among crowds of people, all to see a some sleeping animals from 20 yards away, does nothing for me.  If I had the option, I’d rather stay home and watch the National Geographic channel from my couch.  Simply stated…zoos are not my thing and you will rarely find me making them a part of a family adventure.  I look at zoo excursions as more of a time killer when all else fails or simply something I do to appease my persistent children (shhh! don’t tell them that).

So that being said, while in Belize this summer, my kids started begging to visit the Belize Zoo.  I was totally hesitant.  The weather was insanely hot, the mosquitoes were out in full force, and bottom line… zoos aren’t my thing.  While the Belize Zoo prides itself in being a rescue and rehabilitation center to local animals, they also offer some unique and once in a lifetime animal encounters.  I knew that a visit would be supporting a great cause and would have an educational aspect that I always strive for with my kids…but still it’s the “zoo” thing.  So after a few beers poolside, pleading children, and the possibility of doing the “once in a lifetime experience” of  the Jaguar encounter (explanation at bottom of page), I reluctantly agreed.  My expectations were low and it made clear that our time was limited.

We arrived at the zoo right at the peak of the heat.  Let me explain that this is not just hot, it was over the top hot.  The kind of hot that burns your skin and instantly makes you soaking wet in sweat.  We quickly learned that it was even too hot for “Junior” the jaguar to be taking visitors into his cage, so we had to settle for a visit with the Tapirs (photo below of this interesting creature).  I was instantly disappointed, but logically knew that getting inside a cage with a grumpy jaguar is probably not a great idea.  Maybe a blessing in disguise.

We wandered through this amazingly well kept facility, taking a quick look at the local animals of Central America.  My feelings about zoos started to change for the better.  We were able to hang out in the enclosure with the Tapirs, the national animal of Belize, and get up close to some really unique creatures. Our visit was quick, informative, had no crowds, and the kids had a blast.  We ended with an ice cream from the gift shop, experienced something totally new, and supported a great cause all during our quick and informative 45 minute stop (exactly how a zoo should be seen).  Perfection!

Jaguar experience:  So, for $50 USD, 5 people can pile in a cage, inside the enclosure of a Jaguar. You would have the opportunity to learn from an animal trainer about “Junior” the jaguar, feed him a little snack of raw chicken, and even get a kiss from him.  Sound crazy?  Absolutely yes, but talk about a once in a lifetime experience!  Hopefully my next visit to Belize will be a little cooler for Junior and I’ll have a chance to get up close and personal.

Golf Cart Adventures in Belize

10 Jul

The small town of San Pedro, Belize is known for their cobblestone roads and tiny streets packed with golf carts.  Thats right, the main source of transportation on this tiny little tropical island is the golf cart.  So, we rented our own cart & set off with all 4 kids in tow, to discover and explore the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize.  What a fabulous day we had!  Our little adventure really gave my kids a look at how the locals of Belize live and created some great memories.

We stopped at a small local school that many of the poorest children in San Pedro attend. My kids were fascinated by the differences from their school in the U.S. and are still compelled to do something to help the school children of San Pedro.  We even left the school with a basketball from our local University.

We had to stop at my favorite San Pedro restaurant, Waraguma, for some lobster papusas!  Yumm!!!

Minor injuries are a must on every adventure with my brood.  Yes, I almost fed my 8 year old to a 100 pound Tarpon fish.  A little blood with a few tears and he was all recovered.

After leaving the town, we navigated through the north end of the island.  We rode through the tiny jungle lined paths and made a quick stop for cereal and pasta at the Mata Grande Market.

No trip would be complete without a coconut or two…or one really HUGE coconut!

What a day.  Full of fun, sun, lots of bumps, and adventure!

Welcome to the Jungle

9 Jul

First, I must start by saying that I consider myself to be pretty adventurous.  I don’t have any huge phobias, I am willing to try new things, and I definitely consider myself to be brave.  Extreme is what I set out to do on our latest family adventure and the mission was accomplished.  My desire for adventure and thrill rocked my little world!

This summer, I set out with the family for something totally unique, high intensity, and an ideal situation to create some long lasting memories. I thought that with having 3 wild and crazy boys, an adventurous daughter (that could use a little toughening up), and a flexible husband…a few days in the jungle of Central America would be a great adventure.  It was an adventure alright!  We experienced amazing new situations and experiences as a family…although it was a bit painful at times.  It was crazier than I could have imagined and the conclusion is that the jungle is not for wimps!

We began our Central American adventure in high adventure mode.  After traveling for what seemed like hours on end, I led the family away from the airport and headed deep into the Belize jungle for a stay at the Caves Branches Jungle Lodge.  Three days in a treehouse, limited electricity (no hairdryers, TV, & air conditioning), and only walls of screen to protect us from the life of the jungle.  The place was unique and beautiful.  I felt like I was a million miles away from it all and I was ready for the adventure to begin.

We spent the days exploring the local cave systems and learning about the Mayan culture.  We rode around in a vintage bus, had a picnic lunch in a cave, climbed to the top of a Mayan temple, and played in the rivers throughout the jungle.  The adventure factor was high, the history was amazing, and the weather was hot!  I returned to the lodge each day ready for a cold beer and loving the heavily shaded pool!  Little did I know that while I felt the days were adventurous, the nights were the real adventure.

When the sun set, the jungle became a whole different world.  The humidity rose, the noises got louder, and the bugs became braver.  Actually, the 4 inch cockroaches can’t even be considered bugs, they were more like nasty little monsters…yuck!  I slept with one eye open (when I could actually fall asleep).  I’m not sure if I was more afraid of the noises in the dark or what could appear right in front of me if I turned on a light.  My one and only nighttime bathroom visit included bumping into my husband while we both were chasing a cockroach with DEET bug repellant.  Not a pretty sight I’m sure.  Just a side note, DEET does not kill massive cockroaches.  It actually doesn’t even slow them down.  I decided it was better to just wait to use the restroom until morning, regardless of how uncomfortable it became.  I was also so incredibly thankful that my poor husband was the only one suffering from a case of montezuma’s revenge (sorry Honey!).  It was hot, loud, and I was scared.  I patiently waited each night for morning to come so I could actually relax and get a couple of hours of shut eye.

Over all, (speaking after recovering for 6 days in a fabulous tropical beach resort) this was an amazing experience.  A bit painful at times (okay, it was horrible at times), but I wouldn’t change a thing.  The stories and experiences we shared are irreplaceable.  I feel proud and strong.  I can say I survived and my kids have experienced something that none of their friends have ever done.  I set out for an adventure and was it ever an “adventure”!

My daughter will never again be squeamish about the bugs at home and my boys will always view me as one pretty brave Mama!  I can cross staying in the jungle off my bucket list and start looking toward what to do next to top this adventure of a lifetime.  I just know that my next extreme  family experience will involve air-conditioning and hopefully no cockroaches!

Belize Getaway

15 Jun

In honor of my upcoming family vacation to Belize this summer, I’m feeling inspired to share my amazing experiences in Belize for Flashback Friday.  Just about 3 years ago, somehow I convinced the grandparents to watch my kids for a week (I’m sure this commitment was made after a fairly large consumption of wine) so my husband and I could get away for an extended break.  We took full advantage with a 9 day break from the kids and daily routines of life.  We headed to Belize with no kids, explored 2 very different regions, and had an absolute trip of a lifetime.  I’m not really quite sure how I ended up taking our 1st and only week away ever  to this tiny Central American country, but it was a decision that made travel my passion. Many people would ask why Belize?  I can only imagine that I came across it by chance and our airline flight miles made the final decision.  Perfect fate.

Let me first start off by explaining my family.  I grew up traveling a bit and enjoyed the family adventures from my childhood.  Still to this day, my parents are a couple of crazy jet setting retired folks.  Travel and adventure is in my blood.  My husband on the other hand, not so much.  He grew up in a small town alongside the corn fields and hog farms of the Midwest.  His idea of a travel was taking a 2 hour road trip and an international destination to him was Tijuana.  So when I booked our 1 and only getaway, since becoming parents, to Belize I was a going out on a limb.  (I say one and only, because I was pretty confident that the grandparents would NEVER do it again after spending a week with our “angels”).

As we were landing into this simple and relatively poor country, my husband was busy looking and watching out the window.  He looked at me in shock and said something along the lines of  “where the hell are you taking me?  Why didn’t we just go to Hawaii?”  At that moment, I promised him it would be great, but I really crossed my fingers and hoped more than you can imagine that my research was correct.  I was pretty confident in my planning of our Belize trip, but I knew that my role in my family’s future for vacation planning was riding on this decision.

Well, it all worked out and overly exceeded our expectations.  This tiny little country in Central America is a true gem.  Situated on the Caribbean, you get a Latin American feel, with a flair of the Caribbean culture, and add a dash of Mennonites (yes, as in the German religious folks that don’t use electricity).  Unique, diverse, and amazing.

We started our trip off with a 90 minute drive to the Ka’ana Resort in San Ignacio (a region near the Guatemalan border).  We were stunned by the beauty and detail that was put into this resort.  Over the next 4 days, we explored and learned.  We visited Mayan ruins, caves, and dined on some of the most amazing foods we had ever experienced.  You truly felt that you were the only people at this fabulous boutique resort and I loved every second of living the life of a celebrity.

After our Jungle adventure, we hopped on a quick 20 minute puddle jumper off to the island of Ambergris Caye.  This busy little town still has dirt roads, filled with golf carts, restaurants, and gift shops.  The Caribbean Sea was as blue as pictures showed and our hotel, Victoria House, was perfectly situated just far away enough from town for relaxation, yet close enough to enjoy the hustle and bustle.

The last half of our trip was spent lounging on the beach, exploring the town of San Pedro, enjoying oceanfront massages, and of course taking advantage of Belize’s incredible water activities.  Being that I am not a scuba diver,  snorkeling and fishing  filled our desire for new adventures.  Under the sea was better than I could of imagined…sting rays, sharks, and bright colored beautiful fish.

So, I’m off again to the beautiful country of Belize, but this time with 4 wild, crazy, and adventure seeking kids.  I know it won’t be nearly as relaxing (actually it won’t be relaxing at all), but there will be plenty of adventures and stories to tell.  Reflecting back…I think I picked the perfect place for our summer adventure.  More posts to come, but with a wild & crazy family twist!  As they say in Belize…you’d better Belize it!

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