Berry Islands, Bahamas

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The Berry Islands are just 70 miles east north-east of Bimini and 120 miles from Miami, but it seemed like a world away.  In part because we work in Bimini and Florida and we’re always on the fly, where Great Harbor Cay allowed total relaxation and exploration.  Our one hour flight landed us for a weekend getaway on a fairly unknown island.  A marina townhouse, boat and car rental awaited.  The locals were very accommodating, friendly and helpful from the time we landed in our single-engine plane.

harborbeach2Our first day driving the seven-mile island took us to secluded untouched beaches.  We got a glimpse of the cruise ships offshore.  We hung out at a local beach club for drinks and conversation.  I felt like wild boar or elephants should be roaming.  It was a bit of an expedition without the wildlife, although I did see dead snakes in the road when I ran the following morning.

An abandoned golf course, beach resort and pool littered the landscape.  Not necessarily in a bad way as time stood still, the remnants of a glamorous era forgotten.  I longed for the clubs and golfing, although I wasn’t into the sport.  A random dilapidated bridge, and a once happening lodge sat as a skeleton.

But the island had a vibe, a strong one of resilience.  It brought out the explorer in me, and shall I say a pirate in a good sense.

Saturday we explored by land while Sunday was reserved for sea.  We rented a boat, conveniently docked under our rental townhouse.  We set out with our iPad for navigation, Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches for lunch, and then quickly stopped by government dock to grab a six-pack of beer. I jumped off our small boat, passed a church holding Sunday service, and found my way to a local bar selling beer on Sunday.  “Wasted Time,” was its name and empty except for a few local young men skipping mass.

As I passed back I heard singing.  A man of a cloth preached and sang loud from the open door, it made me smile.  I loved Sunday’s I remembered from my past, my young church-going youth attending mass with my grandmother.

We ran the boat to the cruise ship islands, Coco and Stirrup Cay.  They are private but the large ships drew our attention.  A dolphin swam off our bow.  The water temped us with its colophon hue, but we knew the recent cold front left behind freezing water for our tropical blood.  We pulled into Coco Cay, hoping to dock for some shopping and a picnic stop.  We were turned away with a “What the hell,” look from a harbor master.  I think he hollered and gave a few signals that only my husband recognized.  We left the harbor and continued onward.

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Strirrup Cay seemed much more relaxed.  No customs agents monitoring, cruise ship employees paying attention, or anyone tending the docks.  We figured we’d circle around eating lunch, and then docked when we realized nobody noticed us.

I went onshore to use the restrooms where staff greeted me and asked, “How do you like the cruise so far?”

“Oh, it’s been lovely,” I fibbed.  “I’m glad the sun decided to come out.”    This I knew because it was cloudy until about an hour prior.

I decided to check out some temporary shops set up in the sand.  I peeked over at my husband on the boat, he seemed fine.  I bought a Stirrup Cay shirt as a souvenir. I passed by an empty taco bar, and found myself in line for cocktails.

“Anyone else for a strawberry daiquiri?”  The bartender called out.

I raised my hand at the back of the line, passing ten or so others waiting for different drinks, and was handed a daiquiri.

“Do you have your ship card?” He asked.

“No, I have cash.  My husband has my card,” I feigned again.

“Only ship cards.  Take the drink and bring your card when you come back.”  With his busy schedule he waved me on.

I would have ordered a Miami Vice, but considering I got a free drink on an island where I wasn’t supposed to be… I fully enjoyed it.

“Honey, I could have gotten you a taco or a drink.”  I teased my husband as we pulled away from the dock.

He was a good captain staying with our rental boat somewhat satisfied with his PB&J and beer, although he showed interest in a taco.

cococay3We passed back by the lifeguard on the rock, watching over tourists.  Perhaps one of the most boring jobs in the world. But as my husband pointed out, “He’s probably making sure no sharks swim from the deep water just beyond the rock into the shallow waters to feast on tourists.”

 

It was a fun stop, a brief adventure before continuing on for our own private cruise in the shallow waters around the islands.  Not quite fifty-shades of blue, but pretty close.  We left the Berry Islands the following day to head to Nassau. SUNSET BAHAMAS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A look back at 2017

As a new year approaches, I’d like to look back at highlights in the news and my personal life this past year.

Natural disasters battered the United States this year with record-setting hurricanes hitting the east coast and fires blazing though the west.

hurricane2Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, leaving 82 dead and many homeless.  Total rainfall from a single storm set a record at 51.88 inches and total damage costing $180 billion.  A few weeks later Irma threatened the entire state of Florida, pushing Harvey out of the spotlight.  As a category 5, it was the largest Atlantic storm in history, reaching winds of 185 mph for 37 continuous hours. The cone of death affected the most populated cities of the east and then shifted to the west coast of Florida. Mandatory and voluntary evacuations caused the largest evacuation irmaof any state.  Massive traffic jams ensued.  I left the east coast, as did many of my friends.  Hotels were sold out and people just started heading north, out of the state.  In the end we got very lucky as far as deaths, we had widespread damage, but not devastating as predicted. Irma initially hit landfall in the Keys and then the west coast near Marco Island.  Hurricane Marie formed as Irma left.  After causing catastrophic damage across the northeast Caribbean, it hit Puerto Rico knocking out its power grid, three months later over half are still without power.  The death toll is reported as 64, although many believe this number is higher.

ca fire 1The 2017 California wildfire season is the most destructive one on record.  I visited southern California a month or so prior to the  fires, and the dryness was evident everywhere. In October a series of fires broke out in the north’s scenic wine country. It killed 44 people and destroyed about 9000 structures. Southern California had its outbreak in December.  High priced land in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles county got hit the worst with the Santa Ana winds exasperating the situation.  The Thomas fire, the largest blaze in California’s history destroyed over a 1000 structures and over 50,000 had to evacuate, causing gridlock in an already congested area.

rabbit fire 2Good news came from all these disasters and people came together helping each other, and especially close to my heart our furry friends.  Dogs and Cats were flown from Puerto Rico rescue centers to Florida.  One of my friends adopted one of these dogs who went from extremely skinny to a loving pet.  Wildlife officials rescued a mountain lion with burnt paws during the Thomas fire.  A video of a man rescuing a rabbit on the side of the road while evacuating, went viral.

With all the natural, social and political disasters, sometimes it feels like the world is coming to an end.  Mass shootings, vehicular homicides, nuclear escalation, sexual abuse, an opioid epidemic, increasing homelessness, and ongoing wars.  Yes, it’s there, but in the new year let’s make it a priority to focus on commonalities and solutions.

On a personal level it’s been a great year. My travels took me to Helen, Georgia to witness a total eclipse, Southern California for a father-daughter bonding, various Florida cities, Andros, Bahamas to visit a dear friend, and mostly Bimini, Bahamas where I live part-time.

I  continue my pursuit in physical, spiritual and mindful growth.  Yoga keeps me on track with daily mantras and challenges.  I can recognize my emotions easier and think before reacting.  Running gives me the cardio I love while listening to audiobooks to fulfill my craving for knowledge.  I put my own novel, Breakfast In Bimini, into audible format.  Sales for my paperback and kindle edition have done well this year.  All three formats can be found at:  https://www.amazon.com/Breakfast-Bimini-Sierra-Michaels/dp/1533699062/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1514674744&sr=8-2&keywords=breakfast+in+bimini

What is your word for 2018?  What are you hopeful for and what are you doing to make it happen?  Be the change you want to see in the world.  My word is Love.heart

 

 

Guest blogger Paige Johnson shares her guide to staying healthy over the holidays.  As a single parent it’s a priority for her, but we can all follow her advice.

holiday tablePhoto courtesy of Unsplash by Mel Turner

“I need to take better care of myself.” Be honest,  how many times have you had the exact same thought? This time of year means balancing your parental responsibilities with budgeting money for gifts and time for shopping. In addition, you probably have commitments with your family, friends and co-workers at various holiday events.

It’s no wonder why so many people become overwhelmed or even tempted to overindulge around the holidays. How can you stay healthy while still enjoying your holiday season? Luckily, it’s possible to find the time, energy, and money to stay healthy and in shape throughout the holidays.

Here’s what to do – and not do…

What to do:

Meal Prep

Preparing your meals ahead of time can help you avoid temptation so you can stay on the healthy track. Pick a specific day and time (such as a Sunday evening) when you know that you’ll be at home and will have time to devote to meal preparation. This is a great strategy for avoiding overeating at holiday parties. Of course, it can certainly be something you do each week in order to stay on track.

Combat Food Cravings

Of course, if you’re too busy to prep your meals, there are still plenty of ways you can be more mindful of your holiday eating habits. To avoid slipping into unhealthy food and beverage choices this holiday, Harvard’s School of Public Health recommends avoiding salt and sugar, especially in processed foods.

When food cravings kick in, especially if you’re an emotional eater, try replacing candy with fruits and try replacing salty foods with low-sodium options like unsalted nuts. If you’re stressed, try going for a walk or doing some mindful breathing rather than reaching for food to calm your nerves.

Practice Self-Care

Recent studies have linked stress eating, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and mood changes to weight gain during the holiday season. In each of these situations, proper self-care can help you resist the urge to overeat. As mentioned above, mindful activities such as breath work, meditation, a walk in nature, or doing yoga can all help you care for yourself, in turn reducing stress without adding extra calories, salt, or sugar.

Schedule Workouts

Block off a time slot on your busy schedule for exercise and fitness – and don’t allow yourself to schedule any other appointments during this time. For instance, you might work out first thing in the morning while your little ones are still asleep – or during the afternoon while they are still at daycare. Having trouble staying motivated? Find a workout buddy or partner with a co-worker (preferably another parent) for a monthly weight loss challenge.

What to avoid:

Drugs and Alcohol

It can be difficult to resist temptations during the holidays. Many people feel stressed and triggered during this time of year. It doesn’t help that alcohol plays a prominent role in so many holiday parties.  Enjoy in moderation, unless you’re in a recovery program.  In that case,  continue to stay focused and remain on track, including attending AA meetings, throughout the holidays. If you feel triggered, soothe yourself using coping methods such as yoga, meditation, taking a hot bath, or even spending some time in nature (weather permitting). These proven methods will help you resist cravings and overcome triggers so you can have a safe, healthy and sober holiday.

Food FOMO

As strength coach, Molly Galbraith, says, “Eating past full is not fun.” Although it can be tempting to feast upon all of the delicious seasonal or holiday-themed foods and beverages that you can only consume this time of the year, avoid overeating. Instead of getting caught in the trap of food FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), try to limit yourself. Eat slowly so you can savor each bite.

Your health should be a priority year-round. By following the advice listed above, we can all make healthier choices this holiday season – and every day of the year.

For more fitness and healthy lifestyle tips from Paige Johnson check out her website at: learnfit.org  

The homeless problem: From condemnation to compassion

homeless-cart2.jpgMy recent visit to southern California left me frustrated by the rampant homeless  problem seizing the golden state.  I lived in the heart of L.A for over a decade, and homelessness existed, but it didn’t seem permanent or ubiquitous.  Mostly confined to Venice Beach, downtown at Skid Row, and the freeway ramps with beggars holding honest or creative signs.  This time I noticed them everywhere, even in the out-of-the-way, senior living town of Sun City.  This desert town was once only occupied by the 55 and over crowd, retirees looking for cheap living in a safe community.  The youths were watched closely, and vagabonds non-existent.  This visit I watched backpackers and cart pushers wandering though town with all their belongings.  A few were passed out in bushes, homeless man 2others displayed burnt hard faces of the street life, and some lived in their car.  I felt disheartened, and disappointed that this seemed to be the new norm.

 

On the evening news, they showed permanent homeless camps along the L.A. river.  What in the hell is going on in this state, I thought.  Do people seriously want to live a homeless life?  Why can’t they get a job, or move to where they can live a better life?  The trash they leave behind is unbelievable!

I visited Santa Monica for a few memorable days to enjoy my old playground on the beach and in the mountains.  My morning runs took me though Venice Beach, where the homeless have always migrated. Again, it was out of control. Camps with tents, personal belongings, bikes and stoves.  They’d wake, use the public toilets and drink their lattes.  An ambulance was called for a dispute or injury between two of them.  Great, your tax dollars at work for those that don’t contribute.

Later that evening as I walked to dinner they hung out on main street, and I didn’t feel safe turning some dark corners.  Why let these people invade prime property?  Why do locals accept and support people who do nothing  to better society?

Back in Florida we also have a homeless problem as do many towns.  Sometimes they harass me, other times I smile at them.   I’m trying my best to hold compassion for everyone, including the destitute.  After all, I don’t know their story.  Many jobs have gone overseas, and the cost of living is increasing, especially in California.  I have since opened my mind and heart and compassion is my new word of the month.  With the holidays upon us, I hope to keep my eyes and heart open to those in trouble and need.homeless familycompassion jpeg

-Compassion-is-an-action-word-with-no-boundaries

A busy summer’s end: Audible Available

2017 irma.JPGI’ve been crazy busy since hurricane Irma hit Florida.  I participated in the largest evacuation in history as the east coast, west coast and most of our state was threatened with the strongest recorded wind, peaking at 180 mph.  Facing a monster storm on the east coast, we fled with two cats and a dog in our single engine piper and flew to Helen, Georgia.  Although air traffic was busy, the highways were gridlocked and many friends took all night to arrive at our safe house in the mountains.  The east coast was spared as the cone shifted to the west coast with the initial landfall after the keys, Marco Island.

carlAfter making the best out of our spur of the moment evacuation trip, I flew out of Atlanta for a pre-planned trip to California.  I visited familiar places and found some new favorites. I bonded with my father, got to know my grandparents through photos, clipped newspaper articles and we visited their graves.  We had road trips and explored Palm Springs, San Juan Capistrano, Temecula, and then after dropping off my dad I spent a few nights in Santa Monica. While hiking in Topanga Canyon,  I noticed the mountains  were extremely dry and the memorable waterfall and flowing river nonexistent.  A week later devastating fires broke out in many parts of California.  Overall a fun, rewarding trip, but the homeless population is out of control.  That’s a subject for a separate blog post.

A few weeks later I arrived back in south Florida to my intact home housing hurricane evacuees, one couple with roof damage and mold issues and another from Key West with no job to return to and hoping to make money fishing in Broward County.  I welcomed our displaced family and went about getting back to normal.  Whatever that meant with my travel schedule.  Five weeks later they still reside at our home.irma

Business trips and writing schedules continued and at the end my audiobook is complete. It’s for sale on audible.com and iTunes.  Overall, I’m very impressed with Emma Lysy and her performance of Breakfast In Bimini.  If  you are not an audible member you can join at this link below and receive a complementary copy for free.

http://www.audible.com/offers/30free?asin=B076BM4KSW

If you are a audible member then send me your information including email and I can send you a promo code for a free download to my audiobook in exchange for an honest review. You can reach me at http://www.sierramichaels.com or comment in the section below.

Happy reading and I hope you enjoy the audio version of Breakfast In Bimini.  I think you’re enjoy the adventure!

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Total Eclipse from North Georgia

Like many others I eagerly awaited August 21, 2017 for a chance to see a total eclipse. In Helen, Georgia that meant 1 minute and 41 seconds of complete darkness. People flocked to our town and others within the path of totality. Many events took place in the surrounding wineries, parks, schools and communities.  Wanting to avoid gridlock, we chose to have our own celebration at the Innsbruck Club house overlooking the golf course, and a regular meeting place for local residents.

About 50 people showed up with side dishes to compliment the burgers my husband cooked on the grill.  Moonshine cake and moon pies sat among the salads while the bartenders served up Tequila Sunrise cocktails.  The sky was clear, a telescope for viewing sat on the veranda porch alongside golf clubs, balls and corn hole games. Everyone brought their viewing glasses and excitement, the eclipse had just begun with the moon slowly casting a shadow over the sun.

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I’d glance up at different stages, taking a few photos with my iPhone.  We milled about, socialized, ate, drank and looked up again.  An amateur photographer with a professional camera rigged a solar filter by duck tapping part of the eclipse glasses to his lens.  After an hour and a half the sky became grey. Everyone spread out on the porch, parking lot and even the golf range for the moment of totality.  It was easy to spot through the cardboard glasses since everything including the sliver of light went black, then it was safe to look directly at the sun.  I stared in awe, mesmerized for almost two minutes until the sun, known as the diamond ring, peeked through the other side.

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Afterwards, about half of the crowd left, not really interested in the waning of the moon passing over the sun.  The rest of us shot golf balls off the deck with the goal of hitting the 9th hole about 100 yards in the distance.  A young lady in her early 20’s hit her ball closest to the flag, as professional golfers competed against her shot to no avail. Drinks and some new age conversation flowed until the sun and heat returned full force and the party dwindled.

I had witnessed partial eclipses in the past, but it doesn’t compare to a total eclipse. During the brief moment of totality the world seemed so different and so small in comparison to the universe.  I later learned that this phenomenon occurs every two years in different parts of our world.  I found it so memorizing that I’d consider myself a total eclipse chaser.  Here I come South America in 2019.

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Photos by Josh Garrison

 

 

July sale and audiobook production

BreakfastInBimini-AmazonI have two exciting promotions going on this summer.  For a limited time I’m offering my novel, Breakfast In Bimini,  for sale at half price. The perfect fun, bring on the sun and water beach read with a bit of a twist.  You can find the digital version and discount at:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/649848

 

I’m also producing an audiobook of Breakfast In Bimini to be released at summer’s end. This is a project I’ve been considering for the past year, but a bit uncertain of how to tackle it.  Originally, I wanted to read and record it myself at a local professional studio until I realized that maybe an experienced actress would do a better job.  I put up an audition request on ACX, the audiobook giant and I received several readings.  I found a match and I’ll have a sample by weeks end and the full book version shortly after.  I’d have to say, listening to the readings I felt impressed at times and uncertain at others. After all this is my creation and I have expectations about voice, inflections, and interpretation.  I have high standards, but I think she’ll do an excellent job.  I’ll let you know when it’s available on audible.com and other audiobook venues.

Any authors out there want to share their experience with producing their audiobook?  I’d love to hear about it in the comment section!