Relay For Life 2017

Last Friday night, a group of my friends and family participated in the annual American Cancer Society Relay For Life. We walked the track from 7 p.m. – 1 a.m. in memory of my aunt Jill, and in honor of so many others who have fought cancer. I’m so proud of my team, The Dukes – we raised over $2,500 this year! Being 8 months pregnant, I didn’t walk as far as normal, but I still managed to get about 14,000 steps and keep that baby in! Here are a few highlights of the evening.

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Brighter Future, Better Kansas City

This weekend I had the privilege of photographing Donnelly College’s 10th annual SHINE gala, held at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs. Our advancement team started the day early, with a quick break for a stadium tour before guests started arriving. (In addition to photography, I also designed the invitations, program, signage, slideshow, and more.) The evening included lots of mingling, excellent hors d’oeuvres, a program featuring student and alumni panelists, and a time to raise more funds to keep costs down for underserved students. It was an incredible evening, and I’m so happy I had the chance to capture it!

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Relay For Life 2016

Saturday night was my 7th American Cancer Society Relay For Life event. I love Relay for so many reasons – from the cause, to the camaraderie, to the symbolism. A few of this year’s highlights:

  • I had the biggest team to date, with 30 people representing Team Dukes.
  • Our team raised over $3,000 – approximately $27,000 over the last six years!
  • I’m proud to say we had a breast cancer survivor on our team this year!
  • My husband made a couple of awesome light-up signs for our team – one we carried around as we walked the track for eight hours.
  • Thanks in part to all of the above, our team won the Spirit of Relay award!
  • My thoughtful team gave me a framed, signed print and a pedicure thanking me for being team captain (even though I couldn’t do it without them).
  • My 2-year-old stayed up until 1 a.m., playing hard around the track, in the long jump sand pit, and in the bounce house. She was a crazy, fun, hot mess!

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Bring Your Dog to Work Day

Yesterday my office hosted its annual Bring Your Dog to Work Day in support of the American Cancer Society Bark For Life event. The day began with a doggie meet-and-greet, and the dogs hung out around the office throughout the day. We wrapped up the afternoon with an ice cream social, complete with ice cream doggie treats! I didn’t have a pup to bring to the event, but I did get to doggie-sit while one coworker was on a call. It definitely made for a lively day at the office!

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Nicaragua Mission Trip – Wrap Up

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been back from Nicaragua for a week and a half. It’s hard to go back to “normal” life, and I pray that I don’t slip back into a lifestyle where I take what I have for granted. Did you know that people who make over $40,000 are richer than 99% of people across the globe? Hearing that really put things into perspective for me.

Here’s a bit about our travel day home, if you’re interested. If you have any questions about Project H.O.P.E., what we did, the people of Nicaragua, or anything else, please let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, July 25 – Some of the group had to leave for the airport around 4 a.m., and others didn’t fly out until about midnight Saturday night. We were lucky to have a mid-day flight. I woke up around 7, had a dry cinnamon roll, and packed up my stuff so the Project H.O.P.E. maids could clean out the rooms for the next group arriving that afternoon. We all hung out in the cabana and the kitchen until mid-morning. (They brought out some fruit and eggs a little later on, which I was grateful for since the cinnamon roll didn’t fill me up.) We quickly said our good-byes and hopped on the bus for the airport.

I snapped this on the way to the airport - typical Nicaragua driving
I snapped this on the way to the airport – typical Nicaraguan transportation

When we flew in to Nicaragua it was late and I was disoriented, so I didn’t really get a feel for the airport. This time I realized how small it was – just one two-story building and one runway. Check-in went smoothly, then we found out our flight to Miami was delayed a couple of hours, because the plane was coming from Miami, where storms had been passing through. I was pretty nervous that we weren’t going to make our connection. Jerod and I split a small wrap in the airport, and we had a smooth flight with one beverage and no snacks (thanks, American Airlines) and landed in Miami around 8:30 p.m. (6:30 Nicaragua time).

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Beautiful clouds over the Atlantic Ocean

Our connection to Kansas City left at 9:30, so we only had an hour to get through customs. We ran through the airport, only to have to stop and wait through a long line at the immigration kiosks. Then we had to pick up our bags…but our bags hadn’t even appeared on the conveyer belt yet. I found someone at the American Airlines information desk and notified him that there were 21 people still waiting on bags for a flight leaving in 30 minutes. He made a call and found out it was delayed 20 minutes, but he was able to delay it another 10 minutes or so. He told me to gather our group when we got our bags, and he’d make sure we made it to our flight. When I found the group, several of them had already gone ahead (every man for himself!) so that plan fell through. Once we made it through security and re-checked our bags, there were staff there letting people to Kansas City through, so I think he did pull some strings for us. He was the nicest American Airlines staff person I’ve ever dealt with. I was one of the last of our group to arrive at our gate – making it just in the nick of time. Unfortunately there was no time for dinner.

Thankfully we had a smooth flight to Kansas City. Once we arrived around midnight, everyone split off pretty quickly with a few hugs, ready to be home. My bag never arrived, so I filed a report, and Jerod’s dad took us home. When we got home I immediately went to Little Miss K’s bedroom and picked her up. She barely opened her eyes and really had no idea what was going on, so I got to hold her in my arms while she slept for about 10 minutes. The next morning she clearly had no idea I had held her, because she was thrilled to see us! I was so happy to see her, too.

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I missed this little girl so much!

We had an incredible trip – one we’ll never forget, and one I hope to be life-changing. Again, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. And if you are considering going on a mission trip, JUST DO IT! You may regret never going on one, but I promise you won’t regret taking that leap. Oh, and my bag arrived at our door two days later with everything intact.

Nicaragua Mission Trip – Day 7

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6

Friday, July 24 – We ate breakfast quickly and headed to the village a little earlier than normal to say our good-byes. We only had about 45 minutes there, and I started crying as soon as we arrived as I saw the kids run to Abby – I knew how much they’d miss her (and the rest of us), and maybe more importantly, how much I would miss them.

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Our family arrived at the community center (minus Jorge who couldn’t get off work), and there were lots of hugs and a few more tears. We walked to their temporary home since their Project H.O.P.E. house hadn’t yet been started aside from post holes, and we were lucky enough to have the interpreter Evelyn follow along with us. Since we had her with us in the beginning, we decided to go ahead and pray together and talk briefly. We told each other we’d continue to pray for each other and that we were so grateful to have met each other. Even after Evelyn moved on, we were still able to communicate much better than our first visit to their home. They opened their rice sacks of clothes and seemed to enjoy looking at them. We gave Sebastian a small board book of Lil’ Miss K’s that was in both Spanish and English – he knew immediately that it was just for him and wouldn’t let anyone else look at it. It was adorable to see how he clung to it! We gave him a couple other small trinkets too, and we gave Gizelle another apron, Jorge a donated baseball cap, and Estphanie a pair of cute pink converse sneakers, which she seemed excited about. Even though they have almost nothing, they gave us gifts too – a brightly-colored Nicaraguan napkin holder and a hanging key holder that says, “My God, where are the keys?” in Spanish. Earlier in the week we gave them a photo of our family.

Us with our Nicaraguan family
Us with our Nicaraguan family

After watching Sebastian play for a bit and taking a couple more selfies with them, he headed back up to the community center for a few more minutes. Estphanie and I played some clapping games, then we exchanged many more hugs and had to leave. I remained composure until we got on the bus, when I saw several other ladies crying too, and we saw them all waving vigorously good-bye. It’s hard to believe we’ll soon be going back to our normal, comfortable lives, and they’ll still be in the village, where they’ll be doing the same thing over again next week with another group of missionaries. I only hope we touched their lives half as much as they touched ours.

Next, we headed to Granada, a big tourist city in Nicaragua. It took about two hours on the extremely hot school bus, so the drive was pretty miserable. We arrived at a boat dock, had a bathroom break and bought some tasty roasted cashews from vendors, then hopped on about 3 boats for a tour of Lake Nicaragua. We got to navigate through some semi-narrow canals filled with what looked like a type of lilies on the water – it reminded me of a picturesque rainforest that would be on Discovery Channel – it was absolutely gorgeous!

Beautiful boat ride on Lake Nicaragua
Beautiful boat ride on Lake Nicaragua
Local fishermen
Local fishermen

About 15 minutes into the boat ride we started seeing giant homes on the water … we finally found where the few rich people in Nicaragua live. Halfway through the boat ride we came upon an island that inhabited a handful of spider monkeys – I’m not sure if they were native to the island or if they were placed there for the tourists, but they were definitely tame. They recognized one of the boat drivers and hoped onto his boat for a while. It was kind of surprising to see well-off Nicaraguan tourists on the boats too.

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The boat driver picked this pod from a tree and it opened up in a beautiful flower

After the boat ride, we went to an open-air restaurant overlooking the lake where we had chicken, steak, or pork entrees. The best part of the meal was the plantain chips, which were kind of like sweet French fries. It was nice to have a bit of time to relax and unwind after a week of work and an emotional morning. After the restaurant we went to a market, where we had about an hour and a half to shop – not nearly enough time, especially for my cousin Cyndie, who had 6 kids to buy for. Most of us bought fruit smoothies, and even though we took a risk with the Nicaraguan water, none of us got sick that I’m aware of. I bought a dress, sandals, and baby hammock for Lil’ Miss K, a couple souvenirs for our niece and nephews, Nicaraguan coffee, and a woven bracelet for myself.

At an open-air restaurant in Granada
At an open-air restaurant in Granada
View from the restaurante
View from the restaurante

After we left the market we had to endure about 2 more hours on the hot, uncomfortable bus back to basecamp. It might have been the worst part of the entire week – I felt pretty bad by the time we got back. We ended the evening with steak, which was probably my least favorite meal of the week. Every night we had a different kind of fresh-squeezed juice – my favorites were the watermelon juice, dragon fruit juice, and something similar to limeade. The passion fruit juice, which we had a lot in Haiti, was also delicious. They also had a dark purple juice that tasted like cinnamon that a lot of us didn’t really care for. And because we wanted to continue with the trend, we stayed up just a bit later than the previous night, going to bed after midnight.

Nicaragua Mission Trip – Day 6

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5

Thursday, July 23 – We started off the day with egg casserole, muffins, fruit, and the obligatory rice and beans, then we headed to the village for a shortened day of work. Jerod and I decided to focus on our family today rather than building homes. Building relationships with the people is just as important, and we wanted to make sure to do that. After our morning worship, we found an interpreter to talk with Gizelle and find out more about her, her family, and her walk with God. We found out that she grew up Catholic and was baptized as a baby, and her family is going to church regularly outside the village (by foot or by bike). She wasn’t ready to be baptized as an adult, as she was still studying the Bible. (We gave them a Spanish Bible a couple of days prior.) Gizelle studied journalism and wants to help people look up information(?) – she plans to find a job once the home is built. She also told us how grateful they were, because without Project H.O.P.E., it would have taken many years to save up enough money for a home. She said she couldn’t imagine leaving Sebasian like we’d left Lil’ Miss K, and that she would have been constantly worried about him. Overall we had a nice, fairly long talk.

After our conversation, I was planning on going up the mountain with another team member to get a good overall photo of the village, but the taxi, the hike, and the water tower climb ended up being no-no’s, so I worked on blocking with Gizelle for a while instead. Abby and I had previously joked that we were tough and could mix concrete by hand, so she stopped by the house and asked if I wanted to give it a shot. The guys were more than willing to give us their shovels, take a break, and use us as entertainment, so they watched us mix two batches of concrete. After about 30 minutes we were happy to hand the shovels back over. Despite what the guys said, we both thought we did pretty good – our time wasn’t that much slower than theirs!

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Abby and I working on mixing concrete
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One row of completed homes in the village
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A little girl outside her new house
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A garden a man planted in the back yard of his new home
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A rocking chair and porch added onto one of the Project H.O.P.E. homes

We had lunch at the community center, then had a shortened women’s Bible study. At the end, each woman got to keep their notebook and they were all given aprons made by the women at Plaza Heights. I took photos of the women in their aprons – a lot of them liked looking at their picture and were very grateful for the aprons. Next was a quick, very crowded children’s Bible study, where they got to do a craft, color, and eat gummy worms. During the Bible studies, the men played the Nicas two quick games of baseball and won both games this time! Jerod grabbed a ladder for me and we climbed on top of an abandoned house near the community center, which overlooked the entire village, Lake Managua, and the volcano, so I could get my photo. Like lemmings, several people followed suite and joined us to take in the gorgeous view.

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A view of the village from above
A view of the village from above

We left the village around 2 and took two buses down to a lake for baptisms. We had two people – one Nica baptized by Jim, and Hunter from our group, who was baptized by his step-father. I don’t think they could have had a more beautiful setting for a baptism – it was pretty neat to witness.

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Baptism
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The beautiful setting of the baptisms

Back at basecamp we cleaned up and ate a delicious dinner of sea bass, veggies, and mashed potatoes. It was my favorite meal of the trip. Evening service was really emotional for myself and several others, I think. Between Holy Communion and awesome music from Nate, I just felt really close to God.

We quickly packed rice sacks full of donated clothes we’d brought for our families, which turned out to be hectic and disorganized. It was a let down going from such a touching service to a stressful process. Some of the guys did have fun putting on crazy outfits, which lightened the mood a bit. Luckily we’ve already made plans to make it go smoother next year. We stayed up until almost midnight – but we’re enjoying each other’s company more and more every night.