Kick-off the 2020-21 School Year Virtually: How to Create a Welcome Back Slide Deck for Your Students & Parents

A lot of school districts will be teaching classes remotely to start the 2020-21 school year.  We do not know how long this is going to take, but we have to hit the ground running as we would if we were brick and mortar.

I teach 7th and 8th grade Physical Education.  A lot of the 6th graders know me from peeking inside the gym out of curiosity to see where the music was coming from, or wanting to know what activity had 50 students running around.  For those who do not know me, and as a little refresher I have customized a “Meet the Teacher” Slidedeck.  

The tools needed for Meet the Teacher are:  Google Slides, video recording app, remove.bg, Snapseed, and glittertextonline.com.

  1. Create a new blank presentation.
  1. The days of generic powerpoint layouts are over.  Go to the ‘Slide’ tab, and select ‘Change Background.’
  1.  Go to ‘Google Image Search’.  Type in something like: beach, grass meadow, brick wall, yoga studio.  PIck something that goes with your content area.  Gym floor= P.E.
  1.  Now you have a more interesting background to get students’ attention.  
  1.  Items can be added by doing another image search.  Remember to select images with transparent backgrounds.

Suggestions for the content of letting students get to know their teacher:

Students can stay on this second slide and click the links/boxes that will automatically take them to the corresponding slide.  It’s the same idea as doing a choice board layout.

The black box is where my back to school welcome video will play.  I was not about to get all glammed up for a video. 🤷🏾‍♀️  I threw on a Michigan State Spartans hat, and moved lamps around to get good lighting.  I even used my cell phone light.  I recorded a non scripted video three times.  The first take was the most natural.  It’s weird that I speak with ease in front of a gym or classful of scholars.  I get all tense when it comes to recording myself.  

I wanted to keep the ‘About Me’ page short and sweet.  I always mention my experience as a foster parent.  A lot of my students have been in care, or are being raised by guardians other than their birth parents.  It helps to build trust early in the school year. 💯

Check out my transparent background images created with remove.bg.

🚨Make sure the images you post are professional.🚨  

Edit as necessary.  For example, the photo on my first slide showed a sliver of stomach due to the cropped shirt.  I used a blur tool on the Snapseed app to make my shirt appear longer.  If you look closely, there is a Nike Swoosh that does not belong.  👀

If you are having a hard time finding images, there is a free website called remove.bg.  All you need to do is upload a photo from your device.  The software will automatically remove the background.  This will make your slides look very professional.

Books that I Love could have easily been songs 🎶, foods🍕, sports🏀⚽⚾, athletes🏃, or movies 🎟️🍿 that I love.

I try my best not to use the standard Arial font.  Working with middle school students motivates me to be creative so they stay engaged.  I add Bitmojis and emojis to draw their attention.

Glittertextonline.com is an easy Google friendly website to create text with various glitter designs.  When I say Google friendly, I mean that you can drag the text from the glittertextonline.com tab and drop it directly into your slidedeck.

I am mindful not to have fonts flashing too much so I do not trigger a student who may be sensitive to the pulsing glitter colors.

Another tip is to change the color of your fonts.  Add drop shadows with different colors.  

Giphy.com is another one of my favorite sites to create my own gifs from a series of photos or from a video file.

The Meet the Teacher slidedeck ends with a contact information slide and sample of Bitmoji Classroom.  I have so many layouts for Bitmoji classrooms.  I may change it for each unit.  P.E. is going to have a lot more Health concepts.   

We are still learning the guidelines for the 2020-21 school year.  It will be more structured with set work hours as we would normal school hours.  I will teach live lessons 4 days a week.  Being a blogger has helped me adjust to the virtual teaching environment.  Likewise, being an online teacher will help my blog be more colorful and fun.  🎨

Whether you are a teacher, blogger, parent, or all three, be patient with yourself and your kiddos.  We are all trying our best. I would love to be in brick and mortar, but you see on the news what is happening to schools that rushed to reopen with in-person instruction.  

How well do you know your fellow blogger friend❓  Leave a comment for which statement you think is a lie.  👇👇🏻👇🏼👇🏽👇🏾👇🏿

www.GlitterTextOnline.com
Posted in Education, family, Louisville, Teachers | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Meet Me in the Mangroves

Socially distanced at Topwater Kayak Outpost- Fort De Soto Park.
Taking a break from the sun under the mangroves. Keeping track of the tide, so I don’t get stuck. It was already a challenge to row over the mangrove oysters.

I’ve been back and forth from KY to FL all summer in between teaching and professional development training.  I was helping my Mom recover from knee replacement surgery, and reminding my Dad of how wonderful a daughter I am.  

My Dad and I in front of the Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens.

This visit put me in vacation mode before the 2020-21 school year.  Teachers are reporting virtually on August 10th. Students will start NTI 2.0 (Non-traditional Instruction) on the 25th.  The middle school where I teach is an accelerated school for improvement (ASI). We took an additional week for training on implicit bias, iPad implementation for our one-to-one student device roll-out, and backwards design from essential learning standards. 

Bok Tower Gardens Reflection Pool with Giant Victoria Water Lilies. They are strong enough to hold the weight of a small child. They are grown from a seed the size of a pea.

Everyone complied with the mask mandate as I walked along the newly remodeled St. Petersburg Pier. I was impressed with the use of space. There is a beach area, a grassy lounge spot with giant umbrellas for small group gatherings, restaurants, and fishing.

The new St. Pete Pier. Reopened July 2020.
St.Pete Pier walking and biking path.
Bending Arc, 2020 by Janet Echelman. Over 1.6 million knots. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I canceled my gym membership and removed any thoughts of running races in 2020, or beyond if necessary. Virtual may be an option if something sparks my interest. While on vacay, I worked my arms and core with kayaking.

Clear kayaking to Shell Key Preserve. Didn’t make it to the cathedral mangroves this time due to the low tide.

I have added more power walking as my consistent exercise. My goal is 10,000 steps per day. I walk at a 14:00 or less pace for about 5 miles. The Tampa River Walk was a scenic way to meet my step goal.

Tampa Riverwalk. On the lookout for Tom Brady.
Platt Street overpass with views of downtown Tampa. Every bank you can name has a building downtown.
Laura With Bun, by Jaume Plensa. 23 feet tall cast-iron sculpture.
Tampa Waterfront Arts District. Glazer Children’s Museum.
Minding my business on the Tampa River walk by the Convention Center. I watched the International Dragon Boat Festival races near this location 10 years ago.

The Harry P Leu Gardens was closed at the time I arrived. I found the Mead Botanical Garden about five minutes away on the border of Orlando and Winter Park. I would describe it as an outdoor library for nature.

Meadows in Mead Botanical Garden.
Lovely photo backdrops at Mead Botanical Garden.
Look. My Mom has her own pond in Florida.
There are so many hiking paths to explore at Mead Botanical Garden.

I spent a lot of time at Clearwater, Honeymoon, and Fort De Soto Beaches. Universal Orlando City Walk was the night cap to my vacation. I timed it to miss the daytime crowds. There was plenty of room to social distance from family groups. Temperatures were scanned by the ear for entry.

The most photographed site at Universal Orlando City Walk. Raise your hand if you have a photo in front of this.

I was influenced by an @Lbp_united Instagram post about The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. There was a wait due to limited dining. The text message feature made it convenient to walk around during the queue. Voodoo Donuts was another busy area. I will try them next time.

Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
The dessert menu was limited to only milkshakes due to the pandemic. The cups are yours to keep.
Thrilla in Vanilla shake for me. Strawberry cheesecake for Him. Tip: Ice Cream flavors can be substituted to make your own.

I have finally joined Instagram as an extension of kelsielou.com.  Feel free to follow: @kelsielou.c0m

www.GlitterTextOnline.com

Take care of yourselves and each other. Recharge as needed!

www.GlitterTextOnline.com
Posted in Beaches, family, fitness, Kayaking, landmarks, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Each 1 Teach 1

www.GlitterTextOnline.com

Contractually, we do have a much needed break.  A true educator, however, is always refreshing content knowledge, and evolving with pedagogy.  Our goal is to make each school year more impactful than the others.  A lot of us complete required professional development hours during the summer months.  I always end up having double what I need.  I acquire more strategies for my toolkit over the summer. Collaborating on best practices is essential for growth.

In addition to growing as a Health and Physical Education (HPE) teacher, I took a few weeks to plan and facilitate a virtual summer league challenge for 7th-12th graders.  Teachers with the JCPS Summer League provided over 100 challenges as a virtual option for students to stay engaged and active during the Covid-19 crisis.  

The summer league was initially supposed to be in-person Badminton and Pickleball instruction.  I had been planning since February to develop field trips, equipment needs and technology components.  The district decided to move forward with everything virtual.  I had to start over from scratch.  

This is the “hook” that got 72 students to sign up for my challenge:

Now is your chance to go viral:  Show your peers what you know about

Rendered Image

Some of the virtual P.E. Lessons on my previous post were put into a crash course of:

  1. Cardiovascular Endurance
  2. Muscular Endurance
  3. Body Composition
  4. Muscular Strength
  5. Flexibility

Students were given the choice of how they wanted to present their data to demonstrate learning.  For one activity, students were taught how to measure their heart rate and calculate their target HR.  They were asked to complete activities to see how their HR changed.  A little numeracy was thrown in for calculating maximum and target HR.  Students were allowed to use fitbits and watches if they already had access.

This is an example of student work:

Each component had a lesson where students would build knowledge to create their own content as a final project.  I kept the parameters loose, so students could use their own creativity.  I was blown away at their artifacts which included TikTok, slide decks, and videos.  (Content shared with permission)

What I enjoyed the most about the virtual summer league was interacting with students across the district.  It gave me a break from the familiar faces I see in my building.  I met a student who runs with his Dad.  We were able to compare races and show off our finisher’s medals.  It was truly a unique experience and a bright side to being safe at home during a pandemic.

www.GlitterTextOnline.com
Posted in Education, fitness, health, Louisville, Teachers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Lesson Ideas for Online Physical Education

Taking a break from travel and running posts to give an update on what distance learning looks like for the 200 Smootents in my middle school physical education classes.  

JCPS KY Non-Traditional Instruction:  It was a challenge to grasp how I would deliver videos with meaningful content for physical education.  There are also the concerns of various living arrangements, the amount of movement space, and the lack of equipment. 

I tried to make everything as easy as possible for the students and the parents.  Let’s face it, P.E. is not considered a priority when students are trying to grow in literacy and numeracy.  Despite the opposition, I want to deliver quality instruction as if we were still inside of the gym.  

These are the images of Google Slides and videos shortened into gifs of my use of Google Classroom to teach physical education for digital learners. 

Physical Education lessons will be uploaded every Thursday so you can plan out your Friday Related Arts.  There will be three assignments that you may work on throughout the week.  Please work around your schedule.

Let’s Go, Smootents!  You got this!!!

Repetitions:  My P.E. classes always begin with students in squads (larger classes) or restorative circles for smaller groups.  We would have an exercise leader(s) get the day started with warm ups.  Students are familiar with these exercises, so I put them into an As Many Reps As Possible activity. 

Flexibility:  I always stress the importance of dynamic and static stretching for warm-ups and cool-downs.  Students had to practice each stretch based on directions from Spark PE Skill Cards.  Afterwards, they recorded which were the easiest and the most challenging.

TikTok Dance Challenges:  My 8th grade young ladies love to dance.  They were given their own area away from the gym floor to turn up with their friends.  For NTI, I provided a video that demonstrated the Renegade dance in slow motion, medium speed and full speed.  The students had to answer what speed they were able to master.

The Pacer Run:  The FitnessGram Pacer Test is something my students look forward to due to incentives.  I shot a video challenging students to maintain their cardiovascular fitness.  Some students used their driveways, hallways and backyards to record their number of laps.  When school is back in session, the learning focus will be on heart rate.

Alphabet Workout: This activity has a lot of variations.  The main goal is to spell your name by doing an exercise assigned for each letter.  My video demonstrated each exercise with modifications.  Students had to respond if they did their first and last name, first name, or not able to get past the first letter of their name.

Basketball Sit-Ups:  I found this activity online.  The object is to score as many points as possible in 1 minute using socks.

Fitness Walking:  “Walk and Talk” is always an option for students in class.  Student choice to walk the perimeter of the gym is preferred over being inactive in the bleachers.  For this lesson, I talked about how walking is a way to burn calories with less stress on the joints compared to other sports.  The task was to walk outside, socially distanced, with parent/guardian permission for at least 30 minutes.

Aerobic Capacity:  For this lesson, I used skill cards from SparkPE with overlapping GIFs to make them more interesting.  The trick is to search GIFs with transparent backgrounds.  It was a technique I learned in a Google professional development last summer.  John Pedigo, from Wagner HS taught me how to spice up my slides and docs.

Zumba Shake 1, 2, 3: While I was editing videos, I came across an older Zumba clip from the Louisville Hike, Bike, and Paddle.  Bingo!  Another lesson idea.  I found a kid friendly link on Youtube of the same song.  For credit, students had to share a song that would be good for Zumba.  I got everything from Rush, “Athem” to Beyonce, “Before I Let Go.”

National Field Day:  The team at OpenPhyEd was gracious enough to organize a virtual field day for students to participate in safely at home.  There were around 20 activities utilizing common household items.  I created a choice board with embedded links to video instructions.  My Smootents had to participate in at least five events in order to earn a certificate. 

Tae Bo Cardio Fat Burn:  With most of the basics covered, I had to decide on something upbeat to keep students engaged.  To my suprise, Billy Blanks is still out here killing it with new Tae Bo videos filmed in his living room during quarantine. 

Yoga For Beginners:  My friend, Steve Sexton, invited me to a virtual yoga class.  My plan was to tighten up my yoga skills and do a video.  I can teach Yoga, but there are others who can do it so much better.  I scraped the video idea and linked to a Youtuber instead.  My Smootents know that I at least tried.

Mindful Breathing:  Although my primary duties are to teach P.E. standards, I love to incorporate elements of Health education into my pedagogy.  

Student Choice:  For the last week of NTI, students will be given three options on a choice board along with this last gif and Bitmoji.

giphy.gif
Bitmoji Image

Teacher Reflection:  Online teaching and distance learning has reinforced my work ethic of working smarter and not harder.  I have all of these tools at my fingertips that I am finally using and learning more about each day.  This could mean a lot moving forward for hosting online parent teacher conferences, being a paperless classroom, virtual office hours, intentional instruction during snow days, providing real-time feedback, and strategizing how my work flows.  While I much prefer face-to-face teaching interactions, I have enjoyed growing through non-traditional instruction.

Ms. Smoot

Posted in Education, fitness, health, Teachers | Tagged , , , , | 30 Comments

The Little Rock Half Marathon & 5K Recap

The Little Rock, Arkansas race series have been on my radar for quite some time.  They are known for their huge, over-the-top medals and unique race themes. The 2020 theme was “Totally Awesome” as a tribute to the 80s.

Training

I like to maintain a base level of fitness with an average of 40 minute runs at least 4 days a week.  I did not follow a fancy plan. During January and February, I was intentional about adding a weekend run with a pace no faster than 9:00 miles.  Training alone allowed me the luxury of sleeping in on Saturdays and letting the Winter temperatures reach their warmest. Anything below 20° “feel like” is a No-Go.  I was caught in the rain a couple of times. I maxed out at 12 miles, two weeks before race weekend.

During the last two long runs it felt like my Hokas were not going to be good enough for 13.1 miles.  They were causing me to get a blister although I only had 254 miles on them. I made a last minute decision to get new shoes.  This is a major No No, but I would rather go back to my tried and true Brooks than know I would suffer 8 miles into the race.

I went to Swags and explained how I had run in Brooks for the last 6 years up until the latest Glycerin was very ill fitting.  They suggested I try the Ghost 12. It fit. The problem was I only had a few short runs to taper miles. I did not know how they would do for speed and endurance.  More on that later.

I am thankful for my co-workers who supported and encouraged me.  I was able to squeeze in most of my shorter runs on my lunch break or during class.  I do not take for granted the privilege of teaching P.E., and literally being able to run around with my Smootents. 

Travel:

There were no direct flights from Louisville to Little Rock.  The drive time was 7.5 hours which was equal to flight travel time with layovers included.  The host hotel was the Marriott, but I chose to stay one block down at the DoubleTree. I politely asked for a river view room (odd numbers) and a late check out.  Requests granted.

I hit the highway when the school buses rolled out after school on Thursday.  I made it to Memphis to get gas stop at the Nike Clearance store in the Graceland area.  Two hours later, I was in North Little Rock.  I booked a late night hotel rate on Priceline, and got some much needed rest.

Points of Interest in Little Rock:

The Old Mill

Less than 3 miles away from my first hotel was The Old Mill.  It is a picturesque park that was created as a replica of the grist mills from Arkansas’s early pioneers.  

The intricately designed space is popular for wedding and other photo shoots.  Here are some 10-second self timer shots of yours truly:

Riverfront Park

This area is a five minute walk to the Statehouse Convention Center which is the location for race packet pickup.  Parking is free and easy to find on a Friday afternoon.   

Why is it called “Little Rock”?

The French settlers named one side of the river La Petite Roche. The other side was called Big Rock.  The Native Americans were from the Quapaw Tribe. This is what remains of this area that has been developed with fitness trails and a six bridge skyline.  

This photo looks like a postcard, but it is actually a frame cut out facing the Junction Bridge.

Little Rock Central High School

The most significant part of my day was learning more about the Little Rock Nine on a tour of Little Rock Central High School.  I had so many things to do that I had forgotten to reserve a spot 48 hours in advance. I called in the morning and explained I was a teacher in town for the marathon, and it would be an honor to be included with the tour.  They were able to squeeze me in with a 6th grade tour group. It’s just meant for me to be surrounded by middle schoolers.

The “United” sculpture was installed in 2017 on the 60th anniversary of the integration of Central High.

School was in session while we toured the auditorium and the cafeteria to learn about the horrific racism faced by The Little Rock Nine.  Cameras and large bags are strictly prohibited for the safety and privacy of the students.

Across the street from the school is the gas station that was the media hub.

It was gut wrenching to stand on the same side walk, walk up the same entrance, and be in the hallways of where children were tormented by their peers and unprotected by adults because of their skin color.  

A story that stood out was the abuse that happened after P.E. class.  White students would flush all the toilets to make the shower water hot.  When the Black students would try to run out, they would cut their feet on broken glass that was purposely placed in their path.  The young ladies would have their dresses pulled over their heads in the restrooms and get shoved into the hallways for everyone to humiliate them.  It made me cry.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Center

On a  lighter note, I was able to thumb through some archives and see what Mr. Clinton was up to 23 years earlier on February 28th.  It made me smile that the President started his day with a jog.

There was a replica of the Cabinet Room and the Oval Office as it appeared during the Clinton Administration.  I noticed how the Secretary of Education had a seat at the head of the table.

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There were so many artifacts on the two floors of exhibit space including information about the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, information technology, personal letters, gifts, awards, and extracurricular activities.

There was a temporary exhibit of the 1990s.  I had to get a photo of the Forrest Gump running attire from the movie.  As President, Bill Clinton was gifted with numerous saxophones and his very own Presidential cruiser bike.

The Little Rock Half Marathon Challenge

I like how Little Rock offered different races to make it worth your while for traveling from out of state or other countries. I met a guy from Amsterdam who picked Little Rock at the last minute due to the Coronavirus cancelling the Tokyo Marathon with the exception of elite runners.  The #LRM would be my first time running back to back races, but that’s why it’s called a “challenge.”

I was not trying to overdo it with a 10K; I kept it light with a 5K.  This would be the race I would get into the 1980s theme. My first idea was to dress as a female hip hop artist.  Then, I thought it would be the last day of Black History Month. Let’s go with Flo-Jo, the 100m and 200m world record holder.  I remember watching the ‘88 Summer Olympics because I was training for the United States Youth Games. Florence Griffith Joyner was and still is one of my sports idols.

I went to a seamster and had him cut the left leg out of a pair of leggings.  He sewed it onto an old swimsuit once used as a layered suit to create more drag when I was cross-training.  The fish nets were a last minute decision because it was around 35° at the start.  

The obligatory “Flat Runner” photo:

The Little Rock 5K

The benefit of staying a block from the starting line was being able to stay warm in the hotel lobby.  I could have gone to the Marriott and waited in the Convention Center also. I ran a few warm-ups while a woman from El Paso snapped my photo.  I was breaking necks left and right. I received so many compliments. I was mistaken for dressing as Jazzercise which I totally forgot even existed.  It goes to show the lack of credit Flo Jo has for embracing femininity in her sports attire long before Serena rocked a catsuit.

The course was pretty simple.  It was a little tight for running room in the first turn.  The last half mile or so would be a preview for the half marathon finish.  According to my Garmin data, I ran long on the course. I would use this data to make sure I ran tight tangents on the half marathon.  

5K Results (Unofficial):

Time:  25:45 8:18 pace  

Age Group:  3rd out of 173   

Gender Rank:  15th out of 1160

Overall:  61st out of 1767

My goal was to finish at 24:00.  I was pleased to earn 3rd in my age group.

Little Rock Half Marathon

In addition to the #LRMarathon being known for the world’s largest marathon finisher’s medal, the Chicks in Charge (Race Directors) demonstrate inclusion by allowing a 6 a.m. start.  This allows pre-approved walkers and runners the benefit of a two hour early start. I was having coffee and oatmeal as the early starters made their way across the Broadway Bridge. 

I did not leave my hotel room until 7:47 for an 8:00 a.m. start.  Again, the Double Tree or the Marriott downtown are the best hotels to stay for this race.  There is no other race I have been this fortunate to have that extra lounge time.

Like a nerd, I studied the half marathon map provided in the guide book.  I would break the half marathon into these sections:

  1. The Bridge to North Little Rock and back. 
  2. Downtown to the airport
  3. The airport traffic circle to MacArthur Park.
  4. Governor’s Mansion to the Finish.

The first 3 miles took us across the Broadway Bridge and into North Little Rock.

There were a few raindrops between miles 2-3.  The rain was not supposed to move in until later in the day.  Thankfully, it was just a few drops that ended. We were blessed with 50-60° temps.  I have read that no two years are alike with heat, rain, sleet and snow all being possible conditions for this time of year in Arkansas.  

Miles 4-5 were the same course as the 5K in downtown.  I had a lot of appreciation for the Spin Class on the side of the road supporting runners on our way out to the airport.

Miles 6-8 was the flattest and most uniform with straightaways.  The head wind picked up which resulted in tailwind on the way back.

After leaving the airport and mile 8, I was feeling cocky.  I thought, “where are the hills I read about?” This next photo is the “hill.”  It is barely anything. I would classify this course as flat. I hear there are some real hills in the full marathon though.

Miles 9-10 is where we entered MacArthur Park.  The crowds were thick in this area. There were all kinds of beer and mimosa stops.  There was even a communion if you were feeling holy.

We passed by the Esse Purse Museum.

Another popular stop was grilled pineapple.  It. Was. So. Sweet.

Next, I was on the lookout for the Governor’s Mansion and my chance for a photo opp.  Would Governor Asa Hutchinson be there?

Yep, he sure was.  Regardless of political affiliation, name one marathon or half marathon where the Governor comes out to support.  I’ll wait.

I was down to the final two miles.  Sounds very easy, except the outside of my left foot was hurting. The tips of my right toes were hurting.  I was running on adrenaline at this point. God bless those marathon runners is what I thought as we approached the split.

For the last mile I had an attitude.  I was mad at the shoes, mad at my foot and mad that I would not be able to hawk people down at the finish line.  But wait. The race wasn’t over. One of the most talked about stops was on the final stretch. The L’Oreal Lipstick stop is in place to make sure we look our best in those finisher photos.  A big smile came upon my face when I saw my lovely Sorors of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. providing the lipstick. This was the support I needed to make it the last few strides.

The Mayor of Running, Bart Yasso announced my name as I worked my way inside the convention center to get my finisher and challenger medals

Half Marathon Results

Time:  1:53:14  8:38 pace 

Age Group:  11th out of 273

Gender Rank:  54th out of 1864

Overall:  265th out of 2981

Come Through Drippin’

Final Thoughts:

My perception of Little Rock has changed.  The city was very welcoming, the people were friendly, and there are some really nice areas in Little Rock.  I would recommend the #LRM because:

  • Fun Stations like the Queen Bee Half in Cincinnati.
  • Historical significance like the Mercedes Benz Half in Birmingham.
  • Ease of parking and logistics like the Derby Mini in Louisville.
  • Fast courses like the OneAmerica 500 in Indianapolis.
  • Not too crowded like the Marshall University Half in Huntington.

💋Kelsie Lou💋

Posted in Culture, Education, fitness, half marathon, health, landmarks, running, Teachers, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 36 Comments

Grand Turk Island

If you blink, you will miss it. The island of Grand Turk is only 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. The only way to visit Turks and Caicos via cruise ship is through the Grand Turk cruise port.

Panoramic view of Grand Turk photographed from Deck 11 of the Carnival Elation.

For the Carnival Elation second port of call on a five day itinerary, we decided to go with the flow. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to rent a car, or take a group excursion.

It’s us again

A gentleman approached me as soon as we walked through the Duty Free shop. He asked what I was interesting in doing and seeing. He offered us a two hour tour for half the rate of what Carnival charges. We were on a open air tram with people from Chicago and some Jamaicans from New York. It was a good time.

Grand Turk is still recovering from back to back Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. The land is not suitable to produce anything. There are two import deliveries every week.

Donkeys and wild horses roam the island freely. There are areas with pink flamingos, although we did not see any during our excursion. We probably saw more donkeys than humans. Apparently everyone was recovering from Christmas parties the night before.

Donkeys were very concentrated near the lighthouse.

With just over 3,000 residents, most homes do not have addresses. Residents are known for the color of their home or the owner’s name. When two cruise ships are docked, the travelers outnumber the locals.

There is a small airport that offers commuter flights to Providenciales (Provo).

The beach is literally steps away from the ship dock. The left side is rocky, but easy to find conch shells.

The dry and sunny weather is the perfect combination for sea salt production. Remnants of the low profiting “white gold” that ended in the 1960’s are still around.

Average of 350 sunny days a year.

I was mesmerized by how beautiful the water was. I have never seen the ocean have a glow like I saw in Grand Turk.

The darker blue area is called “The Grand Turk Wall” because of a 7,000 ft plunge.

We drove through the capital of Turks and Caicos, Cockburn Town, and made a stop in the “downtown” area for shopping, food and drinks.

Todd’s- the oldest store on the island. Built in the 1880’s.
Historic Lighthouse at the Northernmost part of Grand Turk.

After the island tour, I had a few hours to hang out at the beach and enjoy the crystal clear water. I walked along the beach to the popular Jack’s Shack hangout. I was looking forward to seeing their Golden Doodles (one passed away Dec 2nd) digging in the sand.

I found this doggy minding his business.
Margaritaville Grand Turk located steps from the beach.
Lifeguard on Duty
South end of the Grand Turk Cruise Center. Best spot for conch shells. Oceanside massage huts.

I wanted my passport stamped, but the office was closed due to the holiday. I spent the rest of the time buying souvenirs and walking around the John Glenn Mercury 7 open air museum. His space craft launched from Port Canaveral, and landed in the Atlantic Ocean, near Grand Turk.

Splashdown Grand Turk. Replica of John Glenn’s spacecraft at the airport.
On the way back to Port Canaveral.

Kelsie Lou

Posted in Beaches, landmarks, Travel, Turks and Caicos | Tagged , , , ,

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic Tour

Amber Cove Cruise Port

Popular photo spot for tourists. It lights up at nighttime.

The Amber Cove terminal was built by Carnival Cruise lines in the Bay of Maimon.

Amber Cove Port by Carnival Cruise lines, ocean cabanas, view of Sky Bar
Carnival masks in Amber Cove Cruise Port

Puerto Plata Tour

We skipped the Carnival excursions and poolside activities to book with Iguana Mama Adventure Tours. The independent contractors are not allowed to pick up guest in the terminal, so we had a little walk to the highway to meet with our tour guides. Just our luck, we were the only people booked. Christmas Day and my Mom’s birthday turned into a personalized experience.

Isabel De Torres National Park

Our first stop was the Teleferico Puerto Plata Cable Car. With this being a very last minute vacation, I did not have time to research everything. I just knew the cable car would take us to the Jesus statue.

My Mom defiantly said, “I’m not getting on that.” I told her it was like a tram I rode in Gatlinburg and we were only going “there,” as I pointed at the trees. Little did I know, I would be the one having to do breathing exercises to avoid getting sick. I had to look down as we went up a half mile (800 meters).

Follow the red tower for perspective of how high we were.
Going down was easier than the ascent. The passing cable car was going up.

I heard three versions of why Christopher Columbus named the city Puerto Plata, or City of Silver: the clouds, the glow of the water at sunset, and the shimmer from the trees in the mountain.

The lighter parts of the trees have a silvery tint to them from this view.
The red tower is no longer in view. We are are in the clouds.

The view from the summit was worth the fright I experienced. We walked the park and learned about wild life and flora. What looked like cats, the Dominicans called pumas.

Hibiscus, “virgin flower” given name because it never opens, sunflowers, poinsettias.
Puerto Plata Coat of Arms can be seen around the city.
Christ the Redeemer similiar to Rio de Janeiro at the 2nd highest point in DR

The photographers at the base of the statue are pros at getting the best photos. They only ask that you buy something from the gift shop inside the dome that used to be a grass covered look out for one of the dictators. I was happy to buy some trinkets to support their hustle. The vendors threw in some free stuff too. That seemed to be the norm every time I purchased souvenirs.

The open arms are a symbol of peace.
What a way to celebrate Christmas.

Macorix House of Rum

Macorix Tour Entrance
We saw a 7 minute video about the history of the company and how rum is made.
The toast level went from mild to heavy during 9 samples.
We ended with Pineapple, Apple, and Coconut flavors.

Fort San Felipe

The oldest structure in Puerto Plata is Fort San Felipe due to most of the city being destroyed by wars in the 1860’s against the Spanish. It was built between 1564-1577 to guard the seaport from pirates.

Holding down the Fort. Nothing new.

Kaffe Restaurant Bistro

Walking into Kaffe was like being greeted at family member’s home. It smelled fresh, the server was very welcoming, and the ambiance was just immaculate. Keep in mind that the host opened four hours early to accommodate us on Christmas Day.

Kaffe entrance
Eclectic courtyard seating

The all inclusive tour included admission prices, drinks and our choice of lunch. I went with the Dominican fried chicken, rice & beans and passion fruit with rum. Delish!

Typical Dominican lunch

Paseo de Doña Blanca

This area was home to a hotel ran by Italian immigrants.
Hotel alley that has been refurbished to commemorate the start of tourism in Puerto Plata.
Dona Blanca bench

We did some sightseeing nearby at Umbrella Street and Parque Central.

“You can stand under my umbrella ella ella eh-eh-eh”
Independence Plaza
Puerto Plata City Hall
Vicrtorian Architecture

Espigon Cigars

I had the opportunity to learn more about making cigars at the Espigon Cigar Factory.

Skilled cigar makers

After a sample of Mama Juana, my Mom and I got a major surprise. The cigar makers told us to sit down. We hear music and out walks this beauty to dance with us. My Mom thought she was taking a video, but I ended up with still shots. We danced all over the shop. It was so much fun!

Final Thoughts

Puerto Plata is the second most visited city next to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. I experienced so much hospitality as a traveler when I know everyone wanted to be at home with their loved ones for Christmas. I am grateful for their kindness. The Dominican Republic is a place I would return for a 5-7 day visit to see more of the country.

I was in awe over the lush terrain. Puerto Plata was the cleanest Caribbean city I have visited. This may be due to hurricanes rarely hitting the Dominican Republic and rebuilding taking place less often.

I highly recommend Iguana Tours for first time visitors. We sang “Feliz Navidad” along with “Happy Birthday” on the way back to Amber Cove. They sent us walking back to the ship with a cup of “Dominican Gasoline” and Coke. Muy Bueno!

Kelsie Lou

Posted in Dominican Republic, landmarks, Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Carnival Elation Cruise Ship Review

Oh Ship! It’s a Mother Daughter Trip!

My Mom exposed me to cruising as a teenager when we took our first Carnival cruise to the Bahamas. Over the years, we have sailed to Bermuda, Cuba, and all over the Caribbean aboard Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cruise lines. I chose the Carnival Elation because the ports to Grand Turk and Amber Cove were destinations we have never visited.

Stateroom

We were on the Upper Deck (6) with an ocean view. I prefer natural light in the rooms.

Cabin U161 Aft section by the elevators.

Carnival allows door decorations. Christmas day is my Mom’s birthday, so the steward showed some love with a few gift certificates and on board credits.

Decks

The Lido Deck 10
21 and up Serenity section on Deck 9
Christmas and Hanukkah in the Atrium lobby deck 7
Carnival Waterworks on Deck 11. I preferred the lounge area on Deck 11 more than the cramped up Serenity loungers. Best view for sunsets.

Food

The food on the Carnival Elation was better than what Norwegian offers. The buffet area was called Tiffany’s. The two dining formal areas had the same menu except one was for cruisers who selected their time and the other was “Your Time Dining.”

The buffet food tasted better than the dining rooms. Other choices were a deli, Guy’s Burger, and the BlueIguana Cantina. One drawback to having the Guy’s Burger on the Lido deck is constantly smelling beef during the day. This would annoy me if I were vegan.

The highlight of our dining and overall Elation experience was paying additional for the Chef’s Table. We savored a 13 course meal in an intimate setting that began with a champagne toast in the Atrium.

We moved to the galley to see where 320 chefs and servers operate the ship’s culinary operations.

Liver pate (tastes like caramel)
Fresh parmesan and olives
Salmon and rosemary
Shrimp with bacon infused ice cream
Melting Chocolate Cake preparation

After cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, the Sous-chef led us into a special room for a VIP dining experience.

Personalized menu
Tweezers used to make the perfect presentations.
Spring Peas & Matcha Soup. We mixed the herbs with sprigs of chives held together with a cherry tomato and pineapple top.
Honey butter with pastry
Berkshire Pork Belly, Shrimps
Lamb, beets, pumpkin squash
Smoking cloche for veal
Veal, crushed green apples in light cheese broth
Olive oil poached sea bass, white asparagus & white miso
Quail, wild rice made with 5 variations of mushrooms, parmesan and pepper threads

Red and white wine pairings were flowing for each course leading up to the two desserts. We were given the option of coffee and tea to cap off the evening.

Citrus Cream- lime snow, elderflower caviar
Chocolate Hazelnut- basil moss, cocoa logs, chocolate soil

The servers presented each of us with the recipe for Carnival’s popular melting cake and group photo copy taken at the beginning of dinner.

Cruise Fashion

Most cruises have a formal night on the 2nd full day of the sailing. Because it was the holidays, Mom and I wanted to be classy on every night.

Mom in Duke’s piano bar

We made the most of our 5 days aboard the Elation. For a ship that has been refurbished in 2018, there is still room for improvement. I saw other Carnival ships in the ports and they looked kinda rusty as well. This was never my experience on Norwegian or Royal Caribbean.

Also, the dress codes were not enforced. I saw durags, hair bonnets, PJs, and swim attire in dining areas. Getting hand sanitizer was optional prior to touching serving utensils. There were two family spades tourneys going on at the dining tables. I had a flashback to college dorm days with cards slapping and trash talk.

Some of the teens were unruly and running all throughout the ship. They talked crazy to the stewards and lacked home training. On the bright side, all of the staff were very friendly. Unless it is a new, mega ship this will be my last cruise aboard Carnival.

Seas ‘n Greetings

Kelsie Lou

Posted in family, fashion, Florida, food, Travel | Tagged ,

Santa’s 🎅 Run for our Kids 5K

Santa’s Run for our Kids

Winter Haven, Florida

December 21, 2019

I was on the first thing smokin’ outta Louisville for Winter Break. My Mom and I were on a mission to compete in another 5K. The Christmas themed race is organized by the Winter Haven Optimist Club. I had the option of running a 10K, but I was not waking up at the break of dawn for a 7 am starting time.

I knew the course route from running the 10K a few years ago and placing 2nd place female overall. The race plan was the same as the Turkey Trot; race hard then go back and help my Mom finish.

The 6:00 miler racers took the lead as I settled into my happy pace. I was alone for a half mile until I heard jingle bells. I knew that meant competition. Game on!

Just as I expected, there was a lady making me put in work. She played it smart by using me as her pacer and staying a stride behind me. I made my mind up that if she passed me, I would get her at the finish. We hit 1.5 miles, both bypassing the water stop. She made her move and lead by about 5 strides. With less than a half mile to go, she stopped for whatever reason. I made my way to finish 2nd place female overall.

I was not happy with my time being 28 seconds slower than the Turkey Trot. We had some head wind, but the humidity was low and I felt fine health wise. Maybe the missing sprint at the end is what made my time slower.

Next, it was time to double back and get my Mom. She trimmed 1:30 off of her last 5K time and earned 1st place in her age group.

Mom finishing strong.
FITniche Sponsor awarding my Mom 1st place Age Group.
Finisher shirt, medal and Age Group Medal.

My brother, Brad flew in the next day. He hasn’t been on “The Blog” in a while. We had time to catch up argue on the drive to take my Mom and I to Port Canaveral.

One type A personality. One type B. Guess which is which.

My Dad has been behind the scenes also. He has lost a lot of weight as a complication from dementia. Unfortunately, he had a minor fall that resulted in a partial hip replacement the day after these photos were taken. Life happens. Embrace life and the people who matter the most.

Brad, Kelsie, Big Phil. I stay getting side eyed.

Merry Everything, Happy Every Day!

Kelsie Lou

Posted in fitness, Florida, health, mothers, running | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Thankful for Miles

My Mom had a 48 hour notice about the Lake Wales YMCA Turkey Trot. I gave her the option to participate based on how she felt on Thanksgiving morning. She said if it was too hot, she was not doing it.

The 8:00 a.m. start is later than what she is used to for her daily walks. The temperature was only 67° which is mild for Floridians.

For a smaller race, my goal was to place in my age group. I needed to push through because I was dealing with a sinus infection. I told my Mom I would complete my race, then go back and find her on the course.

I got a dose of my own medicine when a young lady hawked me down at the finish. I beat her crossing the line. I knew her chip time would come in faster because I started ahead of her. She beat me by a 10th of a second. I was 20/324 overall, 3rd place Female overall, and 1st place Masters Female.

Next, I had to walk towards the lake to get my Mom. The rising sun and 97% humidity was making it difficult. We walked the last mile together. I stepped aside so she could own her moment of running across the finish line.

Alice Smoot completing a 5k at age 75.
AKAs running circles around you
Kelsie Smoot 1st Place Masters
Mom was 5/10 in her Age Group

I am thankful for a mother who exposed me to various sports in my youth. She drove me to the Eastside of Detroit to practice with the Motor City Track Club. I am thankful for my Dad’s genes. Phillip L. Smoot Sr. was the captain of the Scott High (Madison, WV) basketball team, team MVP, and averaged 20 points his senior year in 1962.

Forever thankful for my parents and enjoying the views of their retirements:

🌞Kelsie Lou🌞

Posted in family, fitness, Florida, running, Travel | Tagged , ,