Wednesday, August 23, 2023

We're in the Bahamas - that means diving!

 No way we were going to the Bahamas and not go diving. We arranged 3 more nights at the Golden Palms B&B and booked 2 days of diving with Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas. They've been around a long time. We've gone diving elsewhere with people who worked at Stuart Cove's and I think they've given presentations at our dive club in the past. Anyway, it was an easy choice when we decided to go diving in the Bahamas. The only other time we dove near Nassau was on the liveaboard Blackbeards

They picked us up at the B&B and took us to the boat.

I thought it was interesting that they only took credit cards or online payments. What a different world it is than the one I grew up in! The Bahamas has it's own dollar, but apparently it is pegged to the US dollar because we did not need to change any money. We used American dollars and gave the number that was quoted wherever we went - except here😂. 

We had nice weather, and not too many divers on board, so it was relaxed. We did reefs and wrecks. I'm not a huge fan of diving wrecks, but these were more interesting than most. We had sharks on every dive, and at least one turtle. So good to get in the water!

Dives we did. Day 1: 20 pumpkin patch, 25 mikes reef, Day 2- 17 twin sisters, 26 the ridge- wall next to tongue of the ocean. Numbers come from the image above. 
Here's the gps marker from Jim's dive computer/watch. Showing Aug 22 Dive at Twin Sisters dive site near tongue of the ocean! Jim tells a story about his first wall dive back in the 70s - on tongue of the ocean.

And, here's a video Jim put together on his Pixel phone - this was his first dive using the underwater housing for his phone.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Bahamas hosts a plethora of Toastmasters

We are no strangers to the Bahamas. We are scuba divers, and the Bahamas has some of the best scuba diving in the world. Jim's and my first boat trip together was to West End near Freeport. But, we've never been to "this" Bahamas.

Not our normal dive!

This is the fancy resort convention (ie expensive) Bahamas. It is beautiful and the convention facilities are as good or better than anything I've ever seen before.
There are about 1,000 people attending the convention and they are from all over the world. The opening ceremonies included a parade of flags - over 100 of them - that is only rivaled by the Olympics. There are also a LOT of Toastmasters right here in the Bahamas. Most people I know back home don't even know what Toastmasters is, but here in the Bahamas it seems to be common knowledge. When we passed thru customs and said the purpose of our visit was to attend a conference the agent asked if it was for Toastmasters. Our cab driver said his brother is a Toastmaster and is attending and he told us all about Tony Longley, the director for the area. According to our taxi driver, Bahamas is the largest center of offshore banks in the world and Toastmasters is encouraged to help prepare people to be successful in business.
In addition to the parade of Flags, the opening ceremonies included a speech by the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Philip Davis. He tells of his 40+ years as a Toastmaster and how he was instrumental in changing the status of the Bahamian clubs from 'undistricted' to part of District 47 along with Florida. Clubs must have a district in order to send speakers to the International Speaking contest. Semifinals for the contest were held yesterday and one of the winners, Anastarcia Palacious, is from the Bahamas. That's a big deal - these speakers are 'knock-your-socks-off' good.
I first joined Toastmasters because of my 5th grade teacher, Lillian Smith. This was in 1964, before women were allowed in Toastmasters, they had their own 'Toastmistress' clubs. I was living, and attending grade school, in Anchorage Alaska and Mrs. Smith was involved in a Toastmistress club that started a junior auxiliary. She made me join and I soon became the president!

I joined again in Morro Bay, CA when I was a lawyer in 1981. This time it was the regular Toastmasters. I was so impressed with the other members. I loved hearing their stories and telling them mine. When I moved back to Florida I checked out the local Toastmasters, but it took me till sometime in the 90s to find Earlybirds where I felt right at home. Jim also joined, so it became a staple in our lives. We even visited Toastmaster clubs as we traveled. In New Jersey, Arizona, and even in Brisbane, Australia.
Even though I've been involved in TM for a long time, it was always just about enjoying the speaking and the comaraderie, I really never paid much attention to the organization. Being at the convention is teaching me what a cool organization it is. Founded by Ralph Smedley in 1924. I looked him up and I liked what I found: 

Ralph Smedley on wikipediaThe father of Toastmasters, Ralph C. Smedley, was known to be a modest and quiet person. A tireless worker with a passion for helping others to realize their full potential himself, he was far from flashy or flamboyant.[1]

He had always been determined to make Toastmasters, his brainchild, a success.


In 1903, at YMCA, he saw the need of interpersonal skills pertaining to communication, management and leadership in the community. In order to aid people to learn how to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees, he started the speaking club - The Toastmasters Club 

From that humble beginning, toastmasters now encompasses 280,000 members in more than 14,700 clubs in 144 countries.
Jim and I are proud to be in that number.

Over the 4 days of the convention Jim and I helped out with different functions as "Helping Hands" volunteers. Mostly at the registration desk.

We also attended educational workshops. My favorite by far was called "No Joke: Engaging your Audience like a Clown (not the creepy kind.) The speaker was Don Colliver. He was so good, I went straight to Amazon on my phone and purchased the kindle version of his book Wink. He gave some concrete techniques to be more effective and get some laughs in the process.
The primary purpose of the convention is to crown the World Champion of Public Speaking. There were several sessions where the semi-finalists gave their speeches, then the winners of that took the stage on the final day. WOW I think I'm pretty good at public speaking ... right now I feel pretty low on the totem pole. These folks are phenomenal. You're laughing, crying, on the edge of your seat, and feeling inspired. There's a lot to learn. The word I'm taking away from this whole even is "engaging." That's the goal of public speaking - to Engage your audience. 

On Saturday, 8 speakers competed and Jocelyn Tyson won the championship. We felt privileged to be able to witness this event. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Island Time

We didn't think it was anything unusual. We thought that being on time was something all airlines did. Either we have been very lucky with our travels or we're a bit naive, or both. Other than a delay caused by a volcano erupting, we rarely have problems with our flights. 
This flight was scheduled for 9:30 to leave Fort Lauderdale and arrive in Nassau at 10:30. We got up at 6, called an Uber at 7, arrived at the airport at 7:35. The line was long at the BahamasAir check in desk, we made it through that and security and sat down at the gate at about 8:45. That's why it's important to get to the airport early, right? 
Long lines at the Bahamas Air check-in

Jim stood in line to get us a breakfast sandwich and that took another half hour. When I looked at my watch and saw 9:10 I started to worry that Jim wouldn't make it back in time to board. No need to worry. There was no boarding call. At 9:40 we heard an announcement that the flight was delayed to 10:45. We ate our sandwiches, caught up on email and news, studied all the people waiting with us, laughed with the little kids rumbling around, even read a chapter of my book on kindle. 
It's now 11:06 and we're still sitting here with no further announcement. 
Welcome to island time. 
Ahhh, we just had an announcement. There's a mechanical issue with the plane, they will have an update in 45 minutes. We have a mandatory meeting to attend for the Toastmasters conference at 2pm. We thought we were going to have a few hours to kill, now we'll be lucky not to be late. 
Well, it is now 12:45 and the last word was to expect an update at 2pm. We will definitely miss our meeting. 

It is now 3pm and they just announced "we will let you know in 30 minutes about the status of your flight" What the hero does that mean? A couple hours ago they have is all vouchers for$15 of food.  We went across the hall and had a beer.  Couldn't use the voucher because that was for food only,  but it was a nice attitude adjustment.  The folks sitting next to us at the bar struck up a conversation and were on a shopping trip to buy an RV. We had a lot to talk about!
We've both tried to communicate with the facilitators of the meeting we were supposed to attend but no response to our emails or charts in the conference apps.
Que Sera Sera 

4:20 and we're finally seated on the plane. They never did give us any information about what work was being done on the plane. I was impressed with how calm everyone was, sitting in the waiting area for hour after hour. At the 3:00 Mark we did hear some shouting by people up around gate. So, looks like 6 hours is a normal breaking point. 

On our way! I still love air travel. I enjoy the window seat and trying to identify places we fly over. This is Bimini - we go diving there regularly.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Passport Panic

 Our passports are not due to expire until August, 2024, so why did we turn them in for renewal in May 2023? A couple of reasons

  1. A friend of ours - Cary Tennis, was at the Miami airport ready to board his plane to France and they turned him away because his passport was expiring within 90 days of travel! I did not know this rule. We have travel planned for 2024 - not within 90 days of August, but pretty close. See his story about the ordeal at Marooned in Miami
  2. We've been hearing news that passport renewals are taking a long time. 10-13 weeks standard, and some stories of up to 6 months. 
We studied the calendar - we had international travel planned for October 2023 and April 2024 - and decided the safest time to submit the passports for renewal was - NOW - that was in May. The online passport renewal process apparently was down for renovations so we had to fill out real paperwork and send in our old passports by mail. I don't like being without a passport! We generally plan travels 6-10 months out, but there's nothing I enjoy more than taking advantage of spur-of-the-moment opportunities. Without a passport - that's impossible. 

In June, Jim accepted another year as president of our Toastmasters club, and I took on the role of VP of Education. This made us take a look at the Toastmasters International Convention scheduled for August 16 in the Bahamas. Toastmasters is a cool thing - we've been going to local club meetings and practicing our public speaking for over 20 years. We even visit Toastmasters clubs as we travel, in New Jersey, Arizona, and even Brisbane Australia. This year, the International Convention is in our District, and therefore we are part of the hosting. They were looking for volunteers to help run the convention. We decided to go - hey we can do a little scuba diving there as well! The prospect of doing something completely different - being part of a group of workers at a convention - has me really excited. I love meeting new people, and the people who are part of Toastmasters are interesting people. They're there because they want to improve themselves and learn and teach! My kind of people.  

Uh-Oh - we don't have passports! Well, passports aren't actually required for the Bahamas right? I remember going there may years ago and just showing a drivers license. 

Wrong. Passports are definitely required now - regardless of your mode of transportation. 

Well - our renewals were acknowledged received on May 30, we'll need them on August 15 - that's 11 weeks. I'll bet they'll be here in plenty of time. That 10-13 weeks is just outside estimates, right? 

We checked on paying for expedited service, but you're supposed to do that when you first apply. Now they say, if your date of travel is within 2 weeks - call the Passport office and you can get an appointment to visit the office (in Miami) and they'll manually finish the renewal process and you'll get your passport in a few days. So, we called on August 1 - they said, oh no, no, no - Aug 1 to Aug 15 is not within 2 weeks, call us back tomorrow. Geez. 

We called back on Aug 2 and asked to get an appointment in Miami. They said, no can do, you now need to be within 5 days of travel in order to get an appointment! Yikes - I don't think our blood pressure can take that kind of time frame. Can we pay for expedited service? She said, sure but it won't help - expedited service takes 27 days. 

What can you do? She said that she can send in a note on our file for "urgent travel." OK, please do so. She said, OK, but we did not receive any notification that our passport status had changed and no one contacted us to confirm that we had actual travel plans within 2 weeks. We were losing hope. Can we really wait till 5 days before to know if we can go or not? We started looking at cancellation policies on the flights, hotel, diving, and conference fees. Not good. Well, this may be giving me the opportunity to test if our Chase credit card really does give us trip insurance just by paying with the card. (nope - they have an exception. If you have to cancel travel due to not having the required documents - that's on you. No insurance coverage for that.)

I started planning other things for those 8 days. We kept checking our passport status, not really expecting to see any change. The backlog of passport renewals even made national news programs. Families who had planned their trip-of-a-lifetime were unable to go due to lack of passport. Sigh.

We kept checking the passport status hourly, it kept saying "In Process." We went on with our lives. I went to an appointment. When I came home, Jim said - come take a look:

I'll be damned. Something did happen! We screamed and did happy dances. We were SO SURPRISED. Well, as Jim says - they're not in our hands yet.

I'll let you know.


Happy Dance!! Jim's passport was in our mailbox on Monday Aug 7. Mine took a more nuanced route to get here. I watched the tracking screen while my passport was logged in at Opa Locka (several cities south of us), then Hollywood (one city south of us) then back to Opa Locka, and finally Fort Lauderdale. Mine reached us on Wednesday Aug 9. 
Here we come Bahamas! for the International Toastmasters convention ... and a couple days of diving.