Sometimes Chocolate is the Best Therapy

A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts on our yellow lab Molly and how she has taught me so much but we have another furry member of our family that has taught us some important lessons as well. Bailey is our nine-year old chocolate lab. Of our two dogs, she is the most laid back and truly the easiest kept dog ever. As long as her basic needs are met (food, shelter, potty breaks), she’s content to just hang out by my side. She’s my alarm clock, my reminder to let things go and not stress so much, my constant in this sometimes chaotic life. No matter what is happening in our day, she’s the one thing we can count on to be “normal” and completely unaffected by our craziness.

When Bailey was born she was pushed from the rest of the litter and almost died. Found cold and barely breathing, she was taken to be warmed and bottle fed until she was strong enough to return to her family. She slept in the bed with her people and was spoiled from day one. We were honored when we were told that we were the only people that she would be allowed to go to (otherwise they were keeping her). Because we were entrusted with this beautiful sweet girl, I’ve tried to be even more vigilant when it comes to her safety and well-being than normal. She’s my four-legged baby and always will be. My Bailey.

When we first brought her home, Molly was only a year old and was still pretty rambunctious. Poor Bailey could hardly use the bathroom without being upended by Molly on one of her romps through the yard. Because of this, Bailey has always seemed like the submissive one…to Molly. However, if she finds something that will run from her, she’ll chase it until it’s out of sight and then come running back to me with the biggest “smile” on her face. She’s so proud of herself! She might be bullied by her “sissy” but she’s no pushover. It makes my heart happy to see the sheer joy on her face.

Sweet Bailey would have made a perfect mommy dog (if I believed in breeding) we’ve found. When she was two, Matt brought home a 2 lb kitten that had been found in the median of a busy intersection where he worked. Within a few days, the kitten realized that the dogs weren’t going to eat her and proceeded to “adopt” Bailey as her mother. She’d curl into her as she laid on the couch and suckle on Bailey’s lower lip. I couldn’t believe it when Bailey just laid there and let her do it. I think it was more of a comfort thing for the kitten than a need for food though because she only did it when she wanted love. To this day, they are still the best of friends.IMG_0368

A few days after she turned two, Bailey had her first TTA surgery to fix a torn CCL (basically the same an the ACL in humans). The recovery was rough but after about nine weeks, she was better than ever. However, the surgeon who did the surgery advised us that 60% of dogs that tear one CCL will likely tear the other one within a few years. Like clockwork, the second CCL was torn about four months before she turned five. She had her second surgery at the end of October and this time took almost six months to heal. It was horrible watching her struggle through the winter with one arthritic leg (due to the first surgery) and one leg that was taking its sweet time healing properly. She pushed through it like a champ though as long as I stayed by her side as much as humanly possible. At night, I’d lay on the floor with her while she would try to get comfortable enough to drift off to sleep and she’d lay her big head on my chest and sigh. She’s never been an “in your face” affectionate dog so this time with her was really special to me. She’s such a brave and happy girl. I think that helped in her healing. Of course, it also helped her become even more spoiled and even more essential to the beating of my heart.

There have been times when I’ve wondered why she was pushed from the litter, if there was something her mom sensed about her that wasn’t “normal”. If there was some abnormality in her legs from birth that couldn’t be seen by the naked eye. But then, I look at our special girl with her crossed-eyes and stiff-legged walk and I am reminded of the movie Forrest Gump and how, even though the character was a simple man who started out life with some physical disabilities, he still had an amazing ability to love even those who seemed unloveable. I couldn’t imagine what my world would have been without Bailey in it. It makes me thankful that we, as humans, don’t always “let nature take its course” and that we sometimes go above and beyond to save something we feel is precious enough to be saved.

When I look at Bailey, I’m reminded me to never give up, no matter the odds. Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed even if our greatest joy is only an occasional burst of energy that makes us feel free from the burdens of our physical pain. Instead of seeking material things beyond our basic needs, we should all be content to just breathe a sigh of relief when those needs are met. We should enjoy every moment we are given with the ones we love and live life with a big goofy smile on our faces, just happy to be alive because life really is “like a box of chocolates”.

Silent Observation

I’ve always known that my yellow labrador retriever, Molly, is very intelligent; almost human in a lot of ways. I’ve always said that I expect her to just start talking to me any day now. She is so observant of the world around her and so in-tune with it. She always knows when to come around and pass out hugs or slobbery kisses. Since our daughter was born, Molly has become her protector. From the first moment she met her two-legged sister, she has responded to every little cry, squeal, and laugh as if Kylie were her own offspring. She kept me company in the wee hours during that first year and has been my constant companion ever since. It’s funny, when we got her, I was still healing from the horrible loss of our black lab Rudy and had a hard time bonding with Molly. Even though I would play with her some, she was mainly my husband’s dog because it felt like a betrayal to me. Somehow I think she understood and she gave me plenty of time to sort it all out. I believe with all my heart that she was meant to be our dog; sent by an angel named Rudy. Now I don’t know what I’d do without her.

Molly has always been quiet and reserved. Back in the US she would sit on the bank outside our house and look up at the sky at night. She looked like she was counting the stars. Or, as my husband would always say, “contemplating her existence”. She’s never been a big barker unless she’s playing with a ball that she wants you to throw or kick. It’s at that point that her natural dog instincts seem to kick in and she forgets all else in the world except for that ball. Most of the time though, she’s very quiet and notices every detail of her surroundings. She’s even that way with food. When you offer her something from your hand, she has to smell it first and often will take it from you and drop it on the floor so that she can thoroughly inspect it before tasting it. She can seem to be in the deepest sleep possible and one slight move by anyone else in the room will awaken her to full alert in a split second even at ten years old. We’ve always called her our walking barometer because hours before a storm arrives, she’ll start shaking and wanting to be as close as possible to us. Her extreme sensitivity can be both amazing and frightening at the same time.

This morning I watched her in one of her moments of silent observation as she got to know a baby monkey that was teasing her from the wall around our pool. So innocent, so beautiful and so hilariously annoying. She never barked or made even the slightest movement toward it. She just sat and watched as it would come closer, then run away, then closer still. It was almost like a dance between the two of them as the monkey tried to get her to react. I so wish I would have been able to hear the “conversation” that was taking place between them. I wanted so badly to move closer. But, taking a cue from Molly, I too became a silent observer.

I have been thinking about that scene all morning and about how it made me realize that Molly and I are alike in a lot of ways. We both like to take our time when meeting someone new. But, unlike Molly, I’ve gotten caught up in “life” and forgotten how to slow down and enjoy each moment in my day to day life. As I look back, I wonder how many beautiful moments I’ve missed by being in too big of a hurry; in a hurry to grow up…to finish college and start my life…to get married and start a family…to start over when I realized I wasn’t where I was meant to be. I’ve always been a firm believer that God has put me in certain places at certain times so that I could be influenced and inspired in the way He intended. I think today, He intended for me to be inspired by Molly; by her sweet way of observing the world and just taking it all in. I think He’s guiding me to something that I never would have imagined on my own. I think what I need to do now is just silently observe and open my heart to whatever He has in store for me next. Thanks for the reminder Molly.

Ah…life on an island…where the pace is relaxed and reliable internet service is non-existent.

So, it’s been about two weeks since my last post due to internet issues on the island (the whole island) and a lot has happened since then. First of all, my in-laws arrived for a two-week visit after having their first-ever flight cancelled, being told that there were no hotel rooms available in the area due to a conference, being sent outside the security area for a “complimentary toothbrush” for their overnight stay in the airport (and not being told that once they left the secure area they would not be allowed back in), and being told that they would not be allowed to get their gate-checked bags back (which contained daily medications). Thanks for the memories US Airways…you suck!

At one point we had a moment of phone service here on the island and Matt’s mom was able to let me know what was going on. Immediately I began the search for a place for them to stay for the night (not knowing that they were outside the security area without access to any amenities). Having connections with someone who works for a chain of hotels comes in very handy as does Facebook which I was able to access from my cell phone. Through this connection, I was able to ascertain that there were, in fact, many rooms available in the area with shuttle service for the airport, just none that the airline wanted to pay for since the cancelled flight was their fault. After finally being able to call back to the US and get in touch with them, my husband and I felt much more at ease when they told us they’d be staying in a hotel for the night and getting a hot meal instead of trying to sleep in the lobby of the airport beside the ticket counter.

The next day as they were rerouted through St. Thomas we found out that their bags had been lost by the airline. Under normal circumstances, this would just be a huge inconvenience but the bags contained critical medication needed by my father-in-law and we had no idea if the medication was even available here in Saint Kitts. Another round of phone calls back to the US (this time on my cell phone at international rates) began trying to trace the bags and make sure they made it to the airport in time for their arrival. We each spoke with no less than three people both in the US and in Saint Kitts giving information about the bags and flight numbers, etc. only to be told that there was nothing we could do without a tracking number (which Matt’s parents had with them and they were in the air on their way to St. Thomas). Luckily they were rerouted through St. Thomas though because, being a USVI, they were able to find a pharmacy that could call back to the US and have the prescription transferred there to be filled; something we would not have been able to do here without taking him to see a local doctor who wouldn’t be in until Tuesday (Monday was a Saint Kitts’ Labour Day Holiday) Since our internet was down, we weren’t able to help them with rescheduling their flight or even communicate with them during much of their trip. Being first-time fliers they were at the mercy of the airline and airport personnel. This made things very stressful on both ends of the spectrum. So, after leaving home early Friday morning, the Hagas finally arrived at our home around 10:00 pm Saturday night. Though they were tired from the trip, all it took was one hug from Kylie to help ease the stress.

Since their arrival, the in-laws have experienced first-hand the realities of living on an island. Not because of things they’ve been able to do here but because we spent almost ALL of last week waiting on the internet guy to show up and fix our line. He came every day for a few minutes at a time; each day leaving without being able to fix the problem. Needless to say, I’m sure they were bored to tears. At least we have the pool and they were able to travel back and forth with me to pick up Kylie from school so they were able to see some of the island along the way.


By Thursday, we finally gave up and decided to start exploring the island with a trip to the southeast peninsula and Reggae Beach Bar & Grill. Lunch was the Mahi-Mahi sandwich and it was delicious!!! Best food on the island so far! We visited the resident monkeys and spent some time people watching on the beach before heading back to pick the girl up from school.

Of course, we’ve also taken them to some of the normal tourist spots like Brimstone Fortress and Port Zante/Downtown. Overall it’s been a very enjoyable time with them and it’s going to be hard to say goodbye Monday morning. But, there’ll be trips home to look forward to as well as visits from family and friends. Hopefully next time everyone can travel with much less stress though. Until then I’ll get back to writing about our experiences as a family of three (plus two big baby dogs).

The first few months of chaos (part 2)

When we first went back to the US to pack up our things, Kylie & I did a lot of shopping. I know, that sounds like fun but it was hard work. During our first month on the island we pretty much determined that the little luxuries (like peanut butter, toilet paper, and brand name tampons) were very expensive. So, off to Sams and Target we went filling up huge carts and running up credit card bills as we went. Our goal: to fill up the shipping container with as many of these items as we had room for after our major needs were packed. Of course, most of the major needs were centered around Kylie and her books and toys, the dogs’ food and beds and a few things thrown in for Matt and me. After being on the island for a month prior to this though, dropping a grand on paper products didn’t seem bad at all. (It’s funny how quickly your perception changes when you’re faced with a $14.00 jar of JIF – yes, I said $14.00 US or $39.99 EC). I’ll talk more about the craziness that is Grocery Shopping in a later post.

As I said in part 1, we sold my Volvo and it hurt. What I didn’t say was that we sold our xTerra too! But, we sold it to Matt’s best friend Stephen and well, you have to know Stephen. He’s awesome and selling it to him was like entrusting someone with your favorite pet. We know the adventures will live on even though we’re not there and that’s very comforting. It also helped to bump up our savings account for living within our budget on the island.

I know I keep saying “the island”. Well, Saint Kitts is a small (meaning you can stand in the middle and see both sides) island in the Eastern Caribbean and is part of the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis. Here’s a little more info to help you picture it:

As we get out and explore I’ll post pictures and give everyone our take on island life. By the way…we still haven’t received our shipping container with everything we shipped!


I have so many things to share about this whole experience so far, it’s hard to know where to begin. I’ve started making a list of possible topics to write about. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Driving on the Left
  • Crazy Things I’ve Seen
  • Grocery Shopping
  • Shopping for ANYTHING
  • Snorkeling
  • Learning How to Say No
  • Island Dogs
  • Monkeys, Cats & Mongooses, Oh My!
  • Family Visits
  • Photography
  • Day Trippin
  • Our Funny Child

These are just a few ideas. I’m sure there’ll be more.

The first few months of chaos (part 1 – Importing the dogs)

Before we left the US, we sold my Volvo S40 for a mere $2,100. It hurt to do it but there was no sense in letting it sit in a garage for who knows how many years. Our first priorities when we arrived on the island were to find a car (our rental was only paid for during the first seven days) and find somewhere to live. Well, we finally found a car; apparently the ONLY car left on the island for sale. A 2001 Nissan Sunny for the low, low price of $6,500 (Are you freaking kidding me?). Oh well, it is island life by the way. So, one obstacle down and one to go. I started contacting realtors while Matt was at work each day trying to find the perfect place to live that would allow not only the three of us but also our two labrador retrievers. The first realtor said that she only had properties that either didn’t allow pets (or children) at all or only allowed one small pet (and older children) so, okay…forget finding perfection. After three weeks we were starting to get desperate because our temporary housing was only for thirty days and the university already had another new employee lined up to move into our temp house as soon as we moved out! Luckily, Matt had a colleague that owns a second home on the island and his renters that had been on the island for three years were leaving at the end of the month for New Zealand. With four bedrooms (or three and an office), a loft that could accommodate a few more and a big enough yard for the dogs to romp in we had finally found the place we’ll be calling home for a while. Our landlord is the greatest and didn’t even charge the normal pet fee! So, at the end of the month, when we should have been settled, Kylie and I left the island to go back to the US to get our dogs and pack the remainder of our belongings while Matt made the move to the new place. Luckily we had brought very little with us the first trip so it was an easy move for him.

So, after two weeks in the US trying to visit everyone, finish up doctor and vet visits and get our container packed, Matt joined us and the five of us climbed in the rental van and headed to Miami to ship the dogs to the island. We had a fun road trip and were really proud of Kylie and the dogs for doing so well during the two-day drive. Then, after checking into the hotel in Miami and getting Matt on the shuttle to the airport, Kylie & I drove back to Ft. Lauderdale to drop off the dogs for their flight later that night. Even though I had prepared for this for months, it was very difficult to leave two of my babies (and that IS how I feel about them) with a total stranger and trust them to take care of my girls when I knew very well that they had no clue what was going on. I was so worried that they would think I had abandoned them. I even forgot their paperwork and the shipper had to drop by the hotel to pick it up on his way to the airport with them. This was the beginning of my breakdown. Here I was, in Miami, alone, with my three-year-old daughter and I was literally unable to stop crying. I wanted my dogs back. I turned to my Facebook friends to help me through prayer and reassurance and called my parents and Matt’s parents. The whole time, Kylie was walking back and forth to the bathroom bringing me tissues. She’d say, “Here mommy. Here’s one for your eyes and one for your nose.” She was being so sweet. When did my little baby grow up and how was it that she was now taking care of me? In order to get my mind off the fact that I had no idea if my dogs were okay or not, Kylie and I decided to have a “clean out the traveling food” party. So, for our bedtime snack, we had cookies, chips and cereal! It was good to think about something else for a while.

The next morning, we gathered our stuff and set off for the airport. First, we had to return the rental car and get all of our stuff to the terminal. We had a lot more stuff that I realized! Luckily there was a cart rental station nearby so we rented one and loaded it up. After walking for what seemed like forever, we got on the skytrain and went to check our bags and get ready for our flight. Everyone in the airport got a kick out of Kylie riding her Trunki® through the airport. I have to admit, it WAS cute! She had her little stuffed Toulouse kitty with her and both of them had big smiles on their faces. It was too cute. We boarded the plane and talked about what we were going to do when we got to Saint Kitts and got to see Daddy and the girls (the dogs were supposed to have arrived in Saint Kitts at 6:30 am). When I talked to Matt around 10:30, the dogs had not arrived but he had been told that they should arrive around noon. Even though I was getting nervous, I knew there was nothing I could do to help them at that point so I just took a deep breath and tried my best to just focus on Kylie. We played on the plane and talked a little about our trip. Then she fell asleep.

When we landed, I immediately called Matt for an update on the girls. It was almost 2:00 pm. They had JUST ARRIVED!!! They hadn’t had food since about 4:00 pm the day before and not much water. Who knows if they even got to have a potty break; nobody could tell us. As it turned out, their “direct flight” ended up being a “three-stop flight” (my poor babies had to take off and land THREE TIMES)!! To make matters worse, they arrived just ahead of me and Kylie which meant that we weren’t going to have enough room in the car to get all of our luggage, their crates, and all three of us into the car. AND, Matt was with them all the way on the other side of the airport. Granted, it’s not that big of an airport but when you have five large bags and a toddler to handle, it’s not very easy to move from one end to the other without help (and of course the people helping rely on tips and I didn’t have ANY money). So, after getting “warned” multiple times not to leave our bags unattended (I could only carry so much) we got everything moved to the other end of the waiting area where we could see Matt who was having his own set of problems.

When the dogs arrived and were taken off the plane, the guys just barely parked them in the shade. It was HOT and there was no air moving at all. Neither dog had water so, of course, Matt was concerned for their safety. That’s when he started getting the runaround from the customs agents. First of all, the checklist that we were given from the university said to have $210 US in CASH to pay for their import fees. It said nothing else about any other fees. Well, that’s not how the local officials saw it and every time Matt turned around someone else was asking him to pay another fee. We ended up being short of funds and the ATM at the airport wouldn’t take my debit card. Needless to say, Matt was getting more and more worried about the dogs’ safety as they continued to sit in the hot sun in (basically) their small plastic ovens. Finally, he told the woman behind the desk, who had kept getting distracted and doing other things between each step in the import process, that he didn’t care if the paperwork was finished or not, he was going to get our dogs OUT of the sun. We managed to get their harnesses and leashes (which the shipper had taken off of them in Miami and handed to me along with all of their identification info) to him so that he could get them out of their kennels. While he was doing that, I wrote a check (which they finally accepted) for the remaining fees so that we could finally go to the house. Seeing them was the BEST feeling I’d had in a long time. They were still alive!!!!! Meanwhile, Kylie and I got the car keys from Matt and found the car (again after getting chastised for leaving our bags unattended and with a threat of having them seized) and got everything that we could loaded into the car. Matt brought the dogs over and we started trying to figure out how to get everything to the house. We started the car and turned on the A/C full blast to help cool the dogs down since they were panting terribly and we were worried that they were going to suffer heat stroke. While Kylie played in the front seat I gave each of the dogs as much water as I could get them to drink in the back seat. Then it happened. Kylie got out of the car and shut the door. Not realizing that she had locked all four doors from the driver’s side control panel, I shut the back door. Matt had gone to arrange a cab to take the dog crates and our larger luggage since we never did figure out how to make it all fit. Major CRAP moment!!! Now, what were we going to do? Our dogs, who had been traumatized already by the long flight and being separated from us, were now locked inside a running car. Luckily it WAS running and the A/C was going full blast or else we’d have had some broken windows on our apparently “gold-plated” used beater of a car. Lucky for us, the airport was closing and several of the workers noticed our frantic attempts to get into the car. They called friends and eventually, someone came with some equipment to get the door open enough to roll down the window so that we could unlock the door.

We finally made it to our house around 5:00 pm and collapsed in sheer exhaustion. The next morning, I awoke to an email from the shipper in Miami (who had told me my girls would be on a DIRECT FLIGHT to minimize the chance of something bad happening) asking me how they were doing and asking me to let him know when we were ready to return to the US as he would be happy to arrange the return shipment. I’m still not believing he actually had the nerve to send that email. And, if we fly them again, you’d better believe I’ll be taking out a loan for a chartered flight because I’ll never let them out of my sight for a flight again if there’s any way I can avoid it.

Welcome to paradise…


What was I thinking?

Day three’s assignment in Blogging 101 was to write a post about what was on my mind when I first started thinking about writing a blog. Well, here goes…

It was January and our family was frantically preparing for our move to Saint Kitts. Knowing how much our families were going to miss us (especially Kylie), I started thinking that I should have some way to chronicle this journey rather than just Facebook posts. That’s when I decided to challenge myself to start a blog. It only took me three months to get started! Here I am though and I have no clue how I’m going to learn all of this. I will figure it out though.

Moving has been such an adventure, both good and bad. We’ve met obstacles head-on though and we’ve done it together so that’s a good thing. We’re building our family foundation one mishap at a time and we’re surviving.

About Kylie’s Mom

My name is Kim and this blog will be about my adventures with my husband and daughter while we are living on the island of Saint Kitts. Located in the West Indies, Saint Kitts is a beautiful little island that is part of the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis. I never thought, when I met my husband eleven years ago that I’d be living in the Caribbean at the age of 42 with a three year old in tow but I’ve learned to never say never.

I guess some might wonder what brought us here and I’d have to say fate. One day while I was at work at the small commercial printing company (Wordsprint) where I had been working for over 16 years, my husband texted me that he had received a random email from a headhunter giving him details about a job at the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. He asked me if I’d be interested in moving to the Caribbean and I said “sure”. Never thinking it would happen, we started on the journey of interviews and five months later we quit our jobs and made the big move.

So, for the sake of our families back in the US and my sanity as a suddenly “stay at home mom”, I decided to start this blog. I hope you’ll enjoy what you read here as we enjoy this crazy adventure called the Life of Kylie.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Writing and Speaking for the Pop Culture Literate.

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