[Photo & Video Post] – Vacation in Pictures, Cruise 2017

In typical fashion, I’m not going to journal out everything we did on this trip. Just know that Erin and I, along with some good friends, recently got back from an eight-day cruise that visited Aruba, Bonaire and Grand Turk. I ate a lot of food, had a few glasses of wine, performed karaoke in front of a mostly-full house (video below) and took four naps in one day. I would call it a successful vacation.

I’ll share a blurb and then some relevant photos. These are just a few I’ve selected for the blog. You’ll see some of these if you follow me on Instagram and, as always, the high res versions can be found on my Flickr.

Our first port of call was Aruba. The port was posh and full of shops guarded by men in suits with earpieces whose body language said You can’t come in here which was great because we couldn’t afford to shop there anyway. We toured the nearby area on foot; mostly just going into shops, shuffling through a market and snapping photos of graffiti. There were a few unused, though not abandoned, areas worth shooting and we found a giant pink wall. The highlight for me was finding a dedicated reggae shop with giant speakers blasting out dub by the front door.

The next day we were in Bonaire. At around the 11˚ N line we were the closest to the equator we’d ever been. We walked 7 miles (nearly 1/3 the entire length of the island) in search of their Lourdes Grotto landmark which we never found. We found some neat shops, a dude grilling chicken, a great flea market and a giant french fry man. We also found some road crew workers, a front desk worker at a national park and a dive shop employee that had never even heard of our destination. At the dive shop we were worn out and after consulting their map realized we were still 3-4 miles away. We needed to be back at port soon so we cut our losses, called a taxi and chowed down on some fish and chips with Aruban Coke.

Our last port of call was Grand Turk, the small island whose claim to fame is being the splashdown location of John Glenn after successfully becoming the first American to orbit the earth. We signed up for an excursion that drove us the length of the island, gave us a brief history of its people and cultures, then fed us some fantastic jerk chicken and ox tail. Memorable moments were the lady nearly getting eaten by a semi-wild donkey and a man getting huffy with me when he tried to sell me weed and I wasn’t sure what he was asking.


We sailed on the Carnival Sunshine. I ate steak for breakfast, Guy Fieri’s cheeseburgers for lunch, gazpacho at dinner and pizza at midnight (once). We got massages, dressed pretty a couple of nights and I took a lot of photos of my main squeeze.

I’ll leave you with this: One night on the ship we decided to watch karaoke. I’d already joked with my coworkers and family about doing it, myself, and was suddenly feeling the pressure to follow through. While watching people get on stage and sing slow, dreary country songs and the like, I found myself in a bind: on one hand I was much too nervous to ever take the stage and belt out a song like that, but on the other hand, I reasoned, I basically get on stage with a microphone and dance and sing in front of crowds of people as many as four times per week as a fitness instructor, so how was this any different?

I ordered a glass of wine, downed it, then made my way to the emcee to ask “Do you have the Tina Turner version of Proud Mary?”

Taking Chances Pt. 2: I Think That I Am Upside-Down

What goes on in your mind?
I think that I’m falling down.
What goes on in your mind?
I think that I am upside down.
Baby, be good, do what you should, you know it will work alright.

The Velvet Underground “What Goes On” from The Velvet Underground (1969, Universal Records)

Lou Reed is in my ears early on this Sunday morning. It’s a bit cold out but my vantage point from the home office window, staring through the steam from my coffee, is lovely. It’s someting I’ve been missing. Just sitting in here with a plain text doc open, typing away about my strange life. It feels good.


It’s been almost a full month to the day since I’ve updated the blog. I went through a bit of a rough patch personally and had some first-of-the-year catching up to do, but for the most part I only neglected this space because I’ve been in full-on study mode. Back in August I announced that I was starting my journey toward becoming a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer and I’ve spent the biggest part of the last five months neck deep in terms and concepts, rules and programming, muscles and rapport-building skills.

I wanted to ride this thing out until the bitter end and take as much time to study as I could. My test voucher was valid until January 31, so I set my test date as the last possible date before then — January 28. In the meantime, I got my CPR/AED certification, and went deeper into studying than I’ve been in nearly a decade. I took the 100-question practice exam, printed it off so I could make notes on what I got wrong and started studying it. I later found a 28-page study guide from NASM so I went through it as well, furiously making notes. Later, I’d find an exam blueprint describing what percentage of what material I could expect on the test, and turned it into a third study guide, full of notes. I’ve spent the last six weeks filling my lunch break with hour or more study periods at the office. I went back through all 16 chapters worth of lectures, practice quizzes and interactivity studies, making more notes and what could possibly be considered a fourth study guide.

In case it isn’t apparent yet, I was a nervous wreck and was doing all I could to over-prepare myself. While this certification isn’t as expensive as going back to school for a second undergrad or Masters, it still wasn’t cheap and the fear of failing this test was crushing me. So much information, a lot of which was way over my head and unlike anything else I’d ever had to learn before.

On Friday I read through everything one last time — every study guide I had. I was at the point where I figured if I didn’t know it by then, I wasn’t going to know it, so I just closed everything and got some rest.

When I got to the testing center on Saturday morning, the nerves came back to me. This was it. Moment of truth. Had I wasted the last five months of my time? When I sat down at the desk to take the test I looked at question one and decided that yes, indeed, I had wasted the last half year.

No kidding. I had to “mark” the very first question to come back to. I was not off to a great start. As I progressed through the 120 question test, the same thought popped into my head every few seconds…

Shit. This is not what I was expecting.

If you’re looking to certify with NASM and, like me, you’ve Googled other people’s experiences, you’ll have heard what I’m about to say a few times:

You can know the definitions of altered reciprocal inhibition, synergistic dominance and upper-crossed syndrome. You can be able to point to your humerus, identify the pectoralis major and foam roll your tensor fasciae latae. But that isn’t going to help you, really.

No, you’ll need to know why altered reciprocal inhibition happens, what muscles are affected based on the altered functionality in different parts of the body, and why, exactly, the knees may turn in during the overhead squat assessment. Terms and definitions are great, but if you don’t know the how or the why, you will likely not pass this test. This test is hard.

I fully believe that the notes, study guides, lectures, games and practice tests provided by NASM do not adequately prepare you for the exam. Not unless you pay for the most expensive program that comes with a “pass guarantee.” I did not.

I spent an hour in the testing center wondering how I was going to explain to Erin that I had wasted our money and half a year studying so hard for something I was going to fail miserably at, wondering why I had even thought I was cut out for such a profession, thinking about what I was going to say to my Title Boxing Club members that are eager for me to get my certification, how I’d get around the embarrassment of breaking the news to my friends and family that have been cheering me on.

I finished the questions, sighed in relief and hit the “end” button before getting my bag and leaving the room. I’d have to stare at the testing center employee while she looked up my results. She was an extremely heavyset middle-aged woman. She’d walk across the room like she was in a world of pain and then plop back down in her chair, giving those of us in attendance to take tests for various certifications a stern warning of the consequences of cheating or eating in the testing center in a tone like we were first graders. She was a very no-nonsense lady and was not only unafraid of kicking us out of the testing center but seemed to be looking forward to the opportunity.

I looked at her screen as she pulled up my test results and as I peered over her enormous shoulder I could see in tiny letters:


I didn’t want to make a scene, lest I disrupt the other test takers, thereby forfeiting my test results, but I definitely clapped my hands together, spun in a circle and felt the stress leave my body as a demon had been exercised. Even the crabby lady was forced to smile and even celebrated with me for a moment. In two days I had hit my goal weight, graduated from training at work, got my PT certification and made Mrs. Puff smile and be happy.


I am a Certified Personal Trainer. Me. JTF. Expect a future post about why. Until then, someone tell Adrian I did it.


[photo post] Random Shots from Family Christmas

The title says random and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. As most of you know by now I’m not exactly into taking family portraits so what we have below are mostly shots of my parents’ dog, Chico. Also below: My sister playing Watch Ya Mouth, my gran’s profile, my mom-in-law brushing her dog, Casper, and one of several shots I took while playing with light trails using my in-laws’ Christmas lights.

I don’t want to make a post where I run down all of the gifts I received, but I did acquire a few new toys for my camera that will likely get their own post. The photos below were taken with my new 85mm lens (a birthday present to myself) that will also make an appearance in a later post once I get some more sample photos taken with it.

While I don’t have family portraits to share and I’m not sharing my list of new goodies, I do want to say that I’m very fortunate. Moving away from Kingsport was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I honestly have no desire to ever live there again. Living away from family has had many benefits, not least of which is staying away from all family-related drama. But although our families have drama, we have wonderful families. I have the greatest parents and in-laws on the planet and could never ask for better. They’re beautiful people whom I love very much. This year was the first year since moving away from home I had a truly difficult time leaving them. I’ve felt pretty low lately and it was great to be reminded of the amazing people in my life that support me from afar.

That was a total cheesefest. Let’s get on with the photos. Y’all know the deal — get the high-res versions and a few extras on my Flickr account.

One more quick thing: below is our annual crazy family photo, the quality of which has been greatly improved thanks to the invention of the selfie stick. I’ve also included a short video of my folks being cute. Enjoy!


I love these little freaks. My parents made me who I am for better or for worse.

A post shared by justintfirefly (@justintfirefly) on