TOPS#MD446, Hagerstown

is "On the Road Again"

Many of us at TOPS#MD446,Hagerstown enjoy traveling together to the TOPS IRD (International Recognition Days) event which is held in various locations across the country.   Our chapter was formed in the summer of 2003 and every year since then, a group of us have attended the annual convention together.


2012 IRD - San Diego California

        We're leaving on a jet plane...  that's right!  We'll soon be headed west in search of TOPS Gold and whatever else we may find.  As usual we'll be making a real tour of it.  Plans are in the making for Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, The Grand Canyon, Hollywood, Malibu and of course we'll be hanging out all during the conventuon with our friends from all over at the IRD in San Diego.     Check back for news when we return!  Hope to see you there!


2011 IRD - Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Unfortunately, we missed this one.  Our regular travel crew had family, medical and business concerns which kept us all in town.  We were there in spirit and it allowed for some to attend TOPS retreats instead this year... so all turned out ok!

2010 IRD - Halifax, Nova Scotia - Canada

         2010 we decided to drive from Hagerstown to Halifax.  This year our three of our members - Leader (Mary), her daughter now 11), Treasurer Elise) and faithful member Judy set out with our friend John from the Smithsburg chapter for Canada.  We double checked passports before leaving just to be safe.  John picked up Elise, stopped at Mary's where we all piled into the Tahoe and made our way to pick up our travel companion Judy and hit the road.   Our first night we stopped in Suffern, NY for the night.  All was going well until we went to our rooms.  One of the rooms was already open and looked like Goldilocks had already been sleeping in the bed...  so, after a trip to the front desk, we got it resolved and new rooms.  All was well.  After a quick "free" breakfast because of the mix up the night before, we set off once more.  As we drove past Rhode Island and Boston, we couldn't help but reminisce of our trip just a few years before.  It was fun laughing about and remembering our experience. 

Today we would cross into Canada and spend the night in New Brunswick.  We quickly learned that road signs are similar, but not quite the same as in the US, so we decided Judy's GPS with "Sally giving directions" was what we needed.  It all went according to plan and we were so happy to be on the road.  We kept watching ever so carefully in Maine for Moose.  Plenty of Moose crossing signs, but no Moose in sight.  We made it across the border, leaving the USA at nearly midnight. Our hotel was just a few miles ahead.  We went to check-in, only to learn that had given our rooms to someone else.  The same confirmation number had been given to two parties at the same time. Needless to say at the hour and after driving about 12 hours or so, we were not in the mood for it.  Well, after Mary exchanged words with the desk clerk, he quickly phoned the hotel across the street (we are guessing same owners) and made arrangements for us there.  We found ourselves in more rooms than we would have had, but our overall costs were less and it once again included breakfast.  The beds in Mary & Elise's room was said to be queen size and yet it was just a bit larger than a twin.  We laughed as we drifted off to sleep that the Queens must be smaller in Canada.  We survived the night and hit the road for Halifax.  So far, our hotel accommodations had been ok, but at both locations we struggled with check-in.     John was driving and Mary decided to enter our Halifax hotel address into the GPS so we could go there from our current location.  Unknown to the rest of the travelers, the hotel address came up "not found".  Mary was a bit nervous, but never told us as she put in a different address on the same street and hoped for the best.  We drove, making all the right moves with Sally's help...  then decided to use the GPS to locate a family restaurant.  We followed Sally's directions precisely, only to find ourselves at a dead end and her telling us to go off road into nothing. ..  we opted not to do that and stumbled upon a nice place which was very enjoyable and it was Sunday just after church time and the parking lot full- always a good sign.  We finished lunch and went on our way.  Following Sally's directions once more, we made it to our destination.  Mary was relieved to see the hotel there, given that the GPS could not locate it as a street address.  It was too new!  Good news!

The hotel was very new, clean and wonderful.  Checking in was going great until the desk clerk says.. can't find you.  It was an Oh no, here we go again moment.  We then learned why and all was well..  whew, that was close.  We checked into our rooms which were wonderful.  Elise, john, Mary and Mari had a suite. It was a small apartment size and would be awesome for the time of the stay.  We unpacked and researched local places for good food choices as well as prices and set out for a nice dinner.  Over the next few days, we explored downtown Halifax, Peggy's Cove Lighthouse, went whale watching - but it was foggy and the whales were not there for us.  We did see many seals and enjoyed the sights, small villages, light houses and simply enjoyed the boat ride. 

Tuesday evening, we had tickets for a concert.  We had perfect seats, straight on to the stage and we saw Celtic Woman, their Songs of the Heart tour.  It was a fabulous concert and we left there so happy, the parking garage attendant thought we should continue the party as it seemed we had already started.

Wednesday, Mary needed to visit some TOPS field staff meetings and make her rounds, so the rest of the crew visited the Citadel and then met up with Mary around lunch time.  It was pouring rain that day, but we made the most of it.  Down by the wharf, we visited the Maritime museum and many shops and artisans, just enjoying all we saw. Judy and Mary opted to visit the Casino - responsibly they changed their American money to Canadian and found their way to a slot machine.  When they went it, it was decided that whoever won would buy dinner.  It did not take long, Judy was our winner and the others were very surprised to see us return so fast.   True to her word, Judy bought us all dinner.  It was enjoyable and once again, we made good selections.

The convention officially started on Thursday, and our lady travelers went first to the Retreat session.  Cynthia Mack and the entire TOPS retreat staff discussed retreats and we learned so many things about them.  Members in the audience who had attended retreats shared their stories and successes and personal experience with us and then it was open for questions and discussion.  We left the session feeling like we wanted to go to one.. and right now.  It was just our luck to learn there is one close to us in September of 2011 and Cynthia Mack will be the Retreat Director.   John was attending a Men in TOPS workshop while we were in this one.  His retelling of that experience was great also, and it is awesome to see so many more men in TOPS participating.   There were breaks in between seminars and we enjoyed the speakers.   The TOPS medical and Obesity research news is always of interest as they bring us up to date on the latest.  TOPS President Barbara Cady was the keynote speaker for a seminar, she is so delightful and always witty and engaging.  Her talks are always from the heart and give us cause to stop and think and remember how important we are and how important our health is.

Thursday night's opening session always is upbeat.  The Royalty from all our states, Canada and all its providences take the stage and illuminate the auditorium with their beauty and grace.  It is always awesome to see them and we yelled and applauded as loud as we could when our own Maryland Queen, Dawn Williams took the stage.  What an awesome example and wonderful representative she is for us.  The evening closes with entertainment. This year is was a Celtic Band and Dancers.  They were very good, but perhaps we had been spoiled by the Celtic Woman concert two days prior.

Friday, we enjoyed the uplifting comedy of speaker Eleanor Wood.  She delightfully told us her story of life, real life made colorful and how attitude can make a difference and if is about how we see it and live it.  She was delightful and we could have listened to her for a very long time.  There were two others, not as memorable as Eleanor, but very good and each with excellent points to get us focused and redirected if we had lost our way.  Friday nights session is the time when our KOPS graduate and illuminate the auditorium with their magical circle of lights.  We could not convince our Elise to register and participate in this, but we managed to get an official KOPS Light and grab her picture with it..

It was so much fun and we most often chose to sit in the same location for all sessions, we could see the stage well from there and liked the seats... they happened to be the exact ones we saw Celtic Woman from.. so they became our seats.  Mari, quickly made friends with a couple of other children, who were TOPS members with their parents and they went off trading their state/provincial traders as the IRD attendees do each year.  they checked in often and were always within site, but it was obvious they were having fun.

Saturday was the final session, when the Division Winners were announced and International Royalty Crowned.  Their stories are written and given with such emotion and they inspire and motivate us.  It is clear they are all just like us.  All felt hopeless at one point, then found TOPS and friendships and support and were motivated to succeed.  Our Maryland Queen was so close to being an International Winner.  Excitement was building for us as they announced the Queens by weight loss, starting low and going high.  Our Dawn did not come on stage and the longer it went, the more excited we were for her and the prouder to know her personally.  When it was all done, only 9 others were called after her.  Of all the states and provinces of Canada, only 9 lost more than she did.  We were so beautifully and gracefully represented.

The convention ended and we left on a TOPS high, our stuff in the car and headed for home ready to start again and do our part to help those within our chapters.  We drove out of Canada and into Maine, where we spent the night.  Our hotel was beside and Applebee's restaurant and they had those 550 calorie meals, so we opted to eat there.  Our waiter kept us in stitches, creating yet another memorable moment.  The next day, we traveled back to Suffern, NY - returning to the hotel of our first night of the trip.  On the way there, as we were closing in on the NYC area, Mary asked if anyone wanted to see Ground Zero.  Feeling confident because of our helpful GPS (whom by the way, John and Mary came to love and explored all it had to offer... even changed the navigator to a nice man named Jack).  We decided with Jack's help we could pull it off... ad we might have too, if the tall buildings would not interfere with the satellite signals.  Minor detail - major impact.  There was also so much traffic.   Mary did it though and we finally found it, now it was dark and pitch and construction fence around it so high we could not see it anyway.  It was an experience though and we tongue in cheek laughed at Jack, our navigator continually recalculating. Mary was out driving him.  Turns out our Judy had a good sense of the city and we found ourselves finally out of town and made our way to the hotel.  Check in was much smoother this time.  It was a good nights stay and  then before leaving in the morning, we made a special stop for NY comfort items for our Tom, back home... Suffern was his hometown and he had requested special NY bagels from the corner bagel establishment.  We made our way back to Hagerstown.  Another successful TOPS excursion together.  Another year of shared moments, memories, laughter, hugs and tears we would not soon forget.

We'd love to share the experience with you sometime.  Perhaps you might join us on our next trip.  We're off to Milwaukee, WI next July.  The birthplace of TOPS.  Mary ahs been there before, so we're sure to see the highlights and explore some unknown territory.  Won't you join us for more Happy Days with TOPS?



2009 IRD - Orlando, FL- Disney World

          2009 we flew south to the Magic Kingdom of Disney World in Orlando, Florida.   Two of our members - Leader (Mary), her 10 year old daughter (Mari) & Treasurer (Elise) were joined in travels by our TOPS buddy and leader of TOPS#MD0462, Smithsburg (John).  We departed Hagerstown on Friday evening, spending our first night near Dulles airport, doing a sleep and fly parking deal.  Our airport adventure was off and running at the security checkpoint, when John's pen knife set the alarms off.  He told us to go ahead, he would catch-up... so the rest of us kept going.  Now it was time to board and still... John had not arrived.  We boarded our flight which was crowded and no reserved seats.  Sometimes when you travel as cheaply... errr..  inexpensively as we try to, you take what you get and get what you deserve.  Anyway - While setting all buckled on board, we hear John being paged that his plane is leaving and they are making last call reminders to him.   After literally running through Dulles airport trying to resolve the knife problem, John finally arrived, slightly out of breath, but smiling, and why not... after all, he was on vacation!  Our friend John is a major Nascar fan, so obviously taking him to Florida and being only a couple of hours from Daytona without letting him go there would be torture.  We arranged for John a rental car so he could go explore his Nascar moment...  while we took the Magical Express to our Disney Hotel - Port Orleans Riverside.  We took the boat ride to Downtown Disney, had a nice dinner and returned to the hotel where our bags had already been placed in our room for us.  John rejoined us MUCH later that night as the car he happened to rent turned out by luck to be a brand new Mustang.  Needless to say, John was cruising Daytona!

Our Leader (Mary) is a seasoned Disney visitor, so it was like having a private tour guide with all the inside knowledge.  We booked a package which included all our meals as well, so we didn't need money for anything other than souvenirs once we landed in Florida.   If you've never been to Disney, you need to go, no matter how old you think you are.   Because we were going for TOPS and because we knew we would be walking constantly, Mary decided it would be fun to wear a pedometer during our entire stay to monitor how far we walked.  I'll report on the total at the end of this journal.   We were all like little kids, we delighted in the adventures, the magic, the shows and especially in just being "silly" together.  We had fun as people attempted to figure out if Elise was John or Mary's mother...  they just knew we were a family because of the way we acted together.   On occasion and depending on behavior...  it was openly discussed who claimed the others as relatives.

We vacationed like tourists, the food plan allowed us the luxury of ordering exotic things if we wanted - and we did.  John took photo's of some things just for proof and to show how pretty the food was.  We visited the Animal Kindgom... taking in the Finding Nemo and Lion King shows and laughed like teenagers at the reactions to a Bug's Life.  We visited MGM - John and Mary rode Tower of Terror...  John's camera was suspended in mid air and we laughed how our rear ends would leave the seats and then rejoin it when the ride would drop or rise again...  if you've ever been on it - you'll understand, if not - its' like bungee jumping in an elevator.   The Magic Kingdom was fun too...  we love the shows, the rides, the fireworks, the Spectromagic Parade and many of the rides as well as the Flag ceremony whch takes place nightly.  We enjoyed a couple of special dinner shows - the Polynesian Luau and on our last night in town - the Hoop De Doo Musical Revue.   Disney was a blast - we loved it, even in the 95 degree, 95% humidity weather.  Wednesday through Saturday night, we would entertain ourselves at our resort hotel - with Bob the piano guy.  Bob is an experience of his own and we enjoyed his light hearted entertainment and interaction with the crowd.  If you ever get to Disney - go check Bob out.. You'll be glad you did.

Ah yes.. the real reason for being there - TOPS IRD began.  The speakers were awesome, we took notes and learned from them.  We were amazed and inspired by the winners and their stories of success - listening to the many hardships, trials and struggles which took place long before they were moved enough to do it once and for all.  This year was especially special.. perhaps it was the magic of Disney itself, but those stories seemed to light a fire within us all which is still burning.  We made a pact and a promise to one another for the upcoming year.  A promise made among three friends.. friends who are not related, but family without a doubt.  At this writing, our friend Elise is within two pounds of her goal and Mary & John are working hard to take off pounds and it is showing (the trio meet at the park nightly to walk together, along with John's father and anyone else who shows up).  TOPS is about making a commitment to yourself and to others.  It's about supporting, loving and caring for one another enough to go that extra mile... or two miles (which we now do every day).  Speaking of extra miles...  the pedometer showed we walked 50 miles during our stay in Florida....  and guess what?  We all came back with a very nice loss and memories which are with us forever.

We came home revived, renewed, focused and ready to face the next year in TOPS.  Dedicated to becoming healthier examples for our chapters, our families and friends.  Our bond as friends was strengthened as we spent hours together.  I'm guessing its' that same feeling others get at a TOPS retreat... 

Next year...we're on the road to Canada...  Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It'll be quite the trip I'm sure... plan to join us?


2008 IRD - Chicago, IL

       2008 had us traveling to Chicago and getting "All Jazzed Up" for the 60th Anniversary Celebration of TOPS Club, Inc.   Chicago was the site of the very first International Convention (IRD), making it the perfect place for the anniversary event.   This year our leader (Mary) was the only one able to make the trip due to family illness and other obligations.  She didn't travel alone though, as she was accompanied by the leader of TOPS#MD462,Smithsburg (John), the treasurer of TOPS#MD308,Hagerstown (Lois) and her (Mary's)  9 year old daughter (Mari).

      The foursome left on the red eye from Baltimore on Tuesday, which meant leaving Hagerstown around 2:30 am to make the flight.  We arrived in Chicago by 7:00 am their time, checked in to the convention hotel by 9 am.  After a brief rest and a small but expensive bite to eat at the hotel, we set out to explore the area.  We were wishing our pedometers were on, but walked to nearby (meaning approx. 5 blocks) to Navy Pier.  It was a gorgeous day and it seemed there was plenty to do at Navy Pier.  Lots of shopping, food paces, sight seeing tours, etc. going on.  We paused briefly for a Pirate Show in the food court area and took many pictures while out on the pier.  John and Mari played a round of miniature golf, we all rode the giant Ferris wheel, Mari did the wave swings numerous times.  On our return to the hotel, we made a stop at the local Walgreens and a market called "Dominicks" which proved to be our favorite place to make dining affordable.   Our room had a refrigerator and we took advantage of it.  Stopping at the market to purchase a day or two supply of fresh fruit, cereal, milk and such and we'd often make a run out for soup for dinner.  Being the creative types, we discovered an inexpensive waffle iron at Walgreens and used it to make homemade waffles for breakfast (it was better than spending $12 for eggs at the hotel restaurant).  We even used it to make a very interesting grilled cheese.

      Things got moving at the convention as we started running into old friend and making new ones.  We had volunteered to help with crafts in the hospitality room and Mari spent the better part of an evening showing her origami skills.  John and Mary almost sang Karaoke.  Maryland's Deniece Fisher was to be Gladys Knight and we were going to be the Pips... but then Deniece disappeared.  Our plan B was to do a Village people song "Macho Man" with others present from Maryland...  but again, Deniece disappeared and the rest of the village people made themselves scarce.  Not really sure why.  I think we would have been great.

       Before it was time for sessions to get underway, we did more sight seeing via a trolley type of bus.  It was supposed to be on/off type, but we found it hard to find one to get back on once off.   We did make a stop at Millennium Park which was beautiful and had a large bubble looking sculpture.  Hard to describe it to you, so you'll need to ask us to see our pictures.   We all managed to get a free T-shirt and sample bag of popcorn from the tour though.  The architecture and sights were amazing and much to our delight, the weather was not unbearable.

       Did I mention our room was on the 21st floor?  The day we arrived, John and Mary decided that once before the convention ended they were going to use the stairs going up instead of the elevator.  We huffed and puffed and huffed some more... but we did use the stairs (Mary will admit it - John went up more flights than she did).  We were partnering up for success - just like Barb Cady says to do.  John and Mary went for daily walks and long ones around the area as well as participating the Official organized TOPS Walk at 6:30 AM which was led by one of the guest speakers for the convention - Robert Sweetgall.

      Speaking of guest speakers.  Robert Sweetgall opened things up by sharing with us about his journey.  He has walked across America seven times.  Most every direction imaginable and in all types of weather.  His talk was motivational, fun, informative and inspiring.  He stressed to everyone present that its' not important how much exercise you do or how fast - but it is most important that you just do it.  Get off the couch and move.  He had full audience participation as he opened his presentation by throwing foam frisbees out the audience.  The point being that we need to make exercise fun and it can be easy.  Funny how much easier it was to exercise when you weren't thinking of it as work.  Because of the numbers of people from all over the states and Canada present, he asked for a team of about 5 people form each state present.  Each team was given a pedometer, which the team captain initially wore.       Robert played music and when the music started, the team captain was to move however he or she wanted and the rest of the team was to mimic them.  When the song changed, the pedometer was passed on to the next team member and it continued until the pedometer had been passed through the entire team.  A prize was given to the team which showed the most steps on their pedometer.  New York won and the numbers of steps taken during that short contest was amazing.  Again - it showed how easy it is or can be if you make it fun.   He also promotes using Nordic Walking and walking sticks.  the sticks help relieve some of the stress on the knees and legs and because you use your arms, you also receive a full cardio workout.  The health benefits are fantastic.

        The next speaker was Dr. Nick Yphantides.  Dr. Nick was an extraordinary story.  He lost 267 pounds without surgery and spoke of his weight loss journey.  His talk was accompanied by a slide who of his progress so we could see the transformation.  Dr. Nick took a one year sabbatical from his work as a doctor to dedicate his time to losing the weight.  He toured the United States, visiting every major league ballpark on his journey.  His story was one of true inspiration and sincerity.  He related to the entire audience and all of us to him.  His book "My Big Fat Greek Diet" is awesome and is a good read and full of helpful information and transformation.  His message was one of the value of human life.  Awesome - read the book!

        We were humored and uplifted by speaker Greg Risberg, whose message was "Hope, Humor and Hugs".   His message was full of heartfelt wisdom presented to us in a very humorous way.  He showed us ways to handle stress better and to change our perspective to be more positive.  His session was a lot of fun and many were crying from laughing so hard.  Mr. Risberg closely resembles the gentleman portrayed on the American Gothic portrait and used that to his advantage.   His slide presentation and images presented graphically or verbally were priceless.  It was a very good time and a great stress reliever for the entire audience.  Laughter improves your life and lifespan.  Put a little humor in your life and that of those you love.

         Ann Ruelle, registered dietitian and co-author of the TOPS' lifestyle guide, "The Choice is Mine" provided us an in-depth presentation on artificial sweeteners called "How Sweet It Isn't".  She used a power point presentation and did a great job explaining everything.  It pays to do your homework before choosing which product to use or making the decision to use regular sugar.  She explored the pros and cons of all, which ones were better or worse for diabetics and side effects of their usage.  When it comes down to it, be informed, but in the end - "The Choice is Mine".

         There were two other workshops as well.  One for Men in TOPS (which John attended) and the other for those who are Division 2+ (250 pounds or more). We were unable to make it to that one, as it conflicted with the Robert Sweetgall session.

          So many wonderful speakers and then as if it wasn't enough - we had entertainment on opening night by "The Kids from Wisconsin" who sang and danced their way into our hearts for more than an hour.   They covered almost all genres of music and dance.  They were awesome entertainers and left no doubt as to why Mrs. Manz (TOPS Founder) was so fond of them.  The Kids From Wisconsin have been a long time tradition.

          That's all the extra's that come with the convention - but the most important part of all TOPS conventions are the members themselves.  This year as we celebrated TOPS 60th Anniversary, the KOPS Graduates wore black.  Normally they are all in white and I have to say  the elegance was astounding.  Opening night includes a parade of our state royalty.  Dr. Kissebah spoke about the ongoing Obesity Research and we heard a report on the TOPS Retreat Program.  Field staff members who worked diligently at promoting TOPS were honored and introduced.  We watched in awe as our KOPS in long standing were recognized and honored, followed by the ever inspiring Circle of Light formed by all the alumni and new KOPS present at IRD.  This year, all of us were given a light of our own to shine in the darkness.  The IRD Circle of Light always leaves me speechless.

Saturday and the final session rolled around.  This is the time when once again, all of our state royalty take the stage and who us that we too can be successful if we are determined.  Our International Division winners are presented and share their stories.  Please take some time to read them on the www.tops.org web site.  They will move and inspire you in ways unimaginable.  Then comes the moment, when our reigning International Royalty take the stage to crown the new.  You can feel the emotion in the room.  Our new International Queen lost 177.75 pounds to goal and is from California.   The King is from Maine and had a loss to goal of 172 pounds.

          The people you meet at an IRD, SRD, ARD, or Rally are one big extended family.  You've known them forever and they you because when it comes down to it, we are one large family of members making up this organization called TOPS.   We know each other so well, because our struggles, trials and triumphs are all the same.  We're in this together and it shows.

          If you are a TOPS member and you've never treated yourself to a TOPS convention of any sort or if you are reading this, feeling alone in your struggle towards better health and an improved lifestyle - I invite you, my chapter invites you   - to join us.  Come with us and see that TOGETHER WE CAN.

2007 IRD - Providence, RI

Well, we did it again! Another IRD as a chapter and a new adventure for all.  This time we we joined by members from two other local chapters.  We set out from Hagerstown in two vehicles on Saturday, July 7th arriving at our hotel (Extended Stay America- super!) in East Providence, RI.

Sunday (July 8th), after breakfast we made our way to Boston, MA for some sight seeing.  We had discovered a "GO Boston Card" prior to our trip which once paid for included all of our sight seeing in Boston, Newport, Providence and beyond.  It is a great buy for anyone traveling in that area.  Our first stop was to pick up our "Go Boston Cards" at a placed called "Boston Baked Beans" - how appropriate!  In addition to our cards, we were each given a souvenir "Baked Bean", very cute.  We moved on to find parking and using our cards, boarded the Bean Town Trolley for a look around town.  The trolley driver shared a bit of history with us as we rode along and we were free to get on and off as we wanted. We met TOPS members from Oregon, Minnesota, and a few other places while on the trolley, so of course we all talked TOPS.  We visited the USS Constitution "Old Ironsides" and some chose to also visit the the museum there.  We finished the two hour trolley tour, shared a nice dinner together and returned to our hotel for the night.

Monday (July 9th), we set out for Newport, RI.  Newport is home to the "Newport Mansions", and three of them were included with our cards we picked up in Boston.  It was our lucky day!  We found the visitors center without a problem and then learned it was "Ozone Awareness Day" in Newport and public transportation was free for the day. Leaving our cars at the visitors center, we boarded a trolley like bus and set out for the Mansions.  We opted to visit The Breakers, Rose Cliff and Marble House.  The mansions are spectacular and quite interesting and the landscaping and grounds are gorgeous.  The history associated with the mansions and those who owned them is quite interesting as well.  After leaving the mansions, we wanted to spend a bit of time at the Cliff Walk.  The Cliff Walk runs along the shoreline behind the mansions and right along the coast.  The view is breathtaking and if you are so inclined, the Cliff Walk is a 3.5 mile journey.  We did not walk the entire walk as evening was coming on and we still needed to make a stop at Easton's Beach.  We arrived there at almost dusk and basically closed the beach down, leaving as the lifeguards were asking everyone to go home.  Our youngest traveler (8.5 year old, Mari) was delighted with the beach and quickly gathered a bucket of shells to take home.  A stop for dinner and then it was time to return to our hotel.

Tuesday (July 10th), we returned to Boston.  Visiting Newport the previous day allowed us to slow the pace a bit and relax from the more hurried pace and traffic of the city.  Today in Boston, we "Rode the Ducks", which was an hour and a half tour of Boston by land and by water.  Our tour guide "Howie" was great fun and the time went by very quickly.  Howie pointed out the great architecture as well as the many historical highlights of Boston and frequently stopped for us to take pictures of the sights.  At the end of the tour, we drove into the Charles River and saw Boston and Cambridge from the water.  Mari and John both volunteered to drive the "duck" for Howie and did an excellent job.  If you happen to see one of us out and about, just ask us "How Are Ya?" and see how we respond.  After the Duck Tour, we spent several hours at Boston's Museum of Science.  What a wonderful and interesting place and so many hands on exhibits for adults and children alike.  TOPS members reading this - One of the exhibits showed a femur (thigh bone), beside it was a plexi-glass clear model which had lights inside it and a lever you could take your hand and apply pressure to it.  As the pressure was applied, the lights inside showed the stress the bone received.  For someone who is overweight, it was scary to see how very little pressure from our hand on the lever stressed that bone, knowing that reality is the weight we carry around is so much more than that.  It was an eye opener and another real reminder that the weight must come off.  We closed the museum down and set out for home, stopping for dinner along the way.

Wednesday (July 11th), we returned to Newport.  This time the group wanted to visit the quaint shops.  Yes, we had already been on the road for 4 days and no one had shopped!   So, we dropped the group off in the heart of shopping and everyone set out exploring.  Our youngest traveler had not received ample beach time, nor been able to see the beach in the daylight - so while most were shopping, we set out for the beach.  It was only mid morning, so the shells were plentiful.  After a few hours at the beach, it was back to town to meet the crew for lunch.  We stumbled into a small restaurant and enjoyed the soup/half sandwich combo.  Clam chowder was often the choice soup and where better to have it than in the New England area.  It was time to return to the hotel, giving everyone an hour or so of relaxation (or sea shell washing) before setting out again.  Workshops were beginning at the convention and it was time to stop being tourists and remember why we came.  Before making our way into Providence, we had an early dinner and managed a surprise birthday party for one of our travelers who was turned 69 years young while away from home.  We drove into Providence and attended our first workshop/seminar called "Bubblegum on My Shoes-Getting Unstuck and Moving Forward" with Carrie Myers Smith, a personal trainer and wellness coach.  Carrie explained how to set SMART goals, based on behavior and action rather than outcomes, how to deal with obstacles and move towards better health.  It was a good session with lots of audience participation.   We made a stop by the promotion sales room, picking up items for ourselves and our chapters back home.

Thursday (July 12th), the convention is getting into full swing now beginning with group exercise at 7 AM.  There would be a variety of workshops throughout the day.  TOPS Member and motivational speaker, Kevin Morrison who shared "YOU have what it takes to set sail on our ship", John Pelizza, Ph.D.,  a motivational speaker with credits in stress management, weight management, wellness and personal growth shared "It's a Thinking Thing", and TOPS Board Member/Regional Director, Nancy Marasco who provided a presentation in dealing with diabetes.  The evening session included our field staff, state royalty and concluded with an hour of family entertainment, The Hunt Family Fiddlers.  They were awesome and our Mari (8.5 yrs old) was able to win one of their CD's by playing name that tune with them.

Friday (July 13th), Today our group attended the morning general session - being inspired by the before/after parade and Century Club award winners.  The session was followed by workshops, including "Moving without Pain", which was presented by physical therapist, Joseph Pelizza, a Men in TOPS workshop- "Obestity 101", "Portion Distortion" with Ann Ruelle, dietitian and coauthor of "The Choice is Mine".  The evening session was the KOPS recognition and the always inspiring "Circle of Light".  After the session, we spent some time "mingling" and dancing in the hospitality room.  John was on cloud nine as one of his fellow "Men in TOPS", presented him with his Yellow Rose.  How awesome is that!  We closed down the hospitality room at midnight and then back to hotel to pack for home the next day.  We would be checking out of the hotel in the morning and then start the drive home at the close of the last session.

Saturday (July 14th), It's the final morning at the convention.  Today our Royalty would once again take the stage and the International Royalty would be crowned.  Division winners were honored and their inspirational stories were presented.  Seeing the transformations these individuals have made and the obstacles they have overcome truly leaves you with a sense of "I CAN DO IT".

Saying "see you next year at IRD" is always bittersweet.  We love meeting new people, sharing our chapter story with them and swapping ideas to motivate and enrich ourselves and our chapters back home.

As is our normal tradition - Members of our travel party enjoy a weight loss upon return from the convention.  The motivation, determination and inspiration run high.

Why not meet us in Chicago in 2008 and celebrate TOPS 60th anniversary with us?



 2006 IRD - Atlanta, GA

Oh my, we tried something new this time out.  Instead of a hotel , we rented a house for a week.  It was an experience and we enjoyed fixing our meals and eating as a family.  This time on our journey we had five from our chapter and two from another with us.  A couple of our usual travelers had some family illness and weren't able to attend.

We drove down in two vehicles and spent one day in travel.  It was quite warm in Atlanta and most everything to see was costly, but we figured we were only going to be there once.  We visited the Aquarium, which really was awesome, took in Coca Cola World and spent a full day at Stone Mountain Park, arriving in the morning and staying through the laser show in the evening.

While at Stone Mountain we took a ride on the "Ducks", which was noisy but fun - some of us are still wandering around with our duck calls.  It was certainly a hot day while we were there, but we didn't let it get us down.  The fireworks were what we considered to be the best we had ever seen and we were seated in an excellent location to view them.  Having been to Crazy Horse out in SD in 2005, we found ourselves a bit disappointed in the laser show at Stone Mountain.  We had anticipated the show telling a story and instead found it to be more of an entertainment variety type show.  It was very good entertainment, but just not exactly what we had expected.

The IRD was fun.  Many of us have now been to enough IRD's that we are meeting our friends from previous years and enjoying our time together.


2005 - IRD in Rapid City, SD

After hearing the invitation at the 2004 IRD, inviting us to the 2005 IRD in Rapid City, we all started getting excited and making plans.  That excitement grew even more when we learned that our chapter had the Maryland State King and he would be recognized in Rapid City.  Now it seems flying might be easier for the distance, but being the adventurous types hat we are and having some members who simply wouldn't fly - we opted instead to rent two mini vans.  We needed two vans because a trip like that requires some room for luggage as well as breathing.  Six of our members, along with one from our local Friday night chapter and another from a Cumberland, MD chapter made the journey.

We left on a Friday morning, making our first stop in Danville, IL for the night.  After enjoying breakfast at our hotel, we set out for Sioux City, SD where we would spent another restful night.  It seemed like a lot of miles to cover in a day and the scenery didn't change much in all that time, but the conversation was sure good and the fellowship was awesome.  We had planned to cover most of the miles in the first two days, knowing that a shorter day to arrive at our destination would simply "feel good".

The scenery was flat and unchanging for what seemed a thousand miles.  I don't think any of us will ever forget how breathtaking the view was as we topped a small ridge and before us was a picturesque Missouri River.  What an awesome and memorable sight and feeling.

We're an organized group of travelers and blessed to have excellent drivers among us.  For our one night stops, we each packed an overnight small bag that we could quickly grab out of the van, no need to unpack and reload everything each night.  We had a pair of Walkie Talkie's that we used to communicate between vehicles.  If anyone needed a break or saw something of interest to sight see or take a picture of,  we simply contacted one another and made the stop.  While en route, we spotted a billboard advertisement for the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.  If you've never seen it or heard about it, you may want to check it out sometime.  It is something to see and the overall theme changes yearly.  The outside of the palace is covered in corn.  The corn is grown in a variety of colors and specifically for the purpose of decorating the palace.  Many murals appear inside as well and all are made out of corn.  There are a variety of gift shops and guided tours are available as well.  If you buy a souvenir inside the corn palace gift shop, even the shopping bag is made from corn!

We arrived in Rapid City, SD late Sunday afternoon. Unpacked, had some dinner together and talked over our sight seeing plan for the remainder of the week.  Because we had been doing so much driving, we felt it would be good to relax and let someone else worry about how to get from here to there, so we had arranged for a sight seeing tour for Monday.

The tour was fun and included lunch ( a pretty good one too!).  It took us to Bear Country, USA where we saw lots of animals and took what seemed like a million pictures.  We fed the baby bears and of course souvenir shopped.   The next stop on the tour was a ride on the 1880 Steam Train.  The train made for great pictures as well and the train was also one which had appeared in a recent movie of the old west.  The third and final stop of the day was at Mt. Rushmore.  While visiting Mt. Rushmore we had a group picture taken with our local newspaper in hand for TOPS publicity for our chapter.  It was a great day and we had a terrific time.

In always looking for bargains and inexpensive things to do, we decided to check out a local free tour of the Black Hills Gold Jewelry Company.  If you aren't familiar with Black Hills Gold, you're missing out on a beautiful opportunity.  The tour was terrific.  It lasted about an hour and we were all fascinated by how the jewelry is made.  There is much to making it and the process is very meticulously done primarily by hand.  We all enjoyed shopping in the store there as well and because we went on the tour, we also received a discount and had cut coupons from travel magazines as well.

Two of the men in our group are former Air Force, so we all set out for Ellsworth Air Force Base.  We enjoyed having our own personal tour guides traveling with us.  The two of them were very knowledgeable about the planes they were showing us and we enjoyed the excitement in their eyes and faces as they relived some good memories with us.  We also toured the museum there and then most of us were ready to hit the road.  Our two Air Force vets, however had other plans.  They wanted a tour of the base itself.  Because we had two vehicles there, we left them to enjoy the day and spend all the time their hearts desired.  The rest of us then set off to find the hidden best kept secrets of Rapid City.  We enjoyed a quiet visit to the "Chapel in the Hills", The chapel itself is an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway and was built in 1969.  The area was lush and green and a gorgeous place, very serene and relaxing.

A trip to the Rapid City area would not be complete without a trip to Deadwood.  We set out to spend most of a day there, some wanted to spend some time at the small casinos and try their luck, some went panning for gold, others just walked around or rode the trolley.  After leaving Deadwood, we traveled to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse was awesome and we all wished we had more time to spend there. The evening laser light show was fantastic and told the story of Crazy Horse with pictures and music.

With all of our sight seeing behind us, it was now time for the IRD to begin. Two of our travelers, one being our State King, the other a former Maryland State King both participated in the KOPS Circle of Light.  The convention was inspirational and the speakers for workshops were terrific.  The convention location was excellent, there wasn't a bad seat in the house and you could hear everything.  The stories of members who have struggled and accomplished their dreams, the "family" feeling you get being with a few thousand people all sharing the same drive is astounding.  It creates a feeling that leaves you feeling rejuvenated and hopeful once again if you have been faltering.  The hospitality room events and activities are fun and welcoming and let us not forget the "traders".  It's fun to see how many different chapters or states you can collect things from.  The best part is making new friends from everywhere, for there are no strangers in TOPS.

Our week came to an end and it was time to head for home.  We weren't weary on the drive and kept reliving our experience as we went.  Throughout our journey and our ten days spent together on the road, we amazed people everywhere in telling them that we drove to Rapid City and that we spent ten days together and everyone of us said we would do it again. It's a trip none of us will ever forget and the bonding we all did as friends and as a chapter are priceless.  It is our hope that each of you reading this will find that type of fellowship and warmth among your chapters.  If you're not getting it there, take steps to create it and make it happen or start a new chapter with it being the atmosphere in the first place.  You'll be glad you did.


2004 - IRD in Pittsburgh, PA

We rented a 15 passenger van and headed west.  We found ourselves a deal on a hotel not too far from the convention site, invited a few other TOPS friends from our local Friday night chapter to join us and had a terrific time.  We did a small amount of sight seeing.  Many of us had been to or through Pittsburgh before and on this trip we basically only went for the actual days of the convention itself.  It was a truly inspirational time and our enthusiasm for traveling as a group really caught on.