Saturday, December 31, 2016

Completed List of ABC Reads Books

I realized as I looked back on each of my ABC Reads recaps, I failed to compile a complete list of all the great books I completed as a part of this link-up. Here's a full list of all my completed ABC Reads...

A - An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
B - Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
C - Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
D - The Dark Ferret Society by Emily Humphreys
E - Everything I Never Told You by Cynthia Ng
F - Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende
G - Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
H - The Hours by Michael Cunningham
I - Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
J - The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
K - The Keeper: A Life of Saving Goals and Achieving Them by Tim Howard
L - Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan
M - The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
N - The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
O - Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
P - The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Q - Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life by Tony Dungy
R - The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town by Ryan D'Agostino
S - Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath
T - 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
U - The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen
V - The Vow: The Kim and Krickitt Carpenter Story by Kim Carpenter
W - We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
X - The X by Lorena Bathey
Y - The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin & John Busby
Z - Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Andrea :)

ABC Reads: December Review

Today is the day to link up your ABC Reads!!   

Here's a refresher on the terms of the challenge in case you missed it previously:

What does the challenge entail?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  There are 26 letters of the alphabet and Mia and I challenge you, during the course of 2016, to read a book that starts with each letter.  For example, Atonement (A), The Bell Jar (B), Catching Fire (C), and so on.  Makes sense, right? You don't need to go in order - if you want to start with S, go for it.  On the last day of each month, we'll host a link-up for you to share your ABC Reads.  We will award one point for each letter you review AND a bonus point for linking up with us!  At the end of the year (or when the first participant reviews a book beginning with each of the 26 letters), the winner will be awarded a $30 Amazon gift card. Congrats to challenge winner, Jessica from Frikken Duckie!

I finished the ABC Reads Challenge!! It took me the entire year, but I made it! I really enjoyed finding some great books. This month, I completed the following letters: Q and Z.  Here are my thoughts...

Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning Life by Tony Dungy

I can't believe I didn't read this one earlier. I've had an autographed copy sitting on my bookshelf for nearly a decade, but for some reason I never read through it. Tony Dungy is one of my favorite people so it was no shock that I was both amazed and inspired by his words. He is such a man of faith! I loved hearing more about his younger years and how he was shaped and molded by his parents. The ups and downs of his early football life were interesting, but the life lessons he shared were invaluable. I am looking forward to delving into his other books soon.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

I struggled to get through portions of this one. I liked the idea of telling the Fitzgerald's story through Zelda's perspective, but I just wanted a little more fact and a little less storytelling. I also didn't really find either Zelda or Scott to be characters I really wanted to root for in this book. They both were immature and a bit annoying at times. I had some trouble keeping focus on this one over the trajectory of the story, but there were bits and pieces that I found compelling. If you enjoy American literature, I think you might find it more enjoyable than I did.  

What have you been reading this month?

Andrea :)

Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas in the Big Apple

Since we had some out of town visitors around the holidays this year, Chris and I took some time to experience some of the NYC Christmas decor. Here's our top five fun holiday activities...

Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center

The Nativity at St. Patrick's Cathedral

The Window Displays at Macy's

Pickle Me Pete's Fried Pickles at Bryant Park's Winter Village

The Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium

And, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't share our own little Christmas Tree. We had fun decorating it with our growing collection of ornaments. We have a tradition in which I leave an ornament that commemorates the year in Chris' stocking. I found the perfect one to reflect all the fun we had in Austin for our anniversary this year.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas this year!!

Andrea :)

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Our ICU Christmas to Remember

Life is full of surprises and mysteries. My family had our fill of both this Christmas season, but let me back track to the week of December 11. My dad had just returned with my youngest brother, McKinley, from a road trip to Louisiana. Dad played piano at two church services that Sunday and did a little Christmas shopping with my mom. Nothing to see here, folks.

On Monday, Dad began complaining of some back pain and headed off to the chiropractor to see if an adjustment would do the trick. On day two of no back pain relief, Mom was convinced a trip to the doctor was in order. That visit on Wednesday, December 14 resulted in an immediate admission to the hospital due to elevated kidney levels. Certainly concerning, but kidney stones seemed to be the logical diagnosis and fit for the symptoms. As it turns out, kidney stones would have been ideal. Instead, an aggressive blood infection was discovered. Mysteriously, no entry point for the infection was found, but it took hold in a real scary way regardless.

On Saturday, breathing became difficult as other levels peaked and dipped which led to a move to the Critical Care (ICU) area. It was at this point, I could no longer be convinced to stay in NY and wait for my previously arranged Tuesday flight. Of course, in true NY fashion we had a snow storm that day which significantly delayed flights. I was able to get on an 11pm flight that landed me in Louisville (still two hours away) around 1am. My best friend from high school graciously volunteered to pick me up and drive me to the hospital once I arrived.

When I finally made it to the ICU at 3:30am on Sunday, December 18, Dad was wide awake. He hadn't slept for quite some time (over 24 hours) and was clearly in distress based on the screens displaying his stats, but he knew me and we were able to talk a bit though most of the conversation revolved around helping him escape.

The next day, Dad was intubated to assist with getting his breathing under control and allow his body to rest while the antibiotics for the infection began to work. It was easily the most difficult and scary period of time I've experience in my life. God revealed to me a totally new meaning to the verse in 1 Thessalonians instructing us to pray without ceasing. During this trying time, I felt the Holy Spirit wash over me and provide a peace that gave me strength to continue to petition God on behalf of my dad. My brother, Jordan, provided frequent Facebook updates to family and friends requesting prayer and a number of churches were also lifting up Dad. God heard our cry. I have absolutely no doubt.

After three days of intubation, the tube was removed. Dad could talk again, but he was incredibly weak and tired. Other issues surfaced over the next few days and a number of blood transfusions were necessary, but by Christmas Day stats were normalized, his feeding tube was removed, and he was even able to sit in a chair.

We experienced our own Christmas miracle this year. Dad will continue to receive the antibiotic for several weeks and will need extensive rehabilitation services to regain his strength and full independence, but God has performed a remarkable work in healing my Dad. As 2016 closes and 2017 begins, our family is incredibly grateful for all of the support, prayers, and concern shown for our family. Most of all, we are thankful for the miracle God performed for us.

Andrea :)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Our December Date Nights

December is always a busy month with holiday parties and last minute shopping. It was certainly chaotic for us, but we managed to fit in some fun with just the two of us between all the holiday shuffle and general end of the year craziness.

We attempted to see Jarrod Carmicheal earlier this year, but he cancelled the show we planned to see. When Chris discovered he was going to be at the Comedy Cellar, it was an easy date night pick. We were actually seated on the front row for the evening so we interacted with a couple of the comedians throughout the night. Jarrod was good, but we would still like to see him do his own show. He has an interesting style, but he made us laugh for sure. It was a fun night. All the comics in the line up were decent. Usually there is at least one disappointment, but we enjoyed them all that night.

Since Chris loved the holiday train so much last year, I decided it would be fun to give it a whirl again this year. It only runs on Saturdays in December for a limited number of hours so it is quite the novelty. It took us a couple of attempts to finally get the timing right and catch it in action. Ultimately, we went to the start of the line - 2nd Ave on the Lower East Side - and rode it the length of the line into Queens. The train is a neat way to step back into history. It was packed, but we truly enjoyed the experience.

What was your favorite date night this year?

Andrea :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mickey's Christmas Party!

I got an early start on celebrating Christmas this year when I joined my brother's family for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Disney World. They had year long park passes this year so I had the best tour guides possible for my one day adventure!

We spent the morning checking out all the fun stuff at the resort and swimming at the pool. Since we weren't able to enter the park until 4pm, we also had time to grab a delicious lunch at Cracker Barrel. The kids were even able to mail off their wish lists to Santa while we waited for our food.

We arrived at the park about 10 minutes before entry time. We went non-stop from that point on. Our group took the divide and conquer approach so Jordan and I pushed the kids in strollers from ride to ride while Jen waited in line for the top characters of the night. We started the day on the Jungle Jingle Cruise - definitely a fun way to get things started.

After that, it was off to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Big Thunder Mountain roller coasters and Splash Mountain. I took turns riding with the kids using fast passes or companion passes while Jordan entertained the waiting kid. A couple of times - Dumbo and Alice's Tea Cups - I had both kids by myself while Jordan ran drinks and treats back to Jennifer. At various locations throughout the park, cookies and drinks (or in one case a snow cone) were served for guests at the party. We slowed down enough to grab those from each location. The snowman sugar cookies were the best alongside the hot cocoa.

We met a slew of character beginning with Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde from Zootopia.  The party marked their first appearance for my niece and nephew so that was pretty neat. We also met Jack Skellington. He was quite interactive which was cool to see. We also came across Goofy in between rides on the Barnstormer. He was a lot of fun for our group.

I was able to watch the Frozen characters light the castle turning it into a brilliant background for photos. And we saw bits and pieces of the parade - talk about a packed crowd! The kids fell asleep during the fireworks show, but it was spectacular.

We found more characters - Minnie and Daisy, the Seven Dwarfs, and even some Prince and Princess pairs. We rode more rides - It's a Small World, Little Mermaid, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Flying Carpets, and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.

After riding pretty much every ride in the park, eating our way through a variety of cookies, and meeting super fun characters, it was time to say goodbye. We took lots of fun photos on our walk down Main Street to the exit. It sure was a day packed full of fun and adventure for all. Big thanks to my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew for showing me the ropes - I absolutely loved spending the day with you all at the most magical place on Earth!

Andrea :)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Seat a Show, See a Show

A few months ago, I signed up to be a volunteer usher with one of our favorite theaters - Second Stage. Each time the email was sent out requesting volunteers, I was too slow to respond and all the spots were already filled. Over Thanksgiving weekend, an email was sent to fill a newly open slot and I immediately responded indicating my availability. I got the spot. I was told to dress in all black and be at the theater an hour before showtime. Upon arrival for Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education - a one-woman show featuring Anna Deavere Smith at Second Stage Theatre, I found myself stuffing playbills alongside three other volunteers. Since I was new to the volunteer usher business, I was given the least frequented post. It was a great way to get my feet wet. And the show was simply phenomenal. Her multiple monologues covered several aspects of the justice and education system mostly focusing on the prejudices that lie just below the surface. It was quite a moving production.

One of the ushers at Notes from the Field, told me about the opportunity to usher Holiday Inn (The New Irving Berlin Musical) at the Roundabout Theatre Company. I walked to the Roundabout Theatre right after clean-up at Second Stage to secure my spot. My experience for Holiday Inn was significantly different. I was ushering in the orchestra section this time. There were lots of interesting personalities and requests from the folks in this section. Before the audience arrived, instead of stuffing playbills we were able to watch a few last minute rehearsal numbers. I was really rooting for the actors when those numbers happened during the performance. I'm happy to say they appeared flawless. Even though my usher experience at Holiday Inn was a bit more stressful, it was entirely worth it to see such a fun and exciting show for free. I really loved the dance numbers and that it hit all the major holidays. Definitely a cute story and show!

Have you ever volunteered at a live event or production?

Andrea :)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Cookie Swap!

My friends Reba and Amanda host an annual cookie swap that has become one of my favorite Christmas traditions in NYC. Something about baking and spending time with friends really gets me into the holiday spirit.

This year, I put a little spin on the classic sugar cookie double doozie. I added some Christmas by spicing up the simple sugar cookie recipe with some red and green sprinkles. And coloring the icing red and green to spread a little Christmas cheer as well.  The cookies were quite easy to make, but I wish I would have made them a tad smaller (especially since each one was technically two cookies).

I managed to win 3rd prize at the swap which surprised me because there were some really tasty selections! It was a great getting to have all the "old girlfriends" back together again since Tarra happened to be in town, too. Such a fun night with a lovely crew!

What kind of cookies are your favorite?

Andrea :)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Our November Date Nights

November was packed full of fun date nights for us. We saw a couple of movies at independent theaters, attended a one night only concert event, and a fundraiser benefit. Lots of fun and excitement for us just before the holiday season!

Chris surprised me with tickets to a special one night only Rascal Flatts concert at the theater in Madison Square Garden. The venue is a nice intimate setting so we were pretty close to the stage which was awesome! Rascal Flatts was promoting their new Christmas album (which they gave to us as a thank you for attending the concert) so they included a couple of those songs into their set. I really love "Strange Way to Save the World" - check it out here! Even though the concert itself wasn't nearly as long as we had hoped, we still had a GREAT time listening to my all-time favorite band perform!

My date night was full of yummy food and drinks at the Let's Get Ready Annual Benefit. I was part of the fundraising committee for the event, but I am relatively new to the organization. Chris and I had a blast. We enjoyed determining the best strategy for the raffle - even though we weren't successful. And there was a fun photo booth with a snapchat filter, too! The goodie bags were a hit as well. We had a great night!

What kind of winter dates are you planning?

Andrea :)