2017 Year in Review

As the year draws to a close, I always like to take a few moments to reflect on all my experiences over the past 12 months. As with most years, 2017 will be remembered as a year of curve balls and unexpected surprises, but what would life be without occasional surprises and detours? Here’s my 2017 Year in Review. . . 

Amanda & Josh overlooking Honolulu
Overlooking Honolulu

Work

I just passed the two-year mark at the University of Kansas at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research, managing the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals project. The Institute officially launched our free, online learning platform on November 1st and things are going well. As the project continues through 2018, a career map feature will be added to the platform that will help guide users to trainings that will help them become proficient in a national set of core competencies that were developed by the project. The project involves a team of stakeholders from many different organizations, spread across four different states and most of the work is done virtually via video conferencing. You can learn more about the Institute and even sign up to take some of the courses yourself at www.InstituteFSP.org.  

 

My husband, Josh, spends his time working in content marketing and communications strategy for a Victoria, British Columbia-based marketing and consulting firm. He is the account lead for several Fortune 1000 clients and has spent some time this year writing about something he’s really interested in – blockchain and cryptocurrency.  You can find some of his writing at www.CoinCatalyst.com. The Bitcoin learning curve has been steep for me, but I feel much more educated in the world of cryptocurrency thanks to Josh’s devout research skills.  We even spent the drive back and forth to Central Kansas for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year listening to Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money on Audible.

 

Travel

We’ve continued traveling fairly extensively throughout 2017.

 

Hawaii

In May, we celebrated our 7th anniversary by flying to Honolulu, spending four days on the island of Oahu, followed by 12 days on a cruise ship visiting three additional islands for seven of those days and crossing the Pacific for the additional five. While in Hawaii, we stayed in an Airbnb on the North Shore of Oahu, visited Pearl Harbor, did a driving tour of Oahu, had coffee in Kona, visited our first active volcano in Hilo, went mountain tubing at Kauai Backcountry Adventures through the irrigation canals of an old sugarcane plantation in Kauai, marveled at the beauty of Waimea Canyon, took a 6-person cruise along the Na Pali Coast with Na Pali Experience (seriously, if you ever get the opportunity to do this, DO IT!!!), did the entire loop on the Road to Hana, and visited art galleries in Lahaina.

Vancouver

After spending five days at sea, we disembarked the cruise ship in Vancouver and walked 25,000 steps the first day off the ship. Vancouver is one of our favorite cities in the world and we always appreciate the opportunity to explore our favorite places when we’re there. We even made the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.  They’re not kidding when they say the Sea to Sky Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in North America.  It’s truly spectacular, and was made even better because of an app I stumbled upon when we were planning our time on Oahu.  If you’re ever traveling in the Hawaiian Islands or in British Columbia (and a few other locations), and you’ll have a car, I HIGHLY recommend looking into the GyPSy Guide.  The company has several tours of varying lengths for each of the Islands, as well as many tour options in British Columbia, and several popular National Park destinations in the United States.  We probably downloaded 6 or 7 of their tours for our trip and they were worth every single penny.  You download the tour and pair your phone with the car’s Bluetooth, then play the audio of the tour through your car speakers while you drive.  The tour is triggered by GPS signal, and the guide gives fantastic directions.  We saw things during those driving tours that you would never find in a guidebook or by just using trial and error.  I wish every destination had something similar.

Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park

 

Family Health

When we returned from Vancouver, we found that my mom had become very ill while we were away. She’d lost a lot of weight and was very weak. Her liver specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital decided that it was time to talk about being placed on the liver transplant list and I spent three days working from the hospital while my mom went through the tests and evaluations that are required before being placed on the list. During this process, it was discovered that my mom was also in kidney failure and she was admitted to the hospital for about a week while the doctors worked on getting her healthy enough to be placed on the transplant list. The treatment she received while in the hospital helped her regain enough strength to officially receive approval to be placed on the liver transplant list on my 35th birthday. Her health continues to be stable and she will likely have to get much worse before she will be able to receive a transplant, but we’re fortunate that she’s on the list.

Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca
Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca

Through this process, I’ve learned more about the process of organ transplants than I ever knew existed and have started preaching the importance of registering to be an organ donor to anyone who will listen.  I even organized an organ donor drive for the Midwest Transplant Network at my office, in August.  If you’re not already registered to be an organ donor (not just with a sticker on your driver’s license, but through an actual registration process), please consider registering at www.OrganDonor.gov today.  Five minutes of your time could mean the difference between life and death for someone you know.

More Travel

Boston

In late September, Josh and I had the opportunity to visit Boston for 4 days for a marketing conference. Since both of us have a professional interest in marketing, it was a perfect opportunity to attend a conference together and get in a little sightseeing while there. Last year, we visited Boston on a cruise, but only had the chance to be in the city for a one day, so it was nice to get to spend more time there and actually get to explore a bit. We stayed in an Airbnb in Beacon Hill, right in the middle of everything. We even took Amtrak to New London, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, so we could check off a couple of additional states. It was a great, albeit short, trip.

Vancouver (again)

One day after returning from Boston, we flew back to Vancouver, BC for a few days ahead of another cruise. We woke up before dawn one morning and drove our rental car to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen to go to Victoria and visit Josh’s childhood friend, and his family for the day. We got to enjoy high tea in Butchart Gardens before walking around Downtown Victoria, and spending a few hours at their home before taking the ferry back to Vancouver that night. We also had the opportunity to take another GyPSy Guide tour and drive east out of Vancouver to Kamloops, BC. Someday, we want to take a trip to the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Banff, etc.) and Kamloops is halfway between Vancouver and the Rockies. It was a beautiful drive and we’re eager to get back to the area.

West Coast

From Vancouver, we boarded the Ruby Princess and headed south. We stopped in Astoria, OR, to see Mount St. Helens, spent a day in San Francisco, where we visited Sausalito, sailed under, drove over, and walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, saw the Full House Painted Lady houses, and walked around Haight Ashbury. We spent the last day of our cruise in Santa Barbara on a food & drink walking tour (Eat This, Shoot That) of the “Funk Zone” which reminded us a lot of our own East Lawrence. The cruise ended in Los Angeles and we flew home that afternoon.

Staying Busy in the Community

After founding the Girlfriend’s Gala in 2014, I’m working with our planning committee to wrap up plans for our 4th annual event, on February 2nd. The Gala is an American Cancer Society fundraiser resembling a “prom” for ladies 21 and over and features a photo booth, snack bar, raffle, and bachelor auction. It’s an event that’s becoming really popular in Lawrence and I spend a lot of time each year preparing for it and soliciting donations.  It’s always a blast and it raises a lot of money for a good cause.

 

I also spend time as a member of the Board of Directors for Just Food, the food bank, here in Douglas County, Kansas.  I serve as a member of the fund development sub-committee and help with a lot of the plans for fundraising events throughout the year.  

 

This year, in my capacity as a Board member for the Social Media Club of Lawrence, I’ve helped to revamp the format for our 2018 meetings.  Since the club was founded, it has been meeting weekly, on Wednesday mornings at 7:30.  With many of the members starting families and having to drop kids off at school at exactly that time every morning, it was becoming difficult to get many members to attend meetings.  We’re excited to start hosting monthly lunch networking meetings and monthly evening meetings with presentations, starting in January.  For more information about attending or becoming involved with SMC Lawrence, visit our Facebook page.

 

Grad School

I’m so close to being done with grad school, I can smell it.  I’m officially half-way through my final year of a two-year Master’s program at the University of Kansas in Digital Content Strategy. I’ll walk down the hill at graduation on May 13th and finish my final class over the summer.  

 

Work Travel

I didn’t travel as much for work this year as I did in 2016, but still got out of Lawrence with colleagues a few times:

  • March – South By Southwest Education – Austin, TX
  • March – South By Southwest Interactive – Austin, TX
  • March – Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals Meeting – Harrisonburg, VA

 

2018 Plans

2018 will bring a trip to Texas and two trips to the Caribbean.

 

Texas

In January, we’re spending 4 days in Austin and San Antonio. Josh has never been to either city and I’m looking forward to getting back to Austin and visiting San Antonio for the first time. We’re staying in an Airbnb on Rainey Street, which is one of my favorite little pockets of Austin. We’re excited to get to see one of our friends and her family when we visit San Antonio.  We accidentally found out they would be there (visiting from southern Mississippi for a conference) the same weekend we would, so we’ll get to spend time with them both in January and in November.  

 

Eastern Caribbean

In May, we will be travelling back to the Eastern Caribbean on the same itinerary we sailed in 2016 (St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau, out of Miami).  We haven’t booked any tours yet, but if Josh has his way, we’ll be doing the same tours we did when we were in each location before.  Unfortunately, St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda all took pretty direct hits from two hurricanes this fall, and we’re not sure how many of the tour operators are back to functioning 100% at this point.  We really enjoyed touring St. John and visiting the Baths at Virgin Gorda when we were there in 2016 and would love to get back to both again.

 

Western Caribbean for Josh’s 40th Birthday

In November, we will be sailing to the Western Caribbean with at least 25 friends and family members for Josh’s 40th birthday. We sail from New Orleans, which will be a lot of fun! You can see our itinerary and learn more about the cruise HERE. If you’d like to go with us, we’d love to have more in our group, so please let me know. There’s plenty of room for more people in our group and you get quite a few perks by being a part of a group, so make sure you book through us. Deposits are always fully refundable through the final payment for cruises, so there’s not a lot of risk involved in booking early.  

 

Wrap Up

2017 has been quite a year.  We’ve been a few new places, made some new friends, been involved in our community, and learned a lot.  What were your favorite parts of 2017?

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Books of 2017

I LOVE to get book recommendations from friends! It wasn’t that many years ago when I found it difficult to find time to do any reading for pleasure.  I filled my time with other things and didn’t make slowing down to read a priority.  Then I found Audible. . . Combine my discovery of Audible with nearly 10 years of a 45 minute, one-way, daily commute and I was magically able to read for pleasure again.  Although I no longer have a commute, I’m still able to listen to audiobooks while I’m cooking dinner each night.  I complete books at a slower pace, but I’m still able to get in several each month.

I’m always looking for book recommendations that fit my varied interests and feel like the end of the year is as good a time as any to share my Top Ten reads of the last year.  I clearly don’t have a single style of book I enjoy.  I tend to get most of my recommendations from The Skimm or through random recommendations from friends. I’m including portions of the Goodreads descriptions from each book because they do a much better job of summing up the books than I could.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris - book recommendations
#10

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love.

 

The Dry by Jane Harper - book recommendations
#9

The Dry by Jane Harper

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

 

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - book recommendations
#8

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment – to oneself and to others.

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - book recommendations
#7

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Meet Eleanor Oliphant. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully time-tabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

 

 

 

The Child by Fiona Barton - book recommendations
#6

The Child by Fiona Barton

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

 

 

 


#5

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as The Child Finder, Naomi is their last hope.

 

 

The Nix by Nathan Hill - book recommendations
#4

The Nix by Nathan Hill

A hilarious and deeply touching debut novel about a son, the mother who left him as a child, and how his search to uncover the secrets of her life leads him to reclaim his own.

 

 

 

 

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - book recommendations
#3

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

 

 

 

 

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - book recommendations
#2

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden - book recommendations#1

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden

Promise Me, Dad chronicles the year that followed, which would be the most momentous and challenging in Joe Biden?s extraordinary life and career. Vice President Biden traveled more than a hundred thousand miles that year, across the world, dealing with crises in Ukraine, Central America, and Iraq. When a call came from New York, or Capitol Hill, or Kyiv, or Baghdad — Joe, I need your help — he responded. For twelve months, while Beau fought for and then lost his life, the vice president balanced the twin imperatives of living up to his responsibilities to his country and his responsibilities to his family. And never far away was the insistent and urgent question of whether he should seek the presidency in 2016.

 

 

What are your book recommendations for 2018?

 

 

 

 

 

NYC Trip Review #11 – Famous Original Ray’s Pizza

Our last stop in NYC before grabbing our luggage and heading for Laguardia was Famous Original Ray’s Pizzeria on Lexington Avenue.  We had visited here on our first day in the city too, but wanted to grab another slice before heading home.  On the first trip, we both had the sausage and pepperoni slice, but this time, I tried the Ziti and Meat Sauce slice and Josh went with the Sausage and Pepperoni again.  I have to say, I prefer the sausage and pepperoni.  The ziti pizza is kind of a novelty and I’m sure some people would love it, but it was just too much starch for me.  I LOVE thin cruse pizza and this one just over-did the bread for me.  It was still good, but definitely filled me up faster than I would have liked. 

NYC Trip Review #10 – Bouchon Bakery

Another stop on our last day in NYC was Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner building.  This building also houses many retail stores as well as a Whole Foods in the basement.  We visited the Whole Foods but it was close to lunchtime and it was mass chaos in there, so we went ahead and went upstairs to Bouchon.

Bouchon Bakery was founded by famous chef Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame) and has locations in Yountville, New York and Las Vegas. 
  
The TKO cookie was one of Josh’s choices.  It is Bouchon’s version of the Oreo cookie and was very good.

I chose the Coffee Cake.  It was delightful and buttery.

The chocolate tart was my second choice.  It wasn’t as good as the chocolate tart from Perilla the night before, but I brought it home with me and ate it cold, from the fridge the night after we got home and it was very good then.  It was made with a darker chocolate than Perilla’s tart.

Josh’s second choice at Bouchon was the Maple-Bacon Brioche.  I know, I know. . . you’re thinking, "bacon on a pastry. . . gross" but it was actually very good.  People who have talked about VooDoo doughnuts in Portland have compared their maple bacon doughnut to bacon and pancakes and I would definitely use that comparison here.  It was flaky and very good as we peeled the layers off to enjoy.

NYC Trip Review #9 – Ben & Jerry’s at Rockefeller Center

Josh and I went to Rockefeller Center on our last morning and visited Top of the Rock Observation Deck.  It is relatively close to the Empire State Building and people have said that the views are better at Top of the Rock, so we figured that we’d try it out.  People were right.  The views were amazing. 
 
After we came back down to reality, we were hungry, so we stopped at the Ben & Jerry’s at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (anyone who watches the show 30 Rock will understand).  Lucky for us, this Ben & Jerry’s was one that actually carries Elton John’s signature flavor that I have been dying to try out since it came out last year.  I was jealous that it was only being distributed in the Northeast because it sounded awesome.  We ordered a scoop of Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road (which was apparently only supposed to be available in the Vermont Scoop Shops from July 18th through July 25th, 2008, but had apparently made an appearance in NYC).  It’s chocolate ice cream, peanut butter cookie dough, butter brickle and white chocolate chunks.  It was delicious.  I only wish it was more widely available.  We also got a scoop of Triple Caramel Chunk (but you can’t see it in the pictures).  Both flavors were great, but the Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road was superb.

NYC Trip Review #8 – Perilla

For those of you who are familiar with the Bravo Network’s reality show, Top Chef, you may recognize Perilla.  It is owned and run by Season One’s winner, Harold.  We actually saw Harold walking out of Perilla just after we were seated, so it was unfortunate that Harold wasn’t the one cooking our meal for us, but his employees did a fine job of taking over in his absence. 

Sadly, this was another of the restaurants that I was uncomfortable whipping out the camera for, but the food was amazing, none the less.  We splurged on this meal and ordered 3 appetizers between us.  I ordered the crispy calamari and watercress salad with mint, peanuts and chili-lime vinaigrette (which was probably the best salad I’ve had in my life).  Josh ordered the seared diver sea scallops with hearts of palm, xo sauce, daikon & spicy arugula puree (which he said was also amazing – best scallops ever) and we shared the spicy duck meatballs with mint cavatelli, water spinach and a quail egg (I thought they were good, but not amazing). 

For an entree, I ordered the special of the night, Colorado rack of lamb and Josh ordered the grilled prime hanger steak with creamed spinach, red shallot puree and natural jus.  Both were excellent, but Josh’s hanger steak was not as good as mine from JoJo.

We both ordered dessert and I was especially pleased with my choice.  I ordered the warm chocolate tart with dulce de leche sauce and vanilla ice cream and Josh ordered a trio of ice creams (banana, vanilla and coffee, I believe).  The chocolate tart was seriously the best chocolate tart I have ever tasted in my life.  It melted in your mouth and left you craving more.  I really wish I had the guts to pull out the camera, because it was definitely worth it.  It was a very simple presentation, but it really stood on its own and didn’t need a lot of fuss on the plate.  Perilla was wonderful!

NYC Trip Review #7 – Patricia’s Pizza & Pasta in the Bronx

Our last stop on Scott’s Pizza Tour was Patricia’s Pizza & Pasta in the Bronx.  It was quite a drive to get there, but we were greeted with pizza delivered right to the bus.  At Patricia’s they have both a brick oven and a gas oven and we were able to try half of a slice of each kind of pizza.  Both were good, but I still prefer Luzzo’s and Lombardi’s over the others.  It was awesome to be able to travel to a location outside of Manhattan for our last stop.  I know we wouldn’t have made it off of Manhattan if it hadn’t been for the Pizza Tour. 

Thanks so much Scott for an awesome tour and amazing pizza.  You’ve got a good thing going here and I hope you have continued success!!!

NYC Trip Review #6 – Patsy’s Pizzeria

Patsy’s Pizzeria was the next stop on Scott’s Pizza Tour.  Patsy’s is known for being one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite hangouts during his time in New York. 

While this stop wasn’t a favorite for Josh or I, the pizza was very good and we didn’t have any complaints.  We just felt that some of the other stops on the tour were better.  Patsy’s has a devout following though and there are many people who would argue that Patsy’s is the best in New York City, hands down.

NYC Trip Review #5 – Luzzo’s Pizzeria

The second stop on Scott’s Pizza Tour is one that will live in my heart (and stomach) forever.  Luzzo’s Ristorante Italiano is hands down, the best pizza I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot of pizza).  The owner, Michele is from Naples, as is a large number of his staff, so they know what pizza is supposed to taste like.  They use real buffalo mozzarella (for those of you who don’t know, this cheese actually comes from Asian water buffalo milk – believe it or not) which has a higher butter-fat content than cow’s milk mozzarella and it really makes the pizza light and buttery.  One of the words used to describe this pizza was "creamy" and it was definitely that.

Luzzo’s is in a building that used to be a bakery and has a brick oven fired by wood.  The whole pizzeria has a faint smell of campfire, but the pizza is other-worldly. 
 
Josh and I actually ended up heading back to Luzzo’s right after we finished the Pizza Tour to order a small pizza.  It was equally amazing the second time around.  Although Luzzo’s has only been around for 5 years, Michele and his pizzaiolos have perfected the art of pizza in a town known for it’s pizza.

NYC Trip Review #4 – Lombardi’s Pizza

Ah, Lombardi’s Pizza. . . the first stop on the most incredible tour in all of New York City – Scott’s Pizza Tour.  For those of you who are not familiar with Lombardi’s, let me fill you in on a little bit of American pizza history.  Lombardi’s was opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi and was officially the first American pizzeria.  He first opened the original location as a grocery store in 1897 after landing in America in 1895.  Genarro began selling traditional Neapolitan pizzas from the grocery store and when the pizza sales out-sold the grocery sales, he decided to focus his business completely on the pizza.  Over 100 years later, Lombardi’s is still going strong in it’s new location, just a few blocks from the original (they had to move because the #6 subway line ran right under the original location and the subway vibrations were loosening the bricks in the coal-fired brick oven).  They moved the original brick oven to the new location, so the pizzas people are getting at Lombardi’s today are the same pizzas that Genarro Lombardi was serving in 1905.      
 
Lombardi’s pizza was spectacular.  You definitely can’t get this kind of pizza here in Kansas. . . at least not that I have been able to find.  If we could, I would be in big trouble.  The crust was perfectly done and it had just the right amount of cows-milk mozzarella and fresh basil on top.  To die for!
 
Now, for Scott’s Pizza Tour.  Scott is a self-proclaimed pizza expert and has spent the last 11 months guiding pizza lovers through America’s pizza birthplace.  Scott is very knowledgeable and keeps people entertained for the entire tour.  The tour that Josh and I took included a big yellow school bus dubbed "The Pizza Bus" that took us all over Manhattan and then to the Bronx for pizza tasting at 4 different pizzerias.  Posts on the other pizzerias that we visited will be appearing in the next few days.  Josh and I would absolutely recommend Scott’s Pizza Tour, whether you do the walking tour around Little Italy or you do the pizza bus tour all over the city.  It was the best 4.5 hours that we spent in New York and who doesn’t love pizza?