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


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.



We’ve continued traveling fairly extensively throughout 2017.



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.


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


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.



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?






Liberty of the Seas Group Cruise – Day 1

Day 1 means that we get to have our first look at the Liberty of the Seas.  This will be the largest ship that we’ve ever sailed on and I’m very much looking forward to exploring it’s offerings when we’re able to board.

Before leaving the hotel, be sure to have a carry-on packed.  Typically, my carry-on consists of prescription medications, a swimming suit (if you’d like to swim when you get on the ship) and a change of clothes for that evening’s dinner (in case your luggage is a late-arrival).  Having these items will ensure that you have an enjoyable first day on the ship.  Sometimes, luggage doesn’t arrive until 7 or 8pm and occasionally, even later, so having a few important items will allow you to be able to do things on the ship that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.

We usually leave the hotel around 10am to head for the Port so that we can be on board as close to lunch time as possible.  Most cruise lines tell you that boarding doesn’t begin until 1:30 or 2pm, but that’s not true.  You can be on board as early as 11am on some occasions.  Early boarding is all dependent upon how early the ship got into port and how smoothly debarkation of the last set of passengers went.  If things were moving slowly, they may not open boarding until 1:30 or 2pm, but we’ve found that that’s not usually the case.  I don’t think we’ve ever boarded a ship later then 12:30pm.

When we arrive at the port, we will be greeted by luggage porters.  These are the men and women who handle all of the luggage for all of the passengers arriving to board the ship.  This means 3,634 passengers luggage is handled by these people each time the ship comes into port.  If you take into account that these porters are also assisting people getting off the ship, this could be 7,268 people in one day.
It’s customary to tip the porters when you hand off your luggage.  Some people believe that a bigger tip means that your luggage will get to your cabin faster, but I don’t think there’s any way that one can guarantee that with so much luggage changing hands.  You should definitely tip the porters though, just as you would tip your cab driver or a doorman at a hotel.

Once your luggage is left safely with the porters, you can proceed to the check-in area.  Sometimes, it will be open by 10am for check-in and sometimes, you will have to wait a bit until they are ready for you.  If you have to wait, generally, there is a seating area for you to wait in, but be prepared, because sometimes, especially with the larger ships, these areas can become crowded quickly.

Check-in is typically pretty painless.  Just make sure that you have your passport, cruise documentation and the credit card that you will be charging for all of your on board purchases (no, everything isn’t included – alcohol, Ben & Jerry’s, specialty coffee, etc. is all an additional charge).

Once we board, we have to wait until the cabins are ready, which usually doesn’t happen until around 2 or 3pm.  This will give you plenty of time to explore the ship and stop at the Windjammer for a buffet lunch but be prepared, because this day in the Windjammer is going to be complete chaos.  This is one of the only open locations on the ship during boarding and that means that it’s where everyone ends up.  It can get pretty hectic, so my recommendation is that you find a table first and then have someone stay where while the rest of the group goes to get their food.  If you don’t scope out seating first, you may end up wandering around for 20 minutes while your food gets cold in your hands.

This is also a good time to do some exploring and to get yourself acquainted with the ship.  If you’re not hungry immediately, you can even wander around the ship first and wait out the crowd in the Windjammer.

The rest of day one is filled with muster drills (thank goodness you don’t have to wear your life jackets anymore) and a sail away party.  I usually spend this day getting used to where things are on the ship.  I know this time won’t be any different since it’s a very large ship and we’ll have a lot to explore in 5 days.

Liberty of the Seas Group Cruise – Day 0

On the first travel day, all 23 of us will be travelling to Ft. Lauderdale from various locations across the country.  We’re hoping for good weather as we travel at the end of January since we’ll all be escaping the horrible mid-US winter.

Most of us have flights on Delta in the mid-morning leaving from Kansas City.  Others are flying in from Denver.  We’re looking for a good place to have dinner in Ft. Lauderdale that evening, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know.

We’ll be staying at the LaQuinta Inn & Suites, Ft. Lauderdale Airport.  We got a pretty good deal through our travel agent and we’ll get a ride from the airport and to the Port the following morning.

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

So, it’s been quite a while since anything was posted to the BLOG.  Hopefully, that will change since I have a new iPad and will have easier access to blogging going forward.  I thought it would be appropriate to start the blog posting back up again by writing a series of posts about our upcoming cruise to Jamaica and Haiti.  How appropriate, right?  My last big series of postings ended with posts about our honeymoon cruise, so why not start back up with the cruise we’re taking next.
This time, we will be traveling with many friends and family members.  I believe there are a total of 23 of us going this time, but there’s always room for more.  I’m told that the balcony cabins have been deeply discounted at this point, so if anyone out there wants to get credit for booking with a group on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas on her 5-night, January 30th sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale, just let me know and I’ll get you hooked up wi our travel agent.
That being said, here are some of the highlights of the ship we’ll be sailing on:

Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas
Pools & Whirlpools – 10
Spa Treatments – 100+
Crew Members – 1,360
Gross Tonnage – 160,000
Length – 1,112 ft
Width – 185 ft

Royal Promenade

 Boxing Ring

Flow Rider Surf Simulator

Rock Climbing Wall

H2O Zone

3-Story Main Dining Room

Ice Skating Rink