Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Tweets

Back my popular demand (and by popular, I mean I asked on Twitter if I should post this and my friend Julie responded with a YES!), here are my favorite Tweets this year.

This was a big year on Twitter and it is a big source of news and political chit chat. But I'm just going to post things that made me laugh. I hope they make you laugh, too.

When Nicki Minaj called one of the Teen Mom girls a Ding Bat:

When my friend Lizz made this awesome pun:

This relatable Tweet:

This beautiful moment from the Superbowl:

When Taylor Swift expressed what we were all feeling during the Superbowl halftime show:

My girl Melinda perfectly describing her love for coffee:

My thoughts exactly:

My friend Kristen being an adorable flower protector:

My friend Dean who became a new parent this year:

Kristen being the Kristen we all love:

Leslie Jones being...Leslie Jones:

Meghan Tonjes and her sass:

One of the many Olympics tweets that brought me joy:

The adorable lovefest between Laurie and Beyonce:

Whole Foods People Watching:

Mamrie Hart and I share a love for Trader Joe's:

Once again, Leslie Jones being Leslie Jones:

I actually almost choked laughing at this one:

Christmas carol truth bomb:

And that's a wrap, folks!

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 Jams

10. Postmodern Jukebox, Squad Goals
If you haven't been exposed to Postmodern Jukebox yet, it's about time to are. They are brilliant. They take current hits (or in some cases, old hits) and make them into jazz/swing masterpieces. I love a lot of things about PMJ, but one of the best things about them is that they showcase different vocalists and musicians. Several former American Idol contestants (Haley Reinhart, Casey Abrams, Rayvon Owen, and Melinda Doolittle, to name a few) have taken the lead on some of their most popular covers. Take a listen for yourself and prepare to get hooked.

9. Jimmy Eat World, Integrity Blues
I haven't listened to Jimmy Eat World in years. But earlier this year, my brother shared one of their songs with me. I loved it, and then learned that they had recently released a new album. The album flows together beautifully, it is truly crafted in a heartfelt, emotional tone that I can't get enough of. The songwriting and lyrics are what stand out the most to me.

8. Kris Allen, Letting You In
Kris Allen is a singer-songwriter, who found his fame on American Idol. His album Letting You In is full of sweet lovesongs. What I love about this album is that is very authentically Kris. He is not trying to be anyone else, he's kept the same sound and style. And while sometimes it can be good to mix things up, for Kris, this is what works. The songs are great, he has a passionate, sweet voice to match.

7. Haley Reinhart, Better
You may recognize Haley from her videos with Post Modern Jukebox, or her voice from the Extra Gum commercial. I know Haley from American Idol. I actually wasn't a fan of her for most of her season, but the night she was eliminated she sang "Bennie and the Jets" and I listened to it so many times I thought I was going to break my computer speakers. It was that good. I was a fan of her first album, released in 2012, and have followed along with her as she took the spotlight several times with PostModern Jukebox. Her second album, Better, was released in 2016. I knew I was going to like the album the minute I heard the first single. Haley's sultry, raspy, soulful vocals are near perfect on this album.

6.Castro, Diamond Dreams
I was absolutely ecstatic when I learned that the Castro siblings were finally putting their talents together for form a band. Jason Castro is one of my favorite American Idol contestants of all time, and I've actively followed his brother Michael on Youtube for a few years now. I knew that their sister, Jackie, had pipes of her own. Combined, they make a beautiful, soulful trio. Their harmonies are pure goodness, dipping into Americana/folk sounds. I immediately added "Automatic" to my list of potential Wedding songs.

5. Halo Circus, Bunny
I've been following Allison Iraheta's career since her American Idol days and I was so glad when I found out she had started an alternative band called Halo Circus. Their debut album dropped this year, and shortly after the band went on tour, which was funded by fans. (And yes, I happily donated to help bring them to Detroit). The album reminds me a lot of pop music from the late 90's/early 2000's. (I'd use No Doubt as a comparison).  Allison's raspy, yet beautiful, vocals carry throughout each track. I fell even more in love with the album when I was able to see the band perform it live.

4. Sia, This Is Acting
This album was one of the biggest blessings to come my way in 2016. When I was going through a really dark, sad period, I stumbled on the song "Alive" by Sia and felt so overcome with hope and determination. The song soon became my anthem, and I checked out the rest of the album, drawn to Sia's incredible vocals and lyrics. I'm so glad that I did, because soon the album was on repeat. Many of the songs have a similar message to "Alive", and suddenly the album became an aide in my healing.

3. JohnnySwim, Georgica Pond
One of my very favorite singer/songwriter duo's, and they happened to be married! I love these two, their harmonies, lyrics, and their soulful voices. Hoping to see them live for the first time this spring. Georgica Pond is simply another beautiful album from Johnnyswim. It is probably best described as soul mixed with blues and if that's your thing, check this album out.

2. Bruno Mars, 24k
Bruno's last album was released in 2012. I have been anxiously waiting for new music for him since then. Besides Uptown Funk, Bruno has remained pretty quiet. Until earlier this year, when he announced his album would be out in late 2016. It's just the album I was hoping for: pop, with heavy Motown/funk influence. It was well worth the wait!

1. Beyonce, Lemonade
Full Disclosure: I was not a big Beyonce fan before Lemonade dropped. I mean, I've always liked Beyonce. I have passionately sung my heart out to many of her songs. But I've never owned a full Beyonce album. And then Lemonade happened. I watched my twitter feed explode when the Lemonade full video dropped, and I was instantly fascinated. So I gave it a listen, and I fell so in love with the album that I downloaded it immediately and listened to it at every chance that I had. It is so incredible. It tells a story, and it tells that story across several different genres of music. I recommend listening in order.

As you can see from my list, I've included a handful of American Idol alums. Before you roll your eyes, I'd encourage you to give it a listen. I think you'll find that they each have a very different sound. I've included my three favorite songs from each album listed (with the exception of Lemonade, since that's not on Spotify). Go ahead- listen- and then report back. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Healthy Holiday

Healthy eating is really hard at this time of year. Personally, I crave carbs when it's colder outside. I am comforted by warm bread and pasta. Plus, everywhere you turn there is candy, cookies, and other treats. I get it. It's tough.

I had a piece of pie today. I normally only eat pie, or really any dessert besides a chocolate fiber brownie, on very special occasions- like holidays or parties. Sometimes Tom and I will split a piece of pie or dessert after a date night, but even that is rare. 

So here I was, on a Monday afternoon, eating a piece of pie. And I enjoyed every minute of it. 

But, there's the part of me that, of course, feels just a little guilty. So I started talking to myself, building myself up and reminding myself how I was going to stay on track for the rest of the week. I thought some others may want or need to hear this too, so here we go. Here's how I plan to stay healthy through the holidays.

1. It is a very, very real possibility that you will see a slight increase on the scale between now and New Year's Day. Do not fret. It is okay. More than likely, this is just due to the increase in salt and sugar in your diet. Do not get so discouraged that you throw the towel in, do not give up your healthy lifestyle over it, and DO NOT beat yourself up. It's OKAY.

2. Drink a ton of water- you should be drinking half of your weight in ounces every day. If you're working out, drink a little more. Water will help flush out your system. It is especially helpful to drink water on the big party days. 

3. Exercise! Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise in every day. This won't always be do able, and sometimes it means just going up and down stairs in your building or taking a few extra laps around the hallways to get some steps in. Do what you can, but try to get those 30 minutes in. I know with the winter weather it's even harder, but your body will be grateful- and it helps boost the mind, too.

4.  Eat lots of protein. This week I am eating egg muffins with spinach and green pepper in them every morning for breakfast to start my day with a protein boost. Next week, when I'm detoxing from Christmas parties, I will probably drink my green smoothie for breakfast (spinach, banana, peanut butter powder). Snacks should include greek yogurt, protein bars, etc. 

5. Roasted vegetables make a perfect side dish at this time of year, and they are healthy! Cut back on the oil (I just spray my veggies with coconut oil instead), season them however you want, pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes and voila. You have a delicious, healthy side dish.

6. Take small portions. I cannot resist cheesy potatoes on Christmas, but instead of taking way more than my tummy can handle, I take a small scoop and will fill my plate with salad and vegetables. 

7. Limit the alcohol.  My drink of choice is beer, but because it's heavier than most drinks and I'd rather eat my calories rather than drink them, I will probably go for a glass of wine instead. (Sidenote, drinking water in between alcoholic beverages is a lifesaver)

8. Listen to your body. It will tell you when it's had enough. Our eyes often want more than our tummy does.

9. HAVE FUN. For goodness sake's, it's Christmas. No matter what you eat, or how much you do or do not exercise, you are still a warrior who is going to continue to kick ass. At the end of the day this holiday is not about food or exercise or counting calories, it's about enjoying time with your loved ones. So do that. Recognize the beauty in you, and do not define yourself by your food choices.

That last one is one I constantly need to remind myself of.

Got any other tips? I would love to hear them!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

My 2016 Christmas Card Letter

At about 5 pm today, exactly one week before Christmas, I thought that I should go buy some Christmas cards to send out to my friends and family. But.... I's one week before Christmas. I am traveling for work the next two days. So by the time I would actually sit down and write the cards, it would be the 21st or 22nd. My cards, if I got them done, likely wouldn't get to people on time.

So instead, I found myself here. On my blog. I'm going to do a simple review of my year, a simple review of the year in general, and then share my holiday wishes to each and every one of you.

If you take away the world tragedies that occurred in 2016 (more on that in a minute), I had a pretty great year. I started it off by chopping 8 inches off my hair and slapping braces on my teeth....because why not change things up? The first few months of the year were focused on the planning of my best friend Sam's wedding, which was on April 2nd. We threw her two showers and a bachelorette party between January and February. It kept me busy, but boy did we have a lot of fun along the way. I loved every minute of it, even the stressful times. It was an honor and a privilege to play such a big part in her big day, and to be able to grow closer to some of my other friends through that. For as long as I have known Sam I've known that she is a romantic, a dreamer, a lover, and someone who likes to have a good time. Her wedding was all of those things and more. I couldn't be happier for her and Eric as they  approach their one year anniversary.

When spring rolled around, Tom and I found a great place to live together, starting the next chapter of our story. I switched gyms, I got back into yoga, I was working crazy hours as we were in our busy Relay for Life season. I grew closer with my coworkers, particularly Jenn, who quickly became one of my very best friends.

Summer meant spending time by the pool, going to concerts, going for a run every Sunday morning, having my annual "Girl's Weekend" with some of my dearest friends, and welcoming my baby niece Cara into the world, just two days before my 29th birthday.

Oh, and I also got engaged. Two days after Cara was born (so... my birthday, if you're playing along), I was sitting at home, waiting for it to be time to go to the 98 Degrees (yes, I'm serious) concert, when Tom walked in from work, took off his boots, and asked me to marry him. I knew the big question was coming soon. We had open conversations about it. So I wasn't that surprised, but somehow, the tears still came. I was completely overjoyed. I've known for quite a while that Tom is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. That night we celebrated with some close friends (and 98 Degrees), and the celebrations continued throughout the weekend. We felt so much love coming from so many people. We quickly went into wedding planning mode and got some of the biggest things checked off the list right away.

With fall comes another peak at work, and I once again found myself working plenty of late nights and weekends. I kept running every Sunday until it got too cold, I went on my annual retreat with Sisters and Associates of Mercy, and I tried to spend as much time with family and friends as I could.

Through all of this, I am very, very grateful to say that my dad, who has battled lung cancer with brain metastasis since 2013, has remained relatively healthy.  We had a few scares along the way, but the doctors have always found a way to make his disease stable again. I can't say it's been any easier, or that I haven't had my moments of break downs over his stupid cancer, but I also know that we have been very lucky. He continues to fight and we continue to stand by him and carry him through this.

So while overall it's been a great year for me personally, I will admit that I have had my personal struggles. There are times I am way too hard on myself, or I get incredibly anxious and feel my heart nearly coming out of my chest, or there are times when I feel an overwhelming sadness and fog. I know I am not alone in this, and although it can be hard to talk about, I am not ashamed, either. It's part of who I am. I have found ways to work through these, and I know that it will be a lifelong thing. I am grateful for Tom, family and friends who helped me through my toughest moments.

So now that you learned a little bit more about my year... let's talk about 2016 in general.

It was rough, right? I think that all of us, no matter what side we are on politically, have felt the divide. There was the deadly shooting in Orlando, the instances of police brutality, the instances of police being killed, human trafficking on the rise, the Flint water crisis, and the election. It seemed like nothing but negativity was being put out into the world for a while. I remember one particular week where I just didn't want to get out of bed. I couldn't believe the world we were living in was so violent and scary, and that there was so much hate. There were many days when I felt helpless, hopeless, and just plain frustrated. I could go on, but I think we all get it, and we've all heard it. 2016 wore us out.

Many of us are now asking the question "where do we go from here?" and "what do we do now?". I spent a lot of time thinking about this, too. I wrote about it on this blog a few times, so forgive me for being repetitive. But when it comes to 2017, here is my hope for all of us:

I hope we don't give up, or give in. I hope we continue to fight for what is right. I hope that we can love ourselves and one another with everything we've got left in us. I hope we are refueled and re energized.  I hope that we have not let the tragedies of 2016 rip the goodness that is left in us. Because we need that goodness if we want peace. I hope we don't ignore our neighbors when they need us. I hope we take time to listen and to see what is going on around us. I hope that our passion and our words move to action. I hope that each of us can live a life where we are healthy, we are happy, and we are at peace.

As you are planning for the new year and choosing resolutions and your focus, think about where you may be able to do the most good. If you've been neglecting self care, this is the year you change that. Take care of yourself. You are worth it. If you can do just a little bit more to make the world a better place, find ways to do that.

Personally, I always find the idea of a new year a little bit scary, but that's coming from someone who doesn't like change. I'm terrified of what's to come, I'll be honest. But instead of spending every minute of every day in fear, I let myself have my moments where I can break down or be scared or just lay in bed for a few hours, and then I get back to work. Because there is always work to be done. Whether it's actual work for my job, or taking care of myself or my family or spending time with friends or volunteering, those are all things that I have to do to keep going. And I must keep going.

I hope you keep going, too, even when it feels impossible.

We'll do this, together.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

2016: Books and TV Shows

While most people are excited about baking Christmas cookies and wrapping presents, I'm excited to start making my "end of the year" lists. First up, books and TV shows!

I read 22 books in 2016.  Here are my 5 favorites:

5. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. I read a few suspense novels this year...and of them, this was my favorite. As the title suggests, it is certainly dark. Gillian Flynn can certainly tell a twisted story. This was full of surprises, and it gave me goosebumps...multiple times. If you were a fan of Gone Girl, I'd highly recommend this.

4. In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume. I really wasn't sure about this novel when I first started reading. There were so many characters, each giving their point of view, and in the first few chapters I found it confusing to keep up and differentiate between the characters. Once I started to understand who the characters were and how they were connected with each other, I got really into the story and found it harder and harder to put down the book.

3.  The Problem With Forever by Jennifer Armentrout. It's no secret that I love Young Adult Fiction. I find it fascinating to get in the heads of these coming of age stories, and I often find pieces of myself in the characters. It is both heart wrenching and heart warming, and grabs you right from the start. I related to Mallory and her anxiety in so many ways- and I loved how raw the author made it. It's a high school romance, sure, but unlike any I've ever read before.

2. Where Am I Now? By Mara Wilson. You know the adorable little girl from Mrs. Doubtfire, Matilda, and Miracle on 34th Street? Well, now she's this spunky, funny, wise young lady. I started following her on Twitter a few years ago because I kept seeing her witty tweets popping up on my feed. She is very in tune with world happenings. I was excited to read her memoir because I loved her movies when I was a kid, and love her blog and Twitter account now. I'm so glad I read this book. Mara is a wonderful storyteller- in her memoir she shares memories of being a child actor, of friendships and dating, of losing her mother from cancer at the age of 8. She also opens up about her Obsessive Compulsive disorder, and how she has learned to adapt to it. A terrific, authentic memoir.

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. This is a powerful, moving novel that I could barely put down. Kristin Hannah is known for her love stories. And while The Nightingale certainly has love stories woven it, this book is so much more than that. It is about two sisters during wartime, it is about women and their strength during wartime. It's a fantastic read, and one that I recommended to just about everyone.

Honorable Mentions: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight.

What were your favorite books that you read this year?

Next, my favorite TV shows I watched.

Full disclosure, I don't watch a lot of TV. I was going to do movies...but that's even more limited. So, here we go.

5. This Is Us. I knew I was going to love This Is Us the moment I saw a preview for it. With the same writers from Parenthood, how could you go wrong? My gut feeling was correct. The show is amazing. Some of the acting could be better, but the heartfelt writing is there. I'm always wondering what the next twist will be.

4. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. This show just brings me so much joy. It is hilarious, upbeat, and full of pop culture references. I laugh so hard watching this show, I often have to pause it and rewind to hear it again. I cannot wait for season 3.

3. Nashville.  I have loved Nashville since it started in 2012. Season 4 was jam packed with drama, love stories, and, of course, music. My heart broke for Juliette, who was struggling with some serious depression. I went through the ups and downs of Rayna and Deacon and Scarlett and Gunner. I love this show, it's twists and it's ability to capture me with the music!

2. American Idol. 2016 was the last year for American Idol (for now,.....) and although this year's group were not my favorite group of contestants, I still enjoyed the season. My favorite contestants were Olivia, Mackenzie, Trent, La Porsha, and Avalon. Admittedly, I haven't really kept up with any of them post Idol. What I loved most about the last season was that they brought back old contestants. Kelly Clarkson's emotional performance of her song "Piece by Piece" was one of the highlights of the season. Also, the finale was basically a giant nostalgia fest and really showcased past favorite contestants. I'll miss American Idol, but I will forever cherish all the memories it has given me.

1. Orange is the New Black. Season 4 premiered on Netflix on June 17th, and I was finished with the season by June 18th.  I know there was a ton of negative feedback surrounding the season, but I loved it. It was much darker than previous seasons, but I thought they did an excellent job of portraying just how corrupt our prison system is, as well as playing out real life issues like racism, police brutality, and sexual assault. Also, I have never in my life cried so hard over the death of a character. I felt like someone in my real life had died. I still think about the ending of that season, I talked about it nonstop for weeks. I cannot wait to see what they do with Season 5.

Honorable Mentions: Fuller House & Modern Family

What were your favorite shows this year?