Saturday, January 25, 2014

Out with the '13, In with the '14!

Well now that we're about three weeks into the new year, guess there's no better time to recap I ushered in the glorious 2K14...

Before I headed home for the holidays, six of us (Cassie, her boyfriend Ryan, Hallie, Phetsada, Tyrell, and myself) decided that we would all meet up in Savannah to ring in the new year. This was received with immediate excitement and helped make the last few weeks before break fly by. Since I was going to be flying back south prior to New Year's Eve, it was decided that I would fly into Atlanta, get picked up by Phetsada, and then ride with her and Hallie to Savannah. At the same time, Cassie, Ryan, and Tyrell would then come up from Florida and meet us.

Said plan was almost ruined...

As everyone knows, the Midwest during the winter months is horrendous. Snow, freezing rain, and blustery winds are always possible. One day it may be 60 - the next it will be 4 (true story - actually happened while I was home). To try and cut down on any delays, I ended up staying with Kevin the night before I flew out. He lives approximately 10 minutes from O'Hare, so getting to the airport proved to be no problem. Now the plane that we actually took was another story...

Chicago --> Charlotte. 1 hour 30 minutes layover in Charlotte. Charlotte --> Atlanta. Pretty straight forward when everything is one time and runs as scheduled. If only I could've been so lucky. From the time that I checked in for my flight, I knew that it was delayed. How long that delay was remained unknown until I reached my gate. Instead of leaving at 6:00 as planned and relaxing a bit in Charlotte, we were now scheduled to leave at 6:40. Not horrible, but definitely not ideal.

Instead of actually leaving Chicago at 6:40, we started boarding our plane at this time. While we were boarding, those little fluffy flurries started to fall from the sky. Just what we needed! This of course caused the plane to begin to ice, which meant the de-icing truck had to come and spray down the entire plane with greenish-blue gel so that we could finally leave. Gone was my 1 hour 30 minutes lay over in Charlotte. Potentially gone were my chances of making it to Atlanta that night - only time would tell...

As we descended into Charlotte, it was about 10:10. My flight to Atlanta left at 10:25. In what may or may not have been a record deplaning effort by all involved, I was able to make it to my connecting flight with a few minutes to spare. Even though some sprinting and small child hurdling were executed, I was on my way safely to Atlanta. Upon landing in Atlanta, I was picked up by Phetsada and spent the night at her house, eager to make our way to Savannah the next day.

As the sun graced the horizon on New Year's Eve, Hallie came and picked both Phetsada and myself up and we made the 4 1/2 hour trip south without any incident. We got all checked into our hotel, which was located about 1/2 a mile from the downtown area where many of the night's festivities were going to take place. Eventually, our other three compadres joined us and we started the celebrations. One of the great things about Savannah is the fact that alcoholic beverages are allowed to be consumed out on the streets. This makes nights out a lot cheaper as pregaming takes on a whole new meaning!

We ordered some pizza, had some beverages, and then prepared ourselves for a great night out. The streets were teeming with hundreds of people, excited to bring in the new year correctly. Sequin glittered and spirits soared as everyone was ready to say "Goodbye" to 2013! We ended up down by the Savannah River around midnight to take in a very impressive fireworks show. When it was all said and done, 2014 had graced us with its presence!

The rest of the time spent in Savannah was unfortunately in the comforts of our hotel room as the weather decided not to cooperate on the first day of the new year. Dreary skies and rainy conditions forced us to take in some college football (darn!). We did end up heading out for dinner that night to a pretty awesome restaurant called Spanky's that has some amazing chicken tenders! Following dinner, we attempted to create a night scene - but to no avail. We ended up playing some darts, having a few drinks, and then heading back for an "early" night.

2014 was brought in with some pretty wonderful people in a pretty awesome place. This year promises to hold many big things for me. Many of them are still in the works, so as they unfold, I'll be sure to share them here. At this point, finishing up my current year of AmeriCorps strong is priority number one! Here's to a great 2014!!

The crew ready to head out!
Cassie, Phetsada, and Cassie 
Ryan, Ty, and myself

Dart time @ Social!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Home for the Holidays

The holidays are always a special time. Festive music fills the radio waves and malls. Bright, twinkling lights illuminate neighborhoods and public buildings. Hot cocoa and a roaring fire help keep inhabitants nice and warm on those cold, snowy days. (Well, that last one is more or less for those that live in the tundra that is the Midwest and Northeast of this country...)

Living in Florida means that I don't get to see my family that often. The majority of them are back in the Midwest, spread out between Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Day trips back home aren't really an option, seeing as that drive is a lovely 22 hours and some change. So I get to settle for seeing them during that magical, special holiday season.

It's been exactly one year since I was last in the great state known as Iowa. This summer I spent taking an epic three-week road trip out East with Cathy, so I wasn't able to fit in a trip back home at that time. But with Kevin and Erin visiting the week before break started, the perfect opportunity to visit home presented itself to me, nicely wrapped with a bow on top.

Now anyone who has ever lived in a state without any major metropolitan areas knows how expensive it can be to fly into small, regional airports. Round trip tickets from West Palm Beach to either Cedar Rapids, IA or Moline, IL were well over $500! The AmeriBudget doesn't quite allow for that type of expense! So I had to get creative. Luckily for me, both Kevin and Erin live in Chicago. A plan was hatched.

It was decided that I would buy a one-way ticket to Chicago, taking the same flight back as Kevin and Erin, and spend the night with Kevin. Then the next day, I would board the Megabus bound for Iowa City. This 4-hour ride would get me home with plenty of time to spend with my family and friends before having to head back down south. Everything worked out smoothly! The flights went well and the bus ride was very uneventful (minus the excessive amount of heat escaping the vents - but then again, I was back in the Midwest!) My parents picked me up and my vacation was underway!

One of the big differences between Florida and Iowa is that of the weather! The thickest article of clothing that I have in Florida is a zip-up hoodie, definitely not enough for the cold winds and blinding snow that seems to doom the Midwest every winter.This change in climate definitely played havoc with my sinuses and eyes, as the dry conditions and wicked temperatures caused my body to go haywire.

While I was home, I was able to see a lot of family that I hadn't seen since my last trip home. It was a pretty quiet Christmas Eve/Day. We put our tree up, decorated it with handmade ornaments that Matt and I made when we were little, and called it good. Lots of card games were played (I'm pretty sure I never won - not sure that's how that's supposed to go) and pans of homemade cinnamon rolls were devoured. Let's say that it was good to be home!

One of the definite highlights was being able to spend a little bit of time with  Brandon. I met Brandon in college through Camp Adventure. My last year in the program he was in my small group (let's just say that I'm responsible for all the awesome knowledge that he had before heading out for his summer in Japan). He's currently enlisted in the Navy reserves and spent about 8 months over in Afghanistan. The last time that I saw him was when I came back from Korea, so it had been about a year and a half. Being able to catch up with him was great! Can't wait for him to make a trip down to Florida!!

My time home wrapped up with a trip to Wisconsin and Illinois to see my mom's side of the family. My aunt lives in Madison and she treated my dad, brother, and I out to her favorite pizza place (which was delicious BTW!). While in Illinois, I was able to visit with my grandmother, which was great! She's still going strong and raking in the winnings at her weekly Bingo games! It was nice to catch up with everyone!

The holidays are always a time for families to reconnect. They enable those of us that are far away the opportunity to come home and be a complete family again. I'm hoping that it won't take until next Christmas to get me back home to the Midwest...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Familiar Faces Flood Florida!

During my first year of service with AmeriCorps, I met some pretty fantastic people. The group that was assembled last year was definitely one of a kind and had an overall positive attitude that was absolutely contagious. When it was finally time for last year's group to go our separate ways, tears were shed and long hugs were exchanged. Knowing that there was always a chance to be reunited with some of those familiar, friendly faces has helped make this year go by so far. Luckily, that opportunity came sooner than later!

The time in between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always a short one. There's about 3 weeks in which work still happens, service is still complete, and things are still done. Those three weeks become more bearable when people visit you from afar. That was the case this year. Sara, Kevin, and Erin, all members from last year's group, made the trip down from Vermont and Chicago, respectively, for a much needed visit. It was great to see them and have them around. This did make for a full apartment, but it was filled with lots of laughter, reminiscing, and catching up.

Thanks for the visit guys! Until next time...