Goodbye 2016

I have spent some time this morning decluttering the house. While I packed away Christmas decor, tossed out old files, and loaded the car with boxes of the latest donations, I started to reflect on this past year. It went by in a flash, but I am truly humbled by the last 365 days.

Highlights of the past year remind me of more good times than bad, which is something I haven’t always been able to say every December 31. What I have always been able to say, regardless of the ups or downs, is that God is good. He is faithful, and He continues to bless me with undeserving goodness and mercy.

This year, we welcomed two new family members — Michael David (born May 23) and John Carter (born September 12). Both of these handsome boys are my great nephews, born to my two oldest nieces, Jessie (Carter’s mom) and Katie (Michael’s mom). Being an aunt is an honor that I do not take for granted. I’m certainly not the best aunt, but I love all of my nieces and nephews (and now great-nephews) with all of my heart.


Michael (above)


Carter (above)

I ran a few races over the past 12 months. Six to be exact. With each 3.1 miles completed, my back felt better and I became both stronger and faster. After the struggle that I had last year with my back injury, I was happy to end the year at the same pace that was once my fastest.


I spent a few days in Myrtle Beach at one of my favorite conferences – Women of Joy. It is nice to get away for two nights and soak in some Vitamin Sea. I am most as peace where the ocean meets the sand. Between the sun, sand, and salty air… and the wonderful worship that fills the conference center over those 72 hours… I always come back rejuvenated and restored.



Author and speaker, Lisa Harper at Women of Joy 2016

I finally made it to Chicago this year. Five of my friends and I took an extended weekend girls’ trip up to the Windy City. We laughed a lot, we bickered a little, and we made lifelong memories over the course of five days. We ate great food. We saw historical landmarks. And we even caught a game at Wrigley Field. Little did we know we were watching the World Series Champs in action.

Shortly after returning from Chi-town, I received my biggest blessing of all — turning 40. Some people dread getting older but to me, it’s a privilege. When I say that I am grateful for my days, I seriously mean that I am grateful for every.single.day. As y’all know, I’m on a mission to make the most of this life that I have been given, and embracing every second is the best way to ensure that!

I took Mom to see Dolly Parton in concert this year. Dolly is someone that she has listened to as long as I can remember. I grew up to Mom playing Dolly albums on the record player… Here You Come Again, Jolene, and Two Doors Down are just a few of the Dolly songs that are part of my Life Soundtrack. It was really awesome to get to see Dolly perform them live with Mom sitting beside me. So much fun!

As I look ahead to the new year, one word comes to mind and sums up my goals for 2017:

Focus

Focus on the good.
Focus on what matters.
Focus on my health.
Focus on my family.
Focus on new distances.
Focus on making dreams a reality.
Focus on fun.
Focus on staying on budget.
Focus on staying on track.
Focus on my mission!

I admit that I can easily be distracted. As a matter of fact, I should still be in the office decluttering but I stopped to write this post. 🙂 I don’t want to lose site of my ultimate goal… my mission to make the most of life. I want to live minimally, eat clean, travel places that I’ve never been. I want to push past the comfort zone of 5Ks and train for a 10K. I want to spend more time on this blog, sharing life with y’all. I want to give freely, bless others, and be creative. I want to finish projects that I’ve started. (Boy, does THAT require heavy focus!! haha) I want to dream bigger than I ever have before, and not lose sight of all that I am capable of… and all that God wants me to experience.

What are your plans for the new year? Will you make resolutions for 2017? Do you have certain goals that you would like to accomplish? Comment below and share YOUR dreams with me. Let’s join together and encourage one another as we focus on a mission to make 2017 the best year yet! Happy New Year, friends!

Chicago: My Recap of Chitown

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago with five of my friends. I had never been before, and was unsure of what to expect. A large city in the midwest isn’t exactly my idea of a dreamy vacation. I’m more of a slow, southern riverfront or tropical beach kind-of-girl. But I have realized that the older I get, the more I want to see and do. And I think that includes travel to all fifty states. So when my friends suggested the trip, I was all in. I justified the expense as my 40th birthday present to myself.

To my surprise, I fell in love with Chicago. It is such a beautiful city, richly filled with history and culture. I won’t bore you with every detail of the vacation, but I do want to highlight some things. I should probably remind you that we traveled on Friday and Tuesday, so we only had three full days to explore. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do, but here is a list of my favorites from my first trip to Chitown.

Landmarks:
Buckingham Fountain – Located in the center of Grant Park, just off of the Magnificent Mile and adjacent to Lake Michigan, this towering fountain operates from April to October. It is accompanied by lights and music, and is quite the show! (Note: if there are any Married… with Children fans reading, this is the fountain shown in the opening title sequence of the show.)

Chicago Theater – This theater was the first large and lavish movie palace in the US. It is located in the Loop, on N. State Street. We didn’t have the opportunity to take a tour inside, but we certainly stopped for a selfie with the iconic sign.

The Bean – Apparently, its official title is Cloud Gate, but it has been nicknamed ‘The Bean’ because of its shape. It weighs roughly 100 tons, and is made of polished stainless steel. The sculpture can be found in Millennium Park within the Loop, just off of Michigan Avenue. My favorite part of visiting? The underneath of the sculpture. Do yourself a favor and don’t just observe the sculpture from the perimeter. Head under the “omphalos” … it’s the concave chamber also known as “the navel”. It produces the most beautiful distortions.


{Look up!! Seriously. The inside is crazy awesome!!}

Navy Pier – There is so much to take in at Navy Pier. There are too many restaurants and gift shops to name. However, one highlight from the pier is the newly renovated Centennial Wheel. It’s the first and only one of its kind in the US. The Ferris wheel stands nearly 200 ft tall and overlooks Lake Michigan.

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge – It is said that this jazz club, located in Uptown, was a local hangout during the prohibition era for various gangsters. The most well known, Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone, was said to have a secret hatch in the club that led to underground tunnels. You can request to sit in his favorite booth, but don’t ask to tour the tunnels… you will be denied.

Willis Tower – Formerly, and most well-known as, Sears Tower, Willis Tower is the home of the SkyDeck Ledge. The building itself, located on S. Wacker Drive in the Loop, is 108 stories. The Ledge is located on the 103rd floor. Access to the Ledge is via an elevator that travels the distance in a short 60 seconds. Between 1973 and 1998, Willis Tower was the tallest building in the world.

Wrigley Field – With its ivy-covered brick outfield and its hand-turned scoreboard, this Major League baseball field (and home of the Chicago Cubs) is beyond charming. It’s the oldest National League ballpark. I love that it’s tucked away between brownstones and local bars, right near the Clark/Addison “L” stops, in the quaint community of Lakeview in North Side. See below (Cubs Game) for additional information!

Restaurants:
Fiesta Mexicana – We rented a brownstone in Uptown just around the corner from this incredibly delicious restaurant. The food was authentic, flavorful, and reasonably priced.

The Parthenon – Oh my goodness! We stumbled upon this little piece of heaven on S. Halsted in Greektown. The restaurant and its staff gave us incredible, authentic food as well as a history lesson, too. As wonderful as the food and atmosphere were, I enjoyed meeting Yanna the most. She owns the restaurant, which her father started in 1968. The coolest part of it all? Her father created Flaming Saganaki. CREATED. IT.

Things to Do:
Memorial Day Parade – Little did we know that Chicago hosts the largest Memorial Day parade in the country. It travels down State Street. We found that the best place to watch was at the intersection of State and Madison, just outside of Target. Center Stage was located here so we could hear all of the announcements that went along with the parade.

Architectural Boat Tour – If you have an hour or so to spare, consider boarding the sightseeing barge at Navy Pier and heading up the Chicago River. The tour itself not only highlights the gorgeous architecture of the city’s many skyscrapers but you’ll also learn historical facts about Chicago, as well as some interesting folklore. [Side note: Check Groupon for deals!]

Chicago Cubs Game – Even if you’re not a huge baseball fan, the experience of catching a game in Wrigley Field is history in the making. Not only is Wrigley Field the second oldest ballpark in the US, but the Cubs fans are some of the best around. Even if they’re playing your favorite team (like they played my LA Dodgers while I was in town), hope for a Cubs win. There is something extra special about that team winning at home. You’ll see what I mean if you’re lucky enough to witness it first hand.

I cannot wait to head back to Chicago. There are so many places that I wanted to see but didn’t have time. There are a lot of places that I want to revisit. I want to catch some shows, and head to the beach on Lake Michigan. And truthfully, I just want to soak in this city. The history of our country fascinates me, and Chicago holds so much. I strongly recommend a Chicago vacation… even for my fellow beach bums.

 

(All photos in this post and on this site are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.)