Thursday, September 30, 2010

3 Videos

{buckle up. it may take some time to get through this one. but i promise it'll be worth your while.}

I have no idea who reads this blog. A couple of you comment, some mention off-hand in conversation that you read Simply Suz, but for the most part, I'm not sure who you are. Of course, I know that only friends & family stop by. How else would you have heard of my little slice of the Internet? But for the most part, you read in anonymity, & that's okay.

I started this blog as an opportunity to share a taste of our life in North Carolina with our family & friends who are very far away. It also has served as a therapeutic opportunity for me. Simply Suz allows me to "write it out." From my frustration with the lack of financial literacy among 20-somethings - enter Life for Less (I know, I've been slacking on these posts) - to the death of my beloved car. It also has served as a travelogue & a place to share my stab at amateur photography.

What I haven't used this blog for is to share my political or spiritual musings. That's been intentional because (1) Simply Suz was started from a lighthearted place in my life, & (2) I've learned that conflict & dissension can easily arise when we inject our political/religious beliefs in "inappropriate" venues. There was a time in my life that I was extremely political & was eager to "get into it" with classmates & friends. That feisty girl has simmered down a bit, & I'm okay with it. I still hold fast to my convictions, but I'm a lot less eager to engage in political debate. Spiritually, I've also simmered... & I'm pretty sure I'm not okay with that.

This blog is not my workplace. It is not a street corner. It is a place that you have willingly visited. In Young Life, we talk a lot about "earning the right to be heard." YL leaders build relationships & take an interest in students' lives, instead of telling students how they should think or believe before making a genuine effort to know them. As I mentioned earlier, I do not know who you are, but I hope I've earned the right to be heard by you. I hope that in the last 9 months as you've gotten to know me & all of the frivolous aspects of my life that you would care about the big stuff. If I haven't earned that right, I apologize if you find this offensive, but hope that you understand that it is my heart.

Tonight,  I listened to a powerful testimony by a woman that you may or may not agree with, & for the first time I thought "shame on you, Suz."  Just in the past month, this blog has had nearly 800 page views according to Google Analytics (I realize probably 200 were by me, but still...) & not once have I mentioned the name of Jesus. How absurd that I be silent on the issue of faith if I profess that He is the most important part of my life? (Yes, even before Matt).

So tonight, I want to share with you 3 videos that really reflect my heart. It's okay if you don't agree with them, I just hope that you listen. If you're interested in reading about what I ate for dinner or how I behave when Matt leaves home, how much more do I yearn & pray for you to know my heart.

My favorite line from the first video is near the beginning. Gianna says "I didn't survive so that I could make everyone comfortable." How true. My prayer for anyone visiting this blog tonight is that you feel that sort of passion about something in your life. That you're willing to be uncomfortable, even hated, because you are so totally invested in something bigger than yourself. For me, that "thing" is my faith. What is it for you?

I hope you're okay with our break in our regular scheduled, lighthearted programming here on Simply Suz & that you'll take the time to listen (all the way to the end, especially on the first 2 videos, I promise, they're worth it!). I think you'll hear the heart of a woman who has cheated death & has a passion & zeal for life, & the love of YL leaders who are constantly reaching out to lost kids. If you make it through those 2, there's a happy bonus at the end. Thanks for reading.

Love. Suz.

(P.S. The only way I'll know you've stopped by is by commenting... please feel free to continue visiting in anonymity, but if you have thoughts or reactions, I'd love to hear 'em in the comments).

Video 1: Gianna Jessen Testimony. Watch it. Powerful is an understatement. You might not agree with her politics, but I promise you her story/message goes beyond politics & addresses our hearts.

Video 2: The best video I've seen about Young Life, a ministry that is near & dear to my heart. Some of the best relationships were built during my 4 years leading YL in Champaign.

Girls, if you're reading this, I miss you. I miss pulling up to Central to take you to lunch at Sonic, hot chocolate mornings, Campaigners, coffee dates, Monday night Club, Castaway, volleyball games, swim meets, school musicals & even school dances (was it as weird for you as it was for me to have your YL leader chaperoning your dances?). Most of all, I miss your sweet selves & wish I was sitting in the Hobb's living room with you just sharing life. Your friendship has blessed me more than I could ever deserve & I love you dearly.

Video 3: Okay, already knew she had my heart, but if you've forgotten why, check this one out. Absolute cuteness. (You know I had to squeeze something lighthearted somewhere on this post).

Busy little lady! from Susan McAndrew on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday Musings: When the Cat's Away...

Most unflattering photo taken of us EVER. (True confession: I still like it)
I've been home alone a bit the past week & it's given me a window into "The Life of Single Suz." Don't get the wrong idea, I'm still a very-married-lady when Matt flies the coop, but my normal, comfortable schedule gets a little out of whack. Here's what I mean:
  • I have to make my own lunch & brew my own coffee. It's true, folks, I transitioned from Mom packing me a lunch to Matt & It. Is. Wonderful. When we first got married, I made the lunches, but when we I realized that it took me a whole lot longer to get ready in the morning, Matt took over. He now leaves for work earlier, but still (willingly) gets up before me to pack my lunch & start my coffee. He is a sweetheart, for sure, and I am so thankful for his little morning sacrifice.
  • In lieu of our usual meat-starch-veggie-dinner, I opt for hummus & crackers with a side of applesauce. and icecream. and a glass of wine. What can I say...the dishes are a breeze! (I am most certainly not a closet alcoholic, but quite possibly a closet icecreamaholic).
  • I may skip dinner all together & go to the mall to try on 20 pairs of jeans. I know better than to subject Matt to that kind of torture, so I save it for when he's away. Last week, I went to Gap & snagged these jeans with a Groupon from a couple of months ago. For my first pair of jeans purchased in the last 5 years (it's true), I am super pleased. Not only do they have a worn in feel & flattering fading (none of that washed out in the bum look), but they run big which is an instant confidence boost. Nothing like walking out the store with a pair of jeans a size smaller than your norm.
  • I stretch it out. I pop in the YogaX DVD instead of our usual P90x 'go-tos' that are heavy on the pushups & pullups. I still love those, but my less-then-flexible-husband is not a huge Yoga fan.
  • I sleep in the middle of the bed. On the little ridge on the mattress cover that we've formed after 3 years of sleeping side-by-side. It feels lonely on my side without him next to me. So the middle it is.
  • I keep bear spray next to the bed. Just in case. In college when I lived alone for a summer I kept a kitchen knife under my mattress. Knives = probably not a good idea. Now that we have bear spray lying around from one of our many camping adventures, it makes me feel like I can ward off the bad guys. Safety first.
Matt is home safe & sound tonight, but I've flown the coop & part of me wonders what his routine looks like when he's living solo. I have a feeling it involves a lot of icecream, ESPN & most certainly an unmade bed (a big pet peeve of mine)... Nevertheless, I can't wait until we're under the same roof again! Good night!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday, Hannah!

We had alot to celebrate on both sides of our family this weekend:
  • Matt had his first (of several) dental school interview! Yippee!
  • Mom & Dad Mac celebrated their 30th anniversary & renewed their vows!
  • Tommy & Caroline got engaged! So excited for our bro & soon to be sister-in-law...
  • ....& my favorite little lady turned ONE today! 
I'll post about 1, 2 & 3 later, but today I wanted to send a special shout out to Hannah Grace. I never imagined I could fall so deeply in love with such a little person, but she's done it. She has my heart! Hannah is truly a joy, which is no surprise given the amazing parents that she's been blessed with. It's been a blast watching her transform over the past year from a precious little infant to a bubbly, mobile little sweetiepie.
Even though I can't make it to her birthday party today (I'm stuck in NC, getting over a cold), I still have enjoyed looking at a few favorite (recent) photos of my favorite little lady. I hope you will, too!
Saddling up in the high chair at Grandmas...
Kisses for Uncle Matt
Flying around the house with Aunt Suz.
This, my friends, is talent. Hannah can "eat her feet" on command!
Tippity toes.
Feeding her daddy!
Have I mentioned Hannah loves her Uncle Matt?
She loves Aunt Suz, too!
Chilling with Grandpa.
My blue eyed lady.
More fun with Uncle Matt & her favorite dolly.
Quality time with Grandma.
Gator girl!
Crazy professor after her nap!
Happy 1st birthday, sweetiepie. 
We love you.
Aunt Suz & Uncle Matt

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I should really just cut to the chase & call my weekly post PhotoS of the Week. Because let's be honest, I can never just pick one. Still trying to master "less is more."

Photo of the Week: Duet

Hannah will be one on Sunday. My goodness. Our little pumpkin is growing up. Because - after my hubs - she is the second love of my life, you will have to bear through more chunky, happy baby photos until I get all of my faves up. These photos of my Grandma Shirlee (now "G.G." to her great granddaughter) & Hannah are no exception.
Grandma is a wonderful musician & an amazing pianist. She's one of those folks who can hear a tune & play it by ear. Hannah loves G.G. & likes to bang on things, so Grandma decided to give her a little piano lesson. The result... a happy baby & some sweet photos of 2 of my favorite ladies.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Musings: The Tale of the One Car Family

{Before you dig in - a warning. You may not care about the death of our car, but writing this was therapeutic. So if you're thinking "who cares?!" come back later for your fill of babies, recipes, & money saving tips, but today, I needed to pay my respects to my old friend, Cami the Camry.}

Alternative titles for this post:
  • Death of a Good Friend
  • Car Troubles...The Ultimate Test of a Marriage
  • Tow Truck Drivers Need Hugs, too! 
That's right folks, our trusty Camry bit the dust on Friday. And Cami couldn't have called it quits in Chapel Hill. Oh no. She decided to wait until we got 80 miles from home before she started shaking, clanking, rattling, and well, dying very rapidly. I don't wish a dying engine on anyone.
It's not that we weren't expecting it. In fact, she started rattling back in April. At that time we learned that our engine had a bit of a sludge issue, that despite our regular maintenance, was not uncommon for '98 Camry engines. Although we'd been faithfully caring for her for 5+ years, having repairs done when the mechanic told us to, keeping up with our oil changes, checking her oil, giving her lots of good highway driving, etc, we were just out of luck. Facing a problem that apparently, other 98 Camry owners have before. I soon discovered that if this little problemo would have manifested 4 years ago, Toyota may have helped us defray some of the cost to repair. I tried my best back in April. Wrote letters, made calls, offered to send in oil change receipts, but no dice. The door had closed on that opportunity.
So like I said. We were expecting it. We knew that a new engine or a new car would be in our future, but we were determined to drive her until she died. So we drove her. Foolishly. To Michigan in July. To Florida 2 weekends ago. On lots of little road trips in between (the mountains, Winston, Charlotte). And we tried to go to Tennessee this past weekend for Rhythm & Roots bluegrass festival, before Cami kicked it in Kernersville, NC.

I won't bore you with all of the details of how it went down - it involved 2 visits with a tow truck, a closed highway on the way home (hint: the highway that goes to our house), about a 100 mosquito bites from standing outside waiting for our tow(s), a big bill, a lot of unpleasant noises, a few tears (but surprising not many), a car being pushed by my hubs & a good Samaritan to safety, and a lot of other annoying details--- but since today is a "musing" day, I figure I'll share some things I learned through the whole ordeal:
  • Even though we have a dead car in our parking lot, we are so thankful that we were safe. And that we broke down in Winston-Salem instead of West Virginia in July on our way to/from Michigan, or in South Carolina over Labor Day going to/from Florida, or heck in Tennessee (where we were headed). We truly feel blessed & that God was watching over us. And I don't say that lightly. I mean it.
  • A dying engine sounds extremely frightening. What's more frightening is stalling in the middle of an exit ramp while cars zoom by. And watching your husband & a kind stranger push your car in the rearview, while you steer. Not a good sign.
  • I am surprised that I  held it together for a solid 3 hours on the side of the road before crying. I didn't say that I didn't cry (come on now, I should get a few tears out of the ordeal), but I was incredibly calm for an incredibly long time. Can't say that for the ensuing days, but I think I felt a peace about it all. Plus, I was with Matt, which gave me calm (I would have been a mess had I been alone).  That hubs, he comes in handy.
  • Being nice to strangers pays off.  We were kind to the gas station lady, who knew our tow truck driver, which turned out to work out for us. We were nice to the tow truck driver, which apparently is pretty unusual  (I guess most people who require a tow are usually pretty irritated & take it out on the driver). We hooked him up with a Diet Dr. Pepper we had in our cooler for our roadtrip, got to know him as we chit-chatted about his life on our long ride home, and made a point to be kind even though we were annoyed with our situation. It wasn't his fault! And you know what? He was super sweet to us. I mean really, really kind. I was so thankful for his kindness that I gave him a hug when he dropped us off. We felt like old friends by then. At the end of the night, when his big red truck pulled away, we called AAA to give him a big thumbs up. 
  • We're thankful to have family & friends who've been more than willing to help us throughout this ordeal. Our parents were there to make phone calls & look up auto repair shops while we were stranded in Winston. After we made the decision to tow the car back home, they connected us with other family, friends, neighbors, mechanics who could lend us their expertise as we tried to make decisions on next steps. Our friends & neighbors have shared their experiences & advised us of our options. It's such a blessing to have people who've been in our shoes before to talk to. Who can help identify the important questions to ask, who can make recommendations, who can help us think through a stressful situation.
  • We're not ready to junk her.  If we junk Cami, we'll get a couple hundred bucks. Ouch. The labor & parts for a used or remanufactured engine will run us anywhere from $3500 to 6 grand.  Is it worth it for a 12 year old, almost 140k mile car? Maybe. Probably. The car has been well maintained. It's safe. Gets amazing gas mileage. We've taken good care of it, after all Cami is our only baby (besides my houseplants. sad). She has lots of shiny new parts that we just put in a few short months ago (cause we wanted to drive that car for the next decade). New brakes. A new steering rack. New tires. And a slew of other odds & ends that this non-gearhead can't remember. Oh. And she had a full tank of gas. That's right. We filled her up just few miles before she ate it. Thanks, friend.
  • We have resolved to be a one car family... for the time being.....We're not quite ready to pull the trigger on the repairs nor are we ready to buy a new/used car as don't know where we'll be & what our car needs will be in a year. Matt may be jumping on a bus to get to dental school every day for the next four years & a second car would be frivolous and wasteful. For the next few months, while we're "in-limbo" waiting to hear our fate, we can make do. Right now, we're fortunate enough to have the Jeep & to both work within a couple of miles from home. On days I'm in the office, we can carpool or Matt can ride his bike thanks to a bike path that pretty much connects him door to door. (I work off a pretty busy road, so biking is not in the cards for me.) We barely even used the Camry when she was our only car in Chicago, so I'm sure we can handle 3-9 months of living simply yet again.
  • We still love the Camry. She's taken us on all sorts of adventures - to Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Colorado, Florida, all over North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, & lots of other wonderful places. I piled in tons of high school YL girls in her backseat for weekly lunches in my college days. She magically fixed herself after I backed her into a building. For reals. After 6 months, the huge dent on my bumper that I had resigned to live with just popped out one day. She's blessed us with phenomenal gas mileage (trust me: I calculate it on road trips). She's been a stable, good & reliable (until Friday) fixture in our little lives. And we love her. May she her engine rest in auto heaven.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Photo(shoot) of the Week

While in Florida, I did a mini photo shoot in my parents front yard with Katie, Matt & Hannah. It was getting late & hence darker outside, so some of the photos are a bit grainier than I would have liked. That's what you get for refusing to use a flash (I'm stubborn!). I'm going to have to do a Take 2 with them at Thanksgiving. Hopefully, I'll be commissioned for the Christmas card photo! You've already seen my favorite shot of Hannah last week. Here's my favorite "posed' family photo:
What a happy little family!
And here are some other faves:
Hannah loves to blow kisses (bottom left) & she loves her Uncle Matt (top right).
It wouldn't be a photo shoot without some outtakes. By the time I got around to asking someone to snap a photo with me & Hannah, she was finished. I swear she loves her Aunt Suz, but after 100 photos she did not have patience to snap one with the photographer. I really love the "Senior Pose" she whipped out for us in the top middle. Classic.
Tell me how you really feel, Hannah Banana.
{Click any of the photos to enlarge}

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Addendum: Why I'm Proud to be an Illini

I totally forgot about this in my Tuesday Musings & it is certainly blogworthy.
I've seen a lot of Quads & U of I's is UP THERE. What a beautiful spot.
I get nostalgic when school starts in the fall & wish I was back at University of Illinois. I miss Quad Day, Monday night Young Life Club, studying in the Union, the Sweet Corn festival, Curtis Orchard, running through the south farms, & even Saturdays at Memorial Stadium (I know…shocking). This article reinforced what why I am so proud to be an Illinois alum & made my heart happy for Champaign.

Way to go Illinois … #3 on the WSJ’s list!
And the Big 10… 3 of the top 5 picks!
Here are the Top 25, if you're interested...

A favorite study spot of mine. Illini Union.
I think some of my high school classmates thought I was nuts for picking U of I over other some of my other college options (“You want to go where?! But that's not prestigious enough! If you’re going to go to a state school – why not UF?”), but it looks like my decision makes sense according to WSJ. 
  • I got a degree (well 2, technically) from a top accounting school.
  • I left school without any debt thanks to my generous parents & way more scholarship money than I was offered elsewhere (including more "prestigious" options).
  • I enjoyed all of the benefits a big school has to offer.
  • I had lots of job offers, apparently due to Illinois’ great relationships with recruiters (per the WSJ).
  • I got a good first job, which opened the door for me to get another great job.
  • I also made some pretty great friends, embraced the Champaign community & was loved back 1000 times over by some really good people, branched out beyond my comfort zone in Florida, &, of course, met my wonderful hubby.
    Oh, Assembly Hall, how I miss you.
    I never doubted my decision to become an Illini, & I haven’t regretted it since. Champaign holds a special place in my heart & I’m happy to see U of I getting the recognition it deserves!

    Happy memories at the Alma Mater.
    {Photos courtesy of U of I. You can make them your desktop background here.}

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Tuesday Musings

    I am a list-maker, as is my dear friend, on this Tuesday night, I'm going to borrow her typical Tuesday post (Ten on Tuesday) & share some musings of my own.... in list format, of course. I may not get to ten, we'll see.
    1. I'm starting to wonder when fall will arrive in North Carolina. Today it was 90 degrees and muggy. Really, NC? Matt & I are pretending it's fall. We had a cool evening on Friday so we shut down the A/C and opened up the windows. It felt wonderful to get some fresh air in our cooped up house, but the cooler temps didn't hang around. For some reason, we're still living windows down in protest of the heat....
    2. Our friends Jenny & Luke just welcomed a new addition to their little fam yesterday. Rory Kate joins big sister, Leah Madison. I wish Jen & Luke didn't live so darn far away (Seattle!) so that we could love on their little ones. Congratulations, friends! We miss you!
    3. I made enough of this turkey meatloaf (or is it turkeyloaf?) on Sunday to feed our entire neighborhood. Matt & I have hearty appetites, & last time I made meatloaf, Matt complained that we had to refrain from eating the whole loaf so that we had leftovers, so I decided to double this (new) recipe. Word to the wise: don't double it. It was delicious & that's saying something after eating 3 nights straight. I don't think that any meatloaf looks particularly appetizing, so I passed on taking a picture. Just trust me. Take a look at a few of the ingredients: turkey, carrots, onions, celery, apples, bacon. If you threw in some corn I think it'd cover my favorite foods of all time! Yum.
    4. While we're on food, I'm really excited about tomorrow night's dinner. After our small group tonight, I went home did all of the prep & in the a.m. I'll throw it the crockpot. Turkey breast (I know, we're on a turkey kick this week), wild rice, apples, craisins, almonds, onions, yummmmmmm....I'll probably throw in some cinnamon & nutmeg for good measure. Sounds & smells like fall. Can't wait to come home after work to our yummy smelling kitchen!
    5. I was also supposed to do laundry when I got home tonight, but at 10:30, I made the executive decision that throwing in a load that late in the evening would mean I'd be up way past my bedtime! Instead, I finished watching Parenthood & started on this blog post. Although I wouldn't call Parenthood a "family show" (nor would I really categorize any show that comes on at 10pm family-show-material), I am a sucker for shows about families. This one is an all-time fave. So glad it's back on the air.
    6. I'm sorry I haven't done a Life for Less post in ages. In my defense, we have had a uber-crazy summer & those posts take more than just my mindless 10pm 11pm ramblings. This is what the last 9 weeks have looked like for us....
    .....Our fall isn't really going to slow down  from here so I'll do my best to keep up the blog!
    7. When I grow up, I want to have lots of waterbabies. That's right folks, little fish. This weekend Nicole & I took Liam swimming in our freezing pool & the kid had an absolute blast. He splashed & kicked like his life depended on it, all the time giggling & laughing despite the chilly temps. Hannah loves the water, too. While we were in Vero over Labor Day, we went to the beach as a whole family & went swimming at Mom & Dad's pool. That little girl loved it. So did I.
    Bathing beauty.
    ....Thanks for following my random thoughts this evening.... & thanks for the inspiration, J!

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Go Gators!

    I love Saturdays in the fall. Lazy mornings. Windows open. College Gameday. Gator Football. (Illini, you will always be 1st in my heart, but you're just so darn painful to watch!) I met another little lady who loves the Gators:
    Hannah & her friend, Gator.
    A little distracted during College Gameday.
    "I may be little, but I'm a BIG GATOR FAN!"
    It's true, Hannah loves her Gators. But not as much purses, phones, or her yummy Puffs. It's okay, she'll come around.
    "Hmmm.... who can open these for me? Pstt... Uncle Matt! Down here!"

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Photo of the Week: Surprise!

    Matt & I snuck off to Vero Beach this Labor Day weekend & managed to surprise Katie & Hannah. Mom & Dad were in on the last-minute secret since we needed a place to stay. We also told Matt S. so that he could make sure his bride (& daughter) didn't make any weekend plans!

    Hannah is going to be ONE at the end of the month & I have to say this has to be my favorite stage so far. Even though she's incredibly independent & mobile (almost walking!), she also still has a cuddly side. Her personality has certainly come out & she's both funny & oh-so-adorable.

    Last night I did a mini-photo shoot with Katie, Matt & Hannah & this was my favorite shot. I'll post more this week from our fun weekend (including a trip to the beach & a dip in the pool with Miss Hannah Grace), but I just wanted to give you a preview!

    She wouldn't quite give us a full on toothy-grin, but (thanks to Grandpa & Uncle Matt grabbing her attention as I snapped away), she did manage to look at the camera. Gone are the days of "one, two,!" It's okay, she's still pretty photogenic & has a whole new slew of party tricks to keep us entertained.

    Check back later this week for more cutie-pie photos!

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    Happy Birthday, Dad McA!

    {Psst...If you're looking for the conclusion of my Alaska mini-series, read this post first & then click here.}

    I happen to think I have it pretty good when it comes to the in-law department. In addition to raising 2 wonderful sons (one of which I'm lucky enough to call my hubby), they have embraced me as a part of the McA fam & loved me like a daughter.

    My father-in-law, Mark, is celebrating his 58th birthday today & of course, I wanted to give him a shout-out here on the old blogsky. I hope to be as active & awesome as him when I hit 58 one day!

    The photo on the left is one of my favorite memories with Dad Mac. It was taken a little over a year ago at the conclusion of the Chicago Triathlon.

    Matt had already moved to Chapel Hill, but I finishing up my job in Chicago & living with the McAndrews. Before NC was even in our plans, I had registered for the Chicago Tri, & I fully expected that my #1 cheerleader (Matt) would be there. Since Matt had just started classes @ UNC & couldn't jump on a plane to come cheer me on, Dad stepped up to the plate.

    In the weeks leading up to the race, he was my pace car on the Prairie Path (bike path in the western 'burbs). He's much faster on a bike than I am, so I needed him to push me along. On race day, he woke up at the crack of dawn & drove me downtown. I saw him at every leg of the race. He was there to give me a high-five as I got out of freezing cold Lake Michigan at the end of my swim, & he was also waiting for me at the finish line of my run!
    One of my favorite parts of the day was the time we spent after the race. We had to wait several hours before I could pick up my bike, so we walked along the lakefront & played tourist for a while. When I look at these photos, I miss Chicago. But more than the city, I miss our family & wish that we could be with them on special days like today.
     Happy Birthday, Dad! 
    We miss you & love you tons!
    Love, Matt & Suz

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Alaska {6 of 6}: Anchorage

    Flattop Mountain, Anchorage, AK {Friday, August 13th}
    This is it! The last post of our marathon week of our Alaska vacay recap. If you've followed along this week, thanks! I have no clue how many people read my little blog (because my Google Analytics disappeared when I changed the blog design a few months back & I've been too lazy to figure out how fix it), so I'm always pleasantly surprised when someone mentions Simply Suz.

    If you're just joining me, here's where we've been so far:
    1. Journey to Alaska/Denali (Sunday) - Click here!
    2. Denali - Part 1 (Sunday) - Click here!
    3. Denali - Part 2 (Monday) - Click here!
    4. Kenai - Part 1 (Tuesday) - Click here!
    5. Kenai - Part 2 (Wednesday) - Click here!
    6. Anchorage (Thursday) - This post!
    Today we're in Anchorage!  We'll pick up mid-day Friday, after our drive from the Kenai Peninsula. Our first stop... Flattop Mountain!

    Flattop Mountain was one of our short-list hikes. Katie & Matt (sis & bro-in-law) highly recommended it & Flattop had come up repeatedly in speaking with Alaskans about "must-dos" in Anchorage. In fact, Flattop is the most popular, most hiked (or "climbed") mountain in Alaska! The panaramoic views from the top were amazing. On a clear day (which we didn't have), you can even see the Alaska Range, including Mt. McKinley, from Flattop.
    Spliced Panoramic from the top of Flattop {Friday, August 13th}
    Flattop is part of the Chugach Mountain Range, which provides the mountainous backdrop for the city of Anchorage. The trail itself isn't very long, just 3 miles round-trip with a 1300 ft elevation gain. However, the last few hundred  feet are very steep & very rocky. You transition from hiking to climbing! Everyone who makes it to that point uses all 4s to make it to the top. It's always reassuring to read before you start a hike that several people have been seriously injured & a few killed from slipping on the loose rock. Eeek!
    Rocky finish to the top of Flattop {Friday, August 13th}
    Boy, the climb was worth it! We could see the Cook Inlet, Turnagain Arm & the Anchorage Skyline!
    View of Anchorage from Flattop {Friday, August 13th}
    View of Turnagain Arm & Cook Inlet from Flattop {Friday, August 13th}
    In addition to being very high up, the top of Flattop is also very windy & chilly!
    Success! Top of Flattop! {Friday, August 13th}
    Windy day on Flattop {Friday, August 13th}
    As much as we enjoyed the view from the top, I was super nervous about going back down! For being big hikers, neither Matt nor I are really fond of heights (strange, right?). I get the heebie-jeebies when I get too close to the edge, but I suck it up & take my time, with the knowledge that I'll be glad I did when I get to the top. Climbing up, I felt a little more secure leaning into the mountain. Going down was a different story all together. Every loose patch of gravel & rock on the way down gave me a little heart attack. Here I am, happy to be down!
    Happy that rocky descent was behind me! {Friday, August 13th}
    After finishing Flattop, we raced to our hotel (courtesy of my folks who graciously shared some of their Marriott points. Thanks, Mom & Dad!). Matt & I were ecstatic to see a big comfy bed (sianara, sleeping bags!) & a clean, hot shower! That evening we indulged in 2 large pizzas & beer. (Cue hallelujah chorus). We had been dreaming about pizza for days & Dominos never tasted so good.
    Anchorage, AK {Saturday, August 14th}
    We spent Saturday, our last full day in Alaska, exploring Anchorage. In the summer months, downtown Anchorage hosts an excellent weekend market & festival, which is where we started our day. The market kept us entertained for awhile with performers, food & hundreds of vendors selling Alaskan-made goods. I didn't take any pictures because I was too busy stuffing my face with elephant ears (I'm sorry, 2 weeks of camp food gives you all sorts of unhealthy cravings! Fried dough & powdered sugar? Yes, please).

    The rest of the day we just walked around the city. Anchorage has several (supposedly) excellent museums & attractions, but with the little cash we budgeted for this trip, we decided to save our $$$s for one more fish dinner before heading back to the lower 48. We're walkers anyway, so we were happy taking the city in by foot. Here's a few things we saw on our self-guided walking tour of Anchorage:
    Is this not the coolest Visitor's Center ever? Check out the grassy rooftop. {Saturday, August 14th}

    We're a long way from home! {Saturday, August 14th}
    This little guy was only a month old. My folks saw a husky pup from this same litter 2 weeks prior! Imagine how teeny he must of been then! We may have seen the future Iditarod champ! {Saturday, August 14th}
    The McAs have a great friend from Glen Ellyn named Hollis French! This is for you Mrs. French! {Saturday, August 14th}
    Should have photoshopped Matt into this one. {Saturday, August 14th}
    View of the Chugach Mountains from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail {Saturday, August 14th}
    Mount Susitna, Across the Knik Arm opposite of Anchorage {Saturday, August 14th}
    Cloudy Anchorage sky. View from Anchorage bus stop {Saturday, August 14th}
    Our time in Alaska ended at the Glacier Brewhouse, where we enjoyed local, handcrafted beers (including my fave, a raspberry wheat beer) & one last salmon dinner! It was so delicious & is definitely a hot spot in Anchorage. My advice if you ever visit - make a reservation several days in advance. The walk-in wait time was 2 hours! Luckily, we weren't in any rush as we had a midnight flight out of Anchorage, & we found several galleries & shops to visit while we waited.
    Chugach Mountain Range provides backdrop for Anchorage Airport {Saturday, August 14th}
    Isn't there a saying: You know you've had a great vacation when you're ready to go home? (Maybe I just made that up - but let's go with it). We definitely felt that way.  It had been an amazing 2 weeks & we'd seen so many wonderful sights, but we were dog-tired.

    We caught the red eye out of Anchorage Saturday evening (well, technically early Sunday morning) & saddled up for what would be a long day of traveling. We wouldn't walk through our front door in Chapel Hill until 10:30pm Sunday night. Our marathon day of travel certainly left us sleep-deprived (thanks to a screaming toddler who happened to sit right behind me on our flight from Anchorage to Portland), but we somehow managed to make it through a packed week that started 8 hours after arriving home (including a super-fun visit from Matt's brother Tommy & his sweet girlfriend, Caroline).

    Here are my last shots of Alaska, taken outside of the Anchorage airport. What a beautiful place. Please put Alaska on your short list of must-visits in your lifetime.
    Blue skies at the Anchorage Airport {Saturday, August 14th}
    Anchorage Airport {Saturday, August 14th}
    Anchorage Airport {Saturday, August 14th}
    We did have one last stop before we made it officially home to Chapel Hill. We flew in & out of Charlotte (better flight times & prices), & my hometown friend, Ali, graciously let us leave our car at her place. She & her boyfriend, Jeffery even shuttled us to & from the airport. They're good people.
    A pensive, Ali. Thanks for taking care of us, guys! {Sunday, August 15th}
    Ali is an amazing gardener & I learned so much from our short visit with them before we shipped off to Alaska. She was particularly excited about some sunflowers that were ready to bloom right as we got back from our trip. Before we left, Ali sent me with 3 plants to add to my growing (potted) garden at home! I've managed to keep them far.
    Ali's gorgeous sunflowers {Sunday, August 15th}
    Ali & Jeffery also have 2 very energetic, water loving labs. They live on a lake (cool, huh?) & Charlie Brown & Junior just love to swim & make friends with anyone out on the water.
    Charlie Brown & Junior doing their thing {Sunday, August 15th}
    We couldn't have made it to & from Alaska without their help, so I wanted to give them a shout out on the blog! Thanks so much, friends!

    So that's it! 900 photos & a 2 week Alaskan vacation recapped in 6 short blog posts (& way fewer photos!) Thanks so much for reading along!

    Tomorrow, we'll be back to our regular scheduled programming here on Simply Suz. No more crazy vacays for the McAs for awhile!
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