Monday, August 17, 2020

Game Night - Telestrations Upside Drawn

As a participant in the Tryazon Telestrations Upside Drawn party, I received an Upside Drawn party pack which included two copies of the game and coupons to buy the game to share with my guests. All opinions expressed are my own.
I love to host a good gathering. There is a lot of work that goes into planning and hosting a gathering but I enjoy it. Finding the right food for the event, preparing the house for the arrival and planning the preparation of the food, so that it all comes together at the right time in the right way. I enjoy it and the sense of satisfaction when it all comes together. With Covid those gatherings have all but disappeared from our social calendar. We have had a few bonfires with friends, where we can all sit socially distant and visit, relax and enjoy each other's company. Everyone has brought their own drinks, snacks and chairs. 

This weekend we extended our gathering to include a cookout and plans for a small game night. All planned for outside where we could rely on the benefits of sunlight and the lack of close quarters. We kept the cookout simple with burgers, chicken and hot dogs. For sides, we had garden veggies, fruit, macaroni salad, and salad. We also had chips with homemade onion dip, fresh garden salsa and a jalepeno dip. For dessert, we went Disney inspired options. We made chocolate cupcakes with chocoalte hazelnut buttercream frotsting. Our friends brought their soft serve maker and Dole whip mix so we could all enjoy Dole Whips. And, of course, with a bonfire planned to cap the evening, we had all the makings for S'mores. 

As with most plans, we had to make some adjustments. As we approached the day, we confirmed that some were unable to join. I forgot to buy watermelon, so fruit was scratched from the menu. Then, the day of the event, as we were finishing up the cookout portion, we were concerned briefly about rain as the cloud cover increased and the sky darkened. It didn't rain but we wound up having to relocate to the front of the house to follow the sun and the warmth when the non-rain cold front passed through and the temperatures dropped. 

 It was so nice to have an event to plan. It was so nice to hang out and visit with friends. As sometimes happened, we spent less time than planned playing games because we got caught up in visiting and eating! Fortunately, my daughter had played the games many times with friends and was able to easily explain the game and roles that everyone on the team would play. Telestrations Upside Drawn

is a unique in that the artist is one of the guessers. They don't know what they are drawing but rather are taking instruction from the guide as they move the drawing board under the marker, providing up or down instructions telling the artist to lift or lower the marker back to the board. Needless to say, even more so than other drawing games, the pictures can be pretty interesting as a result and lead to laughter and kidding when the answer is learned. Fortunately, there are hints along the side of the board that you can guide the board to (be sure to have the marker up as you move so you don't cross thorugh the drawing). The game is enjoyable but I will say that I think I still prefer the original Telestrations game - the 'telephone' game of drawing and guessing has been the center piece of many game nights at our house over the years. 

All in all, it was a good night. The group was smaller than expected. The cupcakes were a big hit. The bonfire was enjoyable and I even got to have a couple of toasted marshmallows, even if it was after the guests left. We even had a bonus copy of the game that we got to share with friends to enjoy at their own game nights.

What are some of your favorite games to play with friends?  You can find Upside Drawn at Amazon and Target.

As a participant in the Tryazon Telestrations Upside Drawn party, I received an Upside Drawn party pack which included two copies of the game and coupons to buy the game to share with my guests. All opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Fitness Goals - Staying Active!

Sometimes it can be hard to maintain consistency in working out. For me, it is usually because life happens and I'm busy or up late or have to be somewhere early. I have generally had success with morning workouts. When the kids were little, if I got up before them I could get my workout in before really starting the day. I have done it on my own and taken classes. I enjoy the accountability of a class. When others ask "where were you" when you miss a day, it makes me think twice about missing without a good reason. 

With Covid19, there wasn't much of 'life' getting in the way. Everything that we normally were busy with seemed to one by one close or get cancelled. But, I did have to be on my own the past 5 months to work out. In our area the schools closed 151 days ago and the Y cancelled classes and the eventually fully closed for 12 weeks 148 days ago. Even when they reopened, the group classes did not return. 

When the schools closed and knowing that the Y had been cancelling classes, I made an assumption that the Y would likely close, so I decided to make a commitment to make it outside for a 30 minute walk each day. I needed to have something to keep me active, something to allow me to decompress from all the news and continuous fear that seemed to be presented and with everyone home all day, every day, I needed some me time. Yesterday marked 150 days in a row that I have managed to successfully complete at least a 30 minute walk. Probably 90% of those walks have been within my own neighborhood. I started at 30 minutes but stretched it to 50 minutes most days. I have walked any time of day from first thing in the morning until the sun was setting. I walked in the snow and rain, under sunny skies and cloudy skies, in the heat and the cold. Most days, even with weather, I was able to find a 30 minute break in the precipitation where I could get in my walk. There was one day where my timing was off and I walked the last 10 minutes by circling the rooms on my first floor over and over. It feels good to have made the commitment and stuck to it. I think my next target is 183 days (1/2 a year) and then likely 200 days will be my next target. How long will I continue? I don't know. It will be a sad day when I can't fit in the walk and my streak comes to an much like others asking me "where were you" I think the fact that I have such a long streak, I will think twice before I just decide to skip a day. 

Before and after closures, my other primary activity this year has been swimming. I swam a few times in December but really started swimming regularly at the beginning of the calendar year. The YMCA posted about their 100 Mile Swim Club (with a 150 mile anniversary challenge). When the Y closed in March, I had been on pace to complete the first 100 miles by the end of March. When they finally reopened in June, they had limited hours, were limiting total time in the pool to one hour and limiting one swimmer per lane. In addition, I fortunately was starting a new job which meant less time available to swim. The good news is I was still able to complete my first 100 miles by the end of July. 3,520 laps (yup, down and back). I hadn't swam with consistency or purpose for almost 30 years, back when I swam on a team. It felt so good to be back in the water. I missed it when the Y was closed and am glad to have it back...even though I generally only make it 1 or 2 days each week. I am still on target to reach the 150 mile challenge by the end of the calendar year. 

How have you been staying active? Have you any streaks or accomplishments that you are celebrating?

Friday, July 17, 2020

Twelve Years!

Crazy to think that twelve years ago today, I wrote my first blog post. I knew nothing of blogs and started it on a bit of a whim when one of the guys (young guy, just out of college) said to me, you seem to know so much you should blog. I have really enjoyed my time blogging and being able to share tips, tricks, what works for me and reviews of many different things with everyone.
I have changed a lot over the past 12 years, as I imagine many of you have. I will say that I didn't really know what busy was when I started this blog 12 years ago. I had a lot more free time and down time with my family. Now, even with things still being only partially reopened, things are much busier in my life. I have shifted a bit on what I blog about, I still seek out deals but finding the time to plan and share deals just doesn't always fit into my schedule.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

One Hundred and Ten days!

It is a little bit crazy to sit back and reflect on the last 110 days. It is 110 days since 'normal' life took a shift.

From an accomplishment perspective, I have held to my commitment to walk at least 30 minutes every day for the past 110 days. There have been a few times that I just didn't feel like it but I found a way to persevere and get the walk in. As a result, I have achieved my step goal almost every day in that same window. I had one day where my watch hadn't updated to the new goal and so the goal 'fireworks' went off but I discovered the next day that I was 4 steps short of the goal. I had one day where we were at a bonfire and I didn't realize it was midnight and wound up 100 steps short because I had been sitting most of the evening. I had one day where a tornado sent me to the basement for the last hour plus of the day and I wound up 200 steps short. I had one day where I simply fell asleep with less than 100 steps to reach the goal. The orange bars that show up when I look at my 4 week step history over the past 3-4 four week periods make me sad but I also realize that most were not a true lack of effort but just bad timing.

In addition to my daily walking, I was finally able to get back to swimming earlier this month, after 12 weeks of the pool being closed. I had been on target to complete the 100 mile swim club (for 2020) back in March, until the pool was closed down due to COVID19 orders. Even now, the pools are open but we are only allowed to swim for an hour (75 minutes in the building is the rule) at a time, which has made reaching the 100 mile mark a little harder. I did get to just over 90 miles swam as of the end of June. I should be able to reach 100 in July and hopefully make some steady progress towards reaching the special anniversary 150 mile challenge that they included as part of the 100 Mile swim club for this year. Essentially, I need to swim at least 10 miles per month to reach that goal. That is very doable and I should complete it easily before the end of the year.

It was just over 110 days ago that schools were closed for the rest of the year, and now graduations are being held in parking lots because of gathering limits. Our school was hoping to have theirs at the stadium but did not receive the approval (not sure who had to approve) to do that, so they went with the contingency plan for a parking lot ceremony. They held Prom two nights before graduation across two venues - food trucks at the high school (with in car service) and then a movie at the drive in (where they are being asked to stay in their car). I'm glad they got a night to celebrate but wonder why we couldn't find a way when wedding receptions are permitted for up to 300.

In our area, conversations have started with groups of parents, teachers and administrators meeting online to talk about what school could look like in the fall. Our school is looking at three approaches - 100% online, hybrid in school/online and back to the classroom. They are gathering info from the CDC, studies/findings that have been published, perspective from schools in other countries and counties and other sources that participants are sharing to help inform their proposal. They have done parent and student surveys. In the return to the classroom approach, it definitely feels like parents are divided on whether they will send their child back to school if it resumes in the fall (and fortunately, the schools are making plans for that contingent of students within their option of fully returning and hybrid approach). With back to the classroom option, there are those that think masks make sense but another portion that is expressing concern with the challenges with them being worn correctly, teachers/students being able to effectively communicate, safety/adverse consequences of wearing them. I have heard that one thought is require masks at arrival/departure, in the hallway, and other places where they will pass each other in close proximity but allow them to remove masks in the classroom where the desks are spaced, so as to balance ability to teach/learn. I don't ultimately know where things will land but my hope is that we will have them back in school and take sufficient precautions without being too prescriptive or doing things that will negatively impact learning. We will know more next week when they present the proposal to the school board...then I think the Board of Health has to weigh in.

What goals have you set? Were you successful in meeting them? What is the plan for school in the fall where you live?

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Win a copy of Cross Shadow by Andrew Huff

No compensation was received for this post. I am sharing this giveaway, not hosting it.

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Cross Shadow by Andrew Huff

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me. 

Last week I shared that I had read A Cross to Kill by Andrew Huff. This week, I had the chance to read the second book in the series, Cross Shadow. I always enjoy getting the opportunity to catch up with characters that I have met before in a new adventure; this new adventure takes place about 8 months after the first book. The good thing is that if you haven't had the chance to read the first book, you can still enjoy this second book as a stand alone story.
The book opens on an ordinary day. Christine is heading out to interview for a role at a new network. We get a glance at the budding relationship with John as they chat on a video call on her walk to the train. She ends the call quickly, realizing how busy the platform is and wanting to make sure she catches her train. As she settles in on the train, her minds is racing with reflection and what-ifs. Forcing herself to be in the moment and relax, she concentrates on the car's passengers, making observations about each. When her eyes settle on a young man at the front of the car, she starts to notice things in his demeanor and his physical features...a drop of sweat trailing down the side of his face, the way he keeps his eyes on the floor, the excess licking of his lips, the oversized jacket he wore...she started to put them together, recognizing but struggling to identify the profile; until it clicked - it's at this point that the action begins and doesn't let up until the end of the book.

John is a former CIA agent turned pastor. Christine is a journalist. They have been dating since the end of the last book, although it sounds like they connect around life and don't always give their relationship the time it deserves. Christine has always been a woman that could take care of herself (which John knows and admits) and with John's training she has learned to be more aware of her surroundings, plot her course of actions and remember the small details. Even so, John can't help himself in wanting to protect her. She struggles with him not trusting her. Together, they make a dynamic team; brought together for another adventure filled with suspense, danger and challenges to their faith.

The story is fast-paced, driven by a lot of action and suspense. The author does a great job describing everything that goes on during the story; the way he writes the car chases and fights, makes it easy for the reader to visualize the scene in their minds. The twist and turns and the continual discovery of who can and can not be trusted keeps the reader guessing and at points, worried about the safety of the characters. Thankfully, they seem to have the right allies on their side (CIA, former military, law enforcement) that always seem to come to the rescue with information, identities, technology and resources, especially when things are at their worst. I'm always amazed at the technology shared in some of these thrillers - some because it sounds really cool (molar mic, glasses with embedded cameras), some because it sounds unbelievably realistic and down-right scary (military robots). Together, the high action, the suspenseful plot that keeps you guessing and the difficult situations and decisions that the characters face create a captivating thriller that you don't want to put down.

About the Book:
All journalist Christine Lewis wants is the truth. All pastor John Cross wants is to avoid it.

Former CIA agent turned evangelical pastor John Cross is busy caring for the small community of believers he ministers to in Virginia. Journalist Christine Lewis is busy with the demand for her talents from top news agencies in New York City. Neither has any time left for their relationship, which began eight months before when they paired up to prevent the detonation of a chemical bomb in the nation's capital.

But when Christine hears that her stepbrother has been arrested for murder in Texas, they team up again to discover the truth about the crime. Untangling a web of conspiracy, the couple finds themselves in the center of another dangerous situation-and in trouble far deeper than they expected.

With an assassin on the loose, a trusted colleague acting as a double agent, and unreliable artificial intelligence connected to mercenaries who have Cross on their hit list, these two may not get out of the Lone Star State alive.

About the Author:
Huff spent ten years in local church ministry as a youth pastor and creative arts pastor before pursuing God’s calling into creative storytelling and media production as the product director at Igniter Media, a church media company (

He is a two-time finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis Contest for unpublished authors (2014, 2017) and also won the best screenplay award at the 2015 48 Hour Film Festival in Richmond, VA. A Cross to Kill and Cross Shadow in the Shepherd Suspense series are his first releases.

Huff holds a bachelor of science in religion degree from Liberty University and a master of arts in Christian education from Dallas Theological Seminary. He resides in Plano, TX, with his beautiful wife, Jae, and their two boys.

Learn more Andrew Huff and the Shepherd Suspense novels at He can also be found on Facebook (@huffwrites), Twitter (@andrewjohnhuff) and Instagram (@andyhuff).

This book did not disappoint, living up to the expectations set by the first in the series. Cross Shadow was another action-packed suspense story from Andrew Huff. I would recommend this book for anyone that likes a good suspense novel. The book reads well on its own but you really should consider reading the first book in the series too because it is good. The third book comes out next year but you can read the first chapter at the end of this book.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.