October 24, 2016

Northern California Road Trip

You guyssss! The trip Will and I took to California in September was amazing! We spent a full week road tripping through Northern California, enjoyed the gorgeous weather, made more memories then I can remember and reminisced on our first year of marriage. It was everything we needed in a vacation; think relaxation with a few spontaneous adventures thrown in. Over the last few weeks, we've had fun going through all of our photos and videos which I'll share throughout the week (Napa, Sonoma and Muir Woods on Tuesday, San Francisco on Wednesday, our day trip to Tiburon on Thursday, and a video recapping all of our adventures from the trip on Friday!).

Planning a trip to California was a lot of fun, but it did get to be a bit stressful at times mainly because there were so many places I wanted to go, but given we only had one week, we had to be realistic with the number of places we tried to fit into visiting each day. One thing that was a no-brainier for us though was making sure we got together with two of our best friends who live in the San Jose area so we decided to use the first two days of our trip doing just that. What better way to start an adventure then with friends right?
It was a Saturday when we flew out to California, landing in San Francisco and making the short drive to Palo Alto where we met our friends Alyssa and Watt for lunch at the most adorable place called Tootsie's. I highly recommend the ricotta pancakes if you ever go. After catching up and enjoying a delicious lunch, we were back on the road heading towards the San Jose area where our friends live. We spent the rest of the weekend walking around Santana Row, explored their neighborhood, and spent as much time outside as we could. One thing I LOVE about California is the lack of humidity in the air...a win-win for my hair!

Monday morning we woke bright and early and made our way towards Monterey. We walked around Fisherman's Wharf, had lunch at The Wharf Marketplace, checked out Cannery Row, bought a piece of local artwork, and drove by Del Monte Beach. We had less then 24 hours in the area or we would have gone to the Monterey Bay Aquarium which was recommended by a number of people.
After a few hours in Monterey, our next destination was a quick stop through Pacific Grove in Monterey County then to my favorite part of the area..CARMEL! Words can't describe how beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea is. You've got the perfectly manicured houses, the picturesque beaches, the adorable shops, and the whole city is walkable. A few fun facts to throw out...there are no street addresses, no chain restaurants and every residential home has a name.
Because our trip to California was to celebrate our first year of marriage, we thought it would be fun, and memorable to get anniversary photos done. We knew we wanted a beach setting and after some research on best places to take photos along with finding a photographer, Carmel was by far the most breathtaking. Deciding on a photographer was really easy because I had a certain vision for what I was looking for and Ryan Chard Smith was just the person for the job. Not only is he amazing at what he does, he is hilarious, laid-back and one of the kindest individuals we met on our trip. Because we were new to the area, I decided that Ryan would be better at settling on where we took our photos and thank goodness because he took us to an area that was nestled within a neighborhood that didn't see nearly as much foot traffic that the rest of Carmel Beach did which was ideal for our shoot! Y'all, it really was perfect...
If you ever want to go to the area of Carmel Beach that we got our photos taken, follow HWY 1 south just past Carmel. You'll come to a traffic light at Rio Road and about .9 miles from there you'll turn right onto Ribera Road. Follow Ribera until you get to the very end. Park along the side of the road and you'll see a stairway that leads down to the beach. You won't regret it if you ever go!

Other places I recommend checking out while in Carmel are Dametra Cafe for dinner, Tuck Box and La Bicyclette for breakfast and if you want to do some shopping, The Barnyard and The Courtyards are popular.
Even though we didn't get to spend much time in Pacific Grove, we did go to Red House Cafe on Tuesday morning before making the drive to Napa. And the areas that we drove around in PG looked so adorable. If and when we head back to Northern California, we will make sure to devote a few days to Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove!

Do you have any other recommendations in the area? If you've ever been, what were your favorite things that you did or saw? I would love to add them to our list! Come back tomorrow to read (and see photos) from our time in wine country and Muir Woods!

September 22, 2016

Low-Key Date Night

I love a good date night. There's nothing like getting dressed up and going to a fancy dinner with your other half or planning a fun vacation for the two of you to take. But to be honest, nothing beats a casual date night-in watching a movie together! It's not only cozy and intimate, but can be a lot of fun. With my recent surgery, Will and I have been taking it easy most weekends and have enjoyed renting and watching movies together. Below are 15 movies (and one or two TV series thrown in) that every couple can enjoy together. Some are new, others are classics, and some are, well, chick-flicks because they are too good not to include!
4. The Finest Hours - Based on a true story!
5. My Best Friend's Wedding - The breakfast scene when everyone breaks out in song is my favorite.
7. Date Night - Tina Fey and Steve Carell are a hilarious (by nature) pair in this film!
10. New Girl - a TV show one of my best friends introduced me to.
11. Veep - another TV series I had to add. Fun fact, Will got me into watching this one!
14. Brooklyn - So good that I watched the movie and read the book.
Can you think of any others that should be added to the list? Not a couple that enjoys unwinding at home? That's totally fine! Here are five additional low-key date night ideas to keep in mind...
1. Go to trivia night at a local bar or restaurant. I always opt for arriving early and grabbing a drink or bite to eat if I haven't had dinner yet. Make the night more fun competitive and invite some friends to play against.

2. Go bowling. A round or two is generally inexpensive to play and you won't have to worry about getting dressed up since the atmosphere is almost always laid-back. Bonus points if you get a picture of you and your honey wearing those ridiculous looking bowling shoes!

3. Dance and sing at the top of your lungs at a concert. Summer is my favorite time to go to concerts, especially when the venue is outdoors. And you can sometimes event find free concerts going on at a local park or convention center. Even though outdoor concerts are my favorite and cant be beat, there are PLENTY that go on indoors as well. I use Ticketmaster and Livenation to purchase tickets and see who's coming to play in the coming months.

4. Have a picnic. Pick and pack the main option and have your significant other decide on the sides and the dessert, or vice-versa. This is a money-saving option and always adorable. If it's too cold outside, have one indoors! Set out a blanket in your living room and viola.

5. Take a complimentary class. Do some research and see what you can find. Here are a few that I know of: cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma, DIY home improvement courses at Home Depot, and yoga classes at Lululemon.

July 25, 2016

The Recovery Process

Hey everyone! So it's been a little over a month since I had ACDF surgery and I can't believe that much time has already passed. If your new around here, you can read my most recent post to get the back story and learn more. This post is a lengthy one but I wanted to give a quick update on how these past few weeks have been for me while recovering and to let you in on some of the things I've learned along the way! And you may think I'm silly for saying this butttt please bear in mind that the photos below aren't my favorite. I was at the hospital before 6:00 AM and not allowed to wear any makeup so I naturally don't like how I look in them but asked the hubs to help me document my journey so here I am, sharing them despite being self-conscious!
The days leading up to surgery I was pretty calm but had a lengthy list of questions in my head that I had been collecting, even though I had gotten most of them answered already. Truthfully, I really was more excited to finally be in less pain and to go through with the surgery, but I was still anxious. Especially because I had been deemed "a young patient to have to have this type of surgery". But the Lord is good and showed up in an unexpected way. A few days before the big day arrived, I was at a stoplight sitting next to a truck and on that back of it in bright white paint was "JESUS IS MY ROCK". It was a simple reminder that showed up at just the right time. God was present. He knew the thoughts that had been on my heart and eased my worries without me even having to ask.
Bright and early on June 13th (our one year wedding anniversary!), Will and I arrived at the hospital, checked in and filled out paperwork. The whole pre-surgery process went pretty quick and I was called back by a nurse within thirty or so minutes after arriving. After my vitals were checked, I changed into a hospital gown and was taken back to the prep area where they made sure everything they had in the system was accurate. Last minute questions were asked and answered and I was ready to go in no time.

One of the things I remember most and was really touched by was when Dr. Haglund prayed over me before taking me back to the operating room. Honestly, praying with your patients isn't something a lot of doctors do that I'm aware of and it's one of the things Dr. Haglund does with all of his patients. It's a gesture that can be overlooked or forgotten, but it's one I will forever remember and be thankful for.
Success! The surgery lasted somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour which is such a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things. After some of the anesthesia wore off and my vitals were checked one last time, I was assigned a room and taken there to stay overnight (about an hour after surgery). Will, my dad and father-in-law were already in the room waiting for me which was a nice site to see. After getting settled, I was able to ask and find out how my procedure went. Will told me that Dr. Haglund stopped by and told them that the ligaments that had been supporting my neck between the damaged vertebrae were frayed pretty badly and were replaced during the procedure. I had also accumulated bone spurs which were cleaned out during the process.
Over the next few hours, I took a handful of naps, chatted with family that came by and even got out of bed once or twice to walk the halls. I can't stress how lucky I am to have married into such a wonderful, and large, family. I can always count on them for free entertainment and lots of laughs which defiantly helped distract me from the discomfort I was feeling in the hospital. Side-note #1: the medication I was on helped a good amount with the pain but being confined to a hard neck brace (which I wore for almost the first full week) was something that took time getting used to. Swallowing and talking normally were also uncomfortable but got better after a few days. 

I stayed in the hospital that night and was discharged the following afternoon. I have to say that I thought I wouldn't have a problem sleeping, and was actually looking forward to it since I couldn't remember getting a good night of rest in who knows how long! Sadly, it didn't happen and it was almost impossible to fall asleep if I'm being truthful. Not only did a nurse have to come in to check on me every few hours but poor Will had to sleep in a hard chair and I just felt bad for him! I do remember asking begging the nurse if she could skip a round so I could attempt at getting some shut eye. Let's just say we were both ready to leave by the time I was discharged ha-ha! Side-note #2: I had surgery in Raleigh so we had to make the trek back to Charlotte which I was not looking forward to but it ended up being totally fine! We just made sure we stopped every hour so I could get out of the car to stretch which helped a lot.
Fast forward a little over a month and I'm doing well with recovery! It's hard to remember all of the details but here are a couple I wanted to note. Oh and every person is different. Not all ACDF procedures are done the same and each patient is unique. Post-surgery instructions given to one person may be different from someone else, the healing process may not be the same, etc. And I'm no expert! I just want to take you through the journey of what I've personally experienced and done.
- My transition from the hard brace to the soft collar occurred within the first week. It's a given that you are more constricted while wearing the hard brace so it was really nice when I didn't have to wear it 24/7. Side-note #3: I talked to someone who had the same surgery that I did but had to wear a hard brace for over three weeks before switching to the soft collar. At first the soft collar was comfortable, but recently anytime I wear it, I feel agitated. It's kind of hard to explain the sensation I get when I put it on. I think the skin on my neck is just agitated.
- When I first started weaning off both the brace and the collar, I could actually feel the muscles in my neck working to hold my head up. It's as if I was having to help train the muscles how to do it properly! Overtime, it's gotten easier and I can go most days now without having to wear anything. When my neck does start to ache, I just use the soft collar for a few hours and usually that helps.
- For the first two weeks I was prohibited from lifting anything over 10 pounds. Pretty much the weight of a gallon of milk is what I was told. I was also instructed not to do any bending or turning my of head as much as possible. By week four, I could start lifting up to 15 pounds. In August I'll have my post-opp appointment and hope Dr. Haglund clears me from my weight restrictions so that I can get back to the gym and taking classes pronto!
- I was unable to drive for the first five weeks which was really tough. Being stuck at home was not easy and some days I defiantly got cabin fever. Thankfully our neighborhood is near a bunch of of restaurants and a few stores that I walked to when I just needed a chance in scenery. 
- I have yet to figure out the best position to sleep in or the best pillow(s) to use without me waking up in the morning or middle of the night in pain. I've tried a bunch of different pillow combinations and can't pinpoint what will work best. It's defiantly not the mattress which was my initial thought so we think that it could be the pillows I'm using, but who knows. Any pillow recommendations or suggestions for waking up feeling "rested" would be great!
- I was recently asked why they went through the front of the neck (anterior) and not through my back and I believe it's 1) the Doctor's preference, 2) it's less invasive, less painful and recovery time is usually quicker when done anterior, and 3) they don't have to cut any muscles or touch the spinal cord which makes this approach safer. Because they went through the front of my neck, I did experience a hard time swallowing and talking normally for the first few days.

- I still have pain in my neck and get headaches but they are nothing like what I used to have! When I get the question "do you feel the surgery has cured you?" I say no, I never expected to be 100% pain free, but I can finally live a more normal life again! I don't have pain that lasts all day and my fingers no longer go numb. Was the surgery worth it? Yes! Every single penny of it.

Whew! If your reading this, thank you for sticking through to the end! I'm sorry this was such a long post, but I couldn't think of any parts I'd want to take out to make this shorter. Hope this gave some insight into everything. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or email me at ssmtheblog@gmail.com!

June 9, 2016

In Sickness and In Health

This is a big month for Will and I. Not only are we celebrating our first year of marriage, but I'm also undergoing "ACDF" surgery next Monday. The actual name of the surgery is Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion, but I can honestly never remember that so I'll stick with the acronym. Over the past weeks, I've had a friends and family ask my about the surgery, why I'm getting it done and what's going to happen afterwards so I thought it would be easiest to write a blog post on the topic. This is also a way for me to document the "trials and tribulations" that have come as a result of having degenerative disc disease as well as a way to talk about my excitement for overcoming years of setbacks and pain!

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease is when discs (for me in my neck) naturally wear out overtime resulting in bone spurs and inflamed joints. The "injured" discs start to slowly dry out and shrink, causing them to lose their flexibility and cushioning. Also bear in mind that "DDD" is not an actual disease!

How did you get it?There is no way to tell when or if someone is going to get degenerative disc disease. There are however several factors that can lead to DDD which include: hereditary/genes, age, injuries, and drying of the disc area. One thing I learned over the past few years is that unlike other tissues in the body, there is little blood supply that goes to the discs, so once a disc is injured, it can not repair itself so the disc starts to deteriorate. For me, DDD happens to be hereditary and a past injury caused it to show up sooner rather then later.
How has it impacted your life?
The impact DDD has on you is different for every individual. For me, this condition has effected certain nerve functions and has caused pain in my neck almost daily. One days when it's been really bad, I've lost feeling in my right hand, experienced tingling and numbing sensations throughout my neck and arm area and had the inability to sit for extended periods of time (car rides were the worst) or even do simple workouts like yoga. Every day is different but the pain is almost always the same.

How is ACDF surgery performed?
First, the surgeon reaches the damaged disc from the front (anterior) of the spine through the throat area. They do this by making an incision on the front of the throat and move the neck muscles, trachea, and esophagus, to the side so that the disc and bony vertebrae are exposed. Gross I know!
After the disc is located, it's then removed and the space between the bony vertebrae is now empty. To prevent the vertebrae from collapsing and rubbing together, a bone graft is put in to fill the open disc space. The bone graft serves as a bridge between the two vertebrae to create a spinal fusion. The bone graft and vertebrae are fixed in place with metal plates and screws. After surgery, my body should begin its natural healing process and new bone cells should grow around the graft. After 3 to 6 months, the bone graft should join the two vertebrae and form one solid piece of bone.

Why are they conducting surgery through the front of your neck and not the back?
Surgery from the front of the neck is more accessible than from the back (posterior) because the disc can be reached without disturbing the spinal cord, spinal nerves, or the strong neck muscles. The recovery process can also be much longer when conducted posterior.
Are you nervous?
I think it's natural to be nervous about any type of surgery; big or small. But I'm more excited then anything else. I can't wait for the day when I wake up with little to no pain. I'm excited to be able to go back to the gym and to workout. I'm excited not to have so much medication to take on a daily basic. I trust the Doctors who will be working on  me and have put all of my faith and trust in God's hands. That's all I can do at this point!
What does life after surgery look like?
This is a question that I won't be able to answer fully until after surgery but right now I know that I won't be able to drive for two to four weeks. Depending on how fast I heal, I can drive when I feel I'm able to hold my neck up without any pain and/or able to move my neck from side to side with no problem. I can never drive while wearing the neck brace that I'll be given to wear everyday for the first few weeks. I'm also told that I can not lift anything over 10 pounds until my six week post-opp appointment. After that, I can work my way up to lifting 15-20 pounds. I'll have a better answer to this question once we know how the surgery goes!
If feels good to open up and share a really personal thing I'm going through in my life. Follow me over on Instagram (mmackvick) for updates on how my surgery goes over the next week or two and keep me in your prayers for a full and speedy recovery!

June 7, 2016

Things To-Do In and Around Charleston, SC

Charleston has become one of my favorite places to visit. It was "love at first site" when Will and I went for the first time a few years ago and I'll never get enough of this beautiful city filled with cobblestone streets, gas lanterns, plantation homes, and the best waterfront views. Recently, I went back and spent time at Folly Beach for my friend Allison's bachelorette getaway. I had never been to Folly before and had such a great time so I thought it would be fun, and also helpful, to make a list of some of my favorite spots and recommendations in Charleston, Folly Beach, and Isle of Palms (where I celebrated my bachelorette that you can see here and here)!
Places to Stay: Historic Renaissance Hotel for it's top-notch southern hospitality, The Mills House, Planters Inn, The Restoration, Zero George for a great for a romantic getaway, or even the Holiday Inn which is good for a short or last minute stay.

Shopping: King Street is a MUST! V2V, Sassy Shortcake, Copper Penny (I found the most amazing smelling candles here), Luna, and Carolina Girls are a few worth checking out. I honestly haven't done much shopping in Charleston, minus picking up souvenirs for family and friends because I'm always snapping photos and wandering the streets which is probably a good thing since the shopping is endless!

Food: Virginia's On King, Poogan's Porch (they have really cute t-shirts you can purchase here) Toast, Blossom, High Cotton, King Street Grill (get the mac & cheese egg rolls), and Peninsula Grill at Planters Inn (ask to sit in the courtyard if it's available and order the coconut cake for dessert!).
Drinks & Nightlife: The Rooftop at The Vendue has tasty appetizers, amazing views and was my favorite in overall atmosphere. The Gin Joint, Pavilion Rooftop Bar, Prohibition, and Stars Rooftop Bar are a few others. Stars comes in second place for best atmosphere in my opinion.

Activities: Stroll down Rainbow Row (make sure to take a photo), snag one of the wooden swings and watch the sunset at Waterfront Park, take a sunset cocktail cruise with Adventure Harbor Tours (by far my favorite activity we did for my friends bachelorette getaway and will be doing this again), visit the Charleston Aquarium, and ride a horse-drawn carriage to tour the city.
Isle of Palms:

Places to Stay: Wild Dunes Resort, or you can easily find something that will fit your needs by checking out VRBO or Airbnb. 

Food: The Boathouse, Coconut Joe's Beach Bar, Island Joe's (perfect place for when you have a sweet tooth), Sea Biscuit Cafe, Coda Del Pesce, The Windjammer, and Banana Cabana.

Drinks & Nightlife: Coconut Joe's, The Windjammer and Banana Cabana all have live music at night with laid-back atmospheres.

Activities: This one isn't exactly IN Isle of Palms but it is close by and if you like live music then it's worth checking out Party At The Point which my girls took me to on my bachelorette!
Folly Beach:

Food: Lost Dog Cafe, Rita's (have gone here for breakfast and lunch and both were good), The Grill and Island Bar, Taco Boy, BLU, Black Magic Cafe, and Locklears.
Drinks & Nightlife: Snapper Jacks, Surf Bar, Loggerhead's, and the Sand Dollar (cash only).

Activities: Walk the Folly Beach Fishing Pier, visit Morris Island Lighthouse or rent kayaks.
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