Wordless Wednesday #12

the Talmadge Memorial Bridge in Savannah, GA
Talmadge Memorial Bridge in Savannah, GA (September 2016)

I try to remain politics-free on my blog, but some weeks … months … years … it becomes near impossible.

For example, in this past 8 days:
- Sally Yates testified
- Comey was fired
- Trump shared classified information with Russians
- European countries have decided to no longer share confidential information with the US

And, somehow, I'm supposed to focus?

I close my ears. I throw my phone across the room vowing to not look at twitter or watch the news.

But then something else happens.

Argh.

So.

Can we just look at the pretty picture of this memorial bridge in Savannah, GA and reminiscence about the good 'ol days when twitter was boring? When the news was mundane? Can we please? My heart depends on it. ❤️

Self-care is a very real and necessary part of life. What is your favorite way to relax and destress?

Zee End!: My A-Z Reflection Post


They say that all good things must come to an end, and this is even true for the most stressful things in life … of which A-Z was one. *sigh* But fun too. Don't get me wrong.

So, here are a few of my reflective thoughts…

Looking Back Over the (three) Years (that I've taken part in the challenge)…

I began participating in April A-Z during 2014. I needed blog topics. Justin and I were in the middle of moving out of our rental house in the city to a place out in the suburbia. As such, we had to buy my husband a reliable vehicle. That was also right before my first trip to Europe. Stress was paramount. April A-Z in 2014 was a way of coping – a way to blog without the pressure of blogging. My posts were written in response to the letter of the day, nothing more.

A – Aladdin/Disney/ "A Whole New World", coping with my travel-planning through a favorite childhood movie
J – Top Gun, because why not? And the concept made me laugh. This was just a random post.
L – Link-Up Love, writing about the new bloggers I had been introduced to through A-Z…
N – 90s Childhood Movie Favorites. This post has received the most views over the years since…
P – Easter cupcakes. They were delicious.
V – A-Z end. Leaving for Europe. Giveaway.

I never wrote a review post for the A-Z challenge since we were gone for the two weeks following it. However, looking back, what I learned and what attracted me most about returning in 2015 were the great connections I was making with people. I loved all of the tips, recommendations, and just all out community A-Z bloggers were sharing with me. It's one thing to want to connect with people through your blog and it's another to actually find people that also want to connect (even if it's through their blog and not yours).

So, in 2015, I returned. This time minus 2014's stress. My topics were once again random. I wrote about everything from the bunny that made up our Easter dinner to hosting a giveaway for the book Sweetapolita. This was the year that I learned how blogging ahead (for me) meant the difference between merely staying caught up and fully participating in A-Z.

Then came 2016, last year. I decided to approach A-Z differently. Instead of letting my mood and thoughts dictate what I wrote about, I decided on a theme, a travel theme. I wrote about my late 2015, early 2016 travels to Europe – what we did, where we ate, the places we stayed, etc, etc… I began my planning in January, first breaking up my trip by place and then separating those places out over the duration of A-Z. So, Prague got two posts for example, and Germany got one (because blogging about people isn't very nice). The hardest part was deciding on a topic or descriptive adjective that fit the A-Z theme. (Was Hotel Angelo quiet, for example? Read the post and decide for yourself.) After that, it was all pretty easy though. I followed the order of images in my phone providing commentary and creating as much of a story as I could envision trying to reimagine the emotions I felt throughout the journey. Was it a perfect A-Z theme? No, but can you ever really be perfect?


And now … to 2017…

Continuing with the lessons I learned in 2016…

1. I began planning in February. I listed all of the places, activities, and topics in one place. Then, I listed out all of the letters from A-Z and began filling in where I could. I used the same method from 2016 of breaking up the locations by evenly spreading them out through A-Z. This meant we began the month with a much slower lead in with a post on American Airlines, the Chase credit card, Amtrak
2. I also focused on blogging ahead of time as much as possible. When April began, I had two weeks of posts already prepared and ready to go. Unfortunately, this gave me a sense of over-preparedness, which I wasn't, so I began slacking, taking the time to get caught up in other non-blog things. End result? I wrote my last post, on the layover at ORD the night before it was published. Oops!

However, unlike in 2016,…

1. I spent a lot more time editing and including images taken with both my DSLR and my GoPro. My goal was to completely edit all of my 2000+ images. (That number is just what is from my DSLR. It does not include the GoPro images or videos or any images from my cell phone.) If you've ever spent any time editing images, especially on a computer made in 2007, you realize that is a slow and daunting process. It quickly and easily took more time than I had anticipated.
2. One good thing, though, was that the slow process and a large number of photos had me getting creative with how to include them in my blog posts. Enter .gifs and slideshows.
3. Of course, these new methods had my Html breaking quite frequently. My pre-written blog post would go live without a video or a broken slideshow that would require me to fix it taking up even more of my precious time. Argh. But I think everything is currently fixed now, so …? That's good, right? :)


One Major Difference: Post Sharing…

Okay, A-Zers, what did you think of the new post sharing method? Were you quick to share your blog posts daily on the A-Z site? Or did you struggle to remember? Were you a fan of the "new" method?

At the beginning of the challenge, I was struggling.
1. I had to remember.
2. Due to the way I follow A-Z, without blogging on the weekends, I was ahead some days and behind others.

I found that sharing my blog post before the next letter (i.e. having my B post go live on A day and adding it to the A-Z site on A day when the B post came up) worked well for me. Usually, the option to add the next day's posts opened up around 6 or 7 at night (from what I could tell) eastern time. If you missed that window of the first 30 or so comments, though, your blog post might get forgotten and not commented on.

So: If they do the same sharing method next year and I participated, I would be sure to at least be ahead by one day.

But, personally, I was not a fan of the new system. I felt that I, overall, received fewer comments as a result, and I felt it made it harder for me, personally, to click through and read new bloggers daily. I forgot which blogs I had already commented on and was less apt to click on posts with topics I typically wouldn't be interested in reading. So, last year, I would pick one out of, for example, every ten blogs to comment on. This resulted in my reading blogs I wasn't sure I'd be interested in and making "friends" out of people I perhaps never would have met otherwise. Win-win?

As for Commenting…

At first, I was doing well and staying caught up. It helps when your blog posts are prepped and ready to be shared. But… as we went deeper and deeper into the challenge, I fell behind on blogging which put me behind on commenting. I did manage to comment on at least five blogs a day (sometimes more), but my real struggle was in responding to comments on my blog and visiting the people who visited me. I think, for the most part, I've caught up since A-Z finished. If you are still waiting on a response or blog visit, don't worry! I'll get to you! I promise! :)

There were a lot of interesting things we talked about during A-Z on my blog. Some of my favorite topics were:
• the best websites to find cheap flights. People suggested that, much to my surprise, third party websites like Expedia and CheapTickets may be better than reviews suggest. :)
• whether or not the French (and Canadian French) are rude, intentionally or unintentionally, when one fails to speak French…
• what we learned from the United fiasco in which a man was dragged from a plane after refusing to dis board and how United has since changed their policies…

Of course, I also loved reinforcing my blog post recommendations. I loved sharing all about my travels to Canada, telling you how we handled exploring such immense locations in only a few days time, suggesting places to stay, commenting on the delicious food, and considering our transportation options. I hope it was helpful to those readers who may be planning travels to Canada now or hoping to in the future, but I also enjoyed learning more about the places I visited and discovering what other A-Zers have done in Montréal and Québec City that perhaps we didn't have time to do or didn't know about while we were there.


Blog Love

A-Z may have been a great time for careful consideration on my own blog, figuring out what works and what doesn't with readers, but it was also a great time to learn more about other bloggers as well.

A-Z topics that stuck out to me this year:
Cross-stitching all of the characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer A-Z
Political issues currently facing the US
New York City broken up alphabetically
In-depth Astronomy
Paris streets from A-Z

And, of course, the number of topics available to read during A-Z was as varied as the number of people participating. I always feel like I learn so much just through clicking to read other blogs I may not have discovered outside of A-Z.

And, finally, my favorite posts:

• Québec City Restaurants & Grand Allée and What to Do, because of the videos. If you need recommendations for Québec City, this is where you should start (on my blog, at least).
Hôtel de Glace, the Lévis Ferry, the best views in Montéal, New Year's eve in Montréal, and ORD had some lovely pictures.
Comparing guidebooks for traveling to Canada proved to be the most challenging for me. I spent a lot of time researching how to write the post and ended up not using any of my research in the actual post-writing. So, I spent two weeks researching … and ended up writing it in a couple of hours. Sometimes that's the way writing works, right?
• Putting together the .gif for the Château Frontenac post was another challenging aspect of A-Z for me. I had never done it before, so I was having to learn … on a slow (and sometimes unresponsive) computer. It took me 3 nights and multiple hours to get something done that should have only taken a couple hours at most (on a slow computer). To say I was proud would be an understatement. :)

Your Turn

If you are an A-Z blogger, what did you think of this year's challenge? Are you glad that it's over? Are you already preparing for next year? … Or maybe you discovered A-Z isn't for you? If you've been a participant in years past, did you think the new blog post sharing system affected the number of views and comments your blog received? Did you learn anything new from this experience? Is there anything you would change on your blog if you were to participate again next year?

Everyone else in the blogosphere: comments, questions, opinions about A-Z? Were you able to follow along with my Canadian adventures better than when I post, for example, a weekly travel post?

ABCDEFGHILNPQRTUVWXY

IWSG #4


At the beginning of every month, as part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, I take a look at my successes (not just in writing), share the ways I hope to improve in the next month, answer the IWSG question of the month, and provide inspiration (if I have any).

March Goals (Because I didn't have April Goals)–
 Read a book.
Finish planning D.C.
Reserve a rental car for Boston. (In-laws did it.)
✓- Blog ahead and get prepared for the April A-Z blogging challenge! (My last post for the challenge was completed the day before it went live. Staying ahead just barely happened…)

Additional Successes –
✓ Politics! Participated in the Tax March, and the Science March, and sent faxes to my representatives.
✓ Hosted Easter on a budget.
✓ Continued working on my 101 in 1001 List. (26 tasks currently completed.)
DuoLingo! I'm now at 12% fluent in German. (Whatever that means.)
✓ Blog follower and twitter numbers are up!
✓ I have tickets to see Trevor Noah (from The Daily Show) in October! :)
✓ Got to explore more of Boston than I've ever seen before – Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Freedom Trail!
✓ Spent time with family – birthday dinners, Easter, and seeing family we never get to see.
✓ Completed April A-Z! Meaning: I edited over 2,000 images, put together more than 20 long form blog posts, shared 4 video files (out of many), crafted my first gif images, and commented on over 200 blog posts (not including comments in response to my readers).
✓ Budget cuts. We've been slashing our grocery and restaurant budget. While we aren't doing amazing, we are definitely doing better. And that deserves celebrating. (It's the little accomplishments sometimes.)
✓ Set up a Bullet Journal to help me with blogging.

May Goals –
• read 2 books. (I'm so behind on this yearly goal!)
• put together my resumé and look for jobs.
• Continue to stay involved in politics.
• Also, keep working on my 101 in 1001 list.
• Stay positive. :)

IWSG Question: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

I can't think of anything. I research a lot of different things for different reasons, but it all depends on who you are as to whether or not you think it's "cool".

In college, I spent a lot of time researching how art in books plays into a child's learning. I was considering going into art education. I have to say that was one of the most difficult topics I have ever researched. There just isn't a lot of information available.

Your Turn

Did you do anything inciteful or fun in these past two months? Were you a participant in the April A-Z challenge?

Click here to learn more and
link up with IWSG!

ORD: How to Fill Your 2-hour layover

It's day twenty (for me) in the A-Z blog challenge! This month I'll be sharing all about my Christmas/New Year travels to Canada – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letter is Y for our journey from YUL to ORD to ATL as we headed home.

Auberge du Vieux-Port Hotel hotel room view

What is there to do in Montréal on New Year's Eve?

It's day nineteen (for me) in the A-Z blog challenge! This month I'll be sharing all about my Christmas/New Year travels to Canada – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letter is X for the eXciting fireworks we got to watch on New Year's Eve from our hotel room at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada. Feel free to follow along as I make my way through the alphabet this month! :)

a horse drawn carriage in Montreal

Even though I had been planning our trip to Montréal for weeks, I neglected to do one of the most important things that one must always do when going somewhere on a holiday: getting reservations at a restaurant for dinner.

At first, I put off this aspect of planning because I wasn't sure if we were actually going to Montréal…

Then, it was because I was trying to plan all of the other things. (My method of building a trip itinerary is to start with the decisions that come easiest to me. For some reason, figuring out dinner for New Year's eve did not strike me as an easy task.)

My next problem was that I was afraid of the French language… (Don't be! Most people in Montréal speak both English and French.)

Finally, my decision was made all the more complicated in that my husband and I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a meal. Montréal offers lots of options for New Year's eve, many of which are multi-course meals with entertainment and opportunities to watch the holiday fireworks with your fellow diners. My preference was to go somewhere on the cheaper side, less extravagant, less noteworthy, more down-to-earth, and just have dinner.

Upon arrival to Auberge du Vieux-Port, we sat down with the concierge and came up with a plan. She recommended Holder as a great place for a New Year's Eve meal. Not being familiar with the area, we ran with the idea. I mean - so long as we had a place to eat, right? … And one that wouldn't have us waiting in line forever? :)

Holder was approximately a 30-minute walk from our hotel and on our way, we spotted this…


Just one of the many Cité Mémoire exhibits located all across Montréal bringing the cities history to life. If you listened to the recording I did, you can hear where someone pulled us aside to explain what we were seeing. (We had no idea what the exhibit was or of its existence!)

Unfortunately, we didn't have a lot of time following our discovery to go around the city in search of other historic projections (plus it was super cold!), but the exhibit is continuing on throughout the year. If you find yourself in Montréal for any reason (business or pleasure), definitely consider going around the city seeking out the projections and downloading the app to learn more. (Alternatively, they have a guide that can take you around as well.)

After a bit of harassing my husband ("Are we there yet?" … "Are you sure you know where you are going?"), we spotted our restaurant. (Warmth! At last!)

They were going to sit us in the middle of the restaurant before I asked for the window seat. After checking their reservations, they agreed that we could have the seat we wanted. (Just know that if you want a window seat, tell them that when you make your reservations!)

We spent a few minutes looking at our menu before deciding exactly what we wanted.

Holder restaurant in Montréal

By then though, we realized our friends across the ocean were celebrating the new year! Quickly, we messaged them wishing them a happy new year. :) But of course, when they sent a picture of their entirely family toasting, we tried to send them a toasting image in response…

New Year's eve at Holder in Montréal, Canada

Only we failed. Do you know how difficult it is to shoot an "us-ie" without a selfie stick in a dark restaurant? Not to mention I'm totally not photogenic, so having my picture taken is a NO.

… And we weren't drinking champagne …

I guess there is always next year?

dinner at Holder in Montréal, Canada

Despite my claim to not want a multi-course meal, Justin and I still got one… *sigh*

We began our dinner date with a Caprese salad, followed up with dinner entrees of peasant soup (for me) and duck confit (for him), and ended our dinner with a cheese plate and mi cuit au caramel (like a chocolate lava cake only with caramel instead). By this time, our three-hour reservation was up and it was time to head back out into the snow to our hotel…

Before the fireworks were set to begin, Justin and I repacked our bags for our trip home, set up my tripod on the large window seal of the hotel room, and then laid down for a quick two-hour nap. (We were exhausted!)

Only a few minutes before midnight, I jumped out of bed and set myself up for photographing the fireworks…

New Year's eve fireworks at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada

New Year's eve fireworks at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada

New Year's eve fireworks at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada

New Year's eve fireworks at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada

New Year's eve fireworks at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada

New Year's eve fireworks at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada

New Year's eve fireworks at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada

New Year's eve fireworks at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada

New Year's eve fireworks at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada

New Year's eve fireworks at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montréal, Canada

Cloud coverage was absolutely terrible for photographing the fireworks. Add this to the fact that we were on the lowest level of the hotel, and I was happy to get the shots I got.

eating Bûche de Noël at Auberge du Vieux-Port in Montreal, Canada on New Year's Eve

Rather than immediately go to bed, we opted to try the strawberry and white chocolate Bûche de Noël we had purchased in Québec City as we watched all of the city's firework go-ers walking, dancing, and singing as they headed back to their homes and cars. Overall, this wasn't a bad way to end our first trip to Canada. :)

Have you ever celebrated the New Year in another country? What do you typically do for New Year's eve?

April A-Z challenge: X
ABCDEFGHILNPQRTUVW

Montréal: So Much to See And Do!

It's day eighteen (for me) in the A-Z blog challenge! This month I'll be sharing all about my Christmas/New Year's travels to Canada – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letter is W for what we did in Montréal

Pizzeria No. 900 in Montréal, Canada