Labor Day Weekend: The End of Summer

Labor Day weekend signals the beginning of the end of summer. While I am looking forward to cooler days, the changing of the leaves, and all things autumn, there are definitely some things that are 'distinctly summer' that I will miss.

1. Vacation & The Beach -- Specifically going to Charleston. If you live in the south and you don't like Florida, Charleston is the place to go. There is no place more Southern with beautiful beaches and city night life that is better than Charleston. (Jacksonville, FL comes close.)

2. The Lake -- Here in Georgia, we go to Lake Lanier. In Charleston, the harbor is my ideal place to go. Then there is Fall River in Boston that has now also won over my heart. Nothing quite makes a summer night a summer night like one spent sitting on a dock with stars overhead, friends and family nearby, and a party going on with really loud music that you aren't attending ... except maybe if you had a cup of Starbucks in hand. Relaxing, romantic (depending on company, obviously), and beautiful. sigh. :)

3. Sitting on the Front Porch -- If you've ever seen The Notebook, I think you understand what a southern summer is all about. There is something particularly special about sitting on the front porch (usually with a glass of sweet tea or lemonade) and enjoying the people you are with. Bonus points if a porch swing is involved. Trust me, you can solve all of life's problems on the front porch. ;)

4. Star-Gazing, Watching Planes Take Off at night, Fireworks -- I totally love sitting with Justin staring up at the sky no matter what we're doing (and not just because he's my husband!!). It's just more comfortable doing those things during the summer.

5. Summer Rain -- Nothing quite compares ... especially with a good book in hand.

6. Drive-In Movies -- Umm yeah ... they are just awesome.

See more of my summer favorites here.

What will you miss as Fall approaches?

August Break Day 14: Stillness

"I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures following one another softly, like pearls on a string."
- L.M. MontgomeryAnne of Avonlea  

August Break Day 5: Close-Up

Sometimes when Justin bakes cakes, I roam the house taking pictures of things up close. I play with cake rounds as reflectors and use my flash to get my object of choice just a little bit brighter. And most fun of all, I totally distract Justin by getting his help. Luckily, the cakes always turn out good anyway. :)

Read more about August Break here.

Getting an American Passport

Apparently, despite reading my share of travel blogs, when it came to getting a passport, I wasn't as prepared as I thought I was.

If you will be applying for a passport in the near future, here's what you need to know:

1. Attempt to schedule an appointment early in the process, quite possibly before you get everything you need together. If you live in a city, your local post office may make you wait a month or longer before actually letting you apply for the passport. Also, note that there are extra fees if you need the passport sooner than the 4-6 week waiting period.

a. Not every post office schedules appointments to get a passport. In fact, some places like the courthouse, allow you to simply walk-in. Other places (post offices) don't schedule appointments or let you apply at all through them. If you walk into a post office that doesn't do passports, ask if they have a list of nearby post offices that do do passports. (Apparently, the list online isn't always up to date.)

b. If you try to call to schedule an appointment to get your passport, make sure to call during the correct hours, which vary between post offices. Usually, you should be able to call during the week between 10AM-2PM, but like I said, it can vary. If you call and leave a message, they may or may not call you back. It is best to try again if you don't get in touch with someone right away. (Even better if you can walk in and make your appointment.)

c. Most post offices schedule their appointments during the week in late morning and early afternoon. You'll need to check with your individual post office to find out if they also do early Saturday morning if you can't get off of work during the week.

2. On the day of your appointment take the following:

a filled out application (can be obtained online or at post offices that do passport appointments)

a copy of your individual driver's license front and back on a full sheet of paper (Don't do yours and your significant other's on the same sheet.)

a personal check or money order including the fee for the passport card and/or book, and post office fee (Some places take credit cards. We took cash, and the post office was able to convert it to a money order.)

a 'long-form' birth certificate that includes your name, birth date, as well as your parents' names (These can be obtained at some courthouses, some health departments, and at the Vital Records Office for a fee of $25.)

a face shot (taken at Costco, CVS, Walgreens, or even the post office...)

If you have everything together, you should be fine. I had the short birth certificate form, because I didn't know otherwise. Luckily, the kind lady at the post office stayed late enough for me to run to the courthouse and obtain my birth certificate long-form (an hour away!). We also scanned our licenses on one sheet rather than two meaning the lady had to go back and rescan them! Luckily, we are done with all of that! Now time to wait.

Suitcases and Sandcastles
Linking up with Oregon Girl Around the World,

Alon's Bakery & Market

Over the weekend, Justin and I ventured off to explore unknown territory in the name of grocery shopping. We started at The Fresh Market. With prices soaring for essentials like candy and coffee, we decided that the likeliness of returning was probably zilch. (Maybe for the okra chips?!) Next stop was Alon's Bakery & Market.

As we walked up to the store located off of Ashford-Dunwoody Road, we sensed we were at the wrong place. Classical music emitting from the entrance as well as tables and tables of happy customers made us feel like we had stumbled upon a very expensive restaurant. Being a bit broke this month after ipad purchases and car fixes, we nearly turned around. Luckily, we didn't. Instead, we made our way past the tables and through the doors to such a sight! And the smell!!

I don't know how Justin felt, but for me it was quite literally love at first smell. :) You see, Alon's is set up like an outdoor marketplace (except that it's indoor) with booths of different types of food. One of the first booths is that of freshly made bread. I didn't get a picture, but there were piles and piles of baguettes, round loaves, square loves, and even samples of cinnamon babka. You would walk up to the counter and order whatever bread you wanted. You could even place orders to pick up at a later date! (I'm guessing they sell out of bread rather quickly before holidays.)

The bread station was not the only station to whet your appetite though.

There were also beautiful desserts and freshly made hot cups of coffee. Or if you aren't in a dessert mood, you could venture up to the deli and have them make you a beautiful sandwich using some of their fresh bread or get an order of pasta (which I assume is either also made there or imported from somewhere exotic like Italy. Does Italy count as being exotic?)

While short on vegetables, fruits, and overly processed canned goods, Alon's definitely seemed to have a strong hold on baked goods, pastas, desserts, and cheeses.

If you live in the area, I definitely recommend taking a trip to one of the two Alon's locations! You won't regret it!

Flowers in Picture Form

Today seems a bit too 'gloom and doom' with all of the rain. Apartment Therapy says that you should bring flowers into your home to brighten up your mood. Does picture form count?

Caprese Salad + Coupon Giveaway

Giveaway is over! All winners have been announced here. Thank you to all who participated! :)

As I was going through my stash of coupons the other day I realized I had not one but rather 5 coupons for $1 off Filippo Berio olive oil; all of which expire on August 31. I really don't want them to go bad, so I am offering yet another giveaway in which you leave me a comment mentioning your favorite dish with which to use olive oil and your e-mail address by Thursday at 1pm est. I'll pick 5 of my favorite to send the coupon to. The giveaway is only open to US residents through Thursday at 1pm EST, so that I can have your coupon in the mail asap.

My favorite dish to have using Filippo Berio olive oil is Caprese Salad.

Photo credit: stu_spivack via / CC BY-SA

Filippo Berio olive oil ;)
a balsamic vinegar glaze
salt and pepper (if desired)

Copy picture. :)


Cut your mozzarella and tomato up into thick slices. Alternate mozzarella, tomato, and basil on a plate. Spritz with a bit of Filippo Berio olive oil and your balsamic vinegar glaze. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stick fork in and enjoy! :)

Photo credit: larryjh1234 via / CC BY

This is also a great appetizer to take to a party. You can buy small mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes. You could mix it all up in a bowl like a salad, so that guests can use tongs to serve themselves or individually put cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and a piece of basil on toothpicks sprinkling the balsamic vinegar glaze and Filippo Berio oil over the serving platter in a pretty way. :)

While I certainly do love caprese salad, I can't wait to read your suggestions and recommendations for using olive oil in other dishes!

Weekend Overview

The above shot makes me feel like Atlanta isn't always rainy. (Plus, you can see the new ferris wheel, Skyview!)

We had a bit of a crazy weekend. Apparently planning trips abroad can keep you a bit busy.

I managed to move up our appointment to get a passport to this Friday which meant I needed to fill out the applications, find Justin's birth certificate (which he didn't actually have), and get everything else in order (and settled away) for that. (You have to go to the Vital Records office if you lose your birth certificate, and even then they will only give you a copy.)

Then I started the application process for Global Entry. For future reference, you need a passport number to apply. You can register and start the application, but you cannot complete it until you have a passport number. Who knew? (I thought I read on a blog that you didn't have to have your passport. They were wrong.)

Justin got his ipad set up for wifi and using his phone as a hot spot. (Not sure how this will help us when traveling, but it's nice to know anyway.)

Then there was the shopping. While most people don't wear flip flops in NYC, I did. Having done so, I got tons of junk in the bottom of it (think road debris and construction) causing the shoe to fail prematurely. I'm not willing to pay more than a few dollars for flip flops, so off to Kohls we went after noticing a $7 shipping fee. (No, thank you.) We used the Kiosk when they didn't have my size in stock to get free shipping! Yay!!

We also bought a $4 (normally $40) ipad mini case on Amazon with free 2 day shipping. When we get it, I'll review the company so you can get the awesome deal too (assuming it is awesome).

So that was our weekend: a party, travel preparation, shopping, rain, and all!

Keep an eye on the blog. Tomorrow I'm hoping to post one of my favorite recipes and a very short 2 day giveaway. I don't want you to miss it! :)

See that fish looking at you?

That's how I feel today. I haven't slept well in the past few nights. Clearly my body just likes starting the day at 3AM. :(

Yep. That must be it. Plus, I am very excited that I'll get to announce the winners of the Purex fabric softener sheets giveaway today (or in the very near future)! (Make sure you get your comments in!) Yay! :)

And if you are into photography as much as I am, you might also be happy to know that Lindsay Adler is going to be back on Creative Live again today. (She was there Monday and Tuesday as well with an awesome session on shooting in bad lighting.)

Here are a few more bullet points and fun facts about my life and the world in general:
  • I just finished reading Julie Powell's Julie & Julia and it was an awesomely fun read making me super excited about Julia Child recipes I had no interest in before. Whether I actually convince Justin to make them and whether or not I actually eat them are a whole different story. (Just not sure I can wrap my head around consuming duck...)
  • Alton Brown's pot roast recipe is AMAZING. You simply have to try it.
  • Where were these awesome polaroid magnet save-the-dates when I needed them? I'll admit vintage postcards was totally fun and something I would love to try again, but polaroid magnets are also pretty awesome. I will have to DIY these sometime soon. (Too expensive for me to buy when I know how to make them without help. The envelopes that come with them are super cute and almost convincing enough to fork over a few bucks though!)
  • Did you know that if you want to use GOES (Global Entry for travel) you have to sign up way far in advance because they have a backlog for interviews? Yeah, I didn't either. I will be signing up asap. Here are a few other interesting facts about GOES for those of you traveling in the near future.
  • I also was unaware until recently that you have to call specific post offices and make an appointment during their office hours in order to get a passport. Call me crazy, but I thought you could just walk into any old post office. Now Justin and I have to wait one more month to get our passports. GRRR!!! (And not as in Tony the Tiger's Grrrr. . .eeeeaaaatttt!!)

Hope your week is going well! Only 2 more days!

Why We Purchased an Ipad

This past weekend was tax free (on school supplies, clothes, and the like) in Georgia, so Justin and I did the unthinkable -- purchased an ipad. It seemed like a crazy unthought out, unplanned purchase decision, but in the end it was actually a very well thought out and planned purchase. The thought process began when we started thinking about our upcoming trip overseas to Germany.

Since I have only flown once in my entire life, one particular thing I am worried about is that of luggage weight. When I purchased luggage many many years ago, this was not a concern to me. It didn't matter how heavy the luggage was so long as it held my clothing and had wheels. Now that I'm following travel blogs it occurs to me that the weight of the luggage itself can make a big difference in how much you are allowed to carry on a plane.

The past few months I have been trying to figure out how to make all of my own carry-on luggage work even without adding anything Justin may want to have with him. A laptop bag, a camera bag, and a few clothes, just in case, was adding up to a lot of bags. None of which are light either.

To add to our decision-making process, Justin's computer died about a year ago. It had been on life support for far too long. He had abused it (spilled water on it) and misused it (as computer engineers do). Basically, even though it was an Apple, it's time had come to an end. 

Knowing that we were down to one computer and had to share made the impromptu purchase of an ipad even more of a necessity. Yes, Justin was able to frequently bring home and use his work computer, but unfortunately, that meant he didn't really have any computing device of his own. For the past year, he has lived his computing life off of dropbox, Gmail, and Google Reader (now Feedly). Giving him a "home" of sorts definitely helped in making the decision to purchase a tablet.

While it seemed like a good idea to purchase the ipad for travel and to provide Justin with a computing home, we still faced two issues that needed to be addressed.

1. Money -- Did we have it? And could we afford to hold off on the purchase? We were looking at 10 months of paying down credit cards, the possibility of replacing my car's transmission, and a trip to Germany in the near future. $3000 for a new computer was as much a problem as $15000 for a new car. It wasn't in the cards for at least a year ... probably two. $700 for the 64gb ipad mini including a camera hook-up cord and insurance for the next two years seemed like a much easier pill to swallow especially if it would get us down to one bag (ipad mini + hard drive in camera case) as a carry-on. We also liked that with the tax free weekend, we were essentially keeping $100 that would have been spent on taxes if we had waited to buy closer to our trip.

2. Worthiness -- Obviously, as mentioned above, we were looking at taking two heavy carry-on bags and turning it into just one (+ a small bag for clothes). Not having traveled much via plane, this seemed like a good idea. Fewer bags to carry equals happier shoulders and lower cost for traveling. Saving money in the long run and the possibility of being able to travel more often in the future makes me happy. :)

To make owning an ipad even more worthwhile, we discovered this awesome device called iUSBPortCamera that allows you to connect your camera to your ipad quickly and easily. Within a few hours after buying the ipad mini (and confirming Apple's 14 day return policy), we were sold on the idea of using the ipad mini to make photographing the world as easy as pie. (Is pie easy to make? Where did that phrase come from?) I would describe the many great features iUSBPortCamera has to offer, but perhaps you should go check it out for yourself. Having not actually owned it yet, I cannot give it a review or state how awesome it is or isn't. It just looks awesome, and if it makes photographing even easier then it must clearly be awesome. Apparently, it even allows you to connect to your hard drive through your ipad.

So now, two days after buying an ipad with a bunch of research regarding our questions and issues completed, we are quite content with our purchase. We still need to find a quick and easy way to transfer photos from the camera to a hard drive (or dropbox), but overall we feel that the ipad mini will make traveling easier and cheaper in the long run providing me with more photographic opportunities I didn't know even existed and Justin with a computing "home".

Have you purchased an ipad or tablet to make traveling easier? Do you have any awesome recommendations or stories to tell regarding traveling, ipads or both? I'd love to hear them!

As it is, when and if we purchase the iUSBPortCamera, I will definitely come back and update you all on it's usefulness and helpfulness in capturing and sharing images.

I hope everyone had a great weekend!

A Day In the Life Of... Summer Photography Lessons

A day or so ago, as I was working on the image above and the many variations I've worked with this week, when Justin decided he would give it a shot. I had been groaning that we had screwed up the above panorama by not shooting consistently, and now I didn't know if I would have a chance at getting the sky (and water) to match in color. Mr. Computer Geek thought he'd be able to figure it out and that "it should be easy".

Two hours later he was about to kill my computer.

Or photoshop.

I'm not clear as to which.

The above shot, which is not completed, was put together with a minimum of at least 6 images. I have at least 20 of this area which I am currently working with. We shot using bracketing. One or both of us thought it would be intriguing to do an HDR panorama. Let me just say that I learned my lesson. Shoot using one aperture, one iso, and one shutter speed. (I'm not sure which one we screwed up. Probably shutter speed.)

I guess that's the thing though. You learn through trial and error (+ correcting your mistakes). Unfortunately (or fortunately) I am stubborn enough that if I want something to work, I will make it work. You can bet that I will see this image through. I will work it and work it and work it until something awesome happens. In the meantime, I have learned quite a few things from this summer's crazy shooting sessions.

Here are a few:

1. When shooting a panorama, shoot on manual. Playing with the settings in manual to achieve bracketing and shooting half a dozen times or more will result in a much more consistent image and require less work in photoshop afterwards.

2. As obvious as it may be, stay in ONE SPOT while shooting panoramas. It's crazy seeing how things change when you shift from one position to the next. It also makes it hard for photoshop (and yourself) to put images back together.

3. Manual focus is not as scary as it seems. After screwing up a bunch of auto focussed fireworks this summer at twilight, I decided to give manual a go. Since then I have found that manual focusing is more likely to give me guaranteed results in comparison to automatic when lighting is limited. (Don't get me wrong though: Using a tripod and having patience are definitely the key to this approach.)

4. Shoot more shots of a scene than you think you need. You have no idea how much this has saved me. I literally shoot until I am tired of a scene ... and then I shoot some more. There are two reasons why this is beneficial. The first is that you are able to become more in tune with your subject. You begin looking at the object differently. You see lines, shapes, colors ... and you also notice little things that might be screwing up your shot. (Is that a piece of trash in the grass behind that beautiful flower?) Secondly, when you finally get to the computer, you will also notice things you didn't when taking the image. When you looked at your camera screen did it look like all 5 people had their eyes open and were looking at the camera (as opposed to picking their nose or some such silliness)? Well, guess what? Someone was squinting. It's a good thing you got that second (or third or fourth) shot. (Plus, it's super awesome to use multiple images in photoshop to cut people out of scenes when they are blocking that super awesome monument you shot.)

Of course I should also mention, with regards to shooting a ton, that you don't have that option when shooting with film. I think with film you should take a completely different approach. Usually slow and steady is the way to go. Plan, look, plan, look, plan, look. Only shoot when you know you have your ideal shot. And then shoot a second or third time using the same method of planning and looking. You have even less ability to correct an image shot with film than you do with digital.

5. Don't be afraid to direct people in the scene you are shooting. I'm always afraid to speak up, but even if people don't listen or know how to follow my directions, if I at least try to recommend what they should do, the images typically turn out better. In all honesty, no one knows better what you are trying to shoot than yourself. They can't read your mind. A little direction goes a long way.

I'm grateful for all of the opportunities this summer to get out of the house and spend time with my camera. It's true that the more time you spend shooting, the more you learn and the better you become.

*mini rant* Of course the more I shoot the more I hate people who say "you can just fix it in photoshop later." If I wanted to fix it in photoshop later, why would I bother fixing it now? Or even moreso, why would I bother shooting it to begin with? Why not just create the scene in photoshop from scratch since that's what you want me to do anyway? *end rant*

Taking photos is a bit like taking notes. You take the best photos you can, and then you expand on it later.

Purex Fabric Softener Sheets + Giveaway

GIVEAWAY IS OVER! Thanks to all who participated! See the winners here.

About a month ago I got the opportunity to try the new Purex Fabric Softener Sheets. Never having been a fan of dryer sheets (one more thing to throw away), I knew via pinterest that there were a ton of excellent uses for dryer sheets even if you didn't use them in the dryer.

First let me just say that even before you pull the softener sheets out of the box, the smell is incredibly strong. It's a nice smell, but it is a STRONG smell.

Now, here are a few of my favorite ideas for fabric softener sheets:

1. As air fresheners - I've seen lots of ideas from putting a sheet or two in your shoes to diaper bags and even in your luggage (so that your clothes don't smell like the dirty socks you wore a few days before). Before having used the Purex fabric softeners, I definitely noticed the smell merely walking into my living room while they were taking up residence on my couch. Oh how the smell of mountain breeze filled the room! (Because Purex fabric softener sheets have such a strong smell, I would definitely consider cutting the sheet in halves or quarters for placing in small areas like luggage or shoes.)

2. To clean paint brushes - While I don't paint as much as I would like, I truly like the idea of an easy clean up job. How much more fun would painting be if it didn't take so long to get the paint off the brushes?! I'm telling you that it would make a world of difference! It is recommended that you place the paintbrushes into a container with warm water. When you pull the paintbrushes out, use the fabric softener to get latex paint off the brushes. I haven't tried it, but it sounds easy enough!

3. Dryer sheet art? - Apparently, it's a thing.

4. To clean - You can use dryer sheets for dusting the tv screen, cleaning your glasses, or swiffering your floor ... even cleaning up those stupid flour messes when your husband bakes bread. Then when you are done with all of that you can take them to polish your chrome (on your car or faucets), remove soap scum from the bathroom, or put a sheet in your vacuum where the air is released to make the whole house smell like newly dried clothes. Apparently you can even stick a dryer sheet in a pot with baked on food articles with some water and let it sit over night giving it just enough time to soften the food and allow it to come out with ease! (I think I could have made a list just on ways to clean with a dryer sheet!)

5. Static and Pet Hair Remover - I'm guessing dryer sheets would do this anyway if you stuffed them in the dryer with your clothes. Some of us are lazy though and wait until we actually have the static and pet hair to deal with and no lint roller. Swipe your dryer sheet against your clothes and voila! Good as new again! (It even works to remove static from your hair!)

6. Bug repellent - As a mosquito magnet (I hear it's in the genes), I'm definitely interested in the stuff-a-dryer-sheet-in-your-pocket-to-keep-mosquitos-away method. Will it work? I'll be one of the first to know. If I come in all itchy, I'm going after the people who recommended it. ;)

7. Crayon Remover - For those of you with kids, I hear that dryer sheets are a super awesome tool at removing crayon from wood furniture. Anybody want to test this one for me?

8. Fire Starter - When you are done with all of the above and you still don't know what to do with your leftover dryer sheets, the dryer sheets (and their cardboard boxes) make for a great fire starter! (Perhaps aromatic as well?)

Now that you know all of these wonderful ways to use some Purex Fabric Softener Sheets, how about we do another giveaway (open to US residents only)? The last giveaway was awash (perhaps if I had used fabric softener sheets...), but I'm open to trying it out again. If you are interested in receiving a coupon for a free box of Purex Fabric Softener sheets in either sweet lavender or mountain breeze scent (good until 12/31/14), leave me a comment below. I will randomly select two commenters (with e-mail addresses) who have commented before 5pm est on August 13th.

** I received a free sample of Purex fabric softener sheets to try and coupons for this review.

Just For Fun

As you may be well aware, Justin and I spent approximately four days in Boston/Massachusetts this past summer visiting with Justin's extended family and exploring. Before we left to come back home, Justin's great uncle offered to let us take a few of the treasures he had obtained over the years. Having grown up and lived in the same house all of his life, his home was simply bursting with treasures and hidden finds that he wanted to share with his family.

Before leaving, Justin had found a few 1950s soda bottles, a can of emergency water created in the 1950s by the U.S. Coast Guard, old books (as in published in the 1800s), and (a thrill of mine) a 1967 polaroid camera. (We also came back with tons of family pictures and memorabilia that I am suppose to scan and fix, but that is another story!)

One of the most exciting finds for me as a book lover was the book From Gold to Grey by Mary D. Brine. While I had never heard of it, the illustrations were absolutely stunning. It turns out (as we believe) the book was a gift to Justin's great great grandmother Eleanor upon her graduation from school. (High school perhaps?) I don't really know a whole lot about her other than she was rich and she hated her son-in-law (Justin's great grandfather?) because he wasn't. haha.

Anyway, I don't know a whole lot about the book (or author) either other than it is a book of poetry. I don't think it's worth a whole lot of money simply because you can find it online and read it here at the Boston Public Library archive. I am actually pretty excited that the book exists photographed online in a downloadable archive so that I don't have to worry about messing up the binding (or book), but I can still read it if I would like. :)

While I was looking around on google for information regarding this book, I stumbled across Robin's Egg Bleu, an etsy shop that sells vintage items one of which was the book I was just speaking of. (Apparently the owner sold it in 2011.) While Robin's Egg Bleu may no longer have From Gold to Grey in stock, there are definitely a number of cute and interesting vintage items that can be obtained there. I'm definitely loving the Poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the 4 antique glass goblets being sold there currently.

So what do you think? Are you going to go read From Gold to Grey via the archive? (I haven't read it yet, but I'm assuming it is good.) Do you like collecting vintage items? Do you have any special vintage items passed down from another generation?

Wallaby + Getting Finances In Order

As you may recall, Justin and I have been trying for quite some time now to get our finances in order. We have crazy goals of paying down debt, and being able to afford life's little luxuries (a new car, a new computer, a house, and travel expenses). Along with those lofty goals, I personally would like to maintain my job as personal assistant and continue to develop my photography and graphic design skills. This basically means that Justin is awesome and we are a one career family.

To maintain my happy state of photo editing and spending time with children I adore, I must also stay on top of our budget.

As of 2 weeks ago, Justin applied for 2 credit cards and was accepted. He applied for the Capital One Venture Rewards card and Chase Slate.

One of the most difficult issues we have faced this year in paying down debt is interest. Since Justin has owned his Costco American Express card he has paid approximately $1700 in interest fees. Doesn't that make you sick? Usually credit cards are meant to be helpful and allow you to earn points and money, but in this case it has actually hurt him. :( Luckily with Slate, we will be able to transfer over half of his Amex debt to the new credit card with no transfer fees and 0% interest for the next 15 months. If we are able to maintain our budget (which I imagine some fluctuations as emergencies come up), we will be able to pay off all of his credit cards in the next 10 months only paying approximately $150 in interest. (Justin's calculations. I have no idea if they are correct.) I'm really excited about the much lower interest rate. Obviously less interest means paying things off faster which means more freedom.

On top of that, Justin and I have already found value in using his Capital One Venture Rewards card. I believe with the Capital One you get 2 miles per purchase, which we are already seeing add up through our newest phone app Wallaby. I'm not really clear as to how the miles can be used, but I'm grateful to start earning rewards that can be used toward travel. Obviously we will need a LOT of miles to travel to Germany, but it definitely feels like we are on the right track. We will probably be applying for a different credit card with a mileage bonus around Christmas time after we've done a little more research on credit cards.

So, before I talk to you about Wallaby and why you should download it, let me share a secret about credit cards that I recently found out while reading travel blogs: Apparently if you apply for more than one credit card on the same day it doesn't hurt your credit score quite as bad. For one, as Justin told me, if you apply to more than one credit card on the same day, they don't "see" eachother. In other words, Capital One did not know that we had applied for the Chase Slate card on the same day. More importantly, by doing all of the signing up on one day, the two credit cards only show up as 1 hard pull on your credit score. YAY! Granted I'm not sure if this works the same for 15 cards or if it is just for 1 or 2, but I definitely like maintaining a good credit score. (How else would you apply for more credit later?)

Finally before I end this post, I must encourage you to check out Wallaby. Wallaby is a start-up company that attempts to help you earn credit card rewards. On the cell phone app, you put in all of your credit card information (whether that means which cards you have or your actual bank information is up to you), and when you are at a location (restaurant, movie theatre, gas station, grocery store) Wallaby will recommend (based on the information you've given it) which credit card you should use to earn the most rewards. In fact, within an undetermined amount of time, Wallaby is going to be providing to consumers a "one card to rule them all" credit card that you would carry around instead of your other credit cards. Basically, for $50 a year, you would pull out your Wallaby card (the only credit card you would be carrying around, of course) and Wallaby would automatically choose and use the best credit card for that specific location. In other words, if you would typically get the most rewards from using your Costco Amex at Costco (duh), when you pulled out your Wallaby card to pay, Wallaby would automatically pay using your Costco Amex. If your Capital One Venture offered the best rewards, Wallaby would automatically choose that one. Sweet, huh!?

While the Wallaby card is not yet available for consumer use, Justin and I have already been enjoying using the Wallaby app. After Justin put in all of his credit card credentials, we were able to not only see which credit card was best to use at which location but also the total rewards earned with our credit cards from the past 30 days and a graph showing where our money went.

Although I do not recommend credit cards for just anyone, if you are going to use a credit card, you might as well use it smartly and reap rewards by using Wallaby.

** I'm not getting paid or any reward whatsoever to review or recommend Capital One, Amex, Chase, or Wallaby. My opinions are my own. If you need financial advice or help getting out of debt, seek out a professional.

Free People Reviews

As part of a survey recently,  I was asked to come up with an outfit combination I would like to wear to a summer concert. I loved my outfit combination so much that I wanted to share here. :)

Don't you think this outfit would be super comfortable at a concert? Now I just need to convince Justin that the Free People Viscose Convertible Slip and Kelsey Braided Sandal would rock my world (even without a concert to go to!). :)

Since I had a return to make to the Free People store last weekend, Justin let me try on a few things while we were there. I thought I'd take a bit of time to review them.

One of the dresses I tried on was the Like A Virgin Dress. As you'd see in the comments sections, this dress does make you feel a bit like a princess with the beautiful lace and the gorgeous blue color. I tried on the only blue dress that had left in the store in a size small. When that didn't fit, I moved on to a black version of this dress in a size extra small. Unfortunately, the extra small didn't fit either. :( So you may be out of luck for buying this dress in a size that fits if your waist size is between 24 (or smaller) - 27 inches.

I do have to say that this dress was so lovely that I really tried to convince myself and Justin that a belt might make it work. While they didn't have one in stores, I would definitely be willing to give it a shot. The only sad thing is that with a belt you may cover up the gorgeous underbust detailing which is definitely a perk of this dress. :(

If you have the body for it, I definitely recommend trying this dress on. Unfortunately for me, it was back to the rack. (Free People, could you please make this dress in an extra extra small?! Please?!)

Justin thought the Sunset Stripe Slip would look cute on me, so I tried it on. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I HATED it. First of all, I am not a stripe person. I have one dress with stripes on it, and that is it. I avoid them at all cost. Secondly, this dress is super thin. I knew that going into the dressing room to try it on, but I want to make sure you know as well. Obviously it is a slip, but not all of Free People's slips act as slips, so you may have thought it was a dress. (It may look like a duck and quack like a duck, but that doesn't make it a duck.) I do love the bottom of the slip, but the middle seam in the waist area (which you can't see due to the model's strategically placed hand) is ICK! :(

See? Yeah, I didn't like it too much. That, along with the seam that goes right down the middle of the dress. I might could have gotten past all of that if I had a top to wear over it (and wear the dress as skirt). As of that particular day (and even today!) I can't think of anything I have to wear over it.

While I might consider the ill fitting Like A Virgin Dress come sale day, I have a feeling I will not be thinking twice about the Sunset Stripe Slip. Now if only I could convince Free People to have sales more often...

Mint Chocolate Cake: How To

For my birthday, Justin decided to take a pinterest recipe I had liked and make it into a cake. He didn't like that they used a box mix, so he put his own twist on the recipe rather than following it exactly.

Ready for the recipe?

The cake is actually Alton Brown's version of the Devils Food Cake. To give the cake a bit of minty flavor, you can add 1 1/2 cups Créme de Menthe baking chips as this recipe did. Justin did not, but I am sure it would make the cake taste extra yummy if you did. He just forgot.

The icing is a buttercream icing with a bit of peppermint extract added to taste. Justin got the recipe from the book Meringue by Linda Jackson and Jennifer Gardner. You can purchase the book on Amazon, and I highly recommend it. We have yet to find a recipe that isn't amazing in this book. Below I have included the original Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting recipe that Justin used mentioning in parentheses which parts of the recipe he altered.

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
Yields: 4 cups - enough to frost 1 triple layer 9 inch round cake or 24 cupcakes 
Ingredients: 4 large egg whites, room temperature • 1 1/4 cups sugar • pinch of salt • 1/2 tsp cups or 3 sticks unsalted butter, softened and divided • 1 1/2 tsps pure vanilla extract (which for this recipe should be substituted with peppermint extract added to taste) 
Directions: In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine egg whites, sugar,  and salt. Set bowl over medium saucepan of simmering water and heat, whisking continuously until sugar is dissolved, the mixture is white and frothy and reaches 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. • Remove the bowl from the heat and attach it to your mixer. With the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, adding more once each addition of buttercream is thick and smooth, about 3-5 minutes. Don't worry if it looks lumpy or curdled during this process--it will eventually become smooth. Add vanilla (or peppermint) and food coloring, if using, and beat just until blended. • Keep the buttercream at room temperature if you're using it right away. If you're piping it, you may want to let it firm up in the refrigerator for a few minutes first. You can also make it ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days of in the freezer for up to 1 month. Just let it sit on your countertop until it reaches room temperature and beat it on low in your electric mixer to return the buttercream to a smooth consistency. 

Justin used a few drops of the Wilton food coloring in kelly green to achieve the green color of the icing. For decoration, he used a cheese grater to grate a few Andes mints on top of the cake.

While this cake was definitely delicious, I think it would be most awesome as a Christmas cake maybe with grated candy canes on top, and a red colored icing?

If you give this recipe combination a try, let me know what you think. :)