One Ticket at a Time: Purchasing Decisions

Back at the beginning of the month, I purchased plane tickets to France. I thought I was purchasing 2 tickets, and I was stupidly excited about the very low price we would be paying. It was my first time purchasing plane tickets which I guess makes me a bit naive. When I read "roundtrip", I thought that meant to and from. I couldn't figure out plane seating after I purchased, so I just held off picking a seat until this weekend. That was when I realized that my "amazing price" was for one person's plane tickets "roundtrip". 


Why do they make purchasing plane tickets so difficult?! I would have been just fine purchasing my tickets separately to and from. I don't need to purchase them together. And then there are 50 bazillion options. I can leave at this time on one of these 3 planes? It's like figuring what kind of coffee you want.
“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino." - Joe Fox (You've Got Mail)
I didn't even really want a cup of coffee to begin with! I don't even like coffee!!

So we called Delta to get Justin a flight, but they couldn't book it with mine for whatever reason. (It had been too long since I purchased?) Then, after they had gotten my credit card information, they inform me that it will be an extra $25 to book on the phone. hahaha… Oh my Delta! How you amuse me!

I basically told them to go "screw themselves" in a very polite manner and then went online to book in which I screwed up the date. (Apparently handling stressful situations at 11PM at night is not my strong suit. Or maybe just handling plane tickets in general isn't? Who knows?!) So Justin has to call and change the date within 24 hours so that we can at least arrive in France on the same flight. *sigh*

And the worst part? … Even after all of the above, I still don't know how to read "roundtrip" flight information. Is it $700 to fly to Rome and back? Or just to Rome? So much for traveling on the cheap!

Maybe one day I'll figure it out.

** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)

Ten Tips for Holiday Season Safety

Earlier this week I went to a seminar my local police department was offering about how to stay safe during the holiday season. Let me share a few of their tips.

1. If you feel like someone is watching you, make sure to look them in the eye. Don't hold a staring contest which could be seen as a challenge. Just look them in the eye and let them know you see them, then you can look away. 
2. Gold prices are on the rise which means thieves are after expensive jewelry. And your cell phone. Since most thieves are young kids, they can't tell the difference between something expensive and not. Lay low on wearing tons of jewelry and keep your phone in your pocket. 
3. If asked for the time, a thief usually just wants an idea of what kind of phone you have or if you are wearing an expensive watch. Don't respond. Or at least don't pull out your expensive phone/watch.  
4. If asked for a material item such as your purse, car keys, or phone, throw it in the opposite direction and run. Never ever get in the car when a thief asks you to. If you can, set off your car alarm when you throw your keys and start yelling (as you run away). Thieves don't want attention, they just want to take what they can and go. 
5. When Christmas shopping, pay for your items in the mall and ask if the register can hold your bags for you while you finish shopping. At the end of your shopping day, go around and pick up all of the merchandise you've bought by showing your receipt. If you can't take it all to your car in one trip, put the bags in your trunk and move your car to another location before returning to the mall for further shopping/bag getting. 
6. At night, keep your curtains closed. Thieves find their targets at night when they can see big screen tvs from the street.  
7. During the day, keep your curtains open so you can see what's going on around your house. Thieves are most likely to break in during the day when they think no one is home.
8. When getting out of the car to get gas, take your purse with you. Thieves often reach inside the passenger door when their victim isn't looking to grab their purse. 
9. Never try to fight a thief. You have no idea what kind of drugs they are on. 
10. Keep your car in good shape. Thieves actually prefer older cars, because newer/prettier cars tend to cause more attention.

What do you think? Did you learn anything? Is there anything I left out that you think is important?

Hope all of my readers have a fantastic, SAFE weekend! Next week is looking crazy, but I am going to try and post once a day. :)

Support Local Artists

When I was in Asheville taking pictures of beautiful handblown glass balls hanging in a window, someone came into the store and instinctively apologized for getting in my picture and immediately moved out of the way.

I'm not going to lie – part of me was elated. Thank goodness he's out of my shot! But then I remembered that I was in a store taking pictures of artwork that may not exist if not for said store. I thought of myself and how I rarely (read: never) get paid for the work I do. Then I thought of all of the other photographers I've bashed over the years claiming that their work wasn't good enough; how did those photographers even make a living or sell their work? Why did people pay them for it? This work, that I was photographing, was actually good. I don't know anything about glass blowing, and I probably would have found some imperfections if I did. Nevertheless, why should I inhibit the potential buying power of this man just because I am taking a picture of this artwork?

That's when I decided to back off, and let the man look. I told the man outright that I would rather he look at and potentially buy a piece from this artist than worry about whether or not I was photographing the work. I told him to support local artists. How else will they be able to grow and develop their skills?

I am blessed in that I can develop my skills from the safety and security of my own (rental) home. My husband makes enough to pay all of our bills and living expenses. All he really requires of me is that I not complain of boredom or become stagnant in my work. Not every artist is as lucky as I am.

Then I saw a post on Facebook this morning featuring a flash mob orchestra, that sealed my blog posting future. While I think the video is actually a commercial (for a bank?), the message is clear. Put your money where your heart is. If you support local artists, you will reap the benefits of their growth. Please keep this in mind as you begin your holiday shopping in the next few weeks and all year long.

Have a fantastic Thursday!

Books, Books, Books

google image, Battery Park Book Exchange

Two weekends ago, when Justin and I were in Asheville, NC, as we were leaving the Grove Arcade (which I had told Justin he had to see), we discovered the Battery Park Book Exchange. We were in a hurry, but I told Justin I wanted to go in and that I would be fast. How long does it take to glance at a few books inside a coffee shop?

As it turns out, longer than you would expect. :) The coffee shop kept going… and going… and going. Up stairs and around corners dodging chairs as we went, I was enthralled with the large number of vintage books that lined the numerous shelves. This was no normal coffee and bookshop; this was a bookshop from my dreams. (Furthermore, the shop sold wine too!) I ended up leaving the bookstore with three vintage books in hand – $30 worth. They were books that, when I went to search for them online, were nowhere to be found. (That's how I convinced Justin I needed them.) The bookstore also sold new books, but those are far less interesting to me.

I think old books are more intriguing, because as a kid my parents inherited a whole bookcase of vintage hardback books from my grandparents. While I can't say I was too interested at the time other than pretending to be a "librarian", as a young adult when we sold the house we were living in, I got the chance to go through the books before they were gotten rid of. Most I found to be uninteresting, but one stuck out. I can't remember the name of it, but it was a daring story written in the 1940's about a detective that follows his case in an overseas adventure. I tried to write a report on it in high school, but there was no information about the book available online, and I couldn't find a single thing listed about the author. Ever since that time, older books have had a special place in my heart. I want to read and remember the books that were written even when it seems everyone else has forgotten them.

google image, Beauty & the Beast

As for my bookshelf, I tend to put books on there that are old, hardback with interesting/pretty covers, or meaningful in some way. Does that mean I judge my books by their covers? Yes, to a degree. As it turns out, vintage books all tend to look alike. It's hard to judge those by anything other than their text. I do like the idea of decorating my house with beautiful books though; I find myself envious of the book shelves at the Biltmore Estate, in the movie Beauty and the Beast, and even those found at the Battery Park Exchange. Millions of hardback books lining so many shelves! As little as I read now, I simply cannot imagine my world without books. Whether soft cover or hardback, they are simply too hard to resist! :)

Have you been to an awesome bookstore filled to the brim with vintage books? Do you find them hard to resist as well? Or are you more of a Barnes & Noble kind of person?

** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)

I Have A Slight Internet Addiction

In the wake of my post from Friday about online friends, it is only fitting that my next challenge with NaBloPoMo is to talk about how much time I spend online.

The answer? A lot.

Nearly everything I do requires spending some time online. And having a smartphone makes it even worse!

Here's a look at my daily schedule:
6AM until 2PM: Get up, get dressed, do my hair, make/eat breakfast/lunch, edit photos, blog, answer e-mails, take surveys, work on graphic design
2PM-6PM: babysit, tutor, craft, edit photos/work on graphic design, practice German, social networking
6PM- 11PM: dinner, crowdsource jobs, clean the house, edit photos/work on graphic design, look at/work on finances, night time classes, neighborhood/city meetings, shopping, watching "tv"/movies
So how much of that time is spent online?

Well, for example, this morning I learned how to do a French Fishtail braid. Some days I need advice on how to dress appropriately for a meeting or maybe just how to combine different pieces of clothing for a well put-together outfit for the day.

Justin usually makes my breakfast for me, but on the weekends I've been known to get him to try random pinterest ideas. Pumpkin pecan cinnamon rolls for the win?*

Editing photos can be a long drawn out process. In fact, Justin has decided that while he *gets* photography, he absolutely cannot stand Photoshop! (Shocking for me since he seems to know how to do everything!) Luckily, he was able to help me understand histograms and how to work curves in photoshop, but there is still a lot that he doesn't know. For those things, I consult the internet. As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite sites to go to is Digital Camera World. Then there is CreativeLive. Either way, the internet is definitely a go-to when I'm trying to conquer a difficult concept such as color or composition.

When I first started blogging, I thought it would be easy, like journaling except to an audience. I've actually learned a lot over the past year. As I added personal goals to the blog including blogging daily for NaBloPoMo, using a word of the day occasionally, and learning to write better, I've had to consult the internet for help, suggestions, and recommendations. Luckily, there are plenty out there!

Because I don't make a consistent amount of money, I complete surveys most days. My favorite sites to do this are Pinecone and Opinion Outpost. I do also recommend Crowdtap for trying different concepts, often before the general public, giving your opinion on possible advertisements companies will use, and getting the chance to win prizes during their drawings every month.

Between 2PM and 6PM, I'm not really online except for the use of my smartphone. I read e-mails, chat with friends, and practice German with DuoLingo (which needs an internet connection), in between helping kids with homework, crafting with them, taking pictures of them, and everything else I do with them (which, depending on the day, can be a lot or hardly anything).

After I get home, Justin and I might use my phone to go drive around town doing jobs for Mobee or EasyShift after dinner to make a bit of extra money. When we are done, we use mint to check on our finances. If we aren't cleaning, shopping, going to city-wide meetings or anything else, we MIGHT consider watching Castle or a James Bond movie online. We don't have a tv, so anything we watch comes from the internet.

As you can see, I'm online nearly 24/7. If I'm not checking e-mails on my smartphone, I'm blogging or researching how to edit photos on my laptop. There is rarely a time during the day when I am offline. I think this past summer I attempted to make myself get offline after 9PM every night to read, but that didn't last long. :-/ Maybe I'll try that again in the near future. In the mean time, there is a ton of work to do (since it has picked up due to the holidays), and I need to use the internet to get it all done!

So how often do you use the internet? Do you force yourself to go offline during the day?

* Note: I haven't actually tried these yet. I'm sure they are delicious, but if they are not don't complain that I told you they were!
** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)

Building A Wardrobe One Piece At A Time

camisole: Aeropostale
skirt: thrift
iphone: a gift :)

Over the past two years, I have had a mental struggle that I am certain many of you females are familiar with: should I buy cheap thrift store items to get me by and that will need to be replaced in a few years or the more expensive, better quality department store brands that hopefully will not need replacing?

Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to this quandary. :(

I am in my late 20's, having just gotten married, with lots of student loan debt (ick!), travel plans in my future, and the desire to some day purchase a house. As many 20-somethings have probably experienced, I am not in the position I thought I would be in at this age, but I am quite happy with the life I am living. When it comes to buying clothes, I want to look good, but I don't want to go into debt.

Shortly before getting married, my husband had a year-long trek into the world of sewing. It began during a crazy week-long snowstorm, atypical for Georgia, where we were kept inside due to ice. With material from a large discount fabric store, Ocho, and a borrowed sewing machine from my grandmother, Justin began sewing. He was the only one in the house confident enough to attempt to sew without fearing the wrath of my grandmother over what we assumed would only result in a broken sewing machine; he knew he would be able to fix whatever he could break. (Ah! The confidence of engineers!) And so he sewed… and sewed… and sewed.

Unfortunately, I find myself with only one dress that my husband has sewed for me. Nevertheless, I'm quite pleased that he was able to make the dresses for my two bridesmaids that each fit their personality and were close enough to my color scheme for us all to be happy. :)

However, the point of the sewing story is that my husband learned what it took to make a quality garment. And thus, my days of shopping at Kohls (and other lower cost mall stores and thrift stores) were forever limited.

I can't say I was displeased by this discovery of his. Being given permission to shop at the higher costing Anthropologie was very nearly a dream come true. Previously I had only ever allowed myself to occasionally wander through the store dreaming of wearing the beautiful dresses, coats, and clothes that were clearly out of my price range. Of course, the discovery of Effortless Anthropologie made shopping at Anthropologie so much easier! But that was only the beginning!

Two years after beginning my venture into higher end clothing, I can say with some confidence that my wardrobe has improved. I'm much better at buying clothing that will last, and I've learned quite a bit about shopping in the upscale market. (i.e. Stores are more likely to back their products by allowing for a much longer return period.) Best of all, I feel more confident and pretty when I'm out and about; people pay me compliments and ask where I purchased items of clothing.

If you are considering a move towards the purchasing of higher end clothing, I recommend starting slowly. Purchase items that can be mixed and matched. Most importantly, only purchase items that you LOVE. (In order to decide how much you LOVE it, give it 24 to 48 hours… or a week… then come back to the store to decide. Compare it with other similar items you own. And only buy it if you would label it as a favorite item or staple in your wardrobe.) Don't give up shopping at thrift stores, but be particular about what you choose to buy. It's not worth $2 or $100 if you don't wear it.

Over the weekend, I bought a purple sweater from Anthropologie (as shown above), a pair of skinny peg-ankle Paige jeans (Noah? Is that the color perhaps?) from Nordstrom Rack, and a book to help me with the improvement and development of my wardrobe: The Lucky Shopping Manual. Don't be surprised if you find me sharing more fashion dos and don'ts as I learn more in the near future. In the mean time, what are your fashion dos and don'ts? Do you have any tips or tidbits to share with me?

I hope you are having a fantastic Monday!

** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips on blogging, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)

A Holiday Giveaway

After my lengthy post yesterday about my online friends and how awesome they are, I'd like to provide you all with the opportunity to tell me about your awesome online (and off) friends as well as any holiday plans you are looking forward to sharing with them. For sharing these things with me, I will provide you with the chance to win one of six bags filled with treats and ways to maximize your holiday fun!

The six bags of awesomeness include:

1 pair of scissors
clothespins for decorating purposes
2 chapsticks in various flavors
a measuring tape
lots of coupons for printing holiday pictures (to be used by December 14 from Wal Mart)
a Home Depot cloth bag
4 command strips
2 silver binder clips

and perhaps a few other surprises!

edit 11/20: I have decided to add 10 sets of the WalMart coupons to the giveaway for those that don't win the bag. :)
  a Rafflecopter giveaway
This giveaway is open to US residents only until Tuesday the 26th, just before Thanksgiving. I can't wait to read all about those people that are special to you and all of the holiday plans you are looking forward to this year! Good luck!

Throwback Friday: Online Friends

Instead of "throwback Thursday", I'm going to have a "throwback Friday"! Woo! :) And today I'd like to talk about friends.

Online friends, that is.

I saw this advertisement for Skype yesterday, and I thought about all of my online friends and the trials and tribulations we have been through together. It seems crazy to me that I have known a good many of them for 10 years or more.

Online friends are one of the many things that differentiate my generation and all that have come after me from that of my parents and grandparents. I had access to a computer and the internet at a very young age. (Given my actual age, that is a bit surprising.) Through the use of a computer, I was able to learn spelling and math as well as gaining typing and communication skills; the computer and internet opened up possibilities that were never available before for learning and communicating.

During high school my best friend, at the time, frequently experienced migraines leaving me at home with little to do. I remember tying up the phone line using dial up internet so frequently that my parents would get aggravated with me! They didn't know how to use a computer, so they didn't really understand the internet. In fact, I asked for the internet as a birthday gift one year. Can you even fathom the prospect of the internet being seen as an unnecessary expense? My! How times have changed!

Then, one day very early on in my high school career, I decided to go chat online in a chatroom. I was bored; it was something to do. Why not? I think my parents were both at work. I was probably responsible for watching my little brother, but I never did a great job at that anyway. (We didn't get along most of the time, and I had absolutely no interest in entertaining him.) I distinctly remember that particular day as a day that changed my life forever in a surprising and unexpected way.

Y'see as I was chatting in the chatroom, someone came online by the name of "German" (or something like that). It was a pretty generic username but it was one that intrigued me. I had just begun taking German classes at school, and so I thought I'd message this person. I mean why not? That's one of the great things about the internet – when talking with a stranger in the chatroom, you can chat for a bit, find you have nothing in common, and move on. You aren't obligated to continue talking, and you aren't being judged by the way you look, talk, dress, what you eat… It's simple. Faceless conversation in a presumably quiet room where you can actually hear yourself think. (Or maybe I just like it, because I'm shy?)

So I started talking to "German"… and we kept talking… and talking… and talking… and then it was 6PM and my parents were home and wanting to go out to eat. My friend "German" and I had been talking for 3… maybe 4 hours. When my parents came into my bedroom to get me, I was shocked to find that they were intrigued by the prospect of their daughter talking with someone in another country. It was as if I was doing the impossible, a magician of sorts. They found a spot to sit on my bed, amused and entertained as they patiently waited telling me to "take my time."

Since 6pm my time was (and forgive me if I get this wrong) approximately midnight his time, the conversation ended pretty quickly thereafter.  I believe we had exchanged e-mail addresses, but as with most internet communication, I'm not entirely sure I expected the friendship to continue much longer after that day. As such, I was a bit sad that the conversation had to end.

But, surprisingly enough, the friendship continued. E-mails were exchanged, and eventually he came to my wedding. Y'know… an online friend coming from a foreign country on a ten hour flight for your wedding. Not stressful at all! ;)

Back on topic…

I guess the reason that one moment changed my life forever is that from that point on, my parents finally understood what the internet was. This unfathomable experience of speaking to someone from a different country from within the confines of a small bedroom inside your own home may have been crazy, but it was finally sinking in: this was the future.

Furthermore, that one chat led to me meeting and making other online friends, continuing my studies in German even longer than I probably would have otherwise, and (as strange as it sounds) becoming comfortable with the prospect of sharing personal information (i.e. phone number, address) with someone online. Even at that time so long ago I knew it was a gamble. I was being asked to push the boundaries of what I was comfortable with; it gave me the chance/opportunity to trust someone that did not necessarily deserve my trust. (Trust fall, anyone?)

But this post isn't just about that one friend. Truly, all of my online friends, have been amazing (or at least those that have stuck around). They all have challenged me in different ways and helped shape me into the person I am now. I really cannot imagine my life without them, and I am grateful for their friendship every. single. day.

Do you have any online friends that you are grateful for? :) Give them a shout out and share a story! I'd love to hear how online friends have made a difference in your life!

Obsession, Overindulgence, & Bad Habits

When I started thinking about my bad habits, my brain took a different direction and began instead to consider obsession and the overindulgence that stems from obsession as my one bad habit. Then I started wondering if overindulgence and obsession were actually bad habits at all or just the way in which we process information and learn.

I'm not sure about other people, but I am someone who does the same things over and over again until I am absolutely sick of them. It's almost like my body is on a mini-cycle, like how we experience the seasons every year or the days in the week. When I find something I like, whether it is eating a food, listening to a piece of music, watching a good movie, or…whatever it is, I tend to do it over and over again until I eventually try something new that I prefer.

As I continued to think about overindulgence and obsession, I remembered an NPR Radiolab episode Justin played a year or so ago about this artist that became obsessed with the song Bolero. She listened to the song obsessing over it and even assigning colors to the notes being played. She was working as an artist at that point in her life, so the obsession turned into a painting, followed by more and more painting. As the years passed her painting style turned more realistic with her ability to communicate slowly diminishing due to a disease taking over her brain. Her husband stated that towards the end of her life, she would sit in front of a blank canvas for hours wanting to paint but being unable to.

While I imagine that my obsession is not at all related to that particular disease, it did make me take a minute to think about artists in general and how obsessive they can become. Often, when reading about how to become better at anything (especially art), it is recommended that you stick with what you are learning and build on it. That is exactly how we learn to read a book, studying it over and over again as a child, ingraining the words into our memory until eventually we can put words together with the symbols associated with them. Dance, learning a new language, painting, algebra, science experiments, blogging daily… If we didn't constantly practice skills while adding onto them, where would we be?

So in the end, I have to wonder if my obsession and overindulgence is really a bad thing. It may not be smart to overindulge on chocolate, but what about music, art, or books? Is it even possible to read too much? What do you think?

** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips on blogging, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)

Daily Post: Photography, Mornings, & Nights

You know that moment when you take an amazing picture and everything else you've taken thus far just feels…not?

I'm having one of those days where every picture I have taken in the past 6 months just isn't doing anything for me, and I keep trying and trying to edit them, but I have absolutely no feeling toward them. The pictures are blah and it makes me feel blah.

To top it off the weather is frigid. It's not suppose to be 40-something degrees F in the fall!

I guess I'll try again tomorrow.

Meanwhile, in answer to today's question: I am a night owl married to an early bird. I could (and have) stay up all night and keep going. I LOVE the night. But once I go to sleep, I CANNOT wake up. Mornings are miserable.

My husband on the other hand gets in a fowl mood if he isn't in bed by 10PM, and he is quite happy to wake up early. Give him breakfast and coffee and he's chipper. (Of course, no breakfast or coffee also results in a bad mood. Don't ask me; I'm just the messenger.)

Hope everyone is having a fantastic Wednesday! We are already halfway through the week! :)

Ten Steps for Taking Amazing Shots During the Golden Hour

My absolute favorite time of day is during the "golden hour" when the sun is setting. (I know that typically the sun rising is also considered "golden hour", but I like my sleep!) I've been practicing photographing during sunsets recently, and I thought I would share a few things I've learned.

1. PLAN!

Sunsets typically creep up on people. One minute it is a beautiful afternoon and you are out running errands, working in the yard, playing with the kids or dog, or doing whatever it is you like to do during the afternoon. Before you know it, the sun is setting and your camera is…where? Obviously not with you! My camera is never nearby during a pretty sunset! It's usually an ugly sunset if I'm all set up to take a picture of it!

But let's assume it's a gorgeous sunset and you have your camera nearby…

Look around you. Are your surroundings pretty? There you go. That's two things you need to plan for before taking a sunset shot. If I'm shooting a sunset, it's usually because I have a camera. Rarely do I have a great location. I love having a plan and being at the perfect place to shoot at the perfect time. Having a strong location and your camera with you is needed to undergird* an amazing sunset shot.

2. Set your ISO down. As in waaaaaayyyyyyyyy down.

I like shooting at 100 ISO when I can. Canon has this crazy amount of noise when you go above 800 ISO on my camera. Newer cameras have less noise at higher ISOs, but until I become rich I am shooting with my out-of-date but still new-to-me 60d with lots of noise at high ISOs. (I've heard Nikon's don't have much noise at high ISOs.)

3. While you are at it, take your aperture down too.

An aperture at f/22 won't let in nearly as much light, but it will make your image much clearer, especially if you are shooting both foreground and background. You want your camera to drink in the light… not gulp it!

4. Now slow your shutter speed waaaaayyyyyy down too.

With your ISO down and your aperture down, your images will come out pitch black unless you slow your shutter speed down too.

Fun story: Over the weekend as I was shooting the Biltmore Estate, I mentioned to Justin that I was worried about holding a filter next to my camera while using a slow shutter speed. Nearly everyone that was shooting the same scene as me looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently it is a foreign concept for a photographer to use a slow shutter speed at night. They were all using high ISOs, and I'm betting they were getting grainy images because of it.

5.  Use a tripod.

Not using a tripod with a slow shutter speed is just asking for motion blur.

6. I recommend using bracketing if your camera has that option.

Bracketing will increase the likeliness of you getting the correct exposure with light shifting constantly during a sunset.

7. Buy a Neutral Density Grad filter.

An ND Grad filter has "black" glass on top and clear glass on the bottom. Basically it adds a stop to your sky, if you put the dark portion over your sky, which will make the sky look more saturated and detailed.

8. Use your camera's self-timer.

It will help with your slow shutter speed. The last thing you want to do is knock the camera accidentally while it is taking the picture.

9. Be patient and take lots of pictures.

The more pictures you take, the more likely you are to get a good shot. (I.e. getting the sky *just* right.)

10. Have fun!

I hope my ten steps help you to take amazing sunset shots!

Did I miss anything on my list? Let me know by leaving a comment!

Keep an eye out for a post by the end of this week. I have some Walmart 8x20 $5 mounted photo coupons to giveaway (along with some other surprises), and I know that would be awesome to have for all of those sunset pictures you will now be taking because of my list! :)

Word of the day.
** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips on blogging, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)

Daily Blogging + Challenges: What I've Learned

I've been doing daily blogging since January and blogging challenges for the past 3 months. In an effort to be rectitudinous*, here is my list of what I've learned both good and bad:

1. Daily blogging can be difficult. Some days you are on top of it, and you know exactly what to blog about; other days your mind draws a blank and you can't think of anything to write about. Even with prompts it can still be difficult. It's not always about the subject per say, sometimes it's about relating to the subject and making the topic your own. If the topic is not your own, why are you blogging about it?

2. I started the challenges so that I could focus more on developing my writing and less on worrying about what I would talk about. Some days that is difficult to do. There are definitely days when I don't worry about content or what the topic is and just free write. Of course, on those days, I am usually doing something like editing images or making money…

3. Even with my topic given to me, daily blogging can take upwards of an hour a day. I like to include images in my posts, and those can take a while to edit (usually an hour or more). Then there is the text which must be edited multiple times… sometimes even after posting.

4. Usually blogging wins out when work should. I like being consistent, but it probably shouldn't come at the cost of doing my work. :( Of course, at the same time, every time I edit an image well, I am building my portfolio. In that sense, I am doing work. This is the struggle of making money versus being/becoming an artist.

5. Posting something on a blog, whether it is a picture or text, makes me second guess myself. Is my work done well? Will I look back in a few months embarrassed at what I've posted? On the one hand it is good; on the other hand, it takes up a lot of my time. I go back and edit images and text multiple times. THEN when I go back a few months later, I usually find that my work has improved. That is generally a good thing except that it makes me want to redo that which I've already done. *shrugs*

If you are thinking about joining a challenge and doing daily blogging, the amount of time it takes up and your current life goals should be taken into consideration. Are you doing it for the masses? for yourself? Do you have something you are hoping to improve upon? Daily blogging is NOT the same as journaling, and you should be well aware of that before beginning a daily blogging regimen.

** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips on blogging, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)

What I Have Been Up To

1. Conquering skin issues.

I don't drink enough water, so the end result is that my skin suffers the most. For the past 2 or so years, I have had a dry spot on my ankle that would not go away. No lotion, cream, or… anything really would get rid of it. I even tried exfoliation which cured it for about a week. Finally I tried straight olive oil. (Desperate means call for desperate measures.) To my shock and surprise, it worked!

Recently I discovered I have something called "chicken skin" on the backs of my arms. I've had it since I was a kid, and I never once thought anything of it. Turns out you can fix that problem with exfoliation and moisturizers too. Unbelievable.

So not only can I fix my skin in photoshop, but I am working on fixing my skin in real life too! Huzzah! :)

2. Editing Images.

I just missed Ben Wilmore's "Think Like A Photographer" on CreativeLive which looks like it would have been awesome to watch. :( But, instead I've been working my way through Jack Davis' "Adobe Camera Raw: Optimizing, Enhancing, and Retouching"  I have learned a lot thus far and I'm already starting to put what I've learned into practice.

taken by Darwin Young, edited by me

I'm sure I've edited this picture before, but I decided to take it through Adobe Camera Raw and actually spend a good bit of time editing it there. I was so surprised at what I was able to accomplish before ever plopping the photo into Photoshop. Plus, ACR does not hurt your photos in the same way that Photoshop does. If you are interested in improving your workflow, I definitely recommend checking out "Adobe Camera Raw: Optimizing, Enhancing, and Retouching" by Jack Davis.

3. Work.

It sounds crazy that I might actually have actual work to do, right?! It turns out both babysitting and graphic design industries pick up the closer you get to the holidays. I love what I do, so I have no complaints whatsoever; I just wish I had more time in the day to do it!

4. Travel Research.

Tomorrow Justin and I go interview for GOES, so I've been making sure I have everything in order. (That may mean no entry for tomorrow. Sorry!)

Then we have a trip to Asheville, NC and Biltmore Estate coming up, so I've been getting tickets and a hotel lined up for that.

Finally, I have been working on details for our trip to Europe which is now 2.5 weeks long and includes a bit of time in each of 3 countries: Germany, Italy, and France. I am thrilled to be going, and excited about the low cost of our plane tickets, which I'm trying to talk Justin into upgrading. More leg room for the win?!

5. Mobee App

Justin and I have recently become ADDICTED to this app where you can take on jobs and make "money" while you are out and about doing your normal errands. Thus far we have made nearly $200 in Amazon money within a week's time. Whatever you do, do not go get this app! I want all of the jobs! We have a -list- of things we want on Amazon, and with that kind of money, it would be awfully fun to obtain some of the things on our list. :)

What are you up to? Preparing for the holidays? Taking on a personal goal? Share with me! :)

If I Could Change One Thing…

Today's challenge is to think about what you would change about yourself if you could. Luckily, my change is something I am currently working on and implementing into my life.

Back in January, I decided to take control of Justin's and my finances. In the southern US, people are very religious; they often feel that the man of the house should be in control of everything, a plenipotentiary* of sorts, and the woman should just follow his lead. Justin is a busy man though, and he simply didn't have the time to necessarily go through our finances and budget. Plus, I'm pretty stubborn, and I tend to go after what I want. Luckily for Justin, what I want is in our best interest. That thing I want, the change I desire to see, is that of paying down debt and improving assets while not missing out on (vital) life experiences.

Yet it never occurred to me that travel did not have to be expensive; that has been the biggest discovery I have made since January. I mean - yes, travel is expensive. I like staying in nice hotel rooms with amenities, and when I fly my preference would be to fly first class. But overall, just getting the opportunity to travel is what I enjoy most. In the past 6 months, Justin and I have been to New York, Boston, Charleston, Chattanooga, and we will soon be visiting Asheville, NC. We are still quite new at traveling on the cheap, but we are learning how to get points from the hotels we stay at, restaurants we eat at, and even taking our clothes to the dry cleaners! As a result, this next trip to NC will only cost us food and entertainment. I have to say that this discovery, that travel doesn't have to be expensive, has made travel so much easier and more exciting than it has ever been. :)

Our discovery that travel could be cheap was only truly made when friends of ours became engaged and invited us to their wedding. Since that time Justin and I have been trying to figure out how to get to Europe for cheap(er). At first the expenses for the trip were difficult to make and hurt a lot financially. We have to buy passports?! How are we going to afford plane tickets? Then a friend of mine told me that plane tickets are even more expensive at the time we were planning on going. Great. AND she said we were going to one of the more expensive parts of Europe. That's when I started to freak out.

However, after 6 months of following travel blogs, I finally got the hang of it. Every time a sale was posted, I would check to see how much a flight for Justin and myself would cost. And every time it was the same. I had all but given up when Delta came through for me posting a sale that would get Justin and I to Europe for the price I was expecting to pay for just one ticket. ONE! It's like when you go to Payless for BOGO or to Macy's with a $10 off of $20 coupon. You feel awesome, because you have saved approximately half the cost. And even better? That money I saved on tickets can go toward hotels, clothes, rental cars, baggage fees, WHATEVER! Yes, I am pretty proud of my find. :)

Even more awesome is that the savings were so great Justin decided we could leave a few days early for our extravagant** nearly 3 week tour of Europe. Not only will we be able to visit another country during our stay, but we will also be in Europe early enough for a holiday that is specific to the area of Europe we are going. I am extremely excited that somehow we were able to make this work.

As if things could not get better, I was even more thrilled to assess the status of our assets vs. debts.



As you can see, our assets are going UP and our debts are going down. I'm quite happy with this outlook. It makes me feel like I know what I'm doing. Somehow or another, even with all of the travel, Justin and I have still been able to spend less than we make. I am quite happy that my change is actually working out the way I want it to.

Now that you know more about the change I would make and how I'm making it happen, I would love to hear about what you would change. Are you trying to lose 10 pounds? Learn to cook? Get a stronger handle on your finances? Share with me! :)

Word of the day
** It's extravagant that we're even going, in my opinion!
*** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips on blogging, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)

Where I Write

When I was in college studying studio art, my school made certain that every senior student had a space to call their own. We picked our spot on the third floor of the art building at the beginning of the year. Some of us made use of the extra space and filled it with inspirations; others of us (read: me) ignored it for the year.

Many, many years later I am spending my mornings writing blog posts. While I am certain my home would allow enough space for me to have a desk, I am unconventional in that I work wherever I am from my laptop. Often that means I am in my bedroom or on the couch. Occasionally I find myself at my parent's house or writing from where Justin works.

My space is typically sparse and devoid of any distractions. Part of that is because Justin and I are saving money, and part of it is that I don't need distractions to keep me from my work. I work in silence, because otherwise I'd be tempted to get off track with movies, music, or podcasts. (I already have enough trouble with Twitter, Facebook, and Google!) I don't dress up for my writing and instead prefer to be comfortable, often with a blanket over my legs. (It probably doesn't help that we have our heater set particularly low to save on electricity costs.) All of the blinds are shut, because I am lazy and Justin doesn't like that neighbors could possibly see in. If I'm having a rough day though or I'm feeling particularly tired or cranky, opening the blinds helps brighten my mood and makes it easier to write and think. The only smell in the room might be a smell lingering from food cooked the night before or the volcano Anthropologie candle I love to burn! (Highly recommended!) And if I'm eating, it's either breakfast or lunch… and it's distracting.

Where do you typically write or create? Do you feel your space influences what and how you write? Would you be interested in sharing your work space with The Millions?

** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips on blogging, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)


Check out the awesome celebratory giveaway hosted by all of the wonderful bloggers from the October Daily challenge! Big thanks to Mary from Secret Obsession for putting this giveaway together!

Here are the awesome Prizes at stake!

6 Month 125 x 125 Free Ad Space on Crafty Side of Sarcasm by Leslie
$15 Paypal Cash from Elizabeth of Lazy Hippie Mama
$30 Print Credits from Maddie Rose Doodles Etsy Shop by Maddie

Hand-painted Word Header from Mary of Secret Obsession
1 Month Free First Confessions Ad from Janine of Confessions of a Mommyholic
40% off on both Big Cat and In-Post Ads on Cattails and Cardigans by Sabrina
$15 Paypal Cash  from Renee of Getting Fit and Fab

$25 Co-host Spot and Social Media Promotion Package from Toni of One Chocolate Box
$15 Target E-Gift Card from Christy of A Woman the World Deserves
$15 Store Credit to Natalie Summer's Etsy Shop

One winner from the US will get to win an additional Gogo Internet All Day Pass from Mandy!
Oh lucky US citizens! :)
Enter the rafflecopter to win! Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway **This post is part of The Daily October Challenge. Visit Secret Obsession's blog to find out more.

Reliving Childhood through 3 Famous Female Children's Book Characters

One of the things I'm loving most about the challenges is that I get to answer questions like "who is your favorite character?" I guess they didn't specify whether or not it was a book, movie, or theatrical character, but as an advocate for reading (and especially children's literature) I'm going to list a few favorite fictional characters that I loved from my childhood.

1. Ramona Quimby from Beverly Cleary's Ramona Series 

Honestly I don't remember much about this series as a child, but I went back to read the series for a class in college, and I fell in love with this spunky children's character all over again! The problems she faces are so cute and funny! Beverly Cleary did a fantastic job of relating to young girls with a naive character that wasn't very well behaved and had a huge imagination. Plus, how can you not love a third grader who has to sign her Q's with a kitty cat face? Adorable. 

While I can't recommend the movie Ramona and Beezus, I did enjoy Sarah Polley's version of Ramona in the 1988 tv series now available on youtube. It is the perfect portrayal of a wild child with loving parents and an easily irritated sister: about what you would expect from the series. :)

2. Jo March from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women 

I picked up this book in early middle school when I was trying my best to read the thickest, oldest books available. Clearly I thought this book was an adult novel. Ha. Not so much. Nevertheless, this book captured my interest and I could not put it down. I have read it multiple times just because I love it sooo much! 

The story centers around Jo March, one of four very different sisters. Growing up during the Civil War, they face life without a father through much of the story. Their mother focuses on teaching them about domesticity: showing them how to sew, encouraging them to care for the needy, and allowing them to be individuals. As a poor family, their lives are very simple. Meg, the oldest sister, teaches; Beth has a strong interest in music and is very shy barely venturing out of her comfort zone; and Amy, the youngest, dreams of being kissed and loves art. The next door neighbor, Teddy Laurence, and his very wealthy family often supply the March girls with opportunities to attend balls and go to the theatre. 

Jo March is the most ambitious of all of the sisters, seeking out a career in writing. After turning down a proposal that would make her very rich, she ventures off to New York City to follow her chosen career path. She faces many stumbling blocks including editors that refuse to look at her work because she is female. Jo never gives up though. It seems almost providence when she meets a professor who helps her hone and develop her skill.

As a young adult, I loved reading about Jo's ambition. Not only did she break tradition of merely becoming a homemaker, but she followed her dreams to achieve her goals. I see the character of Jo March as an inspiration to all young women. Her story suggests that hard work and determination can get you anywhere.

Louisa Alcott wrote two books following the life of Jo March as she marries, settles down, has kids, and becomes a teacher, but I feel neither of the follow-up books do the series any justice.  

While I recommend reading the book first, if you have to watch a movie adaption of this book, I suggest the 1994 version with Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, and Christian Bale. I think no one plays Jo March better than Winona Ryder. :)

3. Anne Shirley of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables 

I was actually much older, in high school, when I was introduced to the Anne of Green Gables series. My best friend and I strongly disagreed on book choices, I preferred Little Women, she preferred Anne of Green Gables. Inevitably, I found a place in my heart for both. :) 

Anne Shirley was an orphan sent to an unsuspecting, aging brother and sister who thought they were adopting a boy to help with farm work on a farm in Canada. In the end though, they cannot imagine life without their spunky red head who insists on being called "Anne with an e". Anne gets into a lot of trouble as a child; in the end, she gets everything right pursuing college to become a teacher before marrying her best friend. The Anne of Green Gables series is quite long (8 novels) and goes into much detail following Anne's life (and those of her children) as she grows and changes throughout the years. 

One of my favorite book-to-movie adaptations is definitely Kevin Sullivan's Canadian really long made-for-tv Anne of Green Gables movies. (There are 3.) I really enjoy Megan Follows rendition of Anne as she grows, changing the character from spunky and imaginative to mature and level-headed.

I held tightly to these books, reading them over and over and over again, taking in what I loved most about my favorite characters, learning from their mistakes, and gaining new insights into my world "because when you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your life does" (You've Got Mail movie).

What are your favorite childhood books?

If you get a chance today or in the weeks to come, I recommend picking up a childhood favorite and reading it again just for fun. You'll be surprised what you have forgotten and even more surprised at what you remember. Plus, I guarantee you will love it just as much or more than you did as a child!

** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips on blogging, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)

I Won!!

Well…kind of.

This month's challenge: NaBloPoMo

Today's prompt: If you found one million dollars in the morning and had to spend it by nightfall, what would you do with the money?

Talk about stressful!!! First of all, am I going to jail for spending this obscene amount of money? Is this money anything like vaporware* – widely advertised but not actually existing? If that's the case, I am definitely going to jail!!

Ok, so kidding aside, we are pretending like I really do have a million dollars to spend in one day. Luckily Justin and I have a list of wants! Wahoo! (I mean, seriously, I would just want to put it into savings. Since this option is unavailable, we're going down the spending list!)

1. House – $750,000

If I want to live where I currently reside, houses are expensive. That amount of money promises a new residence with a garage, a driveway, at least 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a backyard with a tree or two (the more the merrier!), a decent sized kitchen and a living room all within walking distance to downtown.

2. Car - $15,000 ($765,000)

I don't buy new, but I definitely think this amount of money would get me a *pretty* car with AC, leather seats, a sun roof, and it has to have less than 20,000 miles on it. (Otherwise what's the point in buying a new-to-me used car?)

3. Laptop x 2 - $7,000 ($772,000)

One for me. One for Justin. With all of the newest Mac based upgrades.

4. (Flat) Big Screen TV - $1,000 ($773,000)

I have no idea how much those go for since they are usually out of reach. I usually don't mind being without a tv, but if I'm upgrading my life I might as well get a tv. I don't need cable, but it would definitely be fun to watch movies on! :)

5. Truck for Justin - $10,000 ($783,000)

If we have the money, why not? He'd want stick-shift and those are usually cheaper.

6. 5d Mark III - $3000 ($786,000)

I think that's how much those are going for now? Anyway, it'd be awesome to have! It'd make my life soooo much easier! (Y'know bigger sense that lets more light in and makes it easier to get the shot?_)

7. Lenses galore! - approx. $10,000 ($796,000)

I have no idea how many lenses I am without, but I have no doubt that if I went off and bought a few L series lenses it would get pretty expensive. Most importantly I am in need of a macro lens and a wide angle lens. It would be nice to have them all under or at about f/2. It'd also be really cool to have a lens for shooting stars! :)

8. Furniture and decorations for the house above - $5,000 ($801,000)

I have to fill the space somehow!

9. Books - $300 ($801,300)

$150 each for Justin and I to spend on books. Lots and lots of books. :)

10. First class plane tickets for our trip to Germany - $10,000 ($811,300)

I'm running out of selfish brain power on this prompt! At least we'd be living it up getting to Germany! It'd also be nice to figure out our exact plans so that I can go ahead and book hotel rooms, rental car, etc... for us and our friends assuming we venture off to other areas in Europe. I think that might be asking for a little too much pre-planning though, so for now I am keeping it at super expensive plane tickets.

11. Week trip to NYC for Christmas: plane tickets and hotel!!! My dream!! - $5,000 ($816,300)

Also an attempt to live it up! Does Justin have another week of vacation time left? Eh! I'll take a family member or friend if he doesn't! :)

12. Photoshoot in NYC & Overseas when we go - $20,000 ($836,300)

Can I have a little Sue Bryce style in my life? Fancy shoot in iconic places? :)

12. Savings bonds, friends, family, the needy, paying off loans/credit cards, I don't know!! - $163,700

I'm seriously out of ideas! Thus far I have neglected everyone I care about and the people that need the money most. It was fun though! (Although I am certain sharing the money would be more fun.)

So what would you do if you had 1 million to spend on absolutely anything (within a day's time)? Would you be crazy stressed out and overwhelmed? Or would you know exactly how you wanted to spend the money?

*Don't ask. Word of the day.
** This post is thanks to NaBloPoMo, offering bloggers tips on blogging, monthly blogging prompts, and chances to win prizes! :)