A Review of 2014

What a crazy and busy year 2014 has been! Every year (see 20122013) I try to take the time to look back and reflect. This is my post for 2014. :)

January


Justin and I began the year by seeing a few movies during our holiday break including The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Saving Mr. Banks. I guess we just have a lot more free time to see movies during our holiday break. We were busy preparing for our trip to Europe, and I bought a new camera lens with some money I had won from a giveaway. Justin and I also took the time out to visit with Scott Jarvie, a photographer who was photographing temples all around the US at the time. Then to end our month with a bang, we got snowed in!

February


Before we knew it, February was upon us! We didn't get to celebrate Valentine's Day alone this year, but rather we spent it with a 4 year old instead. Then, to make matters worse, our landlord contacted us and told us he had sold the house we were renting. It was a rough month physically and emotionally since we weren't ready to move.

March


As March began, Justin and I started making some difficult decisions. What kind of position were we in financially? Could we afford to rent another house in the area we had come to love? Did we want to risk having another landlord sell the property we were staying at? Would we be better off saving money and staying further away from our work? To get away from it all for an evening, we went to the Fox Theatre to see Once. Even though I didn't enjoy the show as much as I had hoped, it was a fun experience I won't soon be forgetting. In preparation for our upcoming move, we bought a truck which was the first big purchase I had ever made. It was exhilarating even if I didn't want to move.

April


During the month of April, I set out to blog A-Z. I only made it partially through being interrupted by weekends and a trip to Europe. It was a fun experiment and I discovered a lot of fun blogs this way. We moved during the month and celebrated Easter right after. It was a crazy busy month that I am grateful I won't have to live through again (at least not for a while).

May


I didn't blog much in May because Justin and I were exploring Europe, the trip we had been planning for over a year (and that I still wasn't prepared for). Just as Justin and I settled back into "normal life", we went to Florida to visit Justin's family on their vacation. It was a welcome break as I was still dealing with a bit of post-vacation, post-moving depression.

June


We stayed in Florida through June 1st getting to enjoy the ocean for one of the first weekends of summer. It wasn't too hot and being able to walk in the ocean was AMAZING! :) (You have no idea how amazing it is until you go to Europe and are forced to walk on rocks at the beach. Ouch, ouch, ouch!) Other than our very short Florida vacation, we didn't do too much in June aside from an attempt to save money.

July


Over the July 4th weekend, I received a call letting me know that the children I had been watching were too old for a sitter and that I would need to find new employment for the fall. I spent a few days depressed questioning my life choices and praying that I was making the right ones before receiving a call at the end of the month for an interview with another family. Would I be employed for the upcoming year? Luckily I got to end the month celebrating my birthday in Charleston with my in-laws and eating a delicious homemade French meal made with French cookbooks. This was definitely a birthday to remember.

August


At the beginning of August Justin and I "celebrated" 10 years of being together. I spent a lot of time editing images during the month. At the end of it, we celebrated 3 birthdays including Justin's! I also successfully got through my first month watching the new kids; that was a feat in itself.

September


This month was pretty uneventful. We went to see comedian John Hodgeman for Justin's birthday and I took on a lot of blog projects. I took the time to do a mid-year look back which was interesting and allowed me to see all that I had already accomplished for the year. We celebrated Justin's dad's birthday with an expensive dinner and a trip to the Braves stadium to see a game. Before I knew it, one more month had passed and fall was on it's way…

October


In October, I challenged myself to edit one image a day. It didn't last, mostly because editing takes a lot of time and takes away from my blog post creativity. Instead of continuing to edit photos every day I began my Tuesday hotel review series (aka Travel Tuesday) which is now coming to an end as I run out of hotels to review. (Time for more travel?!) One of the most exciting things Justin and I got to do was fly up to see friends in Washington DC. It was an exhausting trip to make in a weekend, but it was sooo much fun!

November


We spent most of November shopping and preparing to take Thanksgiving dinner up to my grandparents in north Georgia. Luckily, we got a small bit of break in between planning when we randomly went to Asheville for a day. I simply had to get up there before the leaves changed. We had a lot of fun shopping on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday before the month came to an end.

December



The last month of the year started with us running around like chickens with our heads cut off. We had parties to go to, people to see, shopping to do, decorating to put up, and cards to make. There was far too much to do and not nearly enough time to do it all. For the first weekend in December we went up to Asheville, NC to celebrate my mom's birthday. It all went downhill from there. The good news is that we will be ending the year in one piece. It's so hard for me to believe that this year is almost over!

Hope you all have a fantastic New Years eve and I look forward to hearing from you in the new year!

P.S. Feel free to share your "look backs" with me. I'd love to see what all you've been up to this year and where life has taken you. This year has been a busy year for everyone!

Staybridge Suites – Chattanooga, Tennessee


Destination: Chattanooga, TN
Date: October 2013
Hotel: Staybridge Suites
Brand: IHG
Status: none
# of travelers: 2

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision


from Hotel Room King

After spending a day in Chattanooga exploring, Justin and I knew we had to return. I didn't remember there being too much to do or see having only visited Chattanooga with my school and parents when I was much younger. My first trip as an adult had me entranced with the beautiful, walkable city and I knew I had to return.

In October of 2013, I was given a pending status upgrade to gold so long as I visited an IHG brand hotel within a set time period. I researched and researched not knowing much about Chattanooga or the hotels in the area, and I found myself choosing a one night stay at the Staybridge Suites near the downtown convention center. I had read it was walkable (it's not really) and the rooms seemed big and inviting from the images I saw online.

Getting There & Around the City

The hotel parking lot is complicated! There is a gate that you can get into if you are a guest, but I remember struggling to figure out how to open the darn thing. Believing that my husband and I were in walking distance, we took the 30 minute hike to the RiverRocks concert that was taking place in downtown Chattanooga. The walk to wasn't so bad, but after meandering all over the city, the walk back on tired legs and feet wasn't too fun. (Did I mention I twisted my ankle before walking back?) The alternative of driving to the city center from the hotel isn't too great either; parking costs are high especially when there is an event going on. I recommend getting a hotel room as close to the city center as possible, because no matter what you do you will be walking. You may as well minimize how much walking you do by spending just a little bit extra on your hotel room.

Checking In, Room, View, & Disability Access


from IHG website

There wasn't much to our check-in process as we were not yet IHG gold members.  We asked for a room with a view, but the front desk said that all of those rooms had been filled. Up on a high floor facing the parking lot, we were enthused with our room. It was a large suite that included a small kitchen and living area (with free popcorn!). There was very little about the room that I didn't like.

Aside from the difficult parking, there is little to prevent someone with a disability from enjoying their time at this hotel. With the hotel being situated next to a convention center, the hotel has to be prepared for any visitors it receives, handicapped or not.

Breakfast

Even though we only stayed one night, it was nice being able to wake up Sunday morning to a free breakfast in the lobby. The hotel buffet included hot biscuits with gravy, sausage, scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, yogurt, make-it-yourself waffles, 3 cold cereal choices, and a large variety of breakfast drinks. It was a nice variety, although somewhat typical, as I've seen, for most American hotel brand breakfasts. Still, I was grateful to not have to go to a restaurant and wait in line for food.

Overall Review


image from cromulent2k

★★★ (average)

While this hotel was larger than any I had ever experienced before, we were not offered anything above and beyond what I was expecting. Perhaps a room with a view would have pushed this hotel on up to 4 stars. Either way, I think this hotel is great for business purposes or a weeklong vacation, but I recommend staying somewhere closer to downtown if you have any intention of exploring the city.

Your Turn

Would you consider staying at this hotel? If you've been to Chattanooga, do you have anywhere you would recommend instead?

Movie Review Monday

I love going to see movies, but I rarely do because they are so expensive to see in theatres and I often have far too little time to go. Recently, I've had the privilege of seeing a large number of movies though, and I've decided to share my opinions about them. I was impressed with some … but not with all.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay



Ok, ok. I admit it. I only went to see this movie, because I was doing a secret shop and getting paid for it.

There. I said it.

I know. I know. It's a huge mega series that everyone is watching. I know that everyone has read the books (except me). I know that you all love it.

I went expecting to criticize a movie, and I came out criticizing it. I'm a pretty pessimistic person, it would seem. If you are expecting a pleasant review, simply move on down to the next movie on my list. I'm sorry. :-/

What is Mockingjay about? If the movie had explained it perfectly I wouldn't find myself on Wikipedia. Basically, Katniss Everdeen agrees to unify the districts of Panem in a rebellion against the Capitol. Her boyfriend(?) Peeta has been brainwashed by the other side and frequently speaks out against Katniss on television in an effort to get her to join the side he is on. Finally, when Katniss manages to rescue him, she discovers that he may not be quite the same person she remembers…

Overall, having not seen the beginning of the series, I felt lost throughout the majority of the movie. Characters were doing and saying things on the screen … and I was watching (while eating free popcorn and drinking free soda of course!). As the movie came to a close, I wasn't truly left wondering "What will happen next?" as I expected to be. This movie did absolutely nothing to raise my interest in seeing either The Hunger Games or the movie that will follow Mockingjay. Unless I am given another opportunity to see the next movie for free, I will not be completing this series.

Interstellar



Out of all 3 of the movies I'm reviewing today, Interstellar very well might be my absolute favorite! I am not a sci-fi fan, so anytime I see a movie that rocks the boat even the tiniest bit I become critical. This was absolutely not the case with this movie … until the end. But trust me, the rest of the movie is worth a watch even if you hate the end.

Interstellar is the story of a young widowed family and what they go through when they discover that the end of civilization is coming. In true Sixth Sense style, Cooper's daughter Murphy believes she has ghosts trying to communicate with her by sending coded messages through books and sand in her bedroom. Eventually, they decide (quite randomly in my opinion) that the "ghost" has left them binary coordinates directing them to a secret NASA site where they learn that unless Cooper agrees to travel to new worlds via a wormhole, his daughter's generation is the last generation that will ever exist on earth (or any other planet). Always up for an adventure, Cooper agrees to go leaving his daughter and son on earth with their grandfather not knowing when or if he will ever return. At first travel is easy, but as time passes on earth (more quickly than where he is) and some of his teammates begin to die off, things get a little bit more difficult for both Cooper as well as his family on earth. Will Cooper solve the crisis humanity faces? Will he ever see his family again?

There are so many fantastic things I could say about this movie. The acting from Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway was stellar! The music (and pauses) was phenomenal! The imagery and ideas (for a non-science person) came together wonderfully. And the knowledge that this movie was created by Christopher Nolan tells you everything – think Memento + The Dark Knight. The film was thought provoking (even if you don't agree with some of the thoughts) and dark. I highly recommend taking 3 hours out of your day to go to the theatre and pay the $30 just to see and experience this movie on the big screen. In my opinion, it is worth the time and your money.

The Theory of Everything


This movie tells a beautiful story of a very smart man, his wife, and the challenges they face as they take on ALS, the reason you all did the ice bucket challenge this past summer.  It begins with Stephen Hawking in college where he is studying physics. One day, after class, he trips falling to the ground and hitting his head on the concrete. After a visit to the doctor confirms that he has ALS and a mere 2 years to live, his friend and love interest Jane decides to marry him agreeing to go through all of his ups and downs with him. A true story, I can hardly believe all that this couple goes through as Stephen Hawking develops his theories and become known worldwide.

While I find the story itself remarkable, the movie practically puts me to sleep. (Sorry!) The music is amazing, the actors are phenomenal, but the story in all of it's truth is lackluster. I was hoping for surprising or thoughtful rather than dramatic with only half of the story being told at any one point in hopes that the movie will make it's 2 hour cut (or whatever the time frame is). If you are huge Hawking fan, go see this. As for me, perhaps next time I will consider reading a book.

What movies have you seen recently? Any that were truly amazing? Do you agree with my viewpoints on any of the movies mentioned above?

Merry Christmas!


Wishing you and yours a wonderful day filled with family, friends, love, laughter! :)

Christmas Traditions in the US

image courtesy of Caitlinator

One of the things I absolutely love about the internet is how much diversity exists. I have chatted with people from all over the world including the US, Germany, the UK, Israel, Slovenia, and the Netherlands. Of course this doesn't include the wide variety of people I've met just by living in the US, people from Egypt, Vietnam, and Mexico to name a few. There are so many cultures and so many different ways of celebrating the holidays, even in the US. The following are just a few ways my family celebrates (or has celebrated in the past):

SANTA

• Every year, shortly after Thanksgiving (or sometimes before), children go to the local malls to visit Santa Claus. They sit on his lap and tell him everything that they want for the holidays, have their picture taken, and go on their merry way. Some kids love this … and some kids hate it. It all depends on the temperament of the child.

• Just prior to Christmas, sugar cookies must be baked and decorated with icing and sprinkles. The more creative you are, the better. These cookies will be left out with a glass of milk (and carrots for the reindeer) on Christmas eve night. If Santa comes, he will eat the cookies; if he doesn't, the cookies will still be there on Christmas day. (Obviously Santa ALWAYS comes.)

• Interestingly, Justin's family always left out lobster for Santa on Christmas eve night. Apparently Santa occasionally gets tired of cookies. Who would have thought?

• Kids watch and listen for Santa Claus on Christmas eve night. They can follow the NORAD's tracking website or watch the news to find out where Santa is at any moment.

• If you are good, Santa will leave you presents under the tree. Sometimes they are wrapped, but sometimes they are not. If you are bad, Santa will leave you coal. Santa also fills stockings with candy and small toys which, in my family, were the first "presents" you were allowed to open.

• More recently, a trend called "Elf on the Shelf" has taken the US by storm. Children receive a Christmas elf (doll) and book sometime before Christmas. As the days of December go by, the elf moves around the house causing destruction and leaving notes from Santa. His main job is to watch the children in the household and inform Santa if they are misbehaving. The children are frequently (according to the book rules) not allowed to touch the elf or something terrible might happen.

PREPARING & DECORATING

• My family traditionally puts the Christmas tree up on the Saturday after Black Friday. In the past, when I was younger, Christmas presents from Black Friday shopping (typically clothing and gifts for others) would be wrapped and placed under the tree.

• Other decorations include wreaths, lights, mistletoe, garland, and bows.

• Traditionally, my family would get our first view of Christmas lights and decorations on the night of Thanksgiving. Christmas music would also begin playing on the radio.

• Some families go to locations where they can drive through and see Christmas lights. (In Georgia, this is predominantly the Lake Lanier and Callaway Gardens locations.) Over the years, the locations in Georgia have become more commercial featuring light displays from brands like Coca-Cola and Georgia Power. (They are not the most exciting light displays.)

• I've seen a number of traditions for Christmas over the years. My best friend from high school would always go out to dinner and a movie with her dad and brothers while her mom stayed home wrapping presents and cooking. (I wouldn't want to be the mom in that scenario!) My husband's family would attend Christmas eve service at the local church before also going to dinner and to see a movie (as a family). My dad's family, before I was born, would get together for lasagna, go to the Christmas eve candlelight service, come home and sleep until midnight and then my dad's mom would wake everyone up and have them all open their Christmas gifts! Then, after the explosion of excitement, everyone would go back to bed. As for me, the main tradition I got to experience was the family lasagna, Christmas eve service (occasionally, not every year) and opening two presents on Christmas eve (pajamas and a toy). This year we anticipate going out to eat with my parents and in-laws on Christmas eve without opening any gifts.

CHRISTMAS DAY

• Over the years what I've done for the holiday has changed dramatically. Rather than go through and explain it all, let me just say that the traditions I will follow are very close to what I've always done. We will begin the day having Christmas breakfast with my in-laws and family. Afterwards we will visit my extended family … then Justin's extended family, and hopefully end the day at Café Intermezzo. Or maybe we'll just go home and sleep. It's hard to say. :)

How do you celebrate Christmas? Do you anything special or specific? Is it different celebrating where you live in comparison to here?

** Day 17 of Blogmas 2014.

Crowne Plaza Resort – Asheville, NC

Photo credit: L Silver via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND

Destination: Asheville, NC
Date: November 2013
Hotel: Crowne Plaza Resort
Brand: IHG
Status: Gold
# of travelers: 2

from IHG website

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision

Honestly, Justin and I weren't even thinking of going to Asheville, NC when I booked this room. IHG was having a points break sale where you could stay at any of the hotels they offered (in the deal) for 5,000 IHG points a night. It just so happened that I had enough points from a previous hotel visit to stay at this hotel for 2 nights (technically 3, but who's counting?). My decision was between this hotel and the downtown Hotel Indigo. While I was trying to decide when I would be available to go up to NC, the Hotel Indigo award nights sold out. Justin and I decided to give the Crowne Plaza Resort a shot. What could be the worst result from booking this room for a free night stay in NC?

Getting There & Getting Around

See my post on the Town Country Inn & Suites. The hotels are located very close to one another and it was roughly the same difficulty getting around for both hotels.

The Lobby, Status, & Checking In

We arrived pretty late on a Friday night. We had been taking our time doing random audit jobs and exploring a few discount stores on the trip up. Having only been to Asheville once before in my life (other than a visit to the Biltmore) I had no idea what there was to do in the city. I came to find out that there was a lot more to keep one occupied than I originally thought!

from IHG website

When we checked in, the guy at the front desk was incredibly helpful and offered a greeting mentioning that we were visiting on an awards night. He handed Justin and I a goodie bag of water and candy and asked if we wanted an additional 1,000 points added to our account or if we wanted a free drink from the bar. I opted for the points while Justin complained to me about his desire for a free drink. We asked for a room with a view, which the front desk happily agreed to give us. There would be no free breakfast, but there was a restaurant in the lobby in case you didn't feel like leaving the hotel.

Room & View


from IHG website

The first time we walked to our room, we walked down a long corridor from the lobby. Quickly we learned that our room was actually in another building altogether that we could park in front of. Rather than continue to make the long walk from the car to the lobby to the room, we decided to move our car to the front of this other building and take the elevator from the ground floor up to our room.

While the view wasn't extraordinary, it wasn't altogether bad either. We could see the rolling hills of the golf course and the mountains in the distance. Our small balcony allowed us to determine how frigid it was outside before leaving for the Biltmore House on Saturday morning. I imagine the balcony could be much more enjoyable during the fall, spring, and summer. Other amenities for the very large room included a blow dryer, coffee maker, and fridge.

Disability Access, Pool, Parking, & Exercise Facility

People with disabilities will not have any problems visiting this hotel. There are, as best as I can remember, 3 buildings, and at least 3 elevators. it's pretty easy to find close parking whether or not you have a handicap sticker and almost as easy to locate an elevator.

We did not explore the pool area or exercise facility, but we did note that they do have both.

Overall Review



★★★ (average)

It made my day when we were offered a room with a view, but don't go here expecting your stay to be phenomenal with all of the luxuries that would be offered to royalty. You aren't that special. :) This is a great place to come if you have a pet, need to do business here, are planning a resort-style wedding, or would like to pay a little less for a hotel in the Asheville area. It's not amazing, but it certainly could be a lot worse.

Your Turn

What do you think? If you had the choice would you stay at the Crowne Plaza Resort or the Town Country Inn & Suites? Would you join one of these hotels for the status perks?

Influenster Frosty VoxBox Review


Throughout the past year I've been participating more and more with Influenster, a company that sends you products to try based on your social media klout scores. The more friends, family, and influences you have, the better your chances are of receiving products with which to share your opinions on. Sometimes, however, you can receive Influenster boxes because of other projects you've participated in for them. For example, this box I received after working with Influenster and eBay to create a few selling guides for eBay. It's definitely a fun treat to receive something exciting in the mail, even if you do have to review the products. :)


Fruit Vines Bites – Strawberry

One of the first products I tried from the box were the Fruit Vines bites. YUM! I received strawberry in the mail. I'm not a big fan of licorice, but I am definitely a fan of strawberry flavored licorice bites. I had eaten them all within a week, and I would definitely consider purchasing them IF I thought I could keep my hands off of them.


NYC Expert Last Lip Color – Sugar Plum

I wasn't too impressed with this lip color. It almost matched my lip color perfectly which makes me question why I would even wear it? Plus, it was a bit drying. While I can't see myself wearing it too often, the color is quite lovely if it works well with your lips. I'm a bit more of a gloss fan myself.


Rimmel Scandaleyes Kohl Kajal Eyeliner – Black

While I love experimenting with eye shadow, blush, and creams, I rarely put any make-up on my eyes. No mascara and no eye liner. The lack of makeup I typically wear makes even the tiniest bit of eyeliner or mascara stick out. That is one thing I do not like to do – feel like I'm sticking out (unless I have a reason to, that is). I did give this eyeliner a try for review purposes though. I love how easily and smoothly it went on. It did make me feel a bit like a raccoon, but I imagine if you are used to eyeliner, it probably looks fabulous. Anyway, that is just my humble opinion. It looks like it also comes in nude and brown colors as well.


Rimmel Gentle Eye Makeup Remover

Because I tried the eyeliner, I also tried the eye makeup remover. I'm not sure how I expected it to work, but it definitely took a bit of scrubbing to get the makeup off. Apparently I am not alone as many Amazon reviewers seem a bit put off by this product as well. Eventually the makeup came off, but I can't imagine doing this every day.


EcoTools Finisher Hair Brush

After my hair is washed, dried, and straightened, I typically use only a comb when brushing my hair thereafter. This EcoTools brush seems overwhelmingly large and is not something I would typically need or use. I think the Styler and Smoother Agility Brush would be more what I need or could see myself using. Nevertheless, the bristles are quite nice on this brand, being both soft (to prevent hair breakage) as well as hard (to get through tough tangles). If I had the right type of brush from EcoTools, I could see myself really liking it.


Boots No7 Protect & Perfect Advanced

Boots claims that if you use the product for 4 weeks, it will reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Given that I have a baby face (as I was told yesterday when Justin was asked to sign a release form since I looked younger than 15), I'm not entirely sure I would notice a difference in my skin tone even with a full product trial. However if you are looking for a smooth cream, this is it. I did receive a coupon for a percentage off, so I may consider buying the full product and trying it for four weeks to see if it has another other skin benefits (like brightening up one's skin). Boots is a fantastic brand, and one I've been elated to try not just once but twice from Influenster voxboxes. :)


McCormick Gourmet Thyme

A perfect seasoning to add to a variety of winter meals, I can't imagine what makes "gourmet" thyme any different from regular thyme. We haven't had a chance to use it yet, but I'm certain we will in the future. One ofthe biggest problems I suspect we will find with using this product is that we have a local farmer's market that sells fresh seasoning not too far from where we live. If and when we want exceptionally fresh thyme, we will probably go grocery shopping over using seasoning packaged from a large company. We shall see though. Many reviewers on Amazon seem to be quite happy with this product, and I'm hoping we will be too.


Celestial Seasonings Candy Cane Lane Decaf Green Tea

I'm not a huge fan of tea, hot or cold, but I was definitely excited to try this new flavor of tea from one of my favorite brands. Drinking this tea very much reminded me of cold winter days and childhood when my mom would fix me mint tea to help get me through any kind of illness I had. I always felt better afterward. Drinking this mint tea however is much more fun with an exciting name like "Candy Cane Lane" reminding you of Christmas, that is just around the corner. I definitely recommend trying it especially if you already know you like peppermint tea.

Have you tried any of these products? Will you be trying any after reading my reviews?

* I received the above products for review from Influenster. All opinions are my own.

Wattpad - Revolutionizing the Way We Read & Write


Ever heard of Anna Todd, writer of the book After? I had not until One2One introduced me to the One Direction fan, soon-to-be published author. Married at the young age of 25, she worked at a wide variety of jobs until 2013 when she began writing the story After using Wattpad, a free social reading and writing app on her phone. The nice thing about Wattpad is that she was able to write during her free time, wherever it came from. If she was out running errands or at an appointment, she could write while she waited. By 2014 (as of the publishing of this post), Anna Todd's story has had over 1 billion reads and more than 6 million comments! More shocking than that, Simon & Schuster turned the story into a 4 novel book series with the first title released this past October while Paramount Pictures is currently working on adapting the story into a movie! Crazy, right?

The story of After, a One Direction fanfic about a college freshmen who falls in love with a "bad boy" Harry Styles (name changed in the published edition), was written using the social and mobile app Wattpad. Wattpad allows you to read and write on the go connecting readers and writers all around the world. It is free to participate, and readers can provide comments and suggestions to the writers recommending plot twists or even creating original artwork to go with the stories they read. With more than 40 million readers and writers on Wattpad, over 80 million free stories available and stories available in 50 languages, you are certain to find something of interest in the social and mobile app.

While After is not a story I would find myself typically reading, I do feel that Wattpad will be a game changer for how readers and writers interact in the future. I especially think that this would be a fantastic app for literature teachers to use, allowing students to interact and read one another's stories, make comments, and provide insight. All of the "extra help" can only encourage young writers to become better, allowing them to obtain a stronger voice and be more direct with their future writing.

What do you think about the story of After and Anna Todd's overnight fame? Will you be trying out Wattpad to get your reading and writing fix?

Barnes & Noble | E-reader

* I participated in the After by Anna Todd blog program as a member of One2One Network. I received compensation but all opinions are my own.

Currently…


Remembering: Last years card-making extravaganza and all of the glitter! Everywhere!

Giggling About: "Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei." (Everything has an end, only the sausage has two.)

One of my favorite Youtube channels is Germany vs. USA. I think I stumbled across it during the FIFA World cup. Anyway, last week, they were discussing Awesome (German) Sayings and Expressions. Most of them were kind of eh, but this one stood out to me especially when the German gave an example of how he might use it. (You'll have to watch to hear his example; I'm not giving it away.)

Planning: Sooooo many things!

Tonight we're going to meet my bff's German boyfriend at my absolute favorite restaurant. She's about to move to Germany with him, so it's kind of a big deal that I meet him for the first time. Justin is planning on speaking to him in all German just to get under her skin; sounds like fun to me. lol. (She doesn't speak hardly any German and understands even less than I do, so it will be exciting when she moves to Germany!)

Then, for the blog, I have a book review (or 5) and a bunch of product reviews coming up. (Influenster and Crowdtap are keeping me busy!) Honestly, it makes me a bit anxious and stressed knowing I have so much to do before Christmas.

As for Christmas I still have shopping, wrapping, card-making, and shipping left on my to-do list. AHHH! I feel sooooo busy! (And stressed!)

Anxiously Awaiting: Santa?

The only thing I'm really anxious about is getting everything done that needs to be done before Christmas.

Interested to know: if I will like the Klipsch x11 headphones I ordered from Newegg. They are the most expensive headphones I've ever owned and I am scared to death I will either 1) love them and never be able to go back to the cheap ones or 2) lose them. (I just lost my 5 year old turquoise $15 Sharper Image headphones that I loved, and the x11 are my replacements.)

Baking: nothing. This is totally unusual because Justin is always baking something at Christmas time… a cake, a French baguette, cookies… But this year he is right there with me trying not to get sick and keep up with all we have to do.

Keeping A Secret: presents, of course. :)

DIYing: As part of my review for some books coming up, I'm wanting to make a batch of Jeni's splendid ice cream, create a paper flower, and do a Christmas craft. That's what reviewing is about right? But first, this weekend, Justin and I get to make Christmas cards. A bit late? Absolutely. Maybe our friends and family will have them by the new year. :-/ Luckily we have the Silhouette Cameo to help speed the process along.

What are your 'currentlys'? Are you stressed out with Christmas preparations? Or are you cool as a cucumber, prepared and ready for the holidays?

Town Country Inn & Suites (West) – Asheville, NC


Destination: Asheville, NC
Date: December 2014
Hotel: Town Country Inn & Suites Asheville West
Brand: Club Carlson
Status: Concierge
# of travelers: 4

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision



Back in October we had planned to visit Biltmore Estates in Asheville, NC at Christmas for my mom's birthday (hint, hint), but no final decisions were really made until the week before we were suppose to go. We talked about staying in a log cabin one of my dad's friends owns up in the mountains, but the two-hour drive was almost as bad as the three-hour drive from my home especially when we discovered that our booked viewing of the Biltmore house wouldn't be until 10:45 PM. While we may have played with the idea of staying at a hotel prior to that little tidbit of info, once we knew we had a late viewing, we decided (or really, Justin decided) that driving so late at night wasn't in the cards. As seems to be typical for me anymore, I began a frantic search for a hotel a mere 2 days before needing it. Doesn't anyone plan anymore?!?!

I began my search with my typical favorites: IHG and Hilton. Was IHG having a points break at any hotels nearby? No. I then branched out to Club Carlson, Marriott, Omni (specifically the Grove Park Inn), and any hotels available with Groupon. I saw one promising prospect on Groupon, but as it turns out that particular weekend in December was a black out date. :( I haven't been too happy with Marriott and their *need* to have people pay for the internet while blocking the internet from cell phone companies nor have I been impressed with their push for guests to tip housekeeping staff. Needless to say, silver status or not, they are not at the top of my list of places I want to stay. I really wanted to stay at the Grove Park Inn, but considering I have no status with Omni and they were charging in the $400 range for a room, I put my desire aside to go for something a bit more practical with the knowledge that prices will go down once the holiday season is over. Actually, prices are what let me to decide between the IHG Crowne Plaza Resort, which I had stayed at before, and the Club Carlson Town Country Inn & Suites West, which I had not stayed at before. Since I began writing blog reviews of the hotels I've stayed out, this has inspired me to experience the unknown and try new hotels even if I have a hotel I've stayed at before that I like. Plus, the Club Carlson hotel offered free breakfast whereas, for close to the same price, the IHG one did not.

Getting There & Getting Around

We drove 3 full hours to get there. And if you think your driving is done once you arrive at the hotel, you are sadly mistaken. Asheville is a very large area with a lot to do and never enough time to do it. You can visit the city center for delicious hot chocolate, a peak into one of the many bookstores, or taste some of the fantastic food there. If cities aren't your interest, there is so much land dedicated to parks, trails, and gardens around the city that I'm not sure you could ever truly see it all. I have had the pleasure of visiting the backwoods walking trails of Montreat, the Botanical Gardens of Asheville, the city center (of course), the view from Grove Park Inn, and the private residence of Biltmore Estate. Next in line: North Carolina Arboretum. :) The main problem you will find with visiting all of these places in Asheville is that you need to drive because they are so spread out. There aren't many public transportation alternatives other than trolleys that can help you navigate the city center, which is walkable anyway.

The Lobby, Checking In, & Public Spaces

After driving three hours through the meandering hills in the rain, we were quite happy to arrive at our hotel mid afternoon on Saturday right at check-in time, 3 PM. The front desk staff was super nice and checked us in almost immediately providing us with a local map, directions to get to different places, and the times for the breakfast buffet.


The lobby was beautifully decorated for Christmas with an elegant staircase in the front room, a fireplace with some seating, and the breakfast room within a stone's throw. Also in the lobby, you were able to get coffee, tea, hot chocolate (swiss miss), and chocolate chip cookies. Yum! My parents were particularly enthused with that having never stayed in a hotel with free cookies. :) Plus I knew that Justin would take complete advantage of the free coffee making our stay less expensive with fewer Starbucks runs.

Price, Room, Breakfast, & Status

During the Christmas season, prices are generally more expensive in Asheville, NC. Recent searches have shown that were I to book the same room during January or February, I would be paying half of the price. While paying half of the price would have been fantastic, I was pretty happy with what my family got for the price we paid. Free breakfast, coffee, and cookies really make a difference in how I perceive my stay. Furthermore, the internet was fast, there was actually a full bedspread on the bed (instead of those half bedspreads that have recently become popular in hotels), and the room was decent-sized. The only thing that could have been improved was the view; unfortunately, a view of the parking lot just doesn't do anything for me. :( All of the rooms included toiletries, a blow dryer, and a fridge.

Breakfast at the hotel was very simple and what you would expect from most hotel buffet breakfasts in the states anymore. You had your choice of waffle, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit (oranges, apples), muffins, toast, bagels, eggs, sausage, biscuits with gravy, and cereal. Juices included peach, apple, and orange with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk, and water also available. It was a very basic breakfast and tasted pretty basic without any interesting flavors or foods to write home about. It was nice knowing that we were saving at least $60 by having our breakfast at the hotel rather than in a restaurant, though.

If you have concierge status, you are in for a real treat. Obviously, you have the ability to check-in early or late, but the hotel staff also brought us two bags of goodies immediately after checking-in. Each bag contained 2 water bottles, candy, chips, and peanut butter crackers. It was fun receiving a treat just for visiting the hotel, my first stay ever at a Club Carlson hotel. (I won my status in a giveaway and have not had a chance to use it until this trip. I will definitely be considering the Club Carlson credit card to keep my status and enjoy perks anytime I stay at one of their hotels in the future!)

Disability Access, Parking, Pool, & Exercise Facility

The hotel definitely seemed disability friendly. I noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Elevators, first floor rooms, and parking in the front should make it easy to get around.

There is minimal parking in front of the hotel so most people will be forced to park in the back. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem except that there isn't an entrance to the hotel from the back parking lot. :( There is at least one side entrance accessible at this time of year, so that's good. The other side entrance is located next to the outdoor pool, which is currently closed. (Big surprise, right?) I'm not sure if that entrance is accessible or blocked by a gate preventing wanderers from accessing the pool during the summer.

We did not attempt to find the exercise facility, but the website claims there is one…

Photo credit: zen via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA/td>

Overall Review
★★★ (average)

For a one night stay, this hotel was a fantastic little place to get away for a night. The hotel had enough luxuries to make you feel like royalty without being over-the-top. I really enjoyed having a full bedspread for once in my life at a hotel, especially since the weather is much cooler in Asheville than Atlanta. It was especially fun to go during the Christmas season and see all of the beautiful decorations. The staff was wonderful and the treats were fun. I would definitely recommend this hotel for a family getaway.

Your Turn

Have you ever been to Asheville, NC? Or visited a Club Carlson hotel? Were your experiences different than mine? Would you consider staying at this hotel for a stay in Asheville?

Anthro Clothing Review Christmas 2014

As the days creep closer and closer to Christmas and New Years, I find myself out shopping more and more taking advantage of deals, enjoying the crowds, and doing a handful of secret shopping jobs that usually encourage me to spend more rather than save the small bit I've made. :-/ While these days haven't been so kind to my wallet, I decided to share with you a few reviews … that will hopefully make my shopping addiction worth something.


Some time after Thanksgiving I finally got my hands on this beauty – the Bobble Poncho from Sleeping on Snow. It went out of stock the day before Thanksgiving then came back in stock shortly before a non-Black Friday Anthro promotion at which point it sold out again. If you can get your hands on this beautiful, online-only, now-exclusive Anthro beauty, I highly recommend it. Sleeping On Snow provides some of my favorite Anthro winter goodies, and this one is no exception.

Now for the details… This product looks more purple in person than pink. It caught me by surprise. Its comes in one size, which probably looks best on thinner people. Also, take notice of the little balls in the fringe; they exist and you should know it. I bought the poncho thinking that if I didn't like those balls, I would just cut them off. I didn't know they existed (before I received the poncho) until I started reading reviews on Anthro's website. Since I bought it on sale, I didn't really care about maintaining the freshly bought look … As always,  shopping for clothes for me is about finding things I like or making things I dislike work for me. Luckily the balls did not detract from the overall look and I have had no reason to pull out my scissors. Plus, the super soft warmth makes this poncho really fun to wear as well as looking gorgeous on. :)


While returning another item at Anthropologie I discovered the Switch Stitch Cardigan in beige and off-white. Because it was the last item of its kind on the sale rack I purchased one in a petite xxs and one in a regular size xs.  They both look good even if the petite xxs has gotten more wear. It's an inch or two shorter than the regular xs and not quite as wide through the shoulders. They are very close in size though, so if Anthro is out of one size, you shouldn't feel too badly about buying the other. The main reason I wear the petite xxs over the regular xs is the color; I wear off white far more than beige. That's just the way I am… You'll find that the fabric is soft, but it is also pretty thin for being a sweater. I like it, but I also live in the south where winters are warmer than other parts of the world. If nothing else, this is a fantastic transition piece getting you from fall to winter and winter to spring.


My most recent purchase is the Shawled Wool Sweatercoat that I bought during the last day of the 30% off sale items last week. I was expecting to hate it; it looks like a coat for tall, extraordinarily thin people, neither of which I am. I ordered in a regular xs. The jury is still out on whether I should keep it and wear it, but it fits exactly as it looks on the model. The arms are slim but the fabric is stretchy conforming to your body (or whatever you have on your body). The jacket ties like a robe making my main complaint my inability to tie a pretty bow. Overall, this jacket is slimming and gorgeous. The purchase I intended to take straight back to Anthro (after confirming it made me look like a slob) is now hanging in my closet. Dang you Anthro! I really need to save my money!


I bought the Maisy Lace Turban in a rich green color, and I'm loving it so far (especially at the 30% off cost I bought it at). I have so many green dresses (and now a green coat!) to wear it with. It's nice and soft (rather than itchy) and not too tight around your head. (Do I need to provide head measurements?) I highly recommend this beautiful headband to dress up any outfit.


I bought this Asymmetrical Leather Belt on sale to wear with…


the Plenty by Tracy Reese Petal Fete Dress I've been waiting on to go on sale. Paired with a denim jacket, this outfit looks down to earth and fun. It's soft and light filling on and looks WAY BETTER in person than it does on the model. Just trust me on that. The colors are bright and fun. I tried on a size 0 which fit me perfectly.


In mass quantities on my local Anthro sales rack, I was tempted to try the gorgeous Lavendel Dress on. Compared to the Petal Fete Dress, I loved that this dress was sleeveless, one of my favorite styles. The fabric was dense and stiff not soft and flowy. The main problem this dress had was the zipper; even off of my body I was struggling to get the zipper up on this dress. Perhaps at a deeper discount I might consider it. This is a dress I would not be able to wear frequently unless the zipper was replaced and that is really off-putting when it comes to buying an expensive anything.


Also on my wishlist but inevitably not making the cut was the Odense Crochet Topper. I tried the small which fit, but I wasn't in love. The sweater looks very business-like, which if you work in a traditional office setting, is great! I don't. I could not see myself wearing this sweater in a casual setting. It was thick and stiff, and as such I imagine it would not stretch like other sweaters do. Still, a $50 sweater that doesn't get worn is a waste of money for the person who doesn't wear it. Back to the rack it went.


The Frye Parker Lace-Up Boots have been the most extravagant thing I have spent money on in the past few weeks. I'm still trying to decide if they are worth the money, but since they only had one size 6 left in stock, I bought them. I usually wear somewhere between a children's size 4 and adult size 6; while these fit a tiny bit big at the size 6 I purchased them in, they didn't feel loose given how tight you could tie the laces. I'd compare them to the fit of ice skates: loose through the foot giving you room to move your toes and keeping you from feeling claustrophobic but tight through the ankle and calf muscle allowing them to stay up comfortably. The good: they are comfortable and cute. Apparently they are made from real, soft leather, so you will need to treat them like you would a leather jacket making sure to condition them. If you take care of them, Frye says that they should last you forever. While these boots do need to be laced, after the first lacing, they have a zipper that you can use from that point on. On my short, petite frame, the boots end within one inch of my knee. The three inch heel is barely noticeable when you are wearing the shoes as they are that comfortable. You might find the laces to be a bit short though, especially if you have thicker calves. The tongue of the shoe is large enough to accommodate for a wide-range in calf sizes which is nice even if the laces have to be replaced with longer ones after purchasing this shoe.

Overall, if you value comfortable well-made, leather boots, you will probably like these. As for me, I think I would prefer them on sale. It's really hard to fathom spending so much on boots, well-made or not. Of course, even my best not well-made boots cost upwards of $100 making me feel even more uncertain about the true value of these boots versus any other kind.

You can purchase these almost anywhere in any color, not just at Anthropologie. Check out the stock at Belk, BloomingdalesMacys or Von Maur, for example. Don't wait too long though; these boots (at all of the various retailers) are going out of stock fast!

What products have piqued your interest lately? Have you been taking advantage of any crazy sales during the pre-holiday shopping extravaganza? Have you taken the time to enter my beauty giveaway?

V5800 2-in-1 Foodsaver Vacuum Sealer Review


If you've been following my blog for a while now you know that my husband and I are working to pay off our debt and have been doing so for nearly 2 years. One of our biggest struggles is food. On a daily basis we struggle with the desire to eat out or spend too much at the grocery store. We prefer natural and organic foods with few preservatives which, of course, has a big influence on our bill. After all, it's always cheaper and easier (it seems) to eat junk food (McDonalds, Lays potato chips, Oreos, Hamburger Helper, etc…) than to make your own food or eat somewhere that serves vegetables. Luckily, for me, I was given the opportunity to review a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer, a product that not only helps my husband and I save money, it also provides various new and exciting ways to cook.

Back in October when we first received the FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer, I had Justin pull it out of the box. As an engineer, I knew if he didn't know how to work it immediately, no one would. It took a bit of fiddling, but within the course of an hour he had it working and was already using it to take the air out of food items and seal packaging. He did this successfully with oreos making it more detrimental to actually consider eating them … (If someone unseals them to eat a cookie or two, they have to reseal it if they don't want anyone else knowing what they did. It keeps one from messing with a sealed package especially if that person doesn't know how to fix what they broke! It makes it great for weight loss or keeping kids out of treats!) Of course some people will use this product for what it is actually designed for … sealing food (and not just to keep hands off things). We did this with pecans as well as a number of our Thanksgiving foods that we transported from Atlanta to the north Georgia mountains. It was nice being able to seal things like cranberry sauce and gravy in bags knowing we would then be able to transport them without them spilling everywhere. The vacuum sealing option for stuffing, vegetables, and meat made it possible to save a bunch of room in our cooler. Yay!

While we haven't tested the limits to see how much longer a product sealed with the vacuum sealer can last in comparison to a product simply placed in the fridge (or one in a ziplock bag for that matter), thus far we are extremely happy with the 5800 2-in-1 FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer and would highly recommend it. Replacement bags can be bought for a relatively low cost at Costco (or Wal Mart if there isn't a Costco near you). We are looking to get such additions for our FoodSaver as the Wine Saver Bottle Stopper Vacuum Pump and a Sous Vide water oven. It's nice being able to save money on the things we already purchase and fun for Justin to experiment with new ways of cooking.

Do you have a Foodsaver of any kind? Are you interested in purchasing one? Share your experiences with me! I'd love to hear about them!

• I received this item for free in exchange for my opinions. All opinions are my own.

In Honor of My Mom – A Giveaway


Ever since I was little, my mom has always loved the month of December. She would go crazy decorating the house, bake a million cookies, and listen to so many Christmas songs! (Seriously! – All of them!) So when Justin and I told her about a deal to go to an extremely Christmasy place for her birthday, she was all over it. (See picture above.)

In honor of my mom, her favorite month, and all that she has done for me, I have put together a little giveaway featuring a few of her favorite things.

8 winners will receive…

– 1 Klean Kolor Nail Polish (There are 12 colors including every color of the rainbow!)
– Skintimate Shave Gel in Raspberry Rain Scent (It smells wonderful!)
– Celestial Herbal Tea
– Sweet 'N Low Sample

And 2 (of the 8) winners will receive a 4 pack of Schick Quattro shavers!

So how do you enter this awesome giveaway? Start by checking out the rafflecopter below. Through this weekend you can get some additional entries as you guess where we went for my mom's birthday (or until I share on the blog). You have a whole month to enter (because Christmas and New Years are thrown in) and tons of ways to receive multiple entries a day, so get started!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* Some of the products in this giveaway were originally introduced to me by Crowdtap, but this giveaway is sponsored by me. All opinions are my own.