Icy…Icing-y? + Dinosaurs

Once upon a time, there was a cake.


And dinosaur candles came forth to take over said cake.



And there was much rejoicing, because all was right with the world.

Besides, how else is one suppose to celebrate their birthday? Clearly dinosaur candles are the only way to go.

To make this delicious, sickeningly sweet cake you need:
-Justin
-chocolate buttercream icing
-dinosaur candles

If I can coax the actual recipe out of Justin, I'll share on Monday. :) As a teaser, it had caramel in it… Mmmm!!! :)

In the meantime, have a fantastic weekend!!


** A 
January Break using prompts from The Idea Room's Photo-A-Day Challenge. Feel free to join in!

A Challenge: Photographing In the Snow

Yesterday, when Justin and I ventured out into the snow, I could not tap into any creative juices in my head whatsoever. Finding the perfect things to photograph was hard. I get inspiration from so many bloggers and other photographers, but there was a block in my creativity. Part of me wanted to push forward because it never snows in Georgia. And part of me wanted to just enjoy the walk in the snow and not actually worry about symmetry, color, or shooting anything of any particular importance. I didn't want to challenge myself or my skills.

I am sooooo glad that I did.


Otherwise I would have missed seeing the very happy car. :)

I challenge you to go out and do something you consider difficult today. Then come back and share your results. :)

Happy Thursday!


** A 
January Break using prompts from The Idea Room's Photo-A-Day Challenge. Feel free to join in!

A Snowy Day In


While all of Atlanta was shut down today, I got to spend a "snow day" in (and out) with my husband. With the whole city shut down thanks to poor planning from the mayor, Justin spent the day working from home.

Here are a few of the highlights:

- Sleeping in (until 7, but that is sleeping in when Justin usually gets up at 4AM)
- A delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and cheese, thick applewood smoked bacon, and toast with a special butter from Vermont (The Vermont butter is soooooo delicious and creamy!)
- SNOW PICTURES!
- A beer and lunch out at the local "pub"
- Relaxing this afternoon
- Beer cheese soup for dinner.
- And spending the whole day TOGETHER.

I could definitely get used to this. :)


** A 
January Break using prompts from The Idea Room's Photo-A-Day Challenge. Feel free to join in!

Shopping @ Anthropologie (Jan '14)

Over the weekend, Justin and I ventured into Anthropologie to make a return. That combined with the phrase "Something I'm Wearing" means that you all get a review post!! Woo!

I've been liking Free People a bit more than Anthro, because the clothes are more casual. I like being able to pair cute Free People tops with some nice, fitting jeans. But when you have a bit of extra money at Anthropologie, it's hard not to look.

Sequin Flurry Cardigan


Back during the after Christmas sale, I bought the black and pink version of this cardigan. They are both really sparkly, and the sequins are really easy to see (much easier than you can see on the models). I love that you can wear the cardigan both dressed up and dressed down, but do keep in mind that the cardigan definitely dresses up any dressing down you may think you are doing. I tried on and bought the xs in both which fit well; I recommend going with your actual size. One thing to note though: the fabric is a bit stiff and scratchy. This is one of the reasons I am considering returning it; I don't like having scratchy material at my neck. If you don't mind the material, this cardigan is perfect, as I said before, for dressing up even the most casual outfit for a fancy dinner or even wearing to the store.



The lace on this dress is exquisite. I imagine it's the perfect dress for tall, skinny girls; unfortunately, I am neither. The fabric is stretchy and soft. I tried the xs and it fits true to size. If this style dress is your thing and you have a modelesque stature, I completely recommend this dress. If you are more curvy, you may want to look for a different style dress.



After having bought a sheer pink dress during Anthropologie's after Christmas sale, I needed something to wear under it. This slip, in pink, seemed perfect. :) It's a tight fitting slip, but the fabric is also stretchy meaning you don't have to have the perfect body to fit into this slip. I bought the xs regular, but it also comes in petite, which I probably would have considered if it had been available in my size. The slip comes down to nearly my knees. It works quite well under the dress I bought (which I can't seem to find on Anthro's site). The fabric is cotton, but it feels almost silky, so any dress would work over it.


The following is the dress paired with the slip and a sweater (also from Anthro). Can anyone tell me the name of the dress or the sweater? I can't seem to find those items? (They are both in the sale section.)




This was another fun dress I got to try on during the after Christmas sale. I have to admit that I was on the verge of purchasing it, but Justin and I decided the dress only added weight to me through the waist and skirt of the dress. :( I tried on the size 2, and it fit tightly in the chest; you may need to size up. Also, the skirt is more of a pink color than white. You make think you are seeing wrong when you look at this image of the model, but you are in fact seeing the skirt in the exact color it is.

And here are just a few things at Anthro I've got my eye on…



Have you bought anything from Anthropologie recently? Or do you have your eye on something in particular?


** A 
January Break using prompts from The Idea Room's Photo-A-Day Challenge. Feel free to join in!

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie


Anyone remember that childhood story?

Basically the premise is for everything you give the mouse, he will want something else. If you give a mouse a cookie, he will want milk to go with it. Before he drinks his milk (that you gave him), he'll want a straw. And the list goes on and on and on…teaching children that all actions have consequences.

I think, perhaps my mom read this story one too many times as I frequently find myself in the mouse's shoes. (Quite literally if you consider that I have small feet.)

Justin and I are taking a trek across the Atlantic to Europe very soon for a wedding and a bit of touring. When we first decided to go, Justin and I were only going to go for a week. Justin's vacation time is very limited. I assumed we'd go to the wedding, take a small peak around Germany, and then return. (Hopefully no worse for the wear.) But then the friend that invited us to the wedding started talking about us staying for a while and touring Europe with him and his soon-to-be wife.

I'm not hard to convince. You want to explore Germany AND Italy with us?! Okay…Sounds good to me. And then there was my silly mistake of booking a flight into Charles Chagall airport under the premise that it was "cheaper". Psh. Whatever. It was and is an excuse to visit France which was also on my bucket list. Within a month or two (maybe more, I forget), plans had changed; not only were we going to a wedding in Germany, but we were also going to spend a bit of time in France and Italy as well staying for an extra week and a half.

Are we crazy?

Perhaps.

Rather than just sit back and let things happen, I jumped on the planning bandwagon. Even though our friends were planning their wedding, I naively assumed they were also planning this crazy European vacation. They, obviously, know far more about these countries than I probably ever will.

When January came around, the impending trip sat like a cloud over my head. My impatience grew. One day I popped. All of a sudden, I gave in to my Type-A personality and asked point-blank "What are we doing?"

The response was worse than I ever imagined: "whatever you want."

AHHHHHHH!!!!! Stress!!!!!!

So then there was a bit of back-and-forth where I would recommend something since I had been told "whatever you want" and every response would be turned down with nothing recommended in return. As you might can imagine, I was on the verge of pulling my hair out…or tears…or both. (I think I was a bit sick too.) Justin was unable to help because…because.

Not only did I have to narrow down/pinpoint my exact desires, I had to do so without knowing what anyone else really wanted to do or enjoyed doing on their vacations. That is like my worst nightmare. I like when I can meld my choices with others to make the most ideal decisions possible. Everyone being happy is definitely optimal.

The good news is that I have officially come up with a schedule that has yet to be turned down by any of the parties involved. We are basically travelling in a circle (square?) and avoiding many of the biggest cities, because I don't want to get caught up in the rut of "I want to see x, y, and z". (Read: mouse --> cookie.) Maybe in the future I can see some of the famous artwork and go to the more historic places. In the mean time, I have stuck to landscapes and general areas under the premise that we can stay as long as we want while not getting caught up in the "see everything, do everything" cycle that I tend to get into. There will be views, food, and friends. I know it sounds relaxing, but I imagine (if no one else can) I can make it pretty hectic and busy. Staying up until 2AM to get the perfect night time shot?! Yes, please. (Poor Justin. Maybe our friends will want to go to bed early too.) Plus, if we get bored with the landscapes, we can always throw a city into the mix, right?

In general, I tend to feel much more comfortable and confident with a plan. Especially since I am going to 3 countries where I don't speak the language. I'm ok with spontaneity thrown in, but overall there should be a plan that we can always fall back on.

I think I am most excited about a hotel I found in Paris for Justin and I to stay in the night before going on to Germany. It turns out a hotel in a hotel chain I have status with has a terrace with a 360 degree view of the city. While we will most likely be too tired to do much after de-plane-ing, getting a rental car, and obtaining a phone, I'm 95% certain we will be quite content sitting on a rooftop terrace in Paris with a glass of wine after a long day. La dolce vita.* ;) Be jealous.

Hope everyone is having a fantastic Monday!

* I know! I know that's Italian. We're going to Italy too though, so it will be OK. :)

Getting Crafty With 20 Mule Team Borax + Giveaway


No matter how good or bad my day is going, visiting the kids I babysit for always seems to improve my day exponentially, especially when they have fun and exciting projects they need my help to create!

I'm not sure which came first: an e-mail from Purex Insiders about a sweepstakes Borax is offering or Ellie, the 10 year old I babysit for, being sent home with a project about making goo. No matter which came first, we got to experience the wonder and excitement of goo making with Borax yesterday afternoon.


This isn't the exact recipe we used, but it is very similar. I did have some pictures from the experience, but my computer is hating on me this morning. It says: "Pictures?! What?!"

Goo isn't the only thing you can make using Borax though. I've already talked about using it to make laundry detergent, but check out this list of other things you can make using Borax. (The bouncy ball looks exciting!!) Or if you aren't feeling particularly crafty (or don't have kids), this list is great for making diy home products like insecticide or a metal cleaner.

While I think these lists show that Borax is an extremely useful product to have around the house, I'd love to hear what exciting things you use Borax for in the comments! Anything different that isn't mentioned on those lists? :)

If you love Borax as much as I do, I recommend going to enter the Getting Crafty with 20 Team Mule Borax sweepstakes where you have the opportunity to win $500! Just imagine how much Borax you could buy with that?! (I suppose you could also buy other things as well, if you really wanted…) Entry is simple: just create a pinterest board with all of your Borax crafting ideas and provide a link to it on the sweepstakes entry form. The sweepstakes is open to US residents only, and entries will be accepted until 3PM PT on February 28th, 2014. Then you can craft (or clean) up a storm using all of those ideas you posted on pinterest! Awesome, right!?!

Best of luck to all and I hope you are having a fantastic Thursday! (Please let me know if you win!)

** The sweepstakes is being hosted by Purex Insiders. I did not receive any compensation or even a product to try for this post, but I do get entered into a separate blogger sweepstakes for all who enter the 20 Mule Team Borax giveaway using my link.

On My Plate: Five Foods I'm Craving

It's January and it's cold. All of a sudden my interest lies in eating things that are warm. Here are just a few things I've been craving this month:

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1. Black Beans – I don't know what it is about black beans, but I have been loving them. :) They are delicious, warm on cold days, go great with Mexican meals, and they are filled with protein (which I don't get enough of). Yum!


2. Spaghetti Squash – I'm not sure what it is that I love about this squash, but when it is cooked right (not like spaghetti noodles), it tastes absolutely delicious. Plus, it's super fun to eat!!

I've never had the outer bit, but this blogger recommends making a baked margherita out of the outer portion of the squash. It looks good. :) I may have to try it.


3. Chaurice Sausage – Ok, seriously, I am one of the first (among any group of people) to say no to eating sausage. I mean look at it! Gross! All of that texture?! And the awkward shape?! Yuck! Usually when you talk about anything that even remotely looks like a hot dog, you've lost me. I know what's in hot dogs and it isn't pretty. I imagine sausage isn't much better.

But chaurice sausage, when cut into little circles and fried is delicious. It has just the right amount of spice (for someone that doesn't like spice) and it's tiny so the texture isn't as apparent. Whether or not I want to like chaurice sausage, I do. *sigh*


4. Blood Oranges – It's the most wonderful time of the year! :) Blood oranges are in season! Pair an orange with some cheese, strawberries, and French bread to make a fantastic, delicious, healthy breakfast. Plus, I will always remember the late night wedding planning I did while sucking on these magnificent fruits! :)


5. Apple Pie with Cheddar Cheese and Ice Cream – I know what most of you are thinking: you are thinking I must be insane! Since when do you eat cheese with pie and ice cream?!?

Well… guess what?!

You should!

Seriously. One bite of a warm (all American) apple pie topped with melted cheddar cheese and just a bit of ice cream (or skip the ice cream if you wish) and you will thank me for providing you with this little tid bit.

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So what are you craving this January? Share with me in the comments! :)


** A 
January Break using prompts from The Idea Room's Photo-A-Day Challenge. Feel free to join in!

Ideas For Making Extra Money (And A Finances Update)

My last finance update (for 2013) was a slightly depressing one. It was great that we managed to spend less than we made, but…we had a bit of trouble paying down debt and increasing our savings. We did do a few things right, most notably: decreasing our interest rates by at least 50%, cutting the cost of a number of our bills, and increasing how much extra money I was contributing to the household. :)

Then there was my tragedy of plane ticket buying which I have since realized wasn't too much of a tragedy at all. No, I wasn't paying $300 for a flight overseas, but the prices I have seen since my purchase have definitely been on the rise (minus a few mistake fares that I would have missed out on anyway). Overall, it has given us a bit more time to save for discretionary expenses like food, hotel, travel (while in Europe), and souvenirs (if we so choose). Despite not buying both plane tickets together, it was not an altogether fail on my part. Just an oversight. (Or an excuse to leave Justin at home!)

So far this month, we have spent more than our usual amount, but we have also (somehow!) managed to stay below our income level. Some of this is probably due to Christmas money gifts as well as Justin's end of the year bonus, but other income has also most likely contributed to how well we are doing this month. I thought I'd share a few of our "passive income" strategies that seem to be paying off for us.

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1. Bank BonusesBack in June, Justin and I got a letter from Chase bank offering a $200 bonus for opening a checking account. We received the $200 almost immediately, but we had to leave our money in the bank for 6 months. Well…guess what?! It's been 6 months! Yay!

Another fun thing we did (fun because we got a cash bonus) was open a checking AND savings account with Capital One 360 during their 2013 Black Friday promotion. After opening a savings account and contributing $500, we received a bonus of $75 AND interest (.75% APY). With our checking account, we contributed $100, used the debit card 5 times and 50 days later we had an extra $125 plus .20% interest. That is, we had nearly $200 extra in a month's time! In fact, the knowledge that we can get interest from a checking account has definitely encouraged us to look at moving our current main checking account over to Capital One 360. The interest isn't much, but it is definitely fun to see the little addition at the end of the day (quarter or whatever),

While neither Chase nor Capital One 360 are currently offering those bonuses, I do think it is wise if you need a bit of extra cash to watch out for those deals. It may not seem like a lot, but it definitely adds up over time.

2. Phone Apps – I've told you about them before, but since that time I have added another two to my list: GapNSnap and ReceiptPal

If you find yourself with extra time but very little money, GapNSnap is an awesome app for making a little bit extra. Unfortunately, since 2013 the rules have been changed, so you won't be able to reap all of the benefits from the app that I currently do, but you can still look into it. More or less, you download the app, tell the app which store you are at, and take pictures of tags for grocery items that are out of stock. You don't have to be in a grocery store, but the items must be items you would find in a grocery store. The way it works for those who have had the app since 2013 is that you get $5 per 100 items you snap pictures of along with points for each good snap. You can shoot up to 300 items and make $20 a week or shoot more than 300 items a week and be invited to join a special elite group of snappers that can make upwards of $40 a week depending on your time investment and commitment to snapping. The points you get can be traded in for a variety of rewards on the GapNSnap website. So not only am I making cash (that is immediately deposited into my paypal account), but I am also earning rewards! How sweet is that?! Unfortunately, new users of the app will begin by just earning points toward rewards. You have to take a certain number of snaps to be moved up to the cash and point earning category. :-/

The other app I use is ReceiptPal. It works just like ReceiptHog except that you can take pictures of any (and every!) receipt. There is one limitation though: you can only take pictures of 8 receipts a week. (This isn't actually a problem if you have a spouse that lets you put the app on their phone too. You can't combine accounts, but you can get credit for every receipt you have.) You can earn up to 200 points a week (300 in January), and the points can be used for a variety of rewards including Amazon gift cards (my favorite).

3. Amazon Payments – So your parents thought you needed a gift card for Christmas and they bought you one of those useless MasterCard, Visa, Or Amex gift cards. You can't use them to pay for bills, you constantly forget them at home, and you just know that you will forget to use them before the money starts dwindling due to "lack of use". This is where Amazon Payments comes into play…specifically if you have a spouse or someone trustworthy to send money to.

With Amazon Payments, you input your card information into the system, wait a day, then send a payment to whomever you would like that also has an amazon payment account. (Note: Don't send any more than what you have available on the card.) All of a sudden you go from having an unusable piece of plastic to cash (specifically if you send it to your significant other or someone who can forward the money on to your bank account). You can do this any number of times, but you need to make sure you stay below 200 transactions and $20,000 in transfers per year otherwise this free "gift card into cash practice" will be reported to the government and you will have to pay taxes on it. (According to Amazon Payments, it can take 5-7 days for money to be transferred to your bank account not including holidays or weekends.)

Another great thing about Amazon Payments is that if you open a new credit card for the points or the extra cash bonus, you can (more often than not) spend your money through Amazon Payments and then use the money you "spent" to pay down the credit card. Awesome, yes?! I certainly wish I had known about this strategy prior to now! 

4. Buying Gift Cards – I'm actually new to this strategy, but apparently (for example) this week (through the 25th) at Office Max, you can buy 2 $300 MasterCard gift cards (usually $600 +fees) for $580. This is great if you want additional points on your credit card and especially if you have a Chase Ink credit card (or one that gives you 5x the points for purchases at office supply stores). All of a sudden, you have an extra $20 in your account plus points for travel/cashback!! If you do this multiple times (depending on how much money you have available to you, of course), you could "make" even more! It is one $600 transaction per person per day per store.

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So, along with using the above strategies to bring in extra money to the household, we were able to combine a sale and rebate to get an expensive lens for much less than retail cost. Plus, I got to cash out my ReceiptHog for the first time this month, we won a $500 gift card, AND we got to cash out on our Venture cash back credit card for a $400 Amazon gift card. Can I have more months like this, please?! ;)

What strategies do you use to make your money go further? Are you having a good month financially or could you use some help? Have you done anything on my list before?

**These are my recommendations, and I get nothing if you join or take advantage of any of the current offers provided by the services I mention on this post.

Questions That Will Free Your Mind Pt. 2

Long story short, I get distracted really easily.

I start cleaning the bathroom, and then I realize I need to clean the kitchen…which leads to the living room and then the bedroom. Eventually I will make my way around the house until things are put away and all of the chores are accomplished, but it may take a while.

The same is true for writing. If I have music playing or the tv on while I am writing, I can get distracted sooooo easily. At one point, I had to decide that if I was doing something important or even just talking with a friend online or on the phone, the tv had to be turned off and the music turned wayyyyyy down. I grew up in the generation that could re-watch whatever I missed on television, so it made it easier to keep my priorities straight. Friends came first. Always.

This doesn't really have much to do with anything except that the word of the day is noise. I associate noise with distraction. And I cannot have any distractions while answering the next set of questions that will supposedly free my mind.

11. You're having lunch with 3 people you respect and admire. They all start criticizing a close friend of yours, not knowing she is your friend. The criticism is distasteful and unjustified. What do you do?

First of all, this would never happen to me. What is there that my friends have to criticize one another about? And which of my friends doesn't know that I am friends with this other person? If they do know I am friends with the other person, why are they criticizing said person? I actually think this question is more appropriate for high schoolers.

If I were in high school and having this problem, I probably would not respect or admire any of my peers. What have they done that is noteworthy or even worthy of praise that is so far above the rest?

Or maybe the problem is that I am looking back and seeing that none of my peers deserved to be admired? The super smart ones that were suppose to accomplish everything and take over the world…haven't yet. And the others? I suppose some have surprised me but most have not. Maybe in a few years there will be some admiration and respect going on. Until that point, I just don't think I can honestly answer this question.

(This is a bit depressing.)

12. If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?

I think Humans of New York does a pretty good job of answering this question.

Nevertheless, after I get over the fact that I am handing out advice to someone that doesn't understand a word I am saying, I would most likely tell the baby that no one can read anyone else's mind.

That is what we teach 2 year olds, right? "Use your words." Instead, they cry.

How can you expect anyone to give you the response you want if you don't at least tell them what it is you want? No, they aren't always going to give you what you want, but the likeliness of you getting what you want is much higher if the other person knows what you want.

Now, to take my own advice… ;)

13. Would you break the law to save a loved one?

To save a loved one from what? I think that's pretty important. Am I saving their life? their dignity? And what law am I breaking?

Yes, I would speed, but I wouldn't go so fast that I became uncomfortable driving. I would drive through a red light, so long as no one was there for me to run into. I would rob a store, but not a bank unless I could pull off counterfeit money. I would *think* about shooting someone if I needed to defend a loved one, but I'm not sure I could pull it off and my aim would be pretty awful.

I guess what I am saying is that my loved ones better not need me to break the law for them or they will be in trouble. Being willing and being capable are two different things. I'm willing, but I'm not sure I am capable.

14. Have you ever seen insanity where you later saw creativity?

WHAT?!

Maybe Jackson Pollock?

Actually hasn't everyone who has ever mastered anything (art, math, science) been considered crazy at some point?

15. What's something you know you do differently than most people?

Vacations. Or at least I do them differently than Justin did before I met him. I like doing EVERYTHING as quickly as possible. I can never do as much as I want. I always come home needing a vacation from my vacation…and exhausted. I think a lot of people go on vacation to relax. I think they are weird. ;)

16. How come the things that make you happy don't make everyone happy?

I think it all comes down to different experiences and preferences. We are all unique. Life would be boring and we'd never learn anything new if everyone was made happy by the same things.

17. What one thing have you not done that you really want to do? What's holding you back?

There is a lof on my bucket list, but going to Europe is one thing that gets ticked off this year. Wahoo! Perhaps it is the places I will see that we haven't yet decided on…Or maybe it's the adrenaline of getting on an airplane and traveling overseas, which I never actually thought I would do, that has me excited. Of course, as mentioned yesterday, it could be the chance to spend time with some wonderful people…

That thing that held me back? It was probably my parents' ideas about money. Growing up my parents lived paycheck to paycheck making me feel that leaving the country was a bit of a pipe dream…like winning the lottery.

When I invited some German friends to my wedding, I never expected them to actually come. It wasn't that I didn't want them there, but I didn't have high expectations. I think their decision to come was a bit of a turning point for me and my ideas about traveling overseas.

Following our wedding, Justin and I knew we needed to plan a trip to Europe, but there was little reason to rush the process until our friends became engaged. All of a sudden, planning and saving was kicked into high gear. We hadn't officially been invited to the wedding, but we knew, if they showed even the tiniest bit of interest in having us there, it had to happen. (That's what you do for friends.) We had no good excuse as to why we couldn't go.

I think the main thing I learned from this experience is that if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen. I didn't want to go to Europe badly enough…until I did. It had to be the right time and the right set of circumstances for me to break free of my background and attempt, what I thought to be, the impossible.

18. Are you holding onto something that you need to let go of?

It's hard to hold onto something and type at the same time. ;)

But no, there is nothing that comes to mind right now. The last answer was exhausting and I think it covers something holding me back thoroughly enough to also indicate that which I am holding onto and need to let go of.

19. If you had to move to a state or country besides the one you currently live in, where would you move and why?

Could I not wait to be asked this until after I get back from Europe?!?!

I've heard Germany is awesome but they speak German and drive manual cars, both of which might be a setback for me. People in England drive on the wrong side of the road, but at least they speak English. Australia is expensive. Italy is gorgeous (I imagine), but I don't speak Italian. Maybe I'd move to New Zealand. After all, Canada is too cold.

Oh and a different state? South Carolina or California. I've never been to California, but other than the cost of living, I've heard the weather is phenomenal. I can't even imagine not living within driving distance of the coast.

20. Do you push the elevator button more than once? Do you really believe it makes the elevator come faster?

Yes and no. Sometimes I wonder if the system "saw" my button push. I do get pretty impatient though.


If you are interested in joining in and answering the 50 Questions That Will Free Your Mind, feel free to leave a link in the comments. I'd love to see how others are answering these questions even though I have yet to experience a truly free mind! You can see my first set of answers here.

A European Vacation: The Important Part(s)

I get it. Not everything needs to be shared online. But sometimes, you have to.

[talking about our trip to Europe]
Justin: "If we rent a car, we can be more flexible with our trip. We can stop in small remote places along the way, and not worry so much about sticking to a schedule. We will be able to focus on what is most important."
[long pause]
Me: "What's most important?"
Justin: "The people we are visiting?!"
Me: "Oh yeah!"

Honestly, I'm still laughing at my thoughtlessness. It's not about the places; they will be there forever. It's about the people. Duh. ;)

So, occasionally I am a blonde. It's okay. Thankfully, I married a sweet, thoughtful guy who has his priorities straight (most of the time). Whether or not, he remembers that we have a [scheduled] flight to catch at the end of the trip is questionable though.

sidenote: Apparently, you can lease cars in Europe and drive them around without worrying so much about paying extra fees for the number of drivers or going out of the country. Sweet! Anybody have any experience doing this?

* This is my summary of what happened. Nothing is exact.

My Camera Bag

Now that my trip to Europe is quickly creeping up on me, I'm trying to make sure I am prepared for whatever is to come. I've been assembling my camera gear and watching CreativeLive to make sure I have the equipment and skills necessary to accomplish my goals of taking fantastic photos.

Here's what I have:

JoTotes Betsy bag in turquoise (to hold all of my gear)
Canon 60D (and Canon Digital Rebel XT)
Speedlite 580EX II
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II Kit Lens
Canon 50mm f/1.8 II
Canon 70-200mm f/4 L Telephoto Zoom Lens
Neutral Density Graduated Filter for both the telephoto and 50mm lenses
2 tripods

and the most recent addition:

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II Standard Zoom Lens


I wasn't incredibly impressed with my most recent addition, but (to its defense) I was looking for a wide angle lens. I was worried when it said "standard zoom", but I assumed anything bigger than a 50mm would work. Not so much. I failed to realize I already had something wider than a 50mm in my kit lens. Despite my disappointment, I decided to keep the lens. As Justin reminded me, I got the lens (brand new) for nearly $1000 off the asking price and it will be a good (standard) lens for that time in the far, far, far future when I can upgrade to a 5d Mk II or III.

Before I go to Europe, I'm planning on rounding out my camera collection with:

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX Digital Zoom Lens (for Canon)
Rogue Flash Gels Color Correction Filter Kit
Polarizer Filter
small, light tripod for travel use

I think after that I will be able to shoot in any given situation and achieve what I want. I will be able to shoot in fairly low light at a wide variety of distances. Best of all: I'll have my husband to help carry my equipment. I'm so glad I bought a turquoise camera bag; it will go so well with his eyes! ;)

Hope everyone has a good weekend!

Also, if you have any suggestions for traveling with camera equipment or what you think I should buy next, let me know in the comments!!

Don't you just love Digital Rev reviews?! :)


** A January Break using prompts from The Idea Room's Photo-A-Day Challenge. Feel free to join in!

A Bundle

The word of the day is bundle. As in…

Bundle of joy?

Bundle up! It's cold outside.

Or…I received a bundle of mail from the mailman yesterday. True story. Ask Justin. :)

As a matter of fact, one of those pieces of mail was a box full of chewable Centrum Flavor Burst adult multivitamins that I agreed to try and review for Smiley360.


Basically, if you don't like swallowing your vitamins (or being an adult in general), these are a fun alternative…especially in comparison to those gross gummy bear vitamins. I got to try the pineapple and the grape vitamins, and they were quite yummy. With a crunchy outer coating (think peanut m&ms) and a chewy inside, the vitamins aren't too sweet and have just enough flavor (like starbursts) to be enjoyable to take. Unfortunately, this vitamin does contain a bit of sugar, so it may not be the best for people on a diet.

The vitamins come in 3 different flavors: Mixed Fruit, Tropical Fruit, and Grape or you can try the Raspberry Lemonade Multivitamin supplement drink. In fact, if you go here, you can get $2 off on the vitamins! (Who doesn't like coupons?) You can also get a free sample here. (Totally recommended!)

So maybe we can call these vitamins a bundle of flavor?…Or a bundle of happiness?

Eh! I give up on the whole bundle thing! Hope everyone is enjoying their Thursday! :)


** A January Break using prompts from The Idea Room's Photo-A-Day Challenge. Feel free to join in!
*** I received a free sample from Smiley360 to try and review. No other compensation was provided. All opinions are my own.

Shiny, Pristine…Beautiful

image © Scott Jarvie

Last night Justin and I went to a meet up with photographer Scott Jarvie. He gave a little bit of a talk on fate and how you can plan all day (all week, month, year) and still not find that "perfect shot", but occasionally (or more often if you are him), you can make a perfect shot happen by stumbling upon a spot randomly. Crouch down in the bushes or walk across the street looking for a different angle and suddenly you have a beautiful scene before your eyes.

In the past, I've gone to a talk with Lindsay Adler and watched a number of photographers speak on CreativeLive. As much as I love those artists from CreativeLive, they all had one thing in common – planning. Brooke Shaden in particular is big on planning each individual aspect of her shoot. For example, she picks out one element (e.g. the location, the model, a piece of clothing) and develops the rest of her shoot around that particular (or those particular) elements.

As for me, I'm more of a "Scott Jarvie" kind of photographer. I like to plan where I'll be when the sun sets, but other than that…who knows?? I especially loved that he talked about not wanting to be "in the way" of other people. He says he doesn't like to ask people to move when they are in his shot, he would prefer to step out of his comfort zone, challenge his skills, and find a new location to shoot. I absolutely loved hearing about this skill in a photographer I like.

And then of course, he talked about the equipment he used and his methods of post-production which were also interesting to me. He mentioned using a polarizing filter to keep glare low and how he uses subtle vignetting to draw the eye in. The more he talked, the more I felt I had in common with him (in terms of photography). Except for the whole Nikon thing. Grrrrrr Nikon! (Not really. I actually like Nikon.)

So now I am even more determined to buy a wide angle lens and a polarizing filter. I am encouraged to continue searching for the "decisive moment" and challenging my skills as a photographer while looking for beauty in what seems to be an ugly space.

image © Scott Jarvie

One thing that Scott Jarvie said that really inspired me was the concept of being prepared for anything. He was talking about shooting stars and using the moon to help guide his shots of buildings. It really intrigued me and made me want to go try it. I love stars. I love photographing. That should be easy right? ;)

Justin suggested we go on a tour of Atlanta (Georgia?) and find everything there is to photograph which I am totally up for. (If Scott Jarvie can travel across the US, then I can travel across the state.) I love the prospect of getting a wide angle lens to practice shooting some architecture…and I'd love to get a polarizing filter to practice shooting water. I was very inspired by the talk yesterday, and I only hope that some of Jarvie's ideas can be used and reflected through my own work.


** A January Break using prompts from The Idea Room's Photo-A-Day Challenge. Feel free to join in!

Everyday I…


Sam: "Well, I'm going to get out of bed every morning, breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while, I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out…And, then, after a while, I won't have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while."
Marcia Fieldstone: "Sam, tell me: what was so special about your wife?"
Sam: "Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that when you added them all up, they meant we were suppose to be together. And I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her; it was like coming home…only to no home I'd ever known. I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car, and I knew. It was like magic."


** A January Break using prompts from The Idea Room's Photo-A-Day Challenge. Feel free to join in!

Building Art

Today's post is suppose to be about a building.

This is what came to mind:




It's not quite this:


But it is something.

Plus, I love that those buildings (from images 1, 2, and 3) were made from these:


The design of Atlanta out of legos kind of makes my heart happy.

But in posting about it, I am reminded of this:

Mona Lisa made with coffee cups

When I mentioned it (Mona Lisa made out of coffee cups) to someone I was with over the weekend they remarked on how much time the person (artist) had. (i.e. Rather than doing real work, the artist was creating. Shame on them.) Part of me wants to agree, but part of me was like ARGH! That artist chose to take the time to make this. It took time and creativity (lots and lots)…and how many people in the world would have that much patience?! 

So kudos to the creator of the coffee cup Mona Lisa and the people who designed Atlanta out of legos; you have my respect. Thank you for providing me with something fun and beautiful to remark on.

Christmas All Over Again

It's raining. :(

Usually I like the rain, but for some reason today it is just depressing. Probably because it is cold and I have to go outside. Anyone want to go for me?!



The phrase for today was "looking up" and all I could think of was Mary Poppin's "Let's Go Fly A Kite". Fun song, but I don't have any pictures of kites. (Clearly this must be remedied!) So instead I share pictures of my Christmas tree and an ornament we got this year of a sleigh. (Does it make a difference if I mention that I was laying on the floor looking up trying to take the picture of the sleigh?)

I suppose Christmas pictures are always better later than never, right? Plus, due to circumstances we haven't had a chance to take down our tree yet. It IS coming down this weekend, but until then I might as well practice with my new lens on it.

If you really must see a looking up post, you can see where I wrote one in October. It is also not very life affirming or optimistic. Apparently I really struggle when it comes to "looking up". Usually all I see when I look up is the ceiling. I need to get better at that. I could at least go outside and see the clouds, right? Or stars?

But no. On a rainy day like today, I'd rather stay inside. Maybe next time. :)

January Break: In Between

Remember how I did the August break in August?

Well my newest challenge for myself is to take The Idea Room's Photo-A-Day challenge and make it my January break challenge. I may post text based on the word of the day or a picture…It will all be dependant on my mood. I tried a few other challenges (including The SITS girls January challenge), but nothing was really working out. I think I'm still on "break" mode from my week and a half off in December. Plus the crazy rush that was December really makes me want to take the time to appreciate this month. I like the idea of sitting under cozy blankets, watching movies, reading books, and spending time with my beloved husband. Do you blame me?!

Best of all: doing a challenge like this will hopefully encourage me to pull out my camera since I just bought the most expensive lens I have ever owned: a canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens.

I bought it thinking it would be wide enough to photograph landscapes. As much as we paid, I was thrilled to receive it this past Monday. Unfortunately, when I pulled it out of it's packaging, I realized it wasn't as wide as I had hoped. Justin, in his infinite wisdom, has encouraged me to keep the lens and get a Sigma or Tokina wide-angle for our trip to Europe. I really want to be able to take interior and exterior architectural shots while abroad. And the most important thing of all for me to keep in consideration: I don't want a fisheye. ICK!! :-/

But on to today's challenge…

Photo-A-Day Challenge January 2014 – The Idea Room

In Between.

While I was looking for a good challenge to take on, I started listening to the Saving Mr. Banks soundtrack, which I just downloaded today. Sometimes I think soundtracks have some of the best music out there.

Or at least it's nothing like listening to (another favorite of mine, since I've never been in this situation before) Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" over and over again while waiting to talk to United Airlines customer service.



Obviously, listening to this version from the movie Fantasia 2000 is much more appealing:


(Well…when it isn't broken up into parts that is.)

Just being Disney probably makes it wonderful, right? Oh - and the color blue. Of course, it couldn't really be any other color given the song name.

But where was I?

Ahh yes! Thomas Newman!

The guy who wrote the music for Little Women, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Skyfall. Who doesn't like the scores he produces?


The end title (and really a number of other songs within the Saving Mr. Banks soundtrack) spoke to me. They are fun songs and beautifully written.

But despite the fact that I could only find the End Title to the soundtrack on youtube, there is a lot of beautiful music in between the opening credits and the last song. Another song I'm in love with "One Mint Julep" by Ray Charles is also found on the soundtrack.


But I guess all of this beautiful music got me thinking about how many wonderful, little, seemingly insignificant details we tend to miss out on when we are in between the beginning and the end of something. Obviously the beginning is important, because it tells us where we need to go and what our current status is…and the end is important because it's the end. What about the middle?

I watched the movie About Time this morning with Domnhall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams. It was cute, sweet and definitely a chick flick. But one of the key ideas from the movie was actually left out of the film. The director was trying (I think) to suggest that the middle of one's story (life) is just as important as the end. Rather than providing a middle for his audience, his story fell flat and was far short of my (not-so-great) expectations. The main character didn't really change much at all throughout the movie; he didn't really learn much (except how to get what he wanted) and he didn't really grow. In the end, the audience (me) felt like I was deprived of a good story. (Or any story at all, really.)


Truthfully, I was probably only watching this movie because it had Rachel McAdams in it. I should have suspected I wouldn't like it since I didn't actually like Love Actually (like everyone else on the planet did), but sometimes movies are surprising. I just thought I'd give it a chance.

And the same is true for moments…including those in between the beginning and the end.

We don't often give those moments a chance to surprise us with great music, beautiful storylines, picturesque scenes and overall happiness.

So while my post may have been a little drawn out with pop-culture references, today I encourage you to live for those once-in-a-lifetime in-between moments. Enjoy your whole day, even during those moments when you really wish you were somewhere else (or with someone else). Then when you are tired of living for the in-between moments, realize that you are one day closer to the weekend and rejoice. Because you can.

Have a fantastic Thursday! :)

The Secret Life

Over the weekend, Justin and I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in theatres. We NEVER go to the movies, but his uncle had given us some free passes to use for Christmas. It was a crazy last minute decision to go to the theatre, so you should have seen us racing to get the tickets printed, impatiently waiting in line to redeem our tickets, and then racing into the theatre to find seats. It was well worth it though, since we managed to get seats before the crowd arrived approximately 10 minutes before the movie started.


The story begins with a 42-year-old office worker who doesn't really have much of a life despite the fact that he works for LIFE Magazine. Frequently he finds himself in imaginary situations where he zones out picturing how he wants his life to be. Then, one day he goes into work and finds out that not only has his company been acquired but that the very last magazine cover image, that was suppose to be in his hands, has been lost. Did the photographer ever actually send it? Is it somewhere in the office? Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for Walter Mitty to get in touch with photographer Sean O'Conner for the last photograph without going on an extraordinary adventure.

Justin and I agreed that what the story lacked in plot was made up for in cinematography and design of the movie itself. It was a grandiose movie that you walk away from in a bit of awe. As in…"Who thought of that?!"

For example, just as the main character takes his life offline…the magazine he works for becomes "online only". Who thought of that?

And then the magazine cover…"The End of Life"? Too funny.

There were definitely details throughout the movie, some of which I caught and some that only future views of the movie could reveal.

One of the key scenes that was pointed out to me before I even went to the theatre by another photographer was that of a quiet moment between Walter Mitty and Sean O'Conner taking in the view of a snow leopard without ever actually photographing it. What a strong reminder to (occasionally) actually live life in the moment rather than merely photographing it! Kudos to the script writer for this important message that non-photographers with a camera tend to forget!

Of course, Justin solved the mystery of the missing negative as soon as the problem presented itself. (I guess that's the curse of being married to an engineer?) Nevertheless, as we watched hoping some sort of curveball would be thrown our way (it wasn't), the visuals and light comedy kept us entertained throughout.

If you are seeking a movie that is visually stunning and overall very inspiring, I definitely recommend going to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in theatres.

Random thought…


Anyone else think of Mary Poppins when they see this image?

Cheerio!


Yesterday was the last day of Christmas. :( In honor of the end of the season, I decided to share a few more pictures of the merrymaking that went on at my house during the holiday season. (More specifically the newly hung stockings as pictured above and a few of the Christmas cards that I decorated and sent out.)





I think the cards came out lovely, and it was fun picking out different cards for different people based on their personality. I'm not quite sure if I will ever have the energy to do it for so many people ever again though!

And while I was doing that, Justin was doing this:


I'm not very good at baking, so I'm glad it was him doing that instead of me.

Now for taking down the tree until next year! I will certainly be sad to see it go. :( This year Christmas went by way too fast!

Mini Challenge: Questions That Will Free Your Mind

Over the weekend, I was visiting Mary's blog at Secret Obsession and saw her challenge to other bloggers about answering some questions that are suppose to "free your mind". I had seen the list before, but I had never really actually considered taking the time to answer the questions. After reading Mary's post though, I felt challenged. Could I actually thoughtfully answer these questions?

As it turns out, I have today off. (The weather is in the single digits and US southerners don't do anything, including leave their house, when it is this cold and there is a POSSIBILITY ice is on the road.) It seemed like the perfect time to tackle and think about a few of these difficult questions.

Following in Mary's footsteps, I will only tackle 10 of the 50 questions today. I can't imagine anyone would be able to follow along to a blog post answering all 50 in one day.-

1. How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?

As funny as it seems (to me, anyway), the older I get the more this number changes. When I was 15, I was probably wishing I was 10 … or 18. Y'know. Older or younger. Either number was better than what I was. When I was 6, I'm pretty sure I was content being 6… except that I had just been to Disney World. After we returned home, I was promised that we would go again when I was 12. Every year until I turned 12, I would beg and plead… could we please go again? My parents finally agreed when I turned 10. I suppose 10 was close enough to 12. We went again the next year too.

But the older I get, the more I realize that things aren't always what you expect them to be. I expected things to just "become" what they were suppose to be. Working at getting those things? Psh!

None of that actually answers the question though. If I could be any age, I would be somewhere between 18 and 25. I like those numbers best. :)

2. Which is worse, failing or never trying?

NEVER TRYING!

That was one of the easiest questions I have ever answered.

Charlie (the 4 year old I watch) always says "I can't do that" to anything he doesn't want to do. Usually I don't want to do what he wants me to do, so I (optimistically, of course) say "You can do anything you set your mind up to do." He rarely listens and I inevitably have to do what I don't want to do anyway. (GRR!)

The point is: you can never fail or succeed if you don't try. Plus, if you fail, you have succeeded at finding one answer to your problem (predicament?) that doesn't work. Go you! :)

3. If life is so short, why do we do so many things we don't like and like so many things we don't do?

First of all, who says life is short? It could be, but some people live for more than 100 years. Is 100 years really short to a 4 year old?

Second of all, does this give me an excuse to eat dessert before dinner? ;)

I do things I don't like, because I don't have enough money to pay people to do them for me. I don't like cleaning, but I also don't like the alternative of living in a pig sty. Sometimes Justin cleans for me, but I know he doesn't like it either. I think that's why we both have to do it; it's not fair to make one person do all of the work when you both contribute to the problem.

As for liking things and not doing them? I do all of the things I like. Yes, I would like to do more things I like more frequently, but I will take what I can get. You certainly can't do all of the things you like all at once. Can you imagine me ice skating, taking pictures, and sitting under a blanket watching a movie all at once? Yeah. Neither can I. Plus, a lack of money certainly can hold you back as well.

4. When it's all said and done, will you have said more than you have done?

Probably. I don't say a whole lot most of the time, but overall I say a lot more than I do. For example, if you had asked me 10 years ago if I would ever actually travel to Europe, I very well might have laughed at you. Yes, I wanted to go ten years ago, but I didn't really have a reason or an excuse. It was just this thing in the back of my mind that maybe someday if I struck it rich and won the lottery I would go. And now, no better off than I was 10 years ago except for having an amazing husband and a *tiny* bit more money in the bank, I'm going. But this doesn't mean I'm going to Japan, Australia, California, or Hawaii. It's one trip once. Will I ever have the guts to not worry about money and go again? (Will I ever have enough points or figure out travel hacking well enough to go again without worrying about money?) Only time will tell.

5. What is one thing you'd most like to change about the world?

One thing? I can't say everything? Like world peace, getting rid of hunger, providing places to live for the homeless, making school education better, providing children with more books, and solving all of the world's problems? In one day?

When I was younger, my mom's father dated this woman who would periodically drive down to Atlanta on cold winter nights and hand out blankets to the homeless.

My dad's mom had an open house policy. Anyone and everyone was welcome for dinner. I guess when you have 4 kids though, that is is typically the case.

Then of course there was that Christmas song we were talking about less than a month ago… where millions was raised to help the hungry in Africa.


We can't all do big things, but we can all do something. That realization is the key to changing the world.

I might not be able to make a huge difference in the world, but if I make a difference in one person's life, I have changed their world. I think that's enough for me.

6. If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?

haha. If happiness were the national currency, I'd be rich! My husband, my friends, my family, the kids I watch, and the opportunity to develop my photography skills all make me happy. I really couldn't ask for a better life. :)

7. Are you doing what you believe in, or are you settling for what you are doing?

What does that even mean "what you believe in"?

I guess some would see me as "settling". I'm doing things I love, but they aren't magnificent or necessarily meaningful to more than a handful of people. I'm not the head of a large fortune-500 company nor do I work for one, I'm not a celebrity, and I'm not even where I thought I would be at my current age with regards to career. That doesn't mean I don't love what I do. I believe in the children I watch. I give them stability (in the form of babysitting), help them with their homework, and tell them that they can achieve their wildest dreams…if they want to. When I am taking pictures, I am advocating art as a form of speech, a way of connection.

Then there are the other forms of doing…regarding choices in purchases and where one's money goes. Do we advocate bike riding for health reasons, saving the environment, the cost benefit, or all three? Do we recycle and take care of our things? Are we appreciative of others?

There is a lot to consider with regards to this question, and while I am certain I believe in what I am doing the majority of the time, I am also certain that the other half of the time I am "settling". (i.e. This product is only made in China? Ok. I will support China economy as I buy this one thing.)

8. If the average human life span was 40 years, how would you live your life differently?

Forty years is not very long. Unfortunately, that would mean my life is half over!

I'm not sure what I would do differently. I'd like to think I would have been in more of a hurry to get things done. My photography would be amazing. I would probably quit blogging. (It takes up too much time.) Most likely I would have already travelled to Europe. I would have married sooner. And at this point in my life, I would assume that buying a house is just not going to happen in my lifetime and just enjoy the money I do have rather than saving it all away for a rainy day.

… But since I have another like million years to live, I better work on that budget! ;)

9. To what degree have you actually controlled the course your life has taken?

I finished high school and college. I decided I wanted to marry my best friend. I didn't have a lot of choice in some of the moves I made as a child, but I definitely have had a myriad of choices as an adult. It is possible that the economy contributed to my job status, but I am content. I think that's the important part. Then there is also the possibility that each thing I've done has led to each other thing which is both in my control and out of my control.

What is it the Christians say? Ahh… yes. The Serenity Prayer.

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

10. Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right things?

Both?

Put me in front of a computer editing an image and I will work the dickens out of the picture making it as "right" as it can be. People will complain that it is taking me too long to edit or that my picture is "good enough", but I don't listen. If it is not beautiful and pleasing to my eyes, it is not worth sharing or printing. (Worst of all is when something looks pretty until I print it. My eyes have adjusted and I don't see the color cast, but after printing, it is painfully obvious. This is especially painful if I have already shared online!)

When I am with a group of people I worry about saying the right things. Lucky for me, my husband says he'll love me always even if I say all of the wrong things. (That's when you know you've found true love.) I still criticize myself and overthink absolutely everything about every moment I have ever lived.

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After only a few hours of thinking, I'm not entirely sure I feel "set free" yet. Maybe when I attempt to tackle some more questions at a later point I will. Hope everyone is having a fantastic Monday!