Apple Sausage Ravioli


Problem: Justin and I simply can't afford to go out to eat at expensive restaurants that often, but I still like eating fancy dishes.

Solution: Justin tries to recreate those dishes at home.

That is exactly how this dish came about. You can find many variations of this dish, Apple Sausage Ravioli, on google, but this particular one was created from Justin's memories of an experience we had about 8 years ago at a small hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in the middle of Atlanta. We decided randomly to visit one of Justin's friends, a waiter there, that night so long ago. He recommended a dish and a wine to go with that dish. I am incredibly picky, and I just knew that I would hate the dish. There was nothing in the recipe that was particularly offensive though, so I agreed to give it a taste.

Unfortunately for Justin, I knew from the very first bite that Justin was going to regret his choice in coming to this fantastic restaurant and ordering this delectable meal for years to come. We would end up penniless on the side of the road begging for money just so that we could return to have one more piece of heaven. Then! Justin, the guy with a strong cooking background, decided that perhaps he could change our future. Maybe we wouldn't end up on the side of the road collecting pennies! He decided to get into the kitchen and create heaven himself! How I adored him for this! :)

When I asked Justin to share the recipe with me, he refused. Share his creation with the world? NEVER!!! I'm pretty convincing when I want to be though. Dear readers, you should feel special. I got the recipe for you because I love you that much!

And so here it is, in plain English, despite all of the "cooking terms" Justin used to confuse us all:


Ingredients:
  • 1/4 of a white onion, cubed
  • just over 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 lb of sweet and/or spicy sausage*
  • FRESH sage
  • 3 granny smith apples, cored and sliced into eighths
  • salt
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • ravioli (our preference: butternut squash ravioli or cheese ravioli)
  • shredded parmesan cheese for plating

Recipe:

Cook your white onion with a pat of butter in a saucepan on medium heat just until the onion turns transparent. (He called it "sweating" the onion.)
Add in your sausage to the onion/butter mixture.
Cut a few sprigs of sage into tiny strips (chiffonade?) and add to the pan.
Remove everything from the heat once your meat is browned and set aside in a different bowl.

Using the same pan you cooked everything else in, put 1/2 cup of unsalted butter and your 3 granny smith apples into the pan, once again cooking on medium heat.
Sprinkle a teaspoon of salt on the apples to give them a bit of added flavor.
When the apples become soft (but not mushy), add your meat, onions, etc… back to the pan.
Take a few more sprigs of sage and add them to the pan. (Do not cut them as you did with the first ones.)
Cook until the sage wilts.
Remove from heat.

For the ravioli, you will cook as indicated on the package then toss in olive oil.

For plating, place your sausage and apple mixture on top of the ravioli and shred a bit of parmesan cheese on top to make it look pretty. :)
Serve delicious and hot.

* You can use either spicy or sweet sausage in this recipe depending on your preference. Justin likes to use a mixture of both.
** I might be a bit weird, but I like adding a splash of balsamic vinegar to my ravioli mixture before eating it. YUM! :)

Let me know if you make this recipe! I'd love to know if you try it and love it! Or if you come up with your own variation of this amazing dish! :)

A Summer Afternoon


I'm getting to spend the afternoon bowling and at the pool with some of my favorite kids. While I have my lovely Verizon jetpack on-the-go internet with me, I'm starting to wish I had brought a book and my camera instead. Despite Verizon's claims, their internet is incredibly slow and makes it difficult to do much other than check e-mail.

Hope you all are having a wonderful afternoon. Tomorrow I will return with a recipe created by my husband and inspired by a local restaurant. It will be exciting; I promise. :)

Best Sites to get Free Samples

I'm sure you've noticed over the past few days all of the samples I've been receiving lately. Rather than keep the secret to myself, I thought I'd let you know where you can get some of these free samples yourself.

1. PinchMe

I actually just missed some samples that they were giving away today. :( I'm not sure how often PinchMe gives away free samples, but if you stay on top of your e-mail you can receive a variety of both sample size and full size items for free. The only catch? You have to fill out a short 2 minute survey after trying the product. Past products they've offered include: Dove shampoo and conditioner, Advil PM, Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, and Hollywood fashion tape.

2. Crowdtap

By answering "quickhits" (questions on product pages), text challenges (short answer questions), and taking pictures of your favorite products, you can earn the opportunity to try products, get samples, and, depending on how involved in the site you get, receive Amazon giftcards as well. In a particular month I've earned as much as $20 Amazon cash and had the opportunity to try Hershey's chocolate spread, Cottonelle cleansing wipes, Herbal Essences Bodywash, and received McCormick GrillMates barbecue rubs. You aren't going to get rich or receive all of the samples you sign up for, but it is a lot of fun receiving gift cards and samples for the little bit of time it takes to answer questions.

3. BzzAgent

Another website that requires you to fill out surveys, there are a number of opportunities to receive and try a variety of products and receive coupons through BzzAgent. You should frequently check the website to see if you have new surveys. If you do, the surveys could be for an upcoming trial study and to determine if you're profile is what the client is looking for. If it is, you might get to try anything from Iams cat or dog food to BIC Soleil Glow razors. You can visit the website to see the current campaigns that are in progress. If you participate in a campaign, you can earn MyPoints for tweeting, sharing on facebook, blogging, and simply sharing face-to-face. You will also receive coupons to buy the product at a later date or share with the people you talk with.

4. Influenster

A bit more difficult to get into, Influenster allows you to use your social media presence to bring up your profile score and get you opportunities to try things through their "sample boxes". You don't get to choose what products they send you, but you do get to choose which badges you unlock (beauty, food, environmental, book-lover, mother, bride, etc…) that will influence the products you receive. I, personally, have only ever received beauty products, but I do have a friend that has gotten to sample food products. After you receive the products you get to use social media, your blog, or youtube channel to talk about the products and share with others. If you do, you get the chance to receive more product boxes and open badges. Through the sharing and opening of one particular badge I received a $25 Ebay gift certificate. Fun, right?!

5. People StyleWatch Style Hunters

I talked about this yesterday, so you can go here to find out a bit more about it.

6. Purex Insiders

Do you ever wonder how I get so many laundry freebies? Purex Insiders, that's how. They send huge full size bottles and a ton of coupons. If you share about their products, you get entered into "blogger only" giveaways. If you do laundry at all, this is a great website to join.

What are your favorite websites to get free things? Will you be joining any of the ones I mentioned?

*All opinions are my own and not necessarily shared by any of the websites mentioned on this post. None of the links provided will get me anything if you click them, so feel free to click away and join as many or as few of them as you would like. You will not get rich or receive all of the freebies these sites offer, and I do not claim that.

Loreal Blushing Harmony Lipstick Review


Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to be spoiled beyond belief. It was almost like my birthday. I started off the weekend on Friday when my mom took me to get my toenails done. Then, on Saturday I got to go shopping, get my hair done, go out to eat, and see the laser show at Stone Mountain. I was definitely feeling pretty happy even before I checked the mail; however, when I checked the mail, I discovered I had even one more surprise in store for me!


People StyleWatch Style Hunters had sent me a free sample of Loreal's Blushing Harmony Extraordinaire by Colour Riche. A few weeks ago I got to choose whether or not I wanted to try the bright Ruby Opera, Coral Encore, or Blushing Harmony. Considering my make-up choices are usually as close to natural as possible, I chose the pink Blushing Harmony. It was a fantastic choice for me. I didn't feel self-conscious wearing it, because the color only enhanced my natural lip color rather than being a showstopper, something I wouldn't have been comfortable with. 

The lipstick was less an actual stick and more a liquid with an applicator. It's nice because it goes on wonderfully not feeling too wet or being too drying on your lips. The color adds a nice sheen to your lips, making you feel pretty and confident.

Unfortunately, People StyleWatch Style Hunters did not give me samples or coupons to give out, but I highly recommend joining the group. The samples they give out, based on your social profile, are fun. You can expect anything from make-up, soaps and cleansers, lotions, and even clothing! Go here to join today! Or click here if you want to buy this fantastic lip color for yourself! :)

*All opinions are my own and not necessarily those of People StyleWatch Style Hunters.

Five Reviews For Friday

I've been slacking in my reviews lately, and for that I apologize. Or maybe I am really apologizing for the five reviews you get today. Then again, I tried the products so you don't have to! Or you can… Or something. So let's get with it!

1. Litter Genie ($16 at Amazon)


Courtesy of Litter Genie and Crowdtap, I received a Litter Genie to try at home with my cat. Basically, it is a closed bucket (tupperware) that is suppose to keep odors in and your cat/kids out. This is unfortunate in my opinion, because I would much rather have a training system wherein my cat uses it like a toilet and I no longer have to clean the litter box. Awesome idea, right?!?

Anyway, the litter genie was a bit complicated (in my humble opinion) to figure out at first. You tie one end of the bag, stuff it in the contraption, and pray that the rest of the bag stays put. Every time you go to clean the litter box out, you open the top lid for the Litter Genie, pull the second lid for the litter genie out, put the cat litter in, then close the whole contraption including both lids. Sound complicated? It is.

If you really need your cat litter to not smell, do yourself a favor and take it out to your trashcan immediately. Don't worry with a Litter Genie. I simply don't think it is worth the money, time, and effort unless you have a lot of cats.

2. McCormick GrillMates Seasoning ($12.46 for 10 1.75oz packages at Amazon)


Another trial from Crowdtap that I received recently was the McCormick GrillMates Seasoning and Rubs in a variety of flavors. The first night we received it, I begged Justin to rub the chicken with it. (He's the chef in the household, but as the wife I get special privileges in choosing what is cooked!) I have to say that while the rub itself smelled decadent with its perfect, smoky barbecue flavor, the taste left much to be desired. It didn't taste bad, but the flavor didn't seep through the chicken as well as I had hoped it might. Justin, being the food connoisseur that he is knew immediately, despite the delicious smell, that the rub wouldn't do as I intended for it to. His opinion on this matter was that we will simply have to try again on a different day when he has more time for cooking. I will certainly let you know when and if we try it again, and how well the meat turns out the next time.

3. BIC Soleil Glow ($2.49 for 3 at Amazon)


I'm not the biggest fan of women's razors. For me, while they may be gentle on skin, they also don't last very long AND they don't work very well. These Bic Soleil Glow razors that I received from BzzAgent are only a slight exception. Yes, these work better than other women's razors. Yes, the razors are colorful and fun. They remind me of summer, and who doesn't want to think about summer when shaving your legs for the beach or pool? It's a chore, and you really just want to be on vacation rather than getting ready for it. Am I right? Anyway, if you'd like to give these razors a try, be sure to scroll down to the end of the post and enter my giveaway for a coupon for these! :)

4. Burts Bees Dark Spot Corrector & Skin Brightener (1 fl. oz. $20 at Amazon)


A huge thanks to People Stylewatch and Burts Bees for shipping this product to me to try. As I've gotten older, despite still looking young for the most part, I've become increasingly aware of the darker spots on my face. Especially my under eye area and the dark spots caused by pimples from that horribly stressful time in my life when I was getting married. Anyway, I haven't given much of a chance to this product to truly be useful yet, but I thought I would go ahead and tell you about the product in general.

I love Burts Bees products. They always smell wonderful, and this liquid is no exception. But while we are on the topic, let's be clear that this is a liquid. When I first used the product, I was thinking that it might be a cream. No, it is not. It is a watery, thin liquid. I recommend only using this product while in the bathroom. I also recommend using a sunscreen over the product when you are going out into the sun for any length of time. Overall, in the day or two that I've been using the Burt's Bees Dark Spot Corrector, I haven't noticed enough of a difference in my skin to pay the $20 cost to continue using it; however, the product does have decent reviews on Amazon. Perhaps continued use will result in brighter, prettier skin. Only time will tell.

 5. Lindsay Adler - Creative 52 and Shooting in Sh*tty Light 

Books the up and coming photographer, I paid for these myself using a 50% discount at PeachPit. (Don't worry. The prices on Amazon are the same as the 50% off at Peachpit.)

Creative 52 is more-or-less a book of ideas; ideas on how to enrich your photography and ways to make any photoshopping you do stand out as original and inventive. If you are just starting in photography, I do not recommend this book. It will not help you with editing or shooting images in any way. However, if you are lacking creativity, this book is an awesome buy (assuming you can't think of some of these ideas yourself). I adore Lindsay Adler, but my opinion is that this book is unnecessary and perhaps a waste of money.

Last fall I went to a talk with Lindsay Adler where she was talking about her newest book Shooting In Sh*tty Light. It was an awesome talk full of helpful insight to someone who isn't very familiar with lighting techniques. She did a very similar talk and class on CreativeLive that I'm certain many people who follow her work have purchased. Let me just say that if you are familiar with different lighting techniques or have purchased the CreativeLive class, you do not need this book. Basically this book is her class written out with pictures. If that is just what you need, then this book is an important and necessary addition to your library of books on photography.

--------------------------

Time for a giveaway. It's been so long since I've hosted one that I have almost forgotten how to do it! Assuming that you've bought the Litter Genie for your cat sitter, obtained the GrillMates seasoning package for the grilling this summer, bought a few books for reading on the beach, and used Burts Bees skin brightener, the only thing you have left to do is to shave your legs! Let's make that a bit easier by getting you an awesome coupon for $3 off the BIC Soleil Glow razors! (According to the Amazon price, that's practically FREE!) All you have to do is enter the rafflecopter below. You have until July 1st at midnight to enter. There will be 5 winners.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Anthro Tag Sale!!

It's been a while since I've talked about Anthropologie. In my defense, traveling to Europe (and PCB) was a bit of a money drain. Luckily, Anthropologie understands. (Or at the very least, they understand that people on vacation have less money and that putting things on sale might mean inventory gets moved around more quickly.) In true Mandy-fashion, I had to check out the sale to see if there was anything of interest. After all, if there is anything worth getting, it's always best to buy it on sale from Anthropologie than wait until it shows up on …. Anthropologie prices on Ebay are awful, if you've ever had the chance to look.

Here's what caught my eye today:


A lot of people on Effortless Anthropologie have been complaining about how Anthropologie clothing has taken on a Free People vibe lately. Who can blame them? When you shop at Anthropologie, you are looking for elegance and fashionable day wear including pretty things to wear to the office. Free People has more of a bohemian, California chic look to it that is typically more appropriate for teenagers or people that live on the coast. The Petticoat Tank is one of those pieces that is very Free People-esque yet sold in Anthropologie stores. This top caught my eye simply because I adore the boho look. Would it work for me? Probably not. In the mean time, I can admire it from afar.


Somewhere between a dress and a top, I imagine that the Trevi Tiered Chemise is quite cool and comfortable to wear in the sweltering heat of a Georgia summer day. (Or perhaps it is best worn at night to sleep in? Reviews on the site seem to suggest both.) As for me, I'd probably pair the dress with a belt, a long necklace, and a shrug … just because that is my style.


"Finally! Something with color!" all of the readers of my blog exclaim! :) The Adalina Dress is an Anthropologie online exclusive with the color listed as … pink. Pink?!?! That dress does not look pink! Orange, perhaps? Red? Watermelon? I think the dress is really cute, but will I order it? Most likely not. I hate when Anthropologie puts things up for sale on their website without making it available in stores. How am I suppose to have a real opinion about the color, fabric, and way it fits me without seeing it in person? And yet they expect me to smack down $100 plus for these clothes? No thanks.


I think the Damselfly comb set is simply adorable. The combs come in both gold and silver, with my preference being the silver. I think they would be simply lovely when worn with a cute summer dress. While the price of $25 was a bit off-putting, I think the lower price of $15 is more likely to sell these hair pieces. (As for myself, I will be hoping the price shrinks just a bit more.)


The cereal bowls that Anthropologie sells similar to these Latte Mixing Bowls always get my attention, so when I saw these, I knew I had to share with you. It would seem the combination of teal and red is pretty popular as of recently in the kitchen. I've seen similar color combination in the Martha Stewart line at Macy's. Of course, I am all for the bright color combination that includes one of my favorite colors. Thank you Anthropologie for providing me with opportunity to make my life goal of mixing all of the things more pleasant. :)


Perfect for summer with bright colors, fruits (and frills, of course!), this darling tabletop accessory becomes an important part of summer dining. Made of cotton and machine-washable, this vibrant and beautiful tablecloth would be making my must-have list if, and only if, I had a round table. Sadly, I do not. I guess it's time to add a round table to my list of future must-haves. After all I cannot imagine going one more summer without this Vine Fruits Tablecloth stunner! :)


I've been watching the Melanie V-Neck Dress for a while, and I am thrilled that the price has gone down to $40 (down from $140)! I'm not sure it would look right on me, but I think this dress by Mauve is gorgeous and looks quite comfortable for the hot months of summer. I have to say though that I'm not sure where they think the V-neck is on this dress? Hmmm…


I'm a bit in love with this darling accessory, the Chevron Raffia Clutch, by Miss Albright. I'm not sure what it is about the clutch that speaks to me. It looks a bit vintage and the colors are fun. I suppose I'd have to see it in person to determine my real feelings on it.

What do you think about the clutch above? the clothing? the accessories? Are you jumping in the car to head to your local Anthropologie? Or are you going to hold off for a percentage off sale expected to come later this month?

Persistence Pays Off (I Keep Telling Myself)


Today I'm trying to channel a bit of Ira Glass and some optimism into my work.

I was going about my business on Sunday night, editing like mad and getting sick of the same 2400 images that were on my laptop. I refused to switch out my European pictures to the second set of 3000 until I managed to get through the first 3000 (that I had gotten down to 2400 by Sunday night). Anyway, somehow or another I managed to drag that folder of the 2400 unedited images to my trashcan and delete them. Intelligent, right? I think it was my subconscious saying I was done with that set of images. I was done editing them, and I was done looking at them; they made me sick.

I did learn my lesson a few years back though, and so I had a back-up folder. Two, actually! :) So my loving husband pulled my deleted folder back onto my desktop. We had the computer moving files all night since it said it would take 5 hours for me to get my files back. When I woke up the next morning though, there were only 900 images in the folder! The back-up had failed to bring over 1600 images! Needless to say, I find 900 images a lot more handle-able than 2400, so I am going along with it for now. I'm just getting really frustrated with my editing skills as I feel they are going downhill the more I edit these images I've seen a few thousand times. I keep thinking about how much more quickly I could just send these files to someone for pay to edit, someone with way more experience and patience than I have. BUT I know that if I keep editing and keep practicing, I will get better. I just need to have patience.

Is there any skill you are working on and developing that you are getting frustrated with? Have you had to practice patience and persistence lately?

"For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. [...] It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions." – Ira Glass

Simplicity


This image was the opposite of simple to edit. In fact, it was the opposite of simple to obtain. Sunsets are a beautiful part of nature and yet you still have to find the time to go to a place to observe them in their full, natural, beautiful glory. My question today is: are sunsets really ever truly simple? Or are they as complicated as editing them has turned out to be?

*I'm participating in the iheartfaces summer photo challenge and you should too!

Stopping to See


"What we see depends mainly on what we look for. ... In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the coloring, sportmen the cover for a game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not follow that we should see them."

- John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and The Wonders of the World We Live In

Take the time today to look at something differently than you would have before. Or perhaps, more importantly, take the time to look today. Sometimes the most beautiful things in life are things we pass up on seeing simply because we are too busy.

Have a fantastic Monday!

*I'm participating in the iheartfaces summer photo challenge and you should too!

Editing My Life Away


It's Friday! Yay! :)

Here's a few fun tidbits:

1. I've edited/deleted over 1000 images since I've returned from Europe! YAY!!! Only 5400 more to go.

2. This weekend you can get 20% off full price Anthropologie home goods.

3. You can easily obtain platinum status with Omni hotels if you book a room by June 30 and stay by July 31. :) (It usually requires 10 stays.)

4. If you go to Starbucks frequently, this offer from groupon may be right for you. Pay $5 for a $10 giftcard.

What are you up to this weekend? Doing anything fun? Taking advantage of any good offers?

Throwback Thursday #2: The Engagement Session

Remember last week's throwback featuring images from Stone Mountain Park? That little session was the main reason I decided that my engagement pictures should be taken there. I assumed that if Justin and I could take some decent, fun shots around the park by ourselves, how much better would it be to do that with a photographer?


I must admit I wasn't in love with my engagement session images. I thought the photographer could have been better prepared with location ideas and cues on how to sit/stand to get awesome shots, but I think our photographer was pretty new to the game. Given how difficult photography is as a profession, I can completely identify with why it would be difficult to pose couples and still get a bit of legitimacy out of the session as well. I also understand why getting color correct in post processing would be difficult. Given what she was charging, I think Kelly L did a fantastic job and was as creative as she could be. I imagine in the years since she has probably grown and developed her skills, as I have. She now shoots in South Carolina.


This is one of my favorite images from the session. I had given up on trying to look good for the camera. I was tired and hot. Justin refused to look at the camera, so the majority of the images taken were him looking at me and me looking at the camera. Awkward. I'm not really sure how this image came together, and I really, really wish I could color correct it. But other than that, I love the way we seem to be interacting … and, let's be honest, I love how skinny I look. This dress, my very first expensive Nordstrom dress, can make anyone look good. I swear. :)


I am so glad that I got those heels before this shoot. A-dor-able. But why didn't the photographer ask me to raise my chin a bit? Or lower my shoulder? Some things I will never know.


Before I leave this post, I did want to share that Justin made the pink dress for me for the engagement shoot. It's not as flattering as I had imagined (I wanted one styled similarly to the blue one seen above), but it's a fun dress all the same. I decided on pink flowers rather than purple, because of our cherry blossom wedding theme. Isn't that clever/creative? :) To be even more cute, I wore a pink anklet, that I had originally worn to Justin's and my first unofficial "friend date" at prom a number of years before, to this session. Unfortunately, it never came home with me. Sadness, right? :(

As I look back, despite the fact that there are numerous fun and unique places to take pictures in and around the Atlanta area, I am grateful and happy that we chose to take our engagement pictures at Stone Mountain. It is a place that has a lot of memories and meaning to us, and it can be a lot of fun to roam around when it's not 90+ degrees outside. (Even then, the trees produce an immense amount of shade.)

Have you ever been to Georgia to visit our infamous "mountain" of stone? If you are engaged or married, how did you decide on where to have photos taken? Did you include any special aspects that others may or may not pick up on when they look at your photos?

Sunny Days

somewhere in southern Germany, May 2014

I love sunny days just as much as the next person, but seriously, where is the rain?! The weatherman promised me some, and I'm just not seeing it! (Actually, the forecast calls for rain every day for the next week, and I'm ready for it. I want cooler weather!)

How is the weather in your area? Are you missing the cold winter weather yet?

*I'm participating in the iheartfaces summer photo challenge and you should too!

5 Travel Websites

While I was in Europe I was asked "how do you find those deals?" Well … I have decided to share with the masses. :) The following websites often provide good deals for travelers, especially those that don't have plans set in stone.

1. Extreme Hotel Deals


This site is awesome if you know you want to go somewhere, but you don't know when you want to go. I've seen deals pop up as far into the future as April of next year or as recently as within a few days. By far the best hotel deal I've seen posted on this site was a hotel for Paris where you could stay the night for free! Do keep in mind that the deals tend to go pretty quick. You also have to plan around the deal dates. I haven't taken advantage of any of the deals posted by this site, but I'm hoping if I watch it long enough, someday something will pop up! :)

2. Fare Deal Alert and The Flight Deal




Both of these websites post flight deals. Really, it is as simple as that. These sites will most likely benefit Americans more than foreigners, but occasionally roundtrip flights are posted that I'm sure could benefit those that are not in American. :)

3. Boarding Area


I love the boarding area bloggers! They post so much useful information – everything from flight deals, how to rack up credit card points, how to save money, hotel deals, and giveaways galore! Once again, Boarding Area will most likely benefit American readers the most; however, if you travel at all, I'm certain you can find deals on this site that make it worth following.

4. Slickdeals


If you are down to the wire and you have one day to plan your trip, where do you go? For me, it's slickdeals. They have a forum just for travelers. Don't get me wrong – Slickdeals is by far not the best travel forum choice available. It is an awesome choice when looking for deals for practically anything else though. Last year, using only slickdeals, we were able to obtain a room for $200 for 3 nights including breakfast. In my opinion, that is definitely a slick deal! :)

5. Kayak


Finally, if you've booked the hotel (or even if you haven't) and you want to compare prices on that or a flight or a car … or whatever … check out Kayak. This website makes it super easy to compare rates and make sure you are getting the best deal for whatever you need for your trip.

What websites do you use when planning trips? Any of the ones I've mentioned? Any others that I should know about?

How to Get Through A German Wedding


1. When you find out the wedding is going to last 12 hours and you may have to interact in a different language, cry a little. Really, a moan is sufficient. It won't get you out of it and it won't make you feel better, but do it anyway. Allow your husband to offer you support and wine. Then book separate plane tickets.

2. The day before, before the wedding, get lost. Literally. (The Germans can't blame you if you accidentally miss the wedding, can they?!)

3. Ok, so you really should go to the wedding and you know it. Now is the time to hike up the phone bill by calling the one person you know who lives in Germany at late o'clock at night. Do yourself a favor and argue with the hubby about who will make that call first though.

"You call! You understand the German accent better than me!"
"No! You call! He's your friend!"

-compromise-

Speaker phone, it is. :)

4. Then, after you make that call, realize you have to call this other German dude so you can check into your Airbnb rental before midnight. (I told you it was late o'clock!)

----------------

5. Finally, everything is worked out and the big day is here. Hubby is trying to figure out his phone and you are trying to look somewhat decent despite the fact that it rained the night before and made your hair frizzy/curly. And you can't find that cover up you bought! Where'd you leave it? At home? in the car? Argh! Why did you wake up so late anyway?! At least there is muesli! :)

6. Take your flip flops, because you will be shooting wedding day photos who-knows-where in who-knows-what. You've done a lot of climbing random things in flip flops before and it's far better to shoot in those than heels. Besides, you can show off your pretty, painted toenails. ;)

7. When you get to the bride's parent's home, realize that you really should have worn hose. Y'know … the hose your husband told you not to bring because "it will be too hot". Then, from that point on, have every single German woman offer to let you borrow a pair of hers for the rest of the day. You will get asked at least 10 times.

#HowToFeelSelfConciousALLDAY #AmericansDontOfferHoseToStrangers

8. Realize that when you shoot the bride and groom peering through flowers and trees, you will get weird looks from them, their best lady, and the actually paid photographer. We must do things the normal way. The boring way. Pose the couple. Shoot from one angle. Done. Bleh. Besides, does the real wedding photographer really want you to copy his shots? No. I should think not. If you're doing this for fun, you might as well try to be original without getting in the photographer's way.

9. When you do random things like crawl on the hard, wet ground in an effort to take original photos while wearing a pretty dress and flip flops, be warned that you will be called "tough" by the bride's family. Is this a compliment? An insult? Who knows?!

10. Perhaps you should hold off on getting a glass of water when the groom offers it to you the first time. After all, his sweetheart will drink it all at which point you will embarrass her when she asks if you have a drink. Saying "you drank my drink" to her in front of her family and friends is not the best way to win her over in friendship. Unfortunately, claiming to have never had a drink would be a lie, and you aren't entirely certain how the groom would take you saying that since he did, in fact, provide you with a drink once before. Maybe you should just go hide in the bathroom and avoid this conversation altogether. ;)

11. When a second drink is offered and you agree to have ice in it, everyone and their cousin(s) will look at you like you are from another country. "It's too cold," they will say. Ha. Wimps. Clearly, those Germans should spend more time climbing mountains barefoot in the snow uphill both ways. ;)

12. If and when the bride's parents decide to have you walk in front of them to the church, accept with gratitude. Think really hard about giving them a hug, but decide against it. You are, after all, a "tough American". Might as well add unsentimental to the list too.

13. Sit anywhere in the church after you look at the Germans confused and they respond … by not responding. How did you not think to ask about where to sit beforehand? Ahh yes! You are tough, unsentimental Americans! You do what you want when you want! You don't care about following the rules! Instead, you break them! ;)

14. At the reception site, make friends with the new photographer. (Weddings can't have just one photographer; that would be boring.) Distract her from taking pictures of the bride and groom. Talk about how heavy your cameras are especially with the attached flash. Sneak a picture of the groom's cousin taking a picture of you as you take a picture of him. (I guess that isn't actually sneaking at that point, is it?) Hide behind presents while the bride and groom get sung to. Avoid cake, bread, and all of the "essen". You have pictures to take.

15. Then! Realize that you really want to change clothing. Ask the photographer when this happens. Look surprised when she tells you that it doesn't! "But at American weddings…" you begin… This is when she offers you the very kind advice of waiting until everyone is too drunk to notice that you have changed. How nice!

16. Watch as your husband gets completely wasted.

Or not.

Yell at him to keep him in shape. The Germans can get drunk, but your husband is not allowed. Your rules and you are wife. This does get significantly more difficult when the groom's brother and cousins offer your husband all of the drinks. Stay strong. You can do it. :)

17. At the end of the night, go home (to your rental Airbnb) and pass out. You have jet lag to catch up on.

Clouds


Today my source of inspiration is clouds.

It was pretty windy and overcast the day we spent in Marseille, France (where I got the picture above) which meant that the clouds had a ton of personality. Have you ever thought of clouds as having personality?

I definitely do. I do a lot of cloud looking, and there are definitely 'good' cloud days and 'bad' cloud days. In fact, this is what prompted a trip to Chattanooga last fall when we attempted to drive up to Cloudland Canyon Park to shoot some awesome cloud photos and scenery.

Anyway … back to clouds …

Apparently I am not the only one to think of clouds as having personality. Kelly DeLay has a website where she documents the clouds daily. (What does she do when it rains?) Apparently she has (as of the publishing of this post) taken 1,801 days worth of cloud phots! Can you even imagine what it must be like to go outside and shoot clouds every. single. day.?! I'll admit that I have tried, but I think the secret to getting good cloud shots is a polarizer … and persistence. That would be why I was never successful. (I only recently got a polarizer, and I'm not too good with the persistence bit when it comes to clouds.)

Kelly DeLay isn't the only person pursuing a 365 day project. I've seen people do craft projects, generic photography projects, and, one of my favorites, the Julie/Julia project (which the movie Julie and Julia was based on). I love the idea of pursuing something you want to get better at and practicing it on a daily basis.

I definitely noticed a change in my photography over the 3 weeks I spent in Europe carrying my camera constantly. First of all, the camera and the equipment started to really dwindle down to the necessities; who wants to carry that much? Second of all, the camera started to get really heavy. As in, OW! My shoulder! (Because I can only really carry it on my right shoulder. Don't ask.) But I also started really thinking about my shots (when I wasn't climbing mountains trying to catch my breath). Where was the top third of the shot? the bottom? How was the lighting? I was far more creative at the beginning of the trip, but my actual technique began to improve toward the end. I became more conscious about whether or not the shot was something I actually wanted. Was it unique? Different? Would I want to edit it later?

Now I am pursuing the edit-a-picture-a-day while babysitting and working. I'm sharing a dropbox folder with the friends that went on the trip, so I am being extra careful about what I post. Too many re-edits and I'm certain their minds might explode. The good thing is that it is making me more confident in my edits. I'm pulling together a style that I think is unique to me, involving lots of saturation and pulling information out of the highlights and lowlights where I can. (Thanks CreativeLive!) I love the almost-HDR effect in my photos without actually going there.

Are you doing any projects of a similar nature? Shooting images for 365 days? Cooking your way through a recipe book? I'd love to hear about your projects! It's nice to have support and know that you aren't alone.

*I'm participating in the iheartfaces summer photo challenge and you should too!

Throwback Thursday


On my way home, as I was listening to my new Pandora station, this song came on: Los Lonely Boys - "Heaven". That's when I knew my blog post today would be a throwback; after all it is Thursday!

Summer always brings back soooo many memories! The lake, the beach, karaoke (and I don't even like karaoke!), long drives that lead nowhere (or to Charleston), large glasses of lemonade while sitting on the porch swing looking up at the stars talking late into the night … Ahh! The memories!

The second year Justin and I were dating was the year I became interested in photography. We ended up going to Stone Mountain Park and taking a few photos. Some of those photos are still my favorites.


We took them with a 35mm camera using old, old, old film my grandfather had left in there from the early 90s. We had no idea if the film would capture anything, but we were excited to try!


Justin did most of the picture taking. I was still a bit too shy to grab hold of the camera and do much shooting myself.


My brother went with us, and it's quite clear that he didn't know what he was doing either. Notice that the image is all blurry? Focus, what?


We stayed late enough to shoot some fireworks. Because.


We had bought a season pass, so we went back the next day … this time with black and white tri-x film as well.


When I finally gave in and decided to take some pictures, I told Justin that I wanted some depth of field in my image. I had no idea how to achieve that though, so the end result was … a bit blurry. At least I knew what I wanted! (Is he squinting too?!)


This is what can affectionately be termed "the run and hug pose". (He set up the camera, ran, and hug-posed.)


And the hunched over hugging my knees pose? :) Obviously, I will never be a model.

Overall it was a fun (hot) day spent taking those pictures. I will always hold these memories (and pictures) dear, and music like the Los Lonely Boys will always remind me of summer days (and nights) spent in the south.

Are there any particular songs you strongly associate with summer or your past? Did you post any photos or memories for "Throwback Thursday"?

Friends + Songs

Today I was suppose to edit a picture with texture, but I got busy and that didn't happen. So, instead you get to see a fun list of songs that remind me of the friends I had while in high school. If any of them read my blog, they can have fun guessing who each song is for. :) For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy the good music. Luckily I have a variety of friends, and you can really see this in the large range of music styles that reflects them. Maybe you'll find something you haven't heard before? Or perhaps you'll get a chance to listen to something you haven't heard in a while?!

In no particular order:

1. Eric Clapton - "Layla"


2. The Verve - "Bittersweet Symphony"


3. The Beatles - "An Octopus's Garden"



4. Eva Cassidy - "Fields of Gold"


5. Arctic Monkeys - "Baby I'm Yours"


6. Deanna Carter - "Strawberry Wine"


7. Guns 'N Roses - "Sweet Child o' Mine"


8. Evanescence - "Bring Me to Life"


9. Vanessa Carlton - "A Thousand Miles"


10. Celine Dion - any song really

11. Outkast - "Hey Ya!"


12. Staind - "It's Been A While"


A shout out to the person who first introduced me to this song and is now performing his own music! Congrats Levi Lowrey!

13. Train - "Drops of Jupiter"


Sidenote: This particular song actually reminds me of a group of people and a trip. That's why it is lucky number 13. :)

Are there songs in your life that always remind you of certain people?

Turquoise Water and Blue Skies


My summer is already looking a bit crazy. Here is my current schedule:

8 hours of babysitting (without internet)
X hours of graphic design (depends on the day)
X hours of photo editing (also depends on the day, image, etc…)
2 hours of drive time
1 hour of blog time (at least)
and some extra side work I typically do.

Hmmm… 

No wonder I needed a beautiful view of the coast to get me through today. :)

I'm not complaining about having paid work to do, but I am wondering how I will balance it all as the summer progresses. I might consider blogging just 3 times a week or blogging just images to keep up with the iheartfaces June challenge. After all, I do love pictures (and challenges). :) 

However, the whole reason I blog is to challenge myself to become a better writer. Ahh!! … the decisions! 

What do you think I should do? Are you one of the lucky ones that gets a break during the summer?

24 hours at Panama City Beach & Port San Blas

Port San Blas sunset near the marina

Over the weekend Justin and I went to explore Panama City Beach and Port St. Joe/Port San Blas with his family. It was a whirlwind weekend trip, and I learned more about Panama City Beach and Port San Blas than I ever intended on knowing.

Panama City Beach

Where We Stayed:

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Resort, which was actually a lot more fun than I expected. Our room had a view of the ocean and pool. The hotel was very upscale providing lots of little "extras". One of my favorite extras was the strawberry and pineapple infused water you could get out near the pool. :) They also provided water infused with lime and lemon, sweet tea, coffee, and gave us a coupon for 2 free drinks from the hotel bar. Every day there were a ton of activities near the pool including nightly movies, Polynesian flame throwers, a DJ during the day, a kids water park, and poolside pizza and Hawaiian ice you could order. Honestly the things you could pay for and the entertainment options were endless with this particular hotel. Even if you decided to provide everything yourself, the hotel rooms all offered balconies with a view, huge rooms, and home size fridges for your convenience. While the rooms were pretty expensive, it was definitely fun having access to any amenities we could want.

Where We Shopped:

The Florida House offers feminine Free People style clothing – jewelry, dresses, flip flops, skirts, and tops made with crocheted material, lace, tulle, and using pastel colors perfect for keeping you comfortable, cool, and stylish at the beach. Don't expect cheap tourist prices though; dresses began at $50.

The Shadow Box provided some unique coastal shabby chic pieces and antiques, mostly in the turquoise and white colors you expect to see at the beach with a few seashells and fun beach sayings thrown into the mix. Prices, as you would expect from this kind of store, are not thrift store friendly.

A non-profit created by and for local artists, Floriopolis is an art gallery with every type of art you could ever imagine for sale including paintings, photographs, homemade cards, and the owner mentioned they are considering adding an outdoor area soon as well. If you have children, be sure to look into the art classes they offer. I imagine there can't be a better way to take an art class than at the beach!

Where We Ate:

Andy's Flour Power was packed from the moment we pulled into the parking lot, ten minutes before it opened. The bakery and cafe provided delicious breakfast options just a bit different from what was provided at the numerous local Waffle Houses. I can only recommend what I tried, but what I tried was good. :) We had a dish of potatoes and peppers topped with cheese, ham and eggs along with a croissant and some strawberries.

The Farmer's Market at Grand Lagoon and Captain Anderson's, open on Saturdays until 1PM, is certainly a great place to shop for locally made goods and foods, but Justin and I found it to be the perfect place to grab a bite to eat as well. One particular vendor was selling homemade barbeque, cole slaw, and fresh ice cream. This lunch made by locals was far better than anything we could have (or did) get at any other restaurants we ate at while we were on vacation. I highly recommend checking this out if you are in the area and can be convinced to leave the hotel! :)

Port St. Joe/Port San Blas

All I really have to say about this area is that this is where you go if you want the more scenic views of the gulf and if you don't mind bugs. Panama City Beach has strong waves that just keep coming, but it also has an enormous amount of tourists. The ports on the other hand are more protected with less "true" beach access.

Even the restaurants and stores found near the ports were less than fantastic. Expect typical stores like Winn Dixie, Piggly Wiggly, CVS, and Goodwill. If you do find good food at local restaurants, you will pay for it. A much better idea is to stay somewhere where you can either bring your own food or go fishing if you have access to a pier or a boat.

What is your favorite beach in Florida? Do you prefer crowded, touristy beaches or do you like to go to beaches less visited? Is there anywhere in Panama City Beach or Port St. Joe/Port San Blas that I should have visited?