A Palm Tree

Charleston, 2013

“The cure for anything is saltwater - sweat, tears, or the sea.”
- Isak Dinesen

A Sunday of French Cooking

In anticipation of my birthday, I had Justin make a full out French meal for me on Sunday. It was lovely and delicious … and super fun having him squint and use his translator app to get past the French verbs we weren't familiar with in the French cookbooks we brought back from France.

Grands Classiques

Justin made French green beans, seasoned chicken (neither of which required a cookbook) and Gnocchis a la parisienne (the recipe of which is in the above cookbook) for dinner. Obviously he got the non-recipe things perfect, but the homemade noodles tasted a bit like mush. It would seem that perhaps we should search youtube for that and see what went wrong. The gnocchi recipe called for nutmeg with cheese flavor so it was a lovely, delicate taste as compared to what I was expecting. (Of course, I thought gnocchi was potatos! Boy was I wrong!)

Les Classiques

Afterwards (or rather, before cooking dinner), Justin started work on the dessert - macarons (NOT MACAROONS!). While he was cooking the macarons, I learned quite a bit about them. For example:
- Sift the almond flour very well so that you don't end up with lumps in the shell of your cookie
- Macaroons are made with coconut and macarons are not.
- Macarons were not initially a sandwich cookie.
- The inner filling of the cookie shouldn't be too runny.
It was really a lot of fun watching Justin cook all of the French things over the weekend, but it was especially fun when my grandmother remarked, after trying a cookie, that she would not share with my grandfather and that she wanted a cooking date with Justin. I think that makes me the best granddaughter ever for marrying someone that knows how to impress the grandparents! Yes?!

Anyway, I highly recommend purchasing cookbooks in other languages. It takes cooking to another level of challenging! PLUS, as you are learning new words, you realize how many words you already knew without having studied the language one bit! :) If that's not exciting, I don't know what is!

International Day of la Francophonie

Today I saw a pin on pinterest where someone commented on how it was "the international day of French language". Eager to celebrate the French, I began watching all of the Youtube videos related to everything French without actually bothering to note that March 20 is actually the international day of the French language. Oops.

Maybe I can celebrate next year? :)

In celebration of what I thought was the day of the French language, I went on an internet search to find the department store Justin and I shopped in while we were in Paris. I keep hoping that they will start selling real French macarons online. Everywhere we go, including our recent visit to Charleston, we try the macarons just to see if they taste anything like what we had in Paris. So far we haven't had any luck. Nothing tastes quite as decadent or perfect. On my search though, I discovered two places that might have what I am looking for … Maison Roberts of Atlanta, which I will be trying first, and Pierre Herme of … somewhere else (Paris, perhaps?). They were recommended by some random macaron loving blogger that I forgot to get the link for. She says Pierre Herme has some of the best macarons ever and that she has tried many. (There were links to about 1,000 macaron makers on her site, many she recommends but most she doesn't.)

At some point there was the realization that I most likely won't get to eat another truly Parisian macaron again until I return to Paris unless I (or my husband) make it ourselves. Given that my birthday is coming up rather quickly, I told Justin that I wanted him to make me macarons for it. (A vacation is simply not enough of a birthday treat!) … Will he do it? Probably not. Macarons take time… lots of time. Justin's time is running out.

That didn't stop me from watching this video about how to make them. The macarons look so easy to make! Clearly Justin can do it whenever he wants without difficulty. Of course, my fear is that the macaron recipe above is an Americanized version missing all of the Parisian-ness that I require in macarons. Luckily, we have a French cookbook bought in France with a macaron recipe we might try first. Unluckily, the book is in French, so it may be a tad difficult to comprehend. We shall see.

After all of my time spent worrying about macarons, Paris, and happiness, I decided to watch Emmy eat France. Emmy is cute and makes me happy, so you should watch her too.

So how have you celebrated the day that was not actually International French Language Day? Did you do anything decisively French?

Creativity, Photography, & Inspiration

"To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them." 

- Elliott Erwitt

Longing for the Beach

Did you know that I am excited about going to the beach this weekend?

Only 6 more hours of work + drive time.

What are you doing this weekend?

Where to Stay in Charleston

All day yesterday, I attempted the long process of booking a hotel. I suppose it is not typically a long process, but for me, it is. I have status at a few hotel chains, and I always have this argument in my head about whether I should stay somewhere to get points … or if I should stay at the cheaper place. Yesterday was no different. I've stayed at a few hotels in Charleston in the past 10 or so years, so I have definitely developed a taste for what I do and don't like in hotels there. Given that I only had a few days in which to look for a hotel and price points to consider, it was a struggle for me to not be able to choose the hotels I am familiar with and love. I decided that I would give those hotels a shout out in this blog post since I won't be staying at any of them over the weekend.


Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina

A few years ago (maybe 4?), I made plans with a friend to visit Charleston. She cancelled last minute, but I convinced Justin to take me anyway. (Summer birthdays are great for convincing husbands/boyfriends!) We couldn't afford to stay by the beach (who wouldn't choose the beach first anyway?), but I wanted to stay near water. CHR&M was a good much cheaper alternative. It had just gone through renovations and prices were much less than they are today. Unfortunately, years later unless you book through groupon or some other fantastic hotel deal site, the hotel is far more expensive. Nevertheless, it is always my first choice.

CHR&M is located right on the marina (as the name implies) and also right at the touristy Patriot's Point. They have a boat that goes back and forth from the hotel to Charleston city proper and you are within a quick drive to the beach at Isle of Palms. Another feature is the summer bonfires (which I've never seen) and the variety of things for the elderly to do. If you go on July 4th, you are set up perfectly to watch the fireworks. And one of my favorite things to do is to meander the property and especially exploring the marina at night. In my mind there is nothing more magical than hearing and seeing the boats on the water at night. Truly fantastic. :)

The large rooms are simply lovely at CHR&M decorated in yellow and blue making you feel as though you are at home rather than at a hotel. I recommend getting a room on a higher floor looking out at the marina, because the parking lot view just never seemed to be too appealing to me. Don't worry too much about booking a room with a fireplace. As beautiful as the fireplace is, it is not worth the extra money since you get a balcony with a (regular) double queen room anyway for a lot less.

Seaside Inn

My first trip to Charleston, we stayed at this hotel which I managed to get at the cheap, cheap price of $150 a night in the middle of summer. Granted they had just done renovations, and this was maybe 10 years ago. I never saw SI as an amazing luxury hotel which is why, given the price increases, I have only been back once. In other news, the breakfast was lackluster (cold pastries, juice, coffee, and cereal) and my husband (boyfriend at the time) once saw a roach on the floor. (I know. Gross, right?!) The beach was just steps away though, and you could sit outside your room (even if you didn't have an ocean view) and hear the ocean, which was a nice perk. I also loved that cute little bars with frozen drinks and gift shops were all within walking distance. Who doesn't want to go for a late night Ben & Jerry's run? :)

Best Western: Patriot's Point

Last year Justin and I went and stayed at the BW for July 4th weekend. We got a fantastic deal on travelocity and were, once again, traveling with family who were more conscious about money than I am. Spending $70/night or so on 3 nights between 4 people and getting a free breakfast included sounded fantastic. And it was. The hotel itself was lackluster. It was definitely a Best Western without much decoration or flare. It was within (a long) walking distance of Patriot's Point where we went to see the fireworks, but it was within walking distance. We didn't even have to worry about where to park the car! Or driving through traffic after the fireworks! The breakfast was even pretty good with eggs, bacon, pastries, juice, coffee, and waffles being served. While the BW will never be my favorite place to stay, I definitely recommend it if you can get a room for a good price. It's a fantastic budget hotel. :)

Marketplace Pavillion Hotel

If you are looking to stay in historic downtown in luxury, this may be the hotel for you. Justin and I went with some friends of his on a loooooonnnnngggg weekend date and stayed here, a place I never would have considered on my own. The hotel is right smack dab in the middle of town and you pay for that when you stay at this hotel. The interior is gorgeous and they offer packets of coffee and tea in the room along with pastries on each floor in the morning. Because we were vacationing in February, the pool was closed, but I'm not sure I would want to go to this hotel's pool anyway. It is located on the rooftop next to a bar that is open during the summer to the public. The bar area is fantastic for watching the sunset even if the food is a bit expensive. As fancy as the hotel is, I would have a hard time returning and paying such a high price for the little bit of value I seemed to get out of this hotel. I would much rather stay at the beach if I'm going to pay so much. Then again, I don't find much value in staying in the historic Charleston city limits anyway.

Hampton Inn: Historic Charleston

For someone who doesn't find much value inside the historic city limits of Charleston, I still found myself enjoying a stay at this fantastic hotel last year. I was put in a room on the bottom floor with a door that led straight out to the pool. Heck yeah! :) Unfortunately we only got to stay for one night, but we took full advantage of all of the hotel amenities. Free hot drinks all day, free buffet style breakfast in the morning, free cookies in the afternoon, free shuttle service into the city, fantastic staff, and help obtaining forgotten toiletries all made our stay at this hotel fabulous! We felt like royalty!

The rooms were decorated wonderfully. We stayed in a room with 2 queen beds and the room was huuuuuuuggggggeeee! (Yes, the exaggeration is warranted.) Honestly I can't remember any of the rooms amenities because we were there for such a short period, but it definitely felt worth it. If I go on vacation, I like feeling like royalty and taking advantage of hotel perks. I highly recommend this hotel especially if you have status with the Hilton chain, want to stay in historic Charleston, or are traveling with family. It is definitely worth it.

Holiday Inn Riverview

I can't really tell you a whole lot about this Holiday Inn since it was years ago that I was there, but, from what I do remember, this hotel is a great place to watch 4th of July fireworks from your room. They don't really offer any amazing amenities and the rooms aren't stunning, but you are much closer to Charleston city center, you have great views of Charleston from the higher floors, and the price is comparably a lot lower than other hotels in that area. There are definitely benefits to this hotel if none of your preferred hotels are available. It was one of the few I was considering for my most current weekend getaway.


This weekend Justin and I will be staying at our seventh hotel in Charleston, one that we have never stayed at before, the Daniel Island Hampton Inn which provides free breakfast, cookies, drinks, and shuttle service and has high ratings on TripAdvisor. I'm hoping it will be an awesome experience, but you never know. I tried to choose a place with lots of amenities, as close to Charleston (or the beach) as possible, and some place that I have status with. It was between this and the Holiday Inn (Riverview or Downtown). (The price point* and free cookies won me over. haha.)

Have you ever stayed at any of these hotels when visiting Charleston? Would you recommend them? (I'm not even going to ask if you've ever been, because if you haven't, you must go! The sooner, the better!)

See my recommendations on what to do and where to eat in Charleston.

* Don't forget that Hilton hotels are offering $50 back when you use your Amex for hotel stays costing $250 or more between now and 9/2/14 and tweet at #AmexHilton with your linked (to Amex) twitter account. See offer terms and conditions here.

Charleston, Here I Come!

In 3.5 days I will be in Charleston. Yay!!!

Before I get there I have to work for approximately 12 hours straight tomorrow. I'm grateful for the work, but I'm going to be sooooooo tired! And there probably won't be a blog post.

In the mean time, go check out Charleston Daily Photo, a blog featuring photos of one of my favorite east coast cities. :)

Thinking about Home Furnishings

I've been working on a paid project all week about home furnishings, and for the last assignment they asked me to put together a collage of all of my favorite home furnishings. It was kind of fun to see this collage above of turquoise, blue, ivory, and white. Maybe someday my home will be filled with these things. :) What colors would be in a collage for your home if you were to put one together?

(Going from Left to right, up to down)

1. Wisteria: Louis XIV Dining Chair $299
2. Ballard Designs: Castered Tufted Storage Ottoman $449 - $659
3. Kirklands: Beaded Oval Wall Mirror $17.99
4. Pottery Barn: Hydrocotton Bath Towels $8.50 - $24.50

5. World Market: Blue Emma Tufted Chairs (Set of 2) $179.98
6. Sky Iris: Aqua Couli Throw $87 (sold out)
7. Layla Grace
8. Pottery Barn: Crochet Trimmed Standard Sham $39 - $59

9. Target: Brookline Tufted Counter Stool $75.99 - $83.99
10. Pier 1 Imports: Turquoise Lamp (sold out)
11. Devon Bedding (no idea where it's from)
12. Painted Cottages Etsy Listing (sold out)

13. Pier 1 Imports: Teal Crackle Drinkware $5.95 - $6.95
14. Pier 1 Imports: Wooden Drawer Lantern $48
15. Custom Furniture World: Coastal Living Cottage Pedestal Dining Table $1729
16. Layla Grace rug (sold out)

TBT: Metal Roses

Most of the time when I think of "throwbacks" my mind goes to my junior summer of art exploration. It was a time when I was told I wouldn't graduate on time unless I took summer classes, but my college didn't offer any classes I needed. Instead I found myself frantically fighting for a chance to take classes at UGA, the arch enemy of my husband's college, GA Tech.

Waking up crazy early to make the hour long drive to the school, I took sculpture, art history, dance, and photography. It was one of my best semesters in school. In between classes, I would go to the gigantic library and just roam, occasionally finding a book but rarely checking it out. If I wasn't doing that, I was going to get a drink on the square in Athens … more specifically an Italian soda, sometimes with cream and sometimes without. :) And then there were days where I would just sit in the shade of the trees reading a book or chatting on the phone with a friend. Looking back, I'm not sure how I survived the heat that summer, but I did.

I absolutely loved every class I took, but I think my favorite may have been sculpture. Granted, photography is the art I stuck with, but there was something truly magnificent about working and creating with your hands.

I had a very young teacher. It was his first year teaching at UGA, and you could tell. He was very easygoing and extremely helpful to his class of 12 girls learning to do woodworking, use clay, and pour metal. Our first project involved printing an image of a person with a very detailed face, preferably with lots of texture. Then, we had to carve the face into clay followed by a sand mold with metal being poured into the sand mold a week or two later. It was thrilling and time consuming. I'm pretty sure I got clay on everything! Needless to say that the exercise taught me a lot in a short amount of time about the creative process, how to effectively use dental tools with clay, and how to be a detail-oriented individual.

We did other projects in that particular class, but my favorite project came at the end of the semester when it was a "free-for-all". I sculpted a number of roses and a gun (as in Guns 'n' Roses, duh!). The roses came naturally to me as I was sculpting (not carving, like in the last exercise). It was almost like meditating. I had a method that I would attempt to improve on as I completed each rose. In the end, my gun and several of the roses died when the metal in my sand cast didn't reach into all of the crannies and crevices that my clay sculptures had created, so those pieces simply fell apart when they were removed.

Surprisingly, despite the criticism received while making them, everyone (even the teacher) wanted a rose from my collection. Justin got one, my friend got one for her birthday, my mom, my grandparents, and even my brother! Quickly I went from having more roses than I could handle to having just 3 that I tied together with a turquoise ribbon from my childhood. Three was the perfect number for me, and I was grateful to be able to share my artwork with so many others who wanted what I had made.

Many, many years later I still find myself proud and quite pleased with all that was accomplished during my summer at UGA. Not only did I create a beautiful (IMHO) piece of artwork to go on my bookshelf, I created memories, and I put in enough work to be able to graduate on time from college. That summer is what I would call successful.

Herbal Essences Naked Dry Shampoo

One of the things I absolutely hate about vacationing is washing my hair. To be honest, I just generally hate washing my hair.

About my hair: It is thick and naturally wavy. If I just wash it and do nothing else to it, it will dry frizzy, either wavy or curly, and oh-so-thick. In fact, it's quite possible that my hair might actually look like that of a clown's, except longer. It's not cute.

My routine: To conquer that clown look, I find that I must blow dry my hair and that takes at least an hour for me to do. Since I hate the heat from the blow dryer (and I know it does bad things to my hair), I usually allow my hair to dry naturally resulting in the frizzy, wavy hair I mentioned above.

The next step in my hair care routine is to straighten my hair. I'm not a hair stylist, so the combination of not drying my hair and attempting to straighten it getting it perfect the first time usually doesn't happen. I end up giving up another hour to the straightening iron. … Then I have to come back to it the next day (or a few hours later) to correct what I didn't get right the first time.

All of the above results in a very irritated me with dry hair, split ends, and less happiness than when I started.

This is why dry shampoo is my friend.

Granted there are days when I couldn't care less whether or not you or anyone else thinks my hair looks oily. I put my hair in a ponytail or braid and go about my business simply because I don't want to put in the hours required to have a decent hairdo. But most of the time the oily look isn't really my favorite. That's when I use my favorite dry shampoo which has, more often than not, been cornstarch. Yes, you heard me correctly. Cornstarch. (You can add a bit of cocoa powder for darker hair.) The result quickly soaks up excess oil without leaving your scalp feeling dirty or dry. (I've also tried baking soda which does leave your scalp feeling dirty and dry.)

When Influenster sent me the Herbal Essences Naked Dry Shampoo to try, I was thrilled! Previous non-homemade dry shampoos have worked somewhat but nothing was ever as good as the stuff found in my pantry. Unfortunately, as with most of my reviews recently, I was only to be disappointed. I received the whole bottle as a free trial, but no matter how much product I sprayed in my hair or how long the product was in my hair, my hair still had an oily sheen to it that was just completely unacceptable in my opinion. If I wanted to maintain the oily look, why would I buy and pay for a dry shampoo? Furthermore, the product felt heavy and dirty on my scalp. This resulted in me having to wash my hair sooner rather than later. No thanks. I guess that's why Influenster also sent me a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner from the Herbal Essence line to try as well. (I didn't try it. My mom did and loved it. I went straight to the hair salon and got my hair washed, cut, and curled. Definitely a good hair day for me!)

What is your opinion on dry shampoos? Have you tried the new Herbal Essences naked dry shampoo yet? What about a homemade dry shampoo?

* I received these products free to try, but all opinions are my own and not necessarily those of Herbal Essences or Influenster.

Urban Outfitters July 4th Sale

After a difficult weekend, Justin decided to take me shopping. We weren't really going to spend money; we were actually going to just browse and get out of the house for a bit.

Randomly, I decided to glance through Anthropologie's sister-store Urban Outfitters. It had been years since I walked through the store with my last purchase there being in 2011. I often find the clothes there to be for a younger audience than myself and more cheaply made and less feminine/girly than I like. I decided to give the store a chance anyway since all clearance items had been marked down by 50%. I was surprised by the prettiness that I saw and the good prices even if I only bought one piece.

I didn't see the Lucca Couture Floral Babydoll Dress in any stores that I went to, but I think the dress is adorable. It looks cool and comfortable for a hot summer day and reviews suggest that it is soft. The price of $29.99 is even reasonable and comparable to what you can find at cheaper clothing stores. The main issue I see in the reviews of this dress is that it shrunk. :-/ As cute and pretty as this dress is, I think it may be best (for me) to admire it from afar.

I didn't try the Kimchi Blue Daisy Strap Dress on in stores, but I was enamored by the cute daisy chain straps on it. They absolutely make the dress. This dress is very thin, very light, and very soft. The straps look delicate and like they may break easily. Also, I was a bit worried about wrinkling.

When I saw the Kimchi Blue Bow-Back Romper hanging on the hanger in the sale section, I just had to try it on. What a disappointment! The romper looked like a dress when hanging on the hanger, but it quickly became apparent to me that it was in fact a romper. *sigh* Rompers are not my style at all. I tried on the medium and it fit very well being far too clingy and short for my comfort.

I did not try the Kimchi Blue Lace Halter Mini Dress on despite my strong desire to. I knew the v-neck would not work for me, and after seeing it on the model I'm glad I didn't try this dress on. The dress was soft and the lace detailing was gorgeous. It looked like the perfect dress for attending a wedding or going to a nice party. Priced at $19.99, the white version could even be worn as a less elaborate wedding dress.

The very similar Pins and Needles Surplice Skater Dress was not available in stores, but it looks like a prettier, less lacey version of the dress above. I will most likely not be ordering, because I tend to find the shorter "skater" dresses are often too short for me. The dress seems lovely though.

And finally we get to the one dress I couldn't say no to: the Betsey Johnson Vintage for UO Courtney Lace dress. Let me just say that this dress looks WAY better in person than it does on the model. It's a bit of a low cut dress, but, despite how conservative I am, I did not find the dress to be so incredibly low cut that I was uncomfortable walking around in public in this dress. Also, this dress has pockets!!! How cool is that? And it's a Betsey Johnson dress for $29! Most Betsey Johnson dresses are upwards of $100! The dress is lined with a slip underneath and it's a bit stretchy. I tried on the xs and it fit perfectly emphasizing the parts of my body that I like the most and minimizing the parts I liked the least. I sincerely hope I get to see more Betsey Johnson dresses at Urban Outfitters in the future; this dress was such a fun find after a pretty ho-hum experience.

Did you go shopping over the holiday weekend? Would a Betsey Johnson line at Urban Outfitters intrigue you enough to shop there more often?

Finances 101


It's easy to say, and it should be easy to do. But it's not.

It's not easy to do when you get kicked out of your rental home (because it is sold, mind you) and have to buy a car to travel back and forth between Atlanta and your new home. It's not easy to do when you have a friend getting married in Europe and you need … have … oughtshould … would like to (?) go visit. And worst of all, it's not easy saving when you are adjusting to a new living situation and a new lifestyle.

Then when your finances take a turn for the worst and you discover that your total yearly income will be less than expected this year (and not because of anything you did or didn't do, could or couldn't have prevented), it's a bit of a shock. Adjustments must be made.

So that's what Justin and I have been working on over the past week. We've gotten comfortable with one lifestyle that now must be changed, for better or for worse.

Here are a few of our most recent financial graphs.

Here you see our assets which I am most proud of. As is typical with finances, the assets are ever-changing. As of right now, I have a wad of cash and a check that needs to be deposited into the bank that would raise our assets to above what we had in February and 3/5 of the way to my ultimate (emergency savings) goal. (YAY!) Unfortunately, the lower yearly income will drastically alter how much I am able to contribute monthly to these checking and savings accounts that make up our emergency savings since, while having an emergency savings is nice, it is not vital to living or getting out of debt. :(

And there you see our debt. Probably better seen through net worth, below:

This graph says not to waste your time or money sueing us, because you won't get hardly anything. :( That bit of green is my pitiful emergency savings in comparison to student loans, and credit card debt. The worst part: we still have more in savings than most other Americans, given that we actually HAVE SOMETHING. Scary, right?

I know a finance update isn't how anyone wants to spend the Monday following July 4th, but it was on my mind and something I haven't posted about since May. Our financial status right now looks a bit bleak, but I am hoping that change is coming … Either a change in my yearly financial expectations (and new opportunities), lower spending, or both.

Are you meeting your financial goals this summer?

Happy 4th of July!

I hope you enjoy getting to spend today with your loved ones … grilling out, watching fireworks, vacationing and all of the things you might consider doing on a beautiful summer day like today. :)

Starting Anew

"It's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left."

- Hubert Humphrey

Time to go to Baskin Robbins and get an ice cream! :)

Change in 2014

There is that moment when you are just starting to figure everything out … and then change happens … out of the blue and unexpected.

That point is a great time for introspection. Where do I want to go in life? What do I want to do? Am I following my heart and/or my dreams? What steps are necessary for me to do so? And as Justin puts it, what will make me happy? Now? 20 years from now?

Honestly, it's a lot of questions to have put on "your plate" all at once especially when you already were quite content, or you had a plan that was working toward future expectations of contentedness.

I feel like this year, more than any other year in a while is really testing my limits and pushing me to grow and change in ways that I have no desire to do.

What do you do when that happens? Do you have a coping mechanism? Do you thrill at the excitement of change? Or do you struggle with it as much as I do?