My Wish List For This Black Friday…


Clothing Wants:
• Taylor Swift's Dolce & Gabbana floral nude dress from her new music video, Blank Space.
Bobble Poncho from Anthropologie
• Oscar de la Renta Lame Bow Embroidered Tulle Dress
Glinted Taffeta Midi Dress from Anthropologie

Expensive Wants:
• a new car
• an ipad
• an iphone
• a Macbook Pro

Life Wants:
• more money (ALL of the $$)
• more travel
• more art (on my walls and being created by me)
• more music … and let's add books and movies to this list too. :)

Desires For You:
• more fun
• more peace
• more love
• more happiness

What are you wanting this holiday season?

* Day 20 of November Blogathon.
** Note: I do not condone what Taylor Swift does to her boyfriend in this video … or any of her songs really.  I just like the dresses. :)

A Thanksgiving Menu

image from tuchodi

Need ideas for Thanksgiving? Want to know what my family is cooking?

Appetizers:
Salad with Strawberry Dressing
Butternut Squash Soup

Entrée and Sides:
• Turkey and gravy (of course)
• stuffing with chaurice sausage
dressing
carrots
• French green beans (same recipe as carrots minus honey, with a touch of garlic added)
• cranberry apple sauce with an added pear
sweet potato soufflé
croissants
strawberry fruit salad
roasted tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and potatoes
• gruyere and emmental spätzle

Desserts:
pumpkin pie
Bourbon pecan pie
Robert Carter's coconut cake

I hope you have a wonderful holiday! Be sure to tell me what all you are cooking in the comments!

Idina Menzel - Holiday Wishes



Ever wished you could hear Elsa from Frozen sing some of your holiday favorites? Tony-award singer/actress, Idina Menzel did her very best to make that happen this year with the release of Holiday Wishes, a compilation of music produced by Grammy Award-winner Walter Afanasieff (Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey) featuring such classic favorites as “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".



According to an interview with the artist, Idina does not have fond memories of Christmas, but she is hoping that this album will encompass all of the feelings that people deal with at this time of year, whether you are happy, sad, or something in between.

While I was super excited to get the chance to review this album, I'll admit that Idina's voice seemed to be a little bit too much for the classic tunes I grew up with. In making the first few tracks her own, she lost the little bit of magic I was expecting to hear. This is not to say the album did not have a few gems that stood out to me. I especially enjoyed listening to "December Prayer" and "River".

This album may not have been what I was expecting, but I'd love to know if you are excited about getting to hear "Elsa" sing some of your Christmas favorites? Does my review make you apprehensive? Or are you as excited as ever to purchase the album?

itunesamazon

Feel free to check out Idina Menzel on her official site or keep up with her on facebook!

* I participated in the Idina Menzel Holiday Wishes album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided an album to review but all opinions are my own.

Thanks…


Yesterday as I was on my way to work, the passenger side ball joint on my car broke … along with the axle, and my car started leaking transmission fluid. (To people who don't speak car talk, like me, the tire fell off of my car while I was on the road.) Apparently, very easily I could have lost control of the vehicle, flipped and gotten very hurt. Luckily I wasn't on the highway and there were no vehicles in my direct path. I initially pulled over thinking I had a flat tire (no biggie, right?) only to find myself horrified about what really happened…

My dad, a mechanic, and my husband, not a mechanic, got to work on the vehicle right away last night knowing that they could fix it for much cheaper than a dealership (i.e. labor is free). To make up for the time I was taking away from my husband being able to cook in the kitchen, I decided to take on as much of his Thanksgiving cooking responsibilities as I could. I made a pumpkin pie that wouldn't set … then the blender broke while trying to combine soup. It was a frustrating day to say the least. Today has been more successful, thank goodness!

However, after all that I experienced yesterday, I have a newfound respect for all of the wonderful people in my life and all that they do for me.

I  love you dear friends and family.

It shouldn't take a broken blender or car for me to realize that, but sometimes it takes moments like that for you to sit back and realize how good you really have it. I am so very blessed.

Who all are you thankful for? Have you taken the time today to tell them or show them how much you care and appreciate all they do for you?

* Day 17 of November Blogathon.

Places Worth Traveling To

image from Justin in SD

Or so the number of visitors suggest…

Having only recently gotten swept up into the world of traveling, I was excited to see Travel & Leisure's list of the World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions originally posted by Michael W Travels. Given his short list of locations, I wondered how many places on the list I had travelled – zero? twenty? Well, as it turns out my list was pretty short ending at eleven places with two of them being places I've only seen from the outside and haven't actually gone into; do those count?

Without further ado, here is my list:

No. 3 Times Square, NYC
No. 4 (tie) Central Park, NYC
No. 12 Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, FL
No. 19 Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris (we saw it; does that count?)
No. 24 Epcot, WDW in Lake Buena Vista, FL
No. 27 Sacré Coeur Basilica, Paris
No. 29 Disney's Animal Kingdom, WDW in Lake Buena Vista, FL
No. 30 Disney's Hollywood Studios, WDW in Lake Buena Vista, FL
No. 35 Musée du Lourve, Paris
No. 40 (tie) Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, WDC
No. 43 Palace of Versailles, France (Once again… saw it; does that count?)

It would seem that I got most of my list knocked out as a child living within 7 hours of WDW in Florida. What do those children do that don't live so close?!? How do they survive childhood without getting Mickey's autograph, riding all of the rides, and overpaying for food at the theme parks? A tragedy, I'm sure!

How many places on Travel & Leisure's list have you been to? 

Dresses For the Holiday Season

It's that time of year again – the time of year to go dress shopping! And I've already started the looking for you at my local Free People and Anthropologie stores…



1. Free People Teardrop Pixie Dress
2. Free People Petaluma Fit N Flare Slip
3. Free People Studded Lace Party Dress

4. Free People Shine So Bright Dress
5. Free People Little Dot Mini Dress
6. Free People Creme De La Dress

7. Free People Circle of Flowers Slip
8. Free People Mavi Lace Dress
9. Anthropologie Petal Fete Dress

I'm sure not everyone is as enamored with lace as I am, so I would love to hear and see what dresses you are liking this holiday season. Have you already picked out a beautiful holiday number? Are you still on the search for the perfect frock? Share! :)

Mary J. Blige – The London Sessions



Breaking out of her comfort zone this past summer, Mary J. Blige traveled overseas to London to become immersed in the culture and music scene following on the heels of such singers as Adele and Amy Winehouse. Her thirteenth studio album, The London Sessions, is slated for release this December with all that she has to offer including strong vocal chords and tons of emotion backed by strong lyrics and a number of collaborations with some of London's top artists.



Originally from New York, the singer grew up in a small town in Georgia (squee!) listening to R&B/soul musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and Patti Labelle. After dropping out of college and returning to New York, where she had been born, Blige was signed on to Uptown Records in 1989 with production on her first album set to begin in 1991. Rather quickly her music went straight to the billboard charts obtaining her first top 100 hit in the fall of 1992. Since her beginnings Mary J. Blige has received nine Grammy Awards (plus a staggering 31 nominations), a 2012 Golden Globe nomination, and four American Music Awards attracting a loyal fanbase and propelling the sale of over 50 million albums.

While Mary J. Blige had never been at the top of my listening repertoire, I was excited to get the opportunity to open up my mind and give The London Sessions a listen for One2One Network. I was not expecting to enjoy this album as much as I did. Even though I don't have a favorite song from the album, I was impressed and surprised by the large number of themes she sang about making me feel as though she really did try to reach out to her audience in a new way with this album. The London Sessions is definitely filled to the brim with soulful ballads and emotionally charged songs making the album very likeable for fans of multiple music genres including pop, R&B, and soul.



Interested in pre-ordering the album on amazon or itunes?

Be sure to check out Mary J. Blige's official website for more information or follow her on twitter or facebook to stay updated on all things Mary J. Blige. :)

Are you a fan of Mary J. Blige? Will you be anxiously awaiting the arrival of her new cd in stores on Dec. 2?

** I participated in the Mary J Blige The London Sessions album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided a free album to review but all opinions are my own.  

Currently…


Remembering: Last year at this time and how preparing for Christmas was so different from how it is this year…

Giggling About: Hannah Hart's videos, especially 28 Things About Being 28 and her venture into Melbourne, Australia.

"What's up with 'Emu, etc…'. Don't we have a right to know what's in our meat? Ironic coming from an American." :)

Planning: Thanksgiving – We are doing something entirely different this year and traveling to the north Georgia mountains with food in tow to see my grandparents and spend Thanksgiving with them. I'm trying to help Justin come up with unique dishes that will make this Thanksgiving different and better (as far as food) than last. I would really love to see more seasonal foods added to our meal plan than we've done before.

Anxiously Awaiting: all of the giveaways coming up including products from Schick, Hidden Valley, and Zep.

Interested to know: if I will like the numerous products I will be reviewing soon including Luke Barr's Provence 1970, Steven Brown's Glitterville's Handmade Christmas, Mary J. Blige's The London Sessions, and Indina Menzel's Holiday Wishes.

Baking: Alton Brown's chocolate chip cookies with butterscotch in them instead of chocolate chips. Yum! (Be sure to have a FULL glass of milk on hand. These cookies are super sweet!)

Keeping A Secret: Who isn't keeping a secret at this time of year? We've already bought so many gifts and we just have to keep it all "under wraps" until Christmas. :)

DIYing: nothing. I'm lazy. I'd rather spend my time photoshopping. But I guess I need to get busy thinking of a creative Christmas card to send out. Last year, at this time, I already knew what my plan was. This year … not so much. Pinterest to the rescue?

What are your 'currentlys'? Are you doing anything exciting? Perhaps preparing for the upcoming holiday season by chance?

** Day 12 of November Blogathon.

Holiday Inn Resort – Panama City Beach, FL

image courtesy of TripAdvisor

Destination: Panama City Beach, Florida and Port St. Joe/San Blas
Date: June 2014
Hotel: Holiday Inn Resort
Brand: IHG
Status: Gold
# of travelers: 2

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision



Justin's family was going down to Port St. Joe/San Blas for a week long family vacation at the beginning of summer right after we had returned from Europe. Knowing that all of this was happening, I researched and booked our hotel (the Holiday Inn Resort) in April giving us a discount for booking 30 days prior to our stay. While PCB is actually over an hour away from San Blas, Justin and I were working off the thought that his family was staying in Port St. Joe, which is approximately 30 minutes closer to PCB than San Blas is. Furthermore, if you have ever researched or looked for hotels in the Port St. Joe area, you would not be surprised to discover that there aren't very many … if there are any at all. Port St. Joe is a tiny little town on the cost of Florida with only a handful of restaurants and perhaps one or two gas stations within the whole vicinity. If you didn't get gas on your way into San Blas, you could very well get stranded. Finding food whether in a restaurant or grocery store was also limited. San Blas is a very small area indeed.

Due to the location of the family's escapade into Florida, Justin and I decided to take advantage of my status with IHG and stay at the resort. I had read on FlyerTalk that even with status, you weren't guaranteed an upgrade, but I was also reassured that even without an upgrade you would get a room facing the beach on the beach. That sounded good enough to me, and since Justin and I were arriving in Florida a good day and a half before his family came down, we decided the hour drive from a hotel on the beach was okay with us.

Getting There


image from Destination360

We drove from Georgia a good 6 hours to get there, I believe. The fun bit was seeing on Waze that our arrival time was an hour earlier than expected … or at least that was fun until we realized that we were changing time zones. We changed time zones at least twice before our arrival. It was a lot of fun living an hour behind our usual time zone of EST for a weekend.

As for other arrival methods … I have no idea. This hotel is located in the states which really limits transportation possibilities. Unlike previous hotels I've reviewed located in Europe where you could arrive by train, the US does not provide that much alternative transportation. I'd say you have access to the PCB area via car or bus … and perhaps boat, but that's it.

Price, Location, Rooms & View


image from Hotels.com

Usually I relate price to the room size or amenities, but in this specific circumstance, I feel it is necessary to talk about it in relation to the location. PCB would never have been my first choice of location due to the large number of bikers (motorcyclists) and college students that flock there for spring break. I'm not big into drinking to get drunk nor am I a partier. To top all of this off, I am not really a beach fanatic. When I go to the beach, I like being able to leave the salt water and sand to go somewhere decent for dinner, visit a museum … or go shopping at a real store. If I am at the beach, I do not want postcards of half naked women, all of the swimsuits, a new pet, or a magnet. (I might want a sundress and sunscreen, but that's a different story.)

I digress…

Anyway, the Holiday Inn Resort is one of the fancier hotels on (in my opinion) the nicer side of PCB. You can pay less and stay in one of the many smaller, less fancy hotels on the north side of PCB or you can go south, pay a bit more, and have a bit more room to walk on the beach without stepping over beach towels and high school/college students. Also, the further down the strip you get, the less motorcycles you'll see. This is not to say you won't see any, but you will see less. All of this meant that I was able to enjoy my stay at the beach making the extra I was paying worth it, to me. It won't be worth it for everyone who ventures to the coastal waters of PCB though. You will have to decide it's worth to you based on my review and others like it.

For clarity's sake, the Holiday Inn Resort is located on the southern isle of PCB. It is a few miles away from the local mall, but it is right on the beach. From what I've read, all rooms face the beach; in other words, you cannot get a bad room. Don't take my word on that though; I recommend contacting the hotel and asking specifically for a beach facing room if that is what you want. They may laugh, but at least you'll know you are getting what you want. :) The rooms are all crazy huge and include a fridge, an ironing board, toiletries, a safe, and a balcony. Obviously the higher up you can get, the better the view will be from your room.

Amenities, Disability Access, Parking, & Staff


image from Expedia

The hotel had so many amenities to take advantage of! Not only was the room fantastic and huge, but the pool was also almost grandiose! If European hotels are small and quaint, this hotel was an American's dream! With lemon and lime infused water as well as tea in the main lobby, a restaurant, strawberry and pineapple infused water at the pool, a kid's water park, a game room, a gift shop (selling the all important postage and everything you could have possibly forgotten), two bars (one located in a second building, one located near the pool), a place to order pizza and ice cream while sunning out on the pool deck, characters that walk around the pool during the morning providing balloons to all of the kids, music and karaoke provided by a disc jockey on the pool deck, a fitness center, a business center, free wi-fi, and chairs/umbrellas you can rent to take out on the beach, there is almost nothing this hotel doesn't have or offer. In fact, I was a bit disappointed to miss out on seeing flame throwers our one night there. There is quite literally something for everyone.

If the hotel is overwhelming with all of it's entertainment possibilities, the staff is right up there with it providing amazing service even over the course of our very short weekend. We arrived late, but they made sure we had a room … and even when I called two days after leaving the hotel thinking that I may have left my ipod there, they were courteous and took a look in the room just to check. Obviously they didn't find it since I later found it in my jacket pocket, but I sincerely appreciated the effort they put into looking for it and contacting me to say they had not yet found it.

As with many of the other hotels I have reviewed I cannot say with any certainty that this hotel is incredibly friendly towards those with disabilities, but nothing stood out to me as being unfriendly. In fact, given that the hotel has multiple elevators and nearly everything you could possibly want within close proximity, I would imagine that this hotel is actually incredibly disability-friendly. In fact, despite the fact that parking is across the street, they have a tunnel that goes under the road to get to it so that you don't have to cross the dangerous, busy street. They also provide handicap parking right in front of the hotel and provide golf cart rides to the parking lot for all those who are feeling a bit lazy. It's like the Holiday Inn Resort thought of everything!

Status & the Upstairs Bar (in the fitness building)

While I did not receive a major room upgrade (I'm not sure if they have those) or a room on a higher floor, the front desk did provide my husband and I with coupons to get a free drink at the bar. It was not a crazy spectacular benefit and the bar was practically empty when we went at around 10PM on a Saturday night, but the bartender was friendly and the drinks were good albeit typical. Justin had a scotch and I had a frozen daiquiri. Unfortunately the view from the bar left a lot to be desired. You could watch tv, but the windows were cloudy and made it difficult to see the only thing that existed below – the pool.

Overall Review


image from IHG

★★★★1/2

The only thing that stood out to me that I did not like was the lack of free breakfast options in the hotel. At $200 a room (even if it is during the busy season) without much around the hotel, it would have been nice to have a free breakfast. Other than that, the hotel was fantastic. Despite my lack of interest in going to PCB, I would definitely consider going again if I were to stay in this hotel. In fact, according to TripAdvisor, the price rates sinking down below $100 into December ($68 on 12/12) make this a fantastic hotel to stay at for the money, especially if you are going for business and not as interested in the pool/beach during the colder winter months.

Your Turn

Are you more of a party person or a resort person? Would you be content never having to leave the hotel property during a summer visit to PCB? Is there anything I've missed that you want to know?

For those interested, here is a list of things Justin and I did during our weekend stay in PCB at the Holiday Inn Resort.

Sleep IQ – A Sleep Number Product Review


A few weeks ago I received an assignment from Smiley360 to visit a Sleep Number store, try the mattresses, and speak with a representative about their new technology – Sleep IQ, a product I was completely unfamiliar with until this mission.

If you've ever shopped for a mattress before, you know how difficult it can be. Sometimes you are shopping for the perfect mattress, something like what you find in a hotel, and you are only ever disappointed after actually purchasing the mattress when you get home and discover that it was really only comfortable in the store where you made the purchase… Other times you are looking to replace your well-used and worn in mattress that is super comfy but perhaps you need an upgrade because you are, for example, getting married. Sharing a twin bed with your significant other can be a bit tight…

While shopping at the Sleep Number Store, the thing that stood out to me most about the new technology is your ability to be uncertain about the level of comfort you need at night. In other words, you don't have to worry about picking out the perfect mattress at the store. Through the Sleep IQ app, you can alter you specific sleep number and adjust it to fit you and your needs until you get it right, all within the comfort of your own home. Even better, the Sleep IQ app tracks your blood pressure and heart rate to determine how well you are sleeping at night providing you with recommendations for what your perfect sleep number could be. After every night that you sleep on the Sleep Number bed, you will receive a sleep score; hopefully as you figure out and adjust your sleep number so that it is a perfect fit for you, your sleep score will increase allowing you to get the most comfortable sleep possible for your body type and needs.

One of the things the representative made certain to mention was that the Sleep IQ app can always work to show you different things you are doing on a daily basis that may be affecting your sleep quality. There is an in app diary that allows you to keep track of your food and drink intake, how much caffeine and sugar you are consuming, and how often/when you exercise. Everybody has a different type of body and schedule and the Sleep IQ app attempts to help you configure your bed to match what you specifically need.

The only downside I discerned from my experience with the new Sleep IQ app and the Sleep Number beds was that there are monitors on both sides of the mattress – fantastic for married couples! But what about singles? Or those people –ahem, me– who attempt to take over the bed and sleep in the middle on a nightly basis? (Yes, I am deserving of the whole king size bed.) Unfortunately, the representative could only share that the Sleep IQ app would probably get very confused and not work as well for people like me, which wasn't too surprising.

Overall, I loved what I learned from the Sleep Number store. For the right people the Sleep Number bed and Sleep IQ app sound like they would be amazing and significantly improve one's sleep. Unfortunately, given my specific circumstances, I'm not sure it is right for me, but I will definitely keep an eye on the technology as it changes and improves over time. Certainly at some point in the future I am sure the company will be able to adjust the technology to work with all of it's consumers. If you'd like to learn more, click here to visit the Sleep Number site and learn whether the Sleep IQ technology is right for you.

Have you struggled through the mattress buying process before? Were you aware of the new Sleep IQ technology? Would you be interested in trying a product such as that? Share in the comments! I'd love to hear about your experiences!

•• This post was sponsored by Smiley360 and Sleep Number. I did not receive any compensation for my post, but I might receive a free product from Sleep Number if I complete my mission. All opinions are my own.

Friday Favorites

Image from: Ian Sane

Adobe Color CC – I always wondered what this was until I watched an episode of Phlearn and learned how to use it with my photography. I've already used it with one image and I am so excited about using it again!
NPR's series on color from this week has kept me hooked on twitter.
21 Ways to Earn Miles That You Might Not Know About – As someone who is interested in traveling, I was highly interested in discovering new ways to travel cheaper.
10 Weird Ways to Make Money For the Holiday Season – I'm always looking for ways to make money, and this is a fantastic article about just that!
• Finally, I love the idea of a gift swap between cities. Doesn't that sound like fun? :)

Has anything online caught your eye recently? 

* Day 9 of November Blogathon.

Blog Goals


1. Host more giveaways – I've hosted 11 giveaways this year including 3 in the past 30 days. (Want to enter one?) I'd love to continue to try products and write reviews in 2015, but (most especially) I'd like to give away more samples. It's nice being able to say that such-and-such product is awesome, and you should try it too. :) (Even more fun are the large giveaways! Didn't you love entering to win the variety of beauty samples in September? And there were soooo many winners too!)

2. Writing stronger, more efficient, and successful blogposts – I've been interested in writing for years; I began writing short stories for fun in elementary school, I considered majoring in English in college, and I've had a lot of fun writing and editing papers all through school. Now when I feel stuck and unable to improve my writing, I'm going a little bit crazy. I'm grateful to have a blog to practice on, but I would love to find a mentor or book that I can use to develop and craft my skills more.

3. Beautiful Photography – I always get jealous of people who I perceive can take and edit images better than I can. Then when my friends buy a DSLR and call themselves a photographer I get mad, because I've spent years working at my skill, knowing what I want to achieve, and feeling unable to do so. Progress is slow. I watch CreativeLive on occasion and practice following tutorials I see online to improve, but rarely do I feel successful. Am I trying too hard to imitate others? Am I too hard on myself? Will I ever get there? Some days, when I'm writing blog posts, it's much easier to use the work of others that may or may not be amazing rather than try to perfect my own work, especially when I have so much to do and so little time to do it. I keep hoping that one day it will get easier and require a lot less thought and look a whole lot better. Meanwhile I keep watching ebay for the 5d MkII to become available at a reasonable price…

It seems a bit early to be thinking about goals for the new year, but do you have any goals you're working toward and hoping to finish prior to the end of 2014? Has this year been successful for you? Is there anything you might change looking back?

* Day 7 of 
November Blogathon.

Sheraton – CDG in Paris, France

image from: Taylor Miles

Destination: Paris, France
Date: May 2014
Hotel: Sheraton
Brand: Starwood
Status: none (We booked through Travelocity, so it wouldn't have mattered anyway…)
# of travelers: 2 (a couple)

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision

Long story short, my husband and I were unexpectedly delayed in Paris and we needed a hotel near the CDG. (Is the CDG airport actually located inside the boundaries of the city? Or is it similar to Hartsfield in Atlanta wherein the airport is said to be located in the city but it is actually located south of the major metropolitan area?)

Moving on…

Our plane was to depart the next morning super early and we did not want to miss it, so we decided to stay in the airport overnight. This plan would allow us to experience a late night in Paris, let us sleep in a bit more (than a hotel outside of the airport would), and we wouldn't have to deal with transporting via metro early in the morning given that we weren't entirely sure what their hours were. (The plane was expected to depart at approximately 7am.) Needless to say neither brand nor hotel really played a factor in our decision; it was all about location.

Getting There


image from: No Garlic No Onions

We arrived via rental car when our first intention was to board a plane and go home … not sleep over. After booking the hotel, we used the Metro system to get around quite easily. It's a bit of a ride into the city, but the commute itself is nice. You don't have to worry about traffic, roundabouts, small roads, insane drivers, or parking. Obviously, being at the airport, another great way of arriving is via plane. If you are between flights, this is a great overnight layover hotel. Or if you are just arriving to the city and not planning on staying for very long (and don't mind the high prices of a hotel in an airport), this might be the place for you.

Location

This section feels a bit redundant, but nevertheless, the Sheraton is located in the CDG airport making it easy to get from one location to nearly any other in the world. With a little bit of money you can get into the city, but with a lot of money (and good timing) you can go wherever your heart desires.

Hotel Room, Disability Access, Amenities, Staff, & Price

Let's begin with price and staff, shall we? Overall, our experience with the staff was pretty neutral. They didn't do anything to make our stay exceptional, and in fact gave us a bit of a problem when we first went to check in. It would seem that these employees were there to do their job and not cater to Americans who had been delayed from their return home. We were giving them a hard time (asking for a price match to an online site) and they were fighting back knowing that they had the only hotel in the airport and that we had nowhere else to go if that was what we desired. After a few minutes of arguing (I was outside the hotel with the luggage waiting at a coffee shop), Justin returned flustered and determined to book using Travelocity, the website offering the cheaper price. We then had to wait approximately an hour for the booking to go through and for our room to be prepared before we could return to the Parisian streets taking in the magnificent sights, sounds, and smells of the French. We were really tired after three weeks of navigating Europe, but that hour was the longest hour ever knowing that we only had a small amount of time before shops and restaurants closed for the day. (Parisian retail and service hours are weird.) Of course, just as we expected, by the time we returned to the streets most locations were closing and we had missed the peak portion of the day. :(

image from Paris Escapes

When we finally got access to our room, we were not overly impressed nor terribly unimpressed. The hotel seemed a bit empty with a long (seemingly empty) hall of rooms; we did not run into any other hotel guests in this area and the lack of noise was almost eerie. Nevertheless, the hotel rooms were large and (for the weary traveler) comfortable. It was nice to put our luggage down and not think about carrying it another 5 feet. (Three weeks worth of luggage gets heavy and burdensome after about 5 minutes no matter how light you pack. Next time I will seriously consider packing even lighter even though I'm not sure I packed heavily for this trip… Hmmm…)

image from Paris Escapes

While I had not expected much from this hotel, there was one big surprise waiting for me when I woke up the next morning: a view of the sunrise at the airport. It was gorgeous and so cool to see this view of the airport. It's an experience I had never seen before and likely will not see again for a very long time.

Other surprises in the room were the little bottles of soap and shampoo that were very much appreciated in the bathroom. We had tossed most of our toiletries the morning before as we tried to lighten our luggage for our trip back to the states. Little bottles of everything we needed made it easy to not have to rummage through our luggage to find the things that were still in there and we didn't have to go shopping for toiletries for one night in Paris. Thanks, Sheraton. :)

As nice as the little bottles of liquids were, the biggest downside of the hotel was the fridge. As expected, there was a small fridge in the room packed with goodies that cost a fortune. Obviously we were not planning on consuming any of these goods, but then Justin noticed a sign (upon first glance in the fridge) that not only were they charging you to take drinks and food out of the fridge, but they would also charge you for putting things in the fridge! … I'll let that sink in for a minute. …  So if you put a water bottle in the fridge before exploring Paris the next morning, you will leave the hotel owing them money for something you had already bought. SOOOO frustrating! Worst of all, the little bitty sign is super easy to miss. If you aren't planning on consuming any of the hotels food and you just stick something in without reading a tag on a water bottle or candy bar, you could easily miss the sign and be charged. They didn't even mention this little tid bit when we checked in! It turns out, they are charging you based on the weight of what is in the fridge. Whatever you do, do not put something heavy in there and then proceed to take it out! You WILL regret it.

Another downside to the hotel was lack of internet access. I thought when we first checked in that even though we couldn't use the CDG internet, at the very least I could use the hotel's internet. HA. You have to be a Starwood member to do that. Since I wasn't a Starwood member prior to checking in and I could not join Starwood during my stay (because of my lack of internet), I had no internet during my stay. This was almost as irritating as the whole fridge escapade. This hotel was seriously out to take every nickle and dime (or Euro) that we had. (They ended up charging us $4 for something, but I never called them out on it or figured out what it was…)

The best benefit for us, however, was the free coffee and croissants (chocolate and regular) in the lobby that we got to chow down on prior to our departure. (Or perhaps I should say that Justin got to chow down on prior to our departure. I was so nervous and afraid of missing the plane that I stuffed some into a bag and ate them while browsing shops in the airport outside of our terminal while drinking some sparkling water. Yum!)

I'm not sure that I really need to comment on disability access, because (obviously) with the hotel being located inside the airport, it does not take much effort to get to where you need to go. There are no stairs to enter the hotel and the elevator provides easy access to rooms. I did not stay in a room with anything special for the disabled, but I would be very surprised if they did not have any. If you are elderly or have problems getting around, I would not worry about considering this hotel as an option. You should be able to get around just fine here.

Overall Review


view of sunrise/tarmac from the room

★★★ (average)

While not stellar or exciting, the hotel was pretty average for an American chain. Big rooms, a free traditional French (Parisian?) breakfast, close access to the city and airport, toiletries available, and a view (even if the view was only enough to impress me) made the hotel work for us. High prices, rude staff, and random charges are, of course, reasons to consider staying elsewhere.

Your Turn

Would you ever consider staying at a hotel within an airport? Have you seen where hotels can charge you for putting things into a fridge before? Is there anything else you would want to know before staying here? Feel free to leave comments or questions regarding this hotel below! :)

Moving On Up…

image courtesy of Cesar R.

It's the Monday following Justin's pay day, so it's time for my monthly finance review. Woo!

To begin with, we'll start with the good news: we hit an all time net worth high since I began this project. YAY!!! It's only by a little over $1,000, but I will take it! :) That's a difference of 4.37% from last month. Slowly but steadily we are conquering our net worth, and I am grateful for the opportunities we've had to improve it.

We decreased our debt by 4.6% which is pretty good, but in doing so, we, unfortunately, decreased our assets by 6.4%. (We used some of our savings to pay off our Slate credit card before it reached 22% APR after 15 months of having it at 0% APR. In the long run this should save us a good bit of money even if we took a hit in the short run.) Currently our total assets are sitting at approximately $200 short of my ultimate goal, but we are not looking to add to them in the next few months until we finish paying off credit card debt. I will probably not begin accruing any money in savings until after the new year. Bring on 2015!

This brings me to the positive news that our interest fees have decreased by 19.8% in the past month. This means we will be able to put more money toward paying down debt without accruing any additional fees much more easily. (Always a good thing.)

Neutral news: Despite a flight up to DC last month to visit friends, we still had a positive total net income. YAY! Seeing friends and visiting DC while not getting into more debt definitely makes me happy. :) Unfortunately, we did not stick to our budget and thus our positive income was below what we have typically been able to save on a per month basis. Hopefully this month, we will be able to find a way to make up for that loss somehow…

Looking ahead: My goals are to pay off all of our credit card debt by approximately mid January. After which, I intend on seeing student loan debt going down much quicker and hopefully seeing our savings account also rising. I'm not sure if we will be looking to buy a new car in the next year or even a computer… it's hard to say. It's also hard to plan to give up that much money. I will be looking to continue traveling though and seeing how best to do it as cheaply and comfortably as possible.

Are you documenting your finances monthly? If so, are you meeting your goals? 

Lingering Smells + Giveaway


One of my favorite aspects of the holiday season are all of the lingering smells. It begins in October when you walk into your local grocery store and the smell of cinnamon is in the air. As the months get colder, you find more and more smells taking over people's homes… hot apple cider, turkey fresh from the oven, homemade cookies, … and, my favorite, Christmas trees! When you smell these things, they give you a wonderful sense of peace and help you to feel comforted. You are reminded of family and friends even in the darkest months of the year.

While you can't always have the smells of the holiday season in your home, Purex Crystals offers a new product you can use year round to provide energy, well being, and serenity – Purex Aromatherapy Crystals. I received the product for free to try from Purex, and I was quite pleased. You can add as much as you want to your wash, and your clothing (or other laundry) comes out smelling fresh and therapeutic (or at least as much as laundry can…).

One of the best parts of getting to try this new laundry product is getting to share with you, my readers! Enter the rafflecopter below for a chance to win one of two coupons to try a free 18oz container of the smell-good crystals. There are a number of ways to enter the giveaway and many that you can do multiple times throughout the two week period. Aromatherapy Purex Crystals are fantastic and I know the winners will love it as much as I do!

Good luck to all who enter and have a fabulous weekend!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
*Product trial and coupons provided by Purex. All opinions are my own.

Fall Traditions…

When I first saw day 3's topic I started to wonder if my family had any particular "fall traditions". I decided to jump into this blog post though after viewing Germany vs USA: The Mall. The US has some very different traditions and holidays from other countries, and the fall season is replete with holidays and traditions even if I couldn't think of any upon first consideration of the topic.

OCTOBER

image from Denis Collette

• Halloween – I don't participate as readily in the American traditions of pumpking carving, costumes and candy as much any more, but it was definitely a large part of childhood. In fact, for some children, Halloween is becoming an even bigger celebration now than it was when I was a child. Parents are decorating their homes with purple and orange stringed lights, hanging motion-sensing spiders and ghosts from ceilings and trees, and participating in contests for having the best Halloween-themed decorations on their homes.

Of course, in the southern US (is it also part of the north?), many children will not be participating in the satanic rituals of normal trick or treating, but instead will participate in holiday themed events at the local church. Sometimes this involves a haunted house teaching you that you must be saved in order to go to Heaven, and sometimes it is merely a mini carnival type thing with games and candy for the taking/playing.

• The Fair & Six Flags Fright Fest – I've only been to the fair once in my entire life, but it was truly an experience to remember. The rides were pretty silly and they cost quite a bit, but it was exciting being able to partake in the fair foods and (for once) the carnival rides. I would definitely return if only for the purposes of photography; you can't get those kinds of pictures anywhere else. :)

Similar to the fair, I've also only been to Six Flags Fright Fest once in my entire life. My husband received free tickets through his college. As with the fair, it was an experience where I truly wanted to bring my camera. Six Flags is pretty great on it's own (minus the high prices), but it was even more awesome to go with the park decorated and without the high temperatures of the summer.

NOVEMBER

image from: tuchodi

• Election Day – It just passed; did you vote?

• Thanksgiving – My holiday has always been a little bit crazy. As a child, my parents would cook a turkey overnight and we would wake up to the smell in the morning. We would watch the Macy's Day Parade on tv snacking on fresh from the oven turkey for breakfast before leaving to go have lunch with my mom's mother's family. We'd stay a few hours having a huge lunch, talking and (in my case) playing, then we'd go visit my mom's dad who spent most of his holidays alone, at the time. (Don't worry. He remarried and no longer has that problem.) As if all of that wasn't enough, we'd then leave to visit my dad's family for a large dinner. (Did you count? That's 2 big meals + some snacking and lots of drive time.) Finally, we'd end the day looking for Christmas lights on the way home. It was a packed day to say the least.

When I first met Justin, my Thanksgiving days had been minimized to seeing just one section of the family instead of 3. It was a big change for me, and I was constantly wondering what to do with all of my spare time. It's one thing to see and speak to all of your family members in a rush before leaving to go do the next thing, but it's an entirely different experience to have a relaxed, casual holiday. Unfortunately, for me, a relaxed holiday isn't really my style.

Justin had an entirely different experience as a child for Thanksgiving seeing only one family during the holiday. He was used to and comfortable with the relaxed style. Enter me.

Now the holiday is filled with crazy rushing between both of our families, like I like it, and (because Justin is a fantastic cook) awesome food. I've been pushing him toward making holiday themed dishes that include apples, pecans, and butternut squash that all differ from both of our family's traditional dishes served. It's fun experimenting and the families are always in awe at how much better Justin's dishes are than … well … theirs.

image from: Rami

• Football – I know that many spend the holiday watching football, but I am quite thankful that this is not the case for my family. (Give the kids a break! Let them have a holiday too!) The only football game that ever really interests me is UGA vs GT. I want UGA to win while Justin wants GT to win; it's only friendly competition and we don't give one another too hard of a time when the other's team loses. ;)

• Black Friday & Cyber Monday – I've blogged about it before, and I will probably blog about it again, but … I LOVE Black Friday! I don't actually do too much shopping, but I love getting out in the crowds. When I was very young, this was when you would first begin seeing all of the Christmas decorations in the stores. That is not the case any more, but the memories linger on… :)

I don't much participate in Cyber Monday. Usually I look for deals all year long. If a deal happens to fall on CM, I'll buy it, but otherwise, it is just like any other Monday of the year.

DECEMBER

image from: Stuck in Customs

• Christmas and all that comes with it – Music, movies, decorations, trees, and the long lines at USPS… What would Christmas be without those things?

Remember my story from Thanksgiving where I said I visited ALL of the family … then LESS of the family? Same here. Only now we seem to have a big breakfast with both immediate families, lunch with my mom's father's family, dinner with Justin's, and either a Saturday-after dinner with my dad's family or with friend's. We stay super busy, but I'm so grateful to have so many people to visit!

• Baking – This is technically part of Christmas, but it has radically changed for me as I've gotten older. When I was young my mom would make sugar cookies with bright colored icing in Christmasy shapes. Now, we skip the cookies and Justin makes a gigantic 12 pound coconut cake that our families go crazy over. :)

And then winter comes…


What are your favorite fall traditions? Are there any that especially stick out to you?


** Day 3 of November Blogathon.

Fall Food Favorites

image from: PBerry

Here are my 5 fall food favorites:

1. FONDUE.

Cheese. ALL of the cheese.

But more specifically Gruyere and Emmental.

And no, I did not receive any free samples from Switzerland for this review. All opinions are my own. (I'm perfectly willing to sample free cheese though! Be sure to send it my way!)

P.S. Add a French baguette and some black raspberry jam (combined with the cheese on the bread) and you shall have my heart forever! It is THAT good. It quickly becomes clear why the French have cheese for dessert; no ice cream is needed!

2. Pecans.

Add pecans to almost anything and it makes that thing taste soooo much better!

Justin and I went to a new restaurant, to us, called JCT Kitchen in Atlanta on Halloween night and tried a dish of sweet potatoes mixed with granny smith apples and a light dusting of crushed pecans on top. It was heavenly! That bit about cheese being a dessert? Well … this could have easily been a dessert too. You don't even need pecan pie! (But I can't imagine life without it!)

3. Apple Sausage (Butternut Squash) Ravioli

You've heard me go on and on about this recipe before, but, at this time of year, it is simply the perfect warm, delicious, and best seasonal dish I know of! I quite happily eat this over and over and over again.

4. Beercheese Soup and Strawberry Salad

YUM!

It's cold (but not too cold) and there is nothing better than this combination. Especially when served with a homemade, fresh-from-the-oven French baguette. :)

5a. Pot Roast with Carrots and Potatoes

5b. Chicken Pot Pie

5c. Boeuf Bourguignon

I couldn't choose a #5, so I decided to go with a "choose your own adventure" scenario. All of the above are good on the cold, dark nights that are upon us.

What are you favorite fall foods? Are there any recipes you can't wait to pull out of your "recipe closet" the minute the cool weather hits?

* Day 2 of November Blogathon.

Augsburg, Germany - Intercity Hotel

image from Werner Kunz

Destination: Augsburg (but really we were traveling to Munich)
Date: May 2014
Hotel: Intercity Hotel
Brand: SHG (someone correct me if I'm wrong)
Status: none (Can you get status with this hotel chain?)
# of travelers: 4 (2 couples) in 2 rooms

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision

Justin and I aren't very familiar with Germany, but we were willing to get more acquainted with the country (and more specifically, southern Germany) to not have to pay the high hotel prices in Munich when an event was going on. (I can't recall exactly what the prices were but I believe they were within the vicinity of approximately $500 a night. Far too much for this frugal blogger… especially if you aren't getting an amazing view, 5 star hotel, and buffet brunch out of the deal.) Instead Justin and I took a step back and let our German friends take charge of this hotel booking. They suggested staying outside of Munich and taking the train in, a plan not unsurprising to Americans who had heard that the train was the main way to get around Europe.

Getting There

We drove. Shocking, right? We parked in a parking garage not too far from the hotel and dragged our luggage through the city streets cutting off pedestrians as they were forced to zigzag around us and our gigantic bags.

Given that we took the train to Munich while we were there, I can confidently say that the hotel was close enough to a train station to make any foreign traveler content.

I would not be surprised if other methods of transportation were available as well, but I did not take advantage of any of them.

Location

We didn't really explore Augsburg too heavily. The hotel and area mostly served as a location to rest after a crazy day in Munich. If you are looking for train access to Munich without actually staying inside the city, this is a great alternative. You can get drunk, shop to your heart's content, enjoy the festivals, and do whatever else you want to do in Munich, then enjoy the trip back, getting to rest and not having to worry too much about who is driving you home.

Hotel Room, Disability Access, Amenities, Staff, & Price


from TripAdvisor

The hotel room at the Intercity Hotel was my first real experience at a European hotel. Previously Justin and I had stayed at an American chain followed by an AirBnb. I had read about the differences in (south) German bedding, but I had never actually seen it until we got to this hotel chain. Then you had the single beds of which, being an American, I've never really experienced. For nearly my entire life (from the time I was out of the crib), I have had a queen size bed with a comforter or duvet that is much larger than the mattress itself. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with a single bed or that it is even awkward for a hotel chain to offer single beds in Europe, but it is awkward for a first-time traveler to Europe who has only seen the American style of hotel rooms with double beds for single people to, for the first time, see a hotel chain offer single beds for single people. :)

from TripAdvisor

That was not my only surprise at the Intercity hotel chain though. The other big surprise was the lack of air conditioning in the room. Being a southerner, my first thoughts are: how can you live like that?!?!?! When Justin and I traveled up to Boston and stayed at a home we rented through AirBnb without ac during the middle of a heatwave in Boston, I about died. (Exaggeration, there.) It was absolutely miserable. I can only hope that the city of Augsburg does not experience 100ºF days, because if they do, I feel soooooo sorry for them. All the room had, that we stayed in, were these tiny little fans that made sooooo much noise and kept you up all night. Like, even a ceiling fan would have been better! However, clearly this Intercity Hotel makes enough money to stay in business and if they can do business without upping their bills providing customers with air conditioning, then more power to them. ;)

Aside from the beds and lack of air conditioning, the room was adequate but small (although not as small as Hotel Belvedere). We were able to walk around one another without falling over and there was plenty of room for our luggage on a luggage stand. Even the bathroom was a pretty standard size compared to the room. This was definitely not an American chain with super-sized everything, but it was definitely not inadequate given that it was a European chain hotel located within a city.

Up until the last hotel, I had never really considered disability accessibility as a real issue for hotels which is why I'm bringing it up with this hotel (and will continue talking about it with future reviews). The Intercity Hotel, from what I could see, was definitely disability-friendly providing elevators that could easily be accessed and allowed for easy access to rooms and the lobby. Of course, my judgement is based on my abilities as a non-disabled person, and it is possible that someone with disabilities may experience more problems than I might even notice.

from Orbitz.com

We did not have any issues with the staff. We were able to check-in and check-out in a timely manner, and they spoke English which is always a perk when you are visiting a foreign country. The price, like the hotel, was perfectly adequate and unsurprising. We didn't get food or drink out of the deal nor did we get status upgrades or any other perks for existing, but we did have a place to stay overnight that was clean and bug free.

Unlike some of the previous hotels we stayed out, this hotel did not provide much of a view that I can recall. You received a city view with your room. Shock and surprise, right? Tripadvisor reviewers recommend staying in an upper room at the back of the hotel for a better view and less noise.

Overall Review

★★ (below average)

Nothing in particular stood out about this hotel, and I can only see myself returning to it (or other hotels in the chain) if other hotels in the location I wanted to travel to were priced much too high. The hotel, by all means, was not at all a bad hotel. In fact, I could see many travelers being quite happy with it; it provides exactly what you need at an accessible price making it easier and cheaper to travel without paying for all of the "bells and whistles" provided to you by other hotels. (In other words, this seems to be a very German hotel* wherein you don't pay for extras that you don't need. Simplicity is king.)

While I might give this hotel 3 stars (average) from a perspective that this a European hotel and European hotels are definitely different and smaller than American hotels, I am rating based on the American standards (and chains) that I grew up with and tend to prefer. With a 2 star rating, I would compare this hotel to an Econolodge or Best Western without the breakfast. It is one of those simple, cheap hotels you stay in when you are under the impression that you are paying for a "room" rather than an "experience" and the chance to feel like royalty, which are two very different ways to look at hotels. And, obviously, everyone has their own perspective when it comes to overnight stays. My reviews are clearly just my perspective.

Your Turn

Have you ever stayed at an Intercity Hotel in Europe? Based on my description, what American-style hotels would you compare this one to? Which perspective do you take when booking hotels? Do you feel uncomfortable when staying in fancier hotels? Or do you miss the luxuries of fancy hotels when staying at cheaper ones? Is there anything else I can tell you about this hotel to help make your decision process easier if you are considering staying here?

* I am not German, and so I say this from an American point of view based on what I've been told about Germans … which isn't very much. I blame Youtube for this stereotype and any opinions I have on the subject. ;)

30 Facts For 30 Days


1. It was raining the night I was born.
2. My grandparents gave me my nickname.
3. My parents told me what day my birthday party would be on when I was 3 and I got it stuck in my head that the party day was my actual birth day. It took years to correct that mistake.
4. I preferred my grandparents as babysitters. They were more fun. :)
5. The end of the year party in kindergarten involved a pinata.
6. When I was 6, I went to Florida to visit family, swim in the ocean, go to Seaworld, visit Busch Gardens, and, of course, take advantage of all Disney World had to offer. It was a very busy yet unforgettable week for me.
7. Best-friend journal writing became a thing, for me. Any time a friend came over, I had them write in my journal. Now I have little bits of them captured in my version of a time capsule.
8. I practiced math and spelling on a computer given to me by my grandparents in the mid-90s
9. My mom would always type my reports for me, because she was much faster than I was. When I began instant messaging and e-mailing friends, this came to a hault. Rather than sitting with my mom while she typed my reports, I would type them myself because I was much faster.
10. Birthday dinners at a (specific) local Italian restaurant with family became the norm for me at age 10. I've been going every year since.
11. My parents asked me one year if I wanted a party or a bunch of gifts for my birthday. I decided to go with the gifts…
12. I bought Jane Eyre in the 6th grade despite the fact that the bookstore associate told my parents it was above my reading comprehension level. I read it and understood it just to spite him.
13. Then I attempted Gone With the Wind … the longest book ever. And gloated about it during the next school year…
14. Going to the mall with a friend at age 14 without adult supervision was not an option. I asked and was told no. :(
15. My roommates during my school trip to NYC decided that it would be fun to sneak out of our hotel room and go to the roof of the hotel during the middle of the night. Then we chickened out… It's hard to do those types of things when the head teacher is an insomniac pacing the halls all night…
16. I did not care about learning to drive. My parents were willing to take me anywhere I wanted since I didn't ask to do much. I like to think that I was an "easy" teenager.
17. Prior to dating Justin, I encouraged him to go out with both of his ex-girlfriends. The end result: I've never been jealous of his exes.
18. I started dating Justin at age 18. I was pretty indecisive about whether or not I even wanted to date anyone at the time.
19. Since I met Justin, he has almost always helped "improve" my family's Thanksgiving food dishes. We went from having so-so dishes to having stellar, exciting dishes. :)
20. Justin bought me a camera for my birthday one year. It was absolutely one of the most surprising gifts I have ever received.
21. I drank a little alcohol here and there before becoming of age to drink. I never really liked it and I'm still not a huge fan…
22. Interning provided me with a lot of learning opportunity, but it also put me in touch with a lot of mean people who took advantage of me.
23. #ThatMomentWhen Justin broke up with me and his uncle said "What were you thinking?!?!" Note to others: Always make friends with your significant other's family. Be "the one that got away". ;)
24. Learning to manipulate color in photoshop has been a time-consuming learning experience.
25. Not having much money taught me to make my money go further and last longer…
26. While babysitting my (now) sister-in-law, we both slept in too late one morning and she missed gym class at the high school. Ooops. (Sidenote: she had told me I didn't need to wake her up. I was there so she wouldn't be staying home by herself alone overnight.)
27. I based my decision on marriage on whether or not I could see myself spending an enjoyable life with the person who asked me. The answer was yes.
28. We only served glass bottled drinks at our wedding. A portion of our guests, who don't drink alcohol, still don't know that beer and wine was available at the wedding… (Some of which wish they had known!)
29. My first experience in Europe has me longing to return!
30. Unroll.me has been a life-saver. I can't stand the 15-million e-mail notifications I receive every day.

*November Blogathon Day 1