Jim Gaffigan - Food: A Love Story


Jim Gaffigan's Food: A Love Story is not your typical run-of-the-mill novel; rather it's the author sharing his views on a wide variety of foods located in large range of locations. The goal in sharing these opinions, of course, is to get the reader to think about what they are eating in a new light … as well as allowing the reader to laugh at him/herself, the world at large, and Gaffigan, a stand up comedian.

When I first ordered this book, I knew it would be different, but I wasn't certain how different. Reviews online were mixed with some people claiming Dad is Fat is funnier (and thus Food: A Love Story wasn't worth reading) and others claiming the book was captivating, engaging, distracting, AND funny. Having never read Dad is Fat but loving the idea of reading a funny book, I ordered it. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed.

Here is what it came down to:

1. I'm not a huge fan of stand up comedy. I think you need to be to read this book.

2. I like stories that have a beginning, middle, and end that are cohesive. This book is not; it feels like it was written in short spurts of energy with nothing holding it together more than the author's name and the generic subject.

Overall, I found Food: A Love Story to be funny, but not engaging. It's that book you pick up at the doctor's office or the library, glance through and put back. Maybe if each of the short stories was featured in a coffee table book it might be fun? Or perhaps if it was written as a food encyclopedia, that would work too? Point being: if you are a fan of Gaffigan, you will probably like this book. It is his stand up comedy printed in book form. If you are looking for an engaging book to read, that will require actual thought and analysis, I recommend looking elsewhere.

Buy the book from Amazon here or check out Jim Gaffigan's website to learn more.

* I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for sharing my opinion. All opinions shared in this review are my own.

Throwback Tunes

After yesterday's blog post about love songs, I decided to take some time to think about my current favorite songs – the ones that seem to be getting me through the week. A lot of them are pretty old, but even so I absolutely love listening to them.

1. "Fall of '82" by The Shins


This song reminds me a lot of the Beatles. I haven't always been a fan of The Shins. I started liking their music shortly after "Simple Song" came out. This was my second favorite song by them. As much as Justin dislikes this song, I can't help but turn it up when it comes on. The sound is just so completely different from other artists and I love that.

2. Evanescence - "Bring Me to Life"


I remember listening to Amy Lee back in high school. I saved all of my extra gas change to buy her cd. (Yes, I am that old.) Recently she appeared on my Pandora list and I just couldn't get enough. I love her voice and the desperation in her music. Has she done anything recently? From what her website indicates her style has completely changed in the years since "Bring Me to Life" was released, most likely due to the birth of her first child. Time will tell if that's a good thing for her music career … or not.

Sidenote: Why do we always expect women's careers to go up in flames after the birth of a child? It's really depressing. :(

3. Finger Eleven - "Paralyzer"


Yeah. I've been listening to all of the "old school" stuff. I'll probably start listening to 2015 music in … 2018 or so? ;) Pandora has really been "throwing back" recently, but I've been loving it.

4. Cage the Elephant - "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked"


Don't you love hearing about the privileged singing about the … not? But I do love that Cage the Elephant was bringing attention to the real people behind evil. Y'know … as in they are real people and not just some villains on a tv show or in a movie. I think that's a pleasant change from what we typically see in the media.

5. The Beatles - "In My Life"


*sigh* I loooooooovvvvveee this song. :)

6. The Black Keys - "Gold on The Ceiling"


Some things never change. In the past year my love of this song has remained. There are definitely days when I would consider putting it on repeat and playing it over and over again. (Thank goodness Pandora won't let me!) It's definitely a fun song … always.

7. LeAnn Rimes - "One Way Ticket"


My foundation is country music since I grew up in Georgia … more specifically "good country music" like Shania Twain, Martina McBride, and George Strait since I grew up in the 90s. I'm not much of a fan of the newer stuff. This was my favorite song by LeAnn Rimes way back when she had just gotten into music. (It isn't anymore…) Nevertheless, it still feels like an inspiring song and makes me want to travel the world. Can you believe how much this girl has changed since so long ago? She looks like an entirely new person!

8. Trisha Yearwood - "She's In Love With the Boy"


Yeah. Ollllllllllldddddddddd… That's why I'm posting this list on Thursday! But I do love the story in this song… Plus Trisha Yearwood was born in Georgia AND she went to the same school as me, so I have to like her right? (Note that I know nothing about anything she's done recently.) This song is soooo Southern. I just love hearing about the guy "isn't worth a lick" and how he got "the short end of the stick". Plus the truck bit. Of course he drives a beat up chevy truck; what else would he drive?!

9. The Temptations - "Ain't Too Proud to Beg"


For a break up song, The Temptations really made it fun and danceable. Every girl deserves a guy like the one singing these lyrics. :)

10. Train - "Drops of Jupiter"


Like I said before, some things never change. The memories this song holds will always keep me coming back for more. :)

Runners Up (Songs I Wish Pandora Would Play):

• Taio Cruz - "Dynamite"

Reminds me of a little girl I used to watch, Ellie. Always makes me so happy to think of her!

• Meghan Trainor - "All About That Base"

This song makes me laugh. I especially wanted to sing it on Thanksgiving due to all of the food we were planning on eating! I wanted a reminder that "boys like a little more booty to hold at night". :-P (The kids I watch know ALL of the dance moves in this song. It's sooo funny to watch.)

What are your current favorite songs? Do you have any that help you get through the week? Or are there any you wish Pandora would play?

Love Songs 101

My husband and I did not have a first dance song when we got married. We couldn't agree on anything. ;)

I wanted Michael Bublé's "Everything".


I can't remember what Justin wanted.

About the only song we did agree on was a song we had Justin's cousin sing during our ceremony… Steven Curtis Chapman's "I Will Be Here".


My ex-bff had also chosen a SCC song for her wedding, so I was pretty adamant that I wouldn't use a song by him. I spent hours upon hours searching google … not only looking for a song that I liked but also a song that was appropriate for the church. I had further requirements I set for myself as well – I didn't want a song specifically about romance nor did I want a song that could not be sung by both genders. Finally, after not being able to find any other song that suited my needs, I sent this song to Justin with one question: what do you think? I just knew he'd say that he hated it and I'd have to start over again; I wasn't prepared for him to actually like it. Luckily, he did and my search stopped. (Thank goodness!) I then sent the song to our singer and the man in charge of music at the church. Even though they both agreed that it was a good fit and acceptable choice, our singer did not have the chance to sing with the pianist until an hour before the ceremony! Stress! Ack! But they handled it well and the song was beautiful … even better than SCC's version. We got so many compliments afterward in our choice of singer. :)

Despite all of the above, Justin and I actually consider the Arctic Monkey's "Baby I'm Yours" as our song.


It wasn't played specifically at the wedding even though it may have been in my playlist. (I can't remember.)

I'm sure I've shared the story on the blog before, but back when Justin was in college, I went down to GA Tech to "help" him paint his room a nasty orange. Really, I just sat and watched. (I didn't want to get paint on my clothes!) Anyway, he was listening to a bunch of music I didn't like … and then this song came on. I was like "wah?!?!" I loved it! I'm a huge fan of older styles of music. I'll listen to jazz (as in both big band and smooth), oldies (50s, 60s, 70s, 80s … and why not? 90s), rock, classical, Christmas (even in February!), and alternative (to name a few). I'm pretty open in music tastes. That's why it stood out to me so much that Justin was listening to stuff I disliked. But when this song came on… <3.

It didn't stop there though. One day as Justin was leaving the house, he used his phone to program the radio to play this song. I was working on my computer in a completely silent house as I heard the car start up and leave … but then some noise started growing in the background becoming louder and louder. You have no idea how many times I pressed mute on my laptop to no avail. I was about to shut my laptop to get the music to stop when I realized it wasn't actually coming from my laptop! I was sooooooo confused!

When Justin returned from the store, he asked me about it. You should have seen the look on my face.

Yeah. That's when it became our song.

And the worst part? We had been dating approximately 3 years at that point. It took 3 years for us to find a song. Crazy, right?

Tell me about your song … whether it's a song you merely share with your partner or your first dance song. What is it? What makes it special? Do you have any fun stories to go along with it? How did you choose it?

** I'm participating in the SITS Girls' February Writing Prompts. Are you?

How To Travel the World On $50 A Day Book Review


A few weeks back Justin and I went to a book talk in Atlanta to hear Matt Kepnes speak about all things travel and his book How To Travel the World On $50 A Day. I had been following his blog for over a year and this was a fantastic opportunity to hear him speak about the one thing I know very little about – travel.

He opened his talk by reminding everyone that $50 a day was an estimate and not a specific value. Obviously a trip to Paris will cost a lot more than a trip to Vietnam. Food is more pricey, hotels cost more, and by far you will not have anywhere near the same experience in both places. Nevertheless, he went on to say that traditional forms of travel – staying in expensive hotels, eating at fancy restaurants, and even paying fees for expensive museums – are not necessarily the only way to travel. He talked about staying in hostels, using AirBnb (and other services like it), suggested researching your location prior to visiting to see when museums offer free days… And really, he just went on and on about ways to not only save money while in other countries, but also the best ways to make money for indefinite stays.

Before we left that night, Justin bought a copy of How To Travel. While I wasn't entirely sure the book would be helpful (Matt Kepnes and I have different views on travel), it's always a good idea to support the people you enjoy hearing – authors, musicians, and artists alike.

I started looking through How To Travel at dinner that night (a very late but delicious dinner at Sweet Auburn BBQ. YUM!).The book is broken up into two sections – very generic travel advice in section one and advice more specific to the region you are traveling to in section two. Obviously I read all of section one and only glanced at the advice pertinent to me in section two.

Here's what he claims you'll learn from the book:


Now let's take an in-depth look at those claims…
Learn how to make your money work for you and never pay overseas bank fees again.
He does talk about this in his book. He lists one bank, Charles Schwab, that this works for. He also lists a few others that will reduce your banking costs. Will you never pay a bank fee again though? It depends. Will Charles Schwab always remain free? Will you lose your debit card while traveling forcing you to use another bank? I would take this statement with a grain of salt.
Learn how to use travel credit cards to gain hundred of thousands of free frequent flier and hotel points.
How good is your credit? Don't buy into this thought process if your credit isn't good or you struggle to pay back your debts. There are definitely ways to get points for free without signing up for a credit card, but saying you can get hundreds of thousands of points is definitely a stretch of the imagination. 
Master the ways to get FREE airline tickets and save thousands – yes, free! 
Once again, how good is your credit? Assuming you aren't relying on credit, you can spend thousands of dollars to obtain a Southwest companion pass (or $300 if you are in Atlanta and can take advantage of their most current promotion of flying 3 times before summer). Needless to say, don't buy this book if you are trying to get a freebie without getting some credit cards. 
Learn the ins and outs of round the world tickets (and whether or not you need one). 
True. He does cover this. 
Discover what to look for in a backpack so you get one that lasts forever (and is always comfy). 
Ummm… His instructions are pretty generic. Go to a store, find one you like, buy it. 
Find out where to find travel discount cards that can save you 40% or more on your trip. 
Truth. He covers this. Just keep in mind this is about attractions, museums, and the like. It may save you money, but it might not. Saving money with some passes just comes down to how many museums you can visit in one day. Other passes require pre-planning where you buy the pass in the US and then travel since the pass is cheaper here. All of this info can be found online though, so a book isn't necessarily necessary unless you are trying to support the writer. 
Learn where to send your mail and what to do with your stuff before you set off on your adventure. 
Because this is so confusing… *cue eye roll* Ok, so basically … 
1. Have your family and/or neighbors get your mail daily.
2. Contact USPS to have them hold your mail until you return.
3. Sell everything you own OR put it in storage OR have your family check on your home/apartment while you are away. 
I know. #Mindblown, right? ;) 
Get demystified about what travel insurance is, why you need it, and how to pick the right coverage. 
This is definitely something he covers well. He explains what you need regarding health coverage as compared to product insurance and he recommends a few places to get it. I'm not sure if it's really necessary or not, but you really don't want to be in another country needing it and not having it. 
Get the secrets to eating cheaply in any city in the world. 
Let me share that secret: go grocery shopping. Cook your own meals. Eat picnics. I guess he also recommends having lunch out rather than dinner because it's cheaper. Either way, none of these are truly secrets. You just have to put a little thought into it. 
Learn why tourism cards are the best kept travel secret and how to use them to save hundreds in any city you are in. 
See point #6. 
Discover all of the ways you can get free accommodation – from someone's couch to luxurious mansions – when you travel. 
You know the saying "nothing is for free"? Same here. You may be required to do some work and the likelihood of you staying in a mansion for free? Next to none. The author says he's done it, but I wouldn't place all my hopes and dreams on it. 
Find out how I manage to cut my transportation costs by 50% and how you can too. 
Easy. Walk. Use public transportation. Taxis (and in some instances) cars are for the rich. 
Get stories, tips, and interviews with other travelers not found on my blog. 
I'm not an obsessed fangirl and I don't really care about whether or not something is or isn't on a blog. Kudos to you for writing a book, but I despise being "sold" to. 
Get a comprehensive list of all of the best companies to use from around the world. 
Very generic, but true. He recommends insurance companies, places to book a room, places to work while traveling, where to find tourist discounts, and so much more!
Is this a book worth getting?

Everything he talks about can be found online since he does have a blog. In fact, what you find online will ALWAYS be more up to date than what can be found in a book. With that being said, if you plan on travelling soonish and you want the list of websites he recommends available to you for quick and easy access, it may be a book worth purchasing, especially if you have very little experience with travelling or researching for travel.

Your Turn

Do you follow Matt Kepnes' blog? Have you read his book? Do you think any travel book is worth owning? Share! I'd love to hear what you think!

Analyzing My Style


Image 1:
• Aeropostale lace cami in white

Image 2:

Image 3:
• Brandy Melville Sweater in grey

Recent purchases:

How would you describe your style right now?

• Currently I find myself wearing lots of layers. I really like wearing sweaters over dresses with leggings and knee-high boots. Is that particular enough? I'm a big fan of all things Free People and Anthropologie.

image from treschic.us

Who’s style do you admire?  Why?

• When I think of fashion that I like I tend to think of Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy. These are the women that today's generation looks back on and admires despite the numerous changes that have altered the clothing industry in the time since.  Grace Kelly, in particular, really stands out to me as being gorgeous and wearing clothing that is down-to-earth.

What is your current style saying on your behalf?

• First, let's talk about my style, so that I can think about this…

I wear a lot of Anthropologie and Free People. When I go shopping, I try to focus mostly on dresses or tops to wear with jeans. I typically buy whole outfits at a time … or plan to buy whole outfits at a time purchasing each piece as it goes on sale. I follow Effortless Anthropologie and use Free People Me to see how other people are wearing the clothing I like.

I'm pretty sure my family and many of my friends would be appalled (or surprised?) at how much I spend on one piece of clothing. Over the past 3 years I've gone from clearance and thrift shopping at low end stores to sale shopping at higher end stores. I prefer the fantastic customer service and easy returns.

I don't focus all of my spending on expensive stores though. I bought $12 flats from Target 5 years ago that I intend on getting re-soled and wearing for another 5+ years. My favorite leggings cost $3 from Forever 21 … and I only buy cheap camis too.

With regards to jewelry, I wear the same things over and over again. The oldest piece I consistently wear is my 10 year old bracelet Justin's aunt and uncle gave me when he and I had just started dating. Justin won't allow me to remove my wedding rings since I have a bad habit of losing jewelry … And I'm constantly getting him to fix my favorite necklaces. They are always breaking, but I keep wearing them and fixing them because they are my favorite.

So what does this say about me and my style?

I think it suggests that I am a contradiction. I like nice things, but I don't want them to look too nice. I don't want people thinking "she spent how much??!" or even taking much notice in my clothing choices. I like to just "fit in". But beyond that, I like to be able to go to my closet and find something that fits my mood and that I want to wear on a particular day. The more uncomfortable I am with my clothing choices, the more fidgety and moody I become. I just feel out of place all day … even if I get a few million compliments on an outfit.


What do you want your style to say on your behalf?

• If my style could say anything on my behalf, I'd want it to suggest that I am fashion-conscious but also down to earth. Anne Hathaway's style at the end of The Devil Wears Prada is a place I would love to get … even though my current style more closely resembles her outfits from the beginning of the movie.

How does your current style need to change to say more of what you want it to say, or to say it better?

• Shoes. I wear flats and flip flops. I'm pretty sure throwing in some heels would make a huge difference … as well as wearing tights, learning to do my hair and make-up, and buying jackets to match each outfit. But I suppose becoming rich and being able to afford all of the things could work too…

Have you ever stopped to consider what your clothing choices say about you? Are you a down-to-earth jeans + t-shirt + sneakers kind of gal? Or do you prefer more fashionable options?

* Questions from My Year Without Clothes Shopping
** I'm participating in the SITS Girls' February Writing Prompts. Are you?

Saving Money on Food: The Box of Blood Oranges

Justin and I tend to be pretty frugal with regards to food. Yes, we buy some things in mass quantities and pay more for things we really like, BUT we also only buy what we know we will use. We rarely splurge on a large box of fruit, because there is no way you can possibly eat that much before it goes bad.

But sometimes we make an exception.

Last weekend while Justin and I were shopping at the farmer's market, I questioned whether or not blood oranges were in season still. They are my absolute favorite type of oranges and bring back so many memories of preparing for my wedding day that I knew if they were still available, I was going to get some. As it turns out they were! Justin and I looked at the piles and piles of oranges contemplating how many we should get until I had the brilliant idea of buying a carton. In my opinion, the blood orange season never lasts long enough, so, by buying a carton of oranges and making some delicious treats with the oranges that wouldn't go bad super quickly, I figured I could almost make the season last longer.

So that's just what we did.

The first order of business was a delicious sorbet.

Molly Moon's sorbet to be more exact.

image and recipe from here and included in Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream book

In making a sorbet (or being with Justin while he made it), I learned a lot about the process … and the differences between a sorbet and an ice cream. The end result was a delicious, sweet treat that is now sitting in our freezer.

Next up: Marmalade.

image from here

I have to be honest, I didn't watch Justin make this. I got to experience the process anyway though. After beginning it the same night as he mixed the sorbet together, he came to bed soooo tired. Apparently, the recipe called for 40 minutes of orange softening on the stove. (It was 10pm when he started this process.)

No matter how much sweat and tears went into the sticky, sugary process of marmalading, Justin came out in one piece with a delicious spread for breakfast breads … and I imagine it would be downright delicious with cheese too. Four jars later, I'm pretty sure that we won't have to worry about running out for a loooooooooonnnnnnngggggg while. :)

Finally, we made Valentine's Day breakfast Mimosas with the remaining oranges.

image from here.

One, two, three glasses in and I was in heaven. :) The concoction was sweet, sour, and sparkly. No mimosa made with grocery store orange juice (or regular oranges for that matter) even compares!


Before we ended our blood orange making party, I did ask on twitter what we should do with our remaining blood oranges (at the time we had 20). Friends recommended so many things that I'm considering possibly buying another box and having a second go at it to find other delicious treats (and actual meals) worth making.

Have you ever considered buying a product in mass quantities and experimenting with it? What did you buy and how many things did you make? If you haven't, would you ever consider doing it?

* I'm participating in the SITS Girls' February Writing Prompts. Are you?

Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream At Home Book Review


I got my first taste of Jeni's ice creams on small business Saturday in December 2014. Using the Amex deal, Justin and I went in to buy a $10 gift card essentially for free. We were just hanging out around Decatur waiting for a 'Friendsgiving' to start and I was a tad bit hungry. I usually try to eat something before going to a new restaurant (unless I've chosen it) or to a friend's house for dinner or a party; I'm a picky eater and I don't like going hungry simply because I didn't like any of the food available to me. (Plus, I always have the excuse of "I just ate" when the host or hostess ask why I'm not eating…) So anyway, long story short, Justin and I hadn't had time for me to grab something to eat so when we walked into the store with the smell of handmade waffle cones overwhelming our senses, we certainly couldn't say no to one of the most delicious treats in the world – ice cream. :)

Needless to say, that was the beginning of the end.

We bought a scoop of milk chocolate and salty caramel to share, but, honestly, it was not something either of us really wanted to share. The ice cream was creamy and thick, much more delicious than any ice cream I had ever had.

So when Amazon had a sale a few days later on books I knew which one I had to get.


By Christmas time I had convinced Justin that ice cream was far more important than croissants, side dishes, turkey, ham, or any other dessert. It was even more important than the Yule Log I've been wanting him to make for years. Plus, the concept of making ice cream was a new scientific endeavor for him. And making caramel without ruining the pan? It was a feat that needed to be conquered!

When we went to purchase dry ice and the cashier asked why, we weren't given too weird of a look because we live in the southern US. Perhaps if we lived further north, she would have voiced her concerned opinion and determined that we needed to go to a mental institution for even considering making such a cold dessert during such a cold time of year.

While mistakes were made (like not putting sugar in), Justin conquered the caramel, milk chocolate, and Ugandan vanilla recipes with ease. I admit I was a bit confused by the use of cream cheese, but it all turned out wonderfully with the cream cheese barely (if at all) noticeable. In fact, the ice cream was so much like what we bought that fateful day in December that Justin has made many more batches since, getting better with time and practice. Our favorites are the vanilla and salty caramel, but we are looking forward to trying the others!

I highly, highly, highly recommend trying a few recipes from the Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream At Home book or taking a mini trip to a location near you (3 locations in Atlanta and a few in other parts of the US as well). The recipes are fairly easy to follow (as far as ice cream recipes go) and work well if you have an ice cream maker that actually freezes you concoction. (Kitchenaid does not.) There are so many unique flavors that you will never get tired of trying different and exciting recipes! And as I said about Justin, the more you practice making the delicious desserts, the better they get.

The Kitchn has a recipe from the book that you can try before purchasing the book if you'd like. :)

Have you ever had Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream? Will you be purchasing it in the near future? (Hint: the answer is YES!)

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday – Valentine's Day Edition

Surprises for the kids I watch (Fri):



On the way to have dinner with my in-laws (Sat):


French dinner with my parents and grandparents (Sun):





How did you celebrate Valentine's Day?

10 Useful European Travel Tips

Original image found here.

About a week ago, one of the blogs I follow mentioned this exciting post from the Rick Steves forum about what people wished they had known prior to traveling to Europe. Since it addressed some of the questions I had before my first trip to Europe and brought up a lot of interesting facts I wish I had known, I decided it would be fun to share with you all. Hopefully, having these top ten useful travel tips will aid you in planning for future European travel … or be an amusing throwback of the first time you went. ;)

1. Bathrooms

In France, I found myself attempting to wash my hands without any knobs on the sink. It turns out there was a foot lever. What?!?

Germany bathrooms were the least confusing. Two buttons for the toilet: if one doesn't work the way you want it to, press the other. :-P

I don't remember if it was northern Italy or southern France, but some of the toilets looked more like urinals… Confusing. Weird. Awkward.

Finally, the two most important things about the bathrooms in Europe: They are few and far between, so you should use them when you need to… AND make sure you always have at least a Euro on you to pay for the use of the bathroom. If there is an attendant, s/he is there for a reason.

Oh - and don't be surprised to find yourself sharing a restroom with someone of the opposite gender.

2. Take the Time to Really See and Enjoy Places

People who go to Europe for the first time tend to want to see and do everything. (Me included.) Rather than running around like a chicken with it's head cut off, take the time to plan one or two vacation spots and really dig into the culture and explore the area. Eat a 3 course dinner that takes 2 hours in France. Sit and watch the sunset along the coast of Italy. Don't be in such a rush that you miss out on vital experiences and moments that you will remember for the rest of your life. In the end, it will be far more worthwhile than seeing 28 countries in 28 days (or anything like that).

3. Travel Light

For my husband and I, traveling light was one large suitcase, two carry-ons, and two personal items. (It was the fear of Delta losing items and the need to bring my laptop and camera that had the baggage numbers up for us.) Luckily for us, we were traveling almost everywhere in a car and were able to leave unnecessary things in it while we traveled from place to place. If you are traveling by train or having to carry your items everywhere, I suggest you bring even less than my husband and I did.

Before I left for Europe last year I had read online that:
• You should only take approximately one weeks worth of clothes. You can wash things along the way…
• Pack as much as you can in carry-ons so that the airline won't lose your luggage.
• All electronics should be carried on the plane, for the same reason. (Most airlines have rules about this.)

When Justin and I return to Europe, we're going to seriously consider minimizing what we bring even more. Of course we may also consider bringing an extra suitcase for wine, oil, vinegar, and other souvenirs. :) There are just some things worth splurging on.

4. It's addicting.

Once you go for the first time, you will find any and every excuse to return. i.e. I need more –––––. I haven't seen –––––.

Or in my case, My friend is having her civil ceremony in Germany and I have to be there; I simply don't have a choice. ;)

5. ATMs can be pricey.

Dear Americans, get a Charles Schwab account and all of your problems will be solved. :)

Truthfully, when you get to Europe, the ATMs will be expensive and stressful to use. Not only will you be charged (possibly) an ATM fee, you will also be charged an exchange fee.

Don't think you can get away with just using credit cards either.
1. Getting cash at an ATM with your credit card can be expensive, even if you are still in the states!
2. Not all European stores take American credit cards. And if they do take credit cards at all, most only take cards that use the chip with a pin code and look at you like you are crazy if you ask them to swipe it instead. (Been there, done that.)
3. Exchange fees: 2 or 3 percent adds up quickly. (Note: there are cards with no exchange fees which I recommend you getting as well.)

The answer: get a free Charles Schwab account with no exchange fees and no ATM fees. It's soooo worth it.

Another option is the Deutsche Bank (in our case) or a bank that is partnered with another bank in the country you are visiting.

6. Be flexible.

This kind of goes along with #2. If you are enjoying a place, consider staying for an extra night or two. If your itinerary is set in stone, you won't have an option. :(

Other problems you may run across that would require flexibility would include communication. Use your hands, draw a picture, or pull up a picture on your smartphone of what you want. Play charades! :) It's a good idea to keep a business card with your hotel address on you that way you can get directions.

Try new foods.

Experience the culture.

Forego things you want to do or see to do other things or have different experiences.

Worst case scenario, watch the locals and see what they are doing. If they are doing it, feel free to do it too.

7. If you see something you love, buy it.

When I was in Italy, I saw this gorgeous light fixture that I wanted. But I am so frugal and think so much before buying anything that I just passed it by. Granted there were questions about how we would get it home without breaking it and, since we are between houses, where would it go? Would I regret the purchase 5 seconds later? 2 days? 4 years? 10? Could I buy it online when I returned home? Is purchasing random goods really a good idea when you are trying to pay off debt?

While these are all valid questions and I cannot change my purchasing (or not purchasing, in this case) decisions from nearly a year ago, I do think it's a good idea that if you like something in another country to go ahead and buy it (if it's within your budget or can be fit into your budget). The likelihood of you finding it online later (even if it is a Chinese knockoff) is far lower than you'd expect.

8. Account for travel time.

If you are going to the airport, show up a minimum of 2 hours early. Missing your flight is a pain and takes away from the small amount of vacation time you have (which is extremely valuable if you are American and have very little to begin with.)

When heading to the airport, account for drive time … or metro time … or bus time. It's a pain, I know, but it will save you time in the long run.

As you plan your vacation from America to Europe, realize that you lose a day in travel via plane. You gain back some of it when you return, luckily.

Traveling from city to city, you will lose hours upon hours driving or taking the train. Europe is not as small as it looks. For example, it took 7 hours to travel from south Germany to northern Italy. While that's not much, it still ate into a good bit of our vacation time. We lost half a day to traveling. Then, with stores and restaurants closing for lunch or only being open until a certain time, you lose even more time.

Just … keep time in mind when you are planning travel.

9. COINS

Europeans use coins all of the time everywhere. If you are like me and don't carry a purse, realize that you might need to start. It's irritating, especially when you consider the fact that Americans are lessening what they need to carry by using products like Coin and Apple Pay; why can't Europeans minimize what is in their pocket too?

I love not having to carry a purse and having all of the financial information I need (albeit potentially insecurely) on one or 2 cards, but that is simply not what Europeans do. I guess that's why they sell brand name, designer purses?

10. Hotel Lights Operated by Key Cards

When Justin and I got to our first hotel room in France, we could not figure out how to turn the lights on. Then Justin, my engineering oriented husband, found it: a slot for the key card on the wall. And guess what? Only with the key card in that slot did the lights turn on. Go figure.

So what do you think? Are you surprised by these travel tips? Is this what you would share with a friend going to Europe? Or do you think I missed something vitally important?

5 Tips For Cleaning, Organizing & Decluttering

image from here

While Justin and I are still taking advantage of low income housing as we attempt to pay off our debts, we are also trying to declutter and organize our belongings. We're both hoarders at heart, so I'm not going to lie when I say that decluttering is tough.

1. Sell Things on Ebay

Or Bookscouter.

Or Poshmark.

Or Craigslist.

Garage and yard sales were once the only way to make money off of your old stuff, but that's not the case anymore. Thanks to the internet, it is far easier to sell items you own and make room for more stuff.

I once read about a person who only bought a new piece of clothing if he sold or got rid of an older piece of clothing. In that way, you aren't paying for more hangers in your closet, and you aren't searching for more storage space. It's a win-win. Your home stays decluttered and you get a new outfit.

You can do the same with books, electronics, toys and other objects that you find typically clutter your home. Perhaps after selling enough, you will be able to take that dream vacation you've always wanted … or go on a much needed date to the movies… You never know!

2. With regards to clothing:

• Get rid of one piece of clothing for every piece you buy (as mentioned above).
• Buy lots of neutrals or go-tos. If you wear lots of jeans and dress pants, it might be smarter to buy a skirt to wear with a top you already have then to buy a dress. Of course it is also worth considering if you will ever wear that piece of clothing again. If you won't, don't buy it.
• Take advantage of return policies. If you haven't worn an item after a week of owning it, consider returning it. You probably won't wear it.
• Poshmark makes it easy to sell clothes. Take a picture with your phone and use the app to submit it to their marketplace. Then wait for someone to make an offer or buy it.

3. Use Different Boxes or Containers to Hold Things As You Clean.

When you go to clean a room, have a box for immediate donation, trash, and to sale. After you are done cleaning, immediately take the items in the donation box to Goodwill, Salvation Army, another family, etc… and trash the trash. From that point you are only working with the things you wanted to keep and the things you wanted to sale. Plus, your house is that much cleaner!

4. Over time…

Clean as you go. It's much easier to get rid of things once every few days/weeks/months than it is to do everything in one day. In fact, I could see it being a fantastic goal to get rid of one thing every day for 365 days of the year. Imagine how many fewer items your home would have!

5. Ask yourself:

• Would you buy it again? How much would you be willing to take if someone offered you money for it right now?
• Do you use it or wear it? Put a sticky note on each item of clothing you have, if you don't wear an item this month or this year, consider selling it or donating it.
• Would someone else appreciate this item more than you?
• In the case of groceries, will it be consumed this week/month/year? If you aren't planning on consuming veggies or fruits within the next 5 days, don't buy them. And even if you are, if you aren't planning on consuming 20 pounds of veggies or fruits in the next week (or turning them into something delightful and less time bound like jelly), don't buy them. Clean out your fridge every time you go to use an item. If it's old, toss it.
• When giving a gift, ask if the gift fits the person's personality or if it is something you would find useful. If not, don't give it. Don't contribute to others' hoarding problems by contributing products to their home that they will only keep because you bought or gave them something.

What are your favorite methods to organize, clean, and declutter? Have you heard any of these tips before?

* I'm participating in the SITS Girls' February Writing Prompts. Are you?

10 Fun Pinterest Valentine's Ideas

Because Valentine's Day isn't Valentine's Day without crafts, food, and pinspiration!

1. Go all out with a holiday drink

I can't find the blog post related to this image, but I know it originated here

Pink heart marshmallows + whipped cream with pink sprinkles on what I presume to be hot chocolate sounds absolutely amazing. It looks like such a fun treat for the holiday! I imagine the idea could be used to dress up fancy coffee drinks too if you like them sweet.

2. Give Hershey's Kiss Flowers


Undecided on whether or not your lady love would prefer flowers or chocolate? Give both using this little craft found on the Hershey's website. Gorgeous, fun, and different, you are sure to win over her heart when you show off your amazing creativity.

* Keep in mind that Hershey's also sells pink and red kisses at this time of year, which are great if you are going for a slightly different floral look. :)

3. Surprise Someone You Love

I pinned the image from here, but it looks like Woman's Day magazine originally came up with the idea.

Need a different take on the old "cookies and milk"? Surprise your loved ones with heart shaped cookies on sticks in milk! It's fun! It's different! And best of all, it's exciting! Who wouldn't want to eat these delicious pieces of heaven?

4. Create simple yet enviable cards.


Ever get the feeling that this holiday is consumer driven? Want to do something a tad different than the traditional? Create your own cards and envelopes from items you have lying around the house. Old scrapbook paper, kraft paper, and string really bring this idea together in a simple yet cohesive way that will surely impress those you care about.

5. Give all of your Valentine's photos a bokeh-licious look.


Umm … yeah. Enough said, right?

6. If you're into health foods…


Carve out some floral strawberries. They look amazing … They taste amazing. Is it possible for anything to really go wrong?

7. Feed the birds…


Decorate a tree outside for the holiday with these fun fruit loop bird feeders and share your love with the birds while you're at it. Mary Poppins would be so proud! :)

8. Take a luxurious bath.


Valentining is hard. Ohsohard. Relax in the tub and smooth your dry skin and calloused everything with this fantastic Conversation Heart sugar scrub. You will feel oh-so-much-better afterward!

9. Decorating is important.


Don't forget to hang hearts everywhere so that your home looks just as good as the one down the street. You will not be outdone this year!

10. And in case 10 projects simply weren't enough…


Take a gander at Brittany Este's 25 DIY Valentine's Day projects. You are sure to find just the perfect something you are looking for… and maybe something a little extra!

Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend and a happy Valentine's Day!

Romantic Book Reviews For Valentine's Day

Original found here.

I've been quite busy reading every spare moment trying to meet my book quota for February (2 books). While I haven't quite finished all of my February choices, I did manage to finish two yesterday, one of which I'd like to review today along with my choices for January. The great thing about the 3 I have chosen is that they are all romance, making them absolutely perfect for the pending holiday this weekend. :) If you need a great love story to read over the weekend, perhaps one of these stories will be just the ticket.

1. I Sold Myself to the Devil For Vinyls … Pitiful, I Know

Found on Wattpad, I read this story after seeing many, many positive reviews and recommendations. I had been doubtful that I could find yet another story on Wattpad that would keep me entertained longer than a few minutes … and to be honest, I almost gave up on this story only a few chapters in. The title is silly and perhaps a bit childish. Do I really want to read a story about the devil? … And then when I realized that the "devil" in this case was a rich high school jock? It almost seemed too cliché to be worth continuing.

Approximately halfway through the book (or maybe it was 1/4?) the plot twists were interesting enough and confusing enough to have me going back for more. At 2 in the morning I would be so tired but the thought of something wildly exciting and different happening was enough to keep me on my toes and reading just a few minutes more … until 7am when it was time to get my day started. *sigh* It was fun, but tiring; I promise. :)

The story itself is about a girl (no, not this one!) who is trying to make it through the perils of high school, and more specifically her senior year. She's a tomboy at heart, her last (and only) boyfriend turned out to be gay, her parents are going through a rocky divorce, and, to make matters worse, the school bully has chosen to pick on her. He helped her get out of a difficult situation with her mom, but then, after the fact, told her that she "owed him". What more could he possibly do to torture her?

While it's not exactly a surprising story (what romances are?), it is a page turner (what romances aren't?). The author's first language is French, but given that her major in the university is English, the story is well put-together even if there are a few minor errors here and there. In fact, one of the things that I absolutely loved about this story is the inclusion of French and German … and various other languages. It makes the book even more of a page turner because, given that my French is extremely limited, I wanted to know what was being said… :) The characters were also well-developed over the course of the novel with my only (minor) complaint being the main character's nickname of "Pumpkin". (Ick. Really. Who does that?) I also wasn't too thrilled with the end. It almost seemed like the authoress gave up and couldn't really decide what was important or how to portray it. It makes me feel that a second or third book could have only improved the story by breaking up the subplots and really allowing the authoress the chance to develop a more concise and cohesive story.

I'm particular though. If you're looking for a romantic page-turner, I definitely recommend this book. The maturity level is well below After (although they both have a lot to build on), but the story is far sweeter.

2. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (buy here)

When I went to pick up this book for the first time, I was a bit hesitant. The movie had been phenomenal … could the book offer anything new for me? I worried that I was going into the story knowing too much about the plotline. There is something to be said for reading books before watching movies that feature the book's story. Ninety percent of the time the story is changed or altered in an infuriating way between book and movie almost making you regret your choice of taking in both.

Luckily for me, the story and the movie were similar enough … but they still had some differences. Or at least enough differences to keep my attention. (It's not easy to keep my attention when I'm watching kids…)

If you haven't seen the movie or read the book, it's another one of those "old person telling the tale to a young person" stories. It's what you see in The Notebook, The Princess Bride, and Titanic. Only this time the older guy is telling the story to his nursemaids in the old folks' home. :) Another fellow had mentioned carrying "water for the elephants" when he worked at the circus many, many years ago, and, when he said that, main character Jacob Jankowski got offended. Apparently his memory of his days in the circus were nothing like what his friend suggested. He remembered that the water for the elephants was far too heavy for any single person to carry and naturally found himself angry that this "friend" was lying. And so, over the next few days, he tells his story, dreaming about it in his sleep and remembering all that led up to the greatest circus disaster that ever was, the break up and disbandment of the Benzini Brothers Greatest Show On Earth.

As someone who has never been to the circus, I found the story to be thrilling and fun. The research that went into the story is clearly eveident and the love of the animals for their caretakers is cleverly shown. I, once again, did not like the ending (do I ever?), but it was definitely an enjoyable read that I highly recommend.

3. Summer Rain

I've only read the first half, which is supposedly a book in and of itself. I finished it at like midnight last night and when it said "epilogue" I have to admit I was pretty excited to have finished it. The story was boring me and skipping around so much that I found it hard to follow as I sporadically read when I had time. Turns out there is a sequel that is part of the same book that I only just now realized means I have another 30 chapters to get through. Argh!

Anyway, here's the plotline for the first half of the story:

Summer is finally here and Raine is excited about all of the time she will get to enjoy living in her rich best friend, Kallie's house while Raine's parents are out of town in Europe for a month long vacation. Things get a bit out of control when Kallie suggests a challenge with boys against girls. The losers will have to be the winner's servants for a month. Obviously Kallie is paired up with her significant other which means Raine is paired up with the one guy she can't stand, Kallie's twin brother Kayd. Worst of all: Kallie is playing matchmaker and trying to set Raine and Kayd up! Who will win the challenge? And will Kallie succeed?

While there are a few plots twists and turns, the story didn't feel cohesive at all. It was written like I write my blog posts – a new subject every day, nothing really truly relating yesterday's post to today's. If you're bored and want a fast read on Wattpad, this will get you that… Otherwise, I recommend skipping it.

If the plotline of the second half of the story gets any better, I'll let you know. :)

Will you be reading any romance novels in honor of Valentine's Day? Have you read any of the books I mentioned in this post?

Rain = Romance

Some of the best movies and love stories feature rain…

1. Singing In the Rain


2. The Notebook


3. One Fine Day


4. Breakfast at Tiffany's


5. Little Women


Why do we think of rain as being so romantic?

* I'm participating in the SITS Girls' February Writing Prompts. Are you?

5 Fab Things to Do In the City of Love

The original can be found here.

As an ode to the upcoming holiday of love, the following are what I consider to be the best of the best things to do in Paris. I've only been once, but I don't think it takes more than that to list all of the wonder and beauty that can be found in one of the most well-visited cities of the world.

1. Find the best crêperie in Paris.

When Justin and I went to Paris, we asked the hotel front desk clerk where she recommended we go for dinner. More specifically we asked where she would go to have dinner. While not giving us the name of a specific restaurant, she directed us to an area heavy in crêperies on Rue du Montparnasse. Despite having never been to a crêperie, I was in France and I wanted a real French meal (like at home) not some sort of breakfast food. Psh! A thin pancake! How good could it really be?

I was wrong. I have never tasted a better crêpe in my life. Who needs an American-style French dinner when you can have delicious, delicious crêpes?

Don't listen to those people who say "you haven't lived until you've bought a crêpe from a street vendor in Paris!" Go to a restaurant. It is sooooo worth it.

2. While we are at it… explore food and drink in Paris. 

Buy a baguette.

Drink freshly squeezed orange juice.

Eat a croissant.

Sip on wine or champagne.

Taste the heavenly hot chocolate.

Grab some cheese…

This is a good list of places to go.

The only thing that France did not do well were burgers. And hotel breakfasts. Everything else is close to perfect though. :)

3. Walk the streets. People watch.

With all of the beautiful architecture, and the fashionable women and men, it is almost a thrill in itself just to wait on the Metro.

Near the Seine, people sell beautiful (Chinese) paintings (because let's be real, these people did not actually paint those paintings) that almost make you swoon.

At one point, during our trip, Justin and I saw a wall of paintings on a fence outside of a garden that we could never find again in the 3rd arrondissement. (Someone, help? Which garden is it?)

If I ever return to Paris … a street art walking tour could be a lot of fun.

The streets of Paris are gorgeous and unique … and the people just like them. Ever seen a woman in a dress riding a bicycle on the NYC streets? 

Of course, it's possible that I am just easily entertained.

4. Take some time to shop.

I didn't get to while I was in Paris, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't.

These book shops sound amazing.

My heart thrills at the idea of looking for overpriced vintage antiques … or underpriced thrifts.

I'm also a bit obsessed about exploring a flower market in Paris. Why doesn't my home city of Atlanta have one?

5. Visit a Parisian rooftop at dusk.

The perfect end to a perfect day can only exist if you do this one little thing.

And there are so many places to do it!

While I am certain that there is far more to see and do in Paris than I will ever find the time for, I think my list of 5 things are the most important five things you could ever do if you ever find the time and money to visit Paris. If you've been before, what are your favorite things to do? If you haven't, do you have anything on your wanderlist that you think I should have included?

Keeping Finances In Check

I have to admit that I'm not actually looking forward to today's "money Monday". While January is the perfect time to start over and renew financial goals, Justin and I have been less than interested in focusing on our finances.

Then, to make matters more complicated, we are currently helping to dig family out of a hole.

On the one hand, it's what you do for family. It's a good thing to do. On the other hand, I just want to scream as I see our money going into a black hole of oblivion never to be seen again and used to pay for things like bank fees which my husband and I did not incur through our own spending. Argh.

Anyway, this blog post is not meant to be a rant. Rather, my hope is that the main takeaway is a reminder not to get into debt in the first place.

Spending Ratio


Let's start with something positive.

Justin and I spent less this year than we did last year in January. In fact, we actually spent less in January than we did during November and December, so that's good too. My ultimate goal, as I'm sure I share nearly every month, is to get our spending down to the number we spent in August, approximately $1000 less than we spent last month. I'm not really sure if it will happen again though given our current situation (bailing my parents out of debt) and all of the travel we will be doing in the next few months. It's a good goal to aim for though.

Assets


While I'm great at complaining about debt and how I never expect to spend as much as I do, I can honestly say I frequently find myself surprised when we manage to somehow end the month with more money in our pockets than we began it with … especially when that number was decreasing and decreasing and decreasing during the 4 months prior.

However, when I think about it, it actually makes sense:
• Justin's paycheck went up in January when his boss forgot to deduct the money that is suppose to go into our HSA account…
• I received $100 bonus for making 5 transactions in my new Capital One 360 checking account

Why can't every month be like this? I want extra money to just appear out of nowhere!

Debts


Our debt has gone down by approximately 4.9% an increase from 3% in past months and when I say that I don't know how it happened, I think what I'm really saying is … I need to look at our finances again and really figure out where our money is going. Don't get me wrong – I'm happy. I was just set up to be disappointed. Does this mean that Justin and I are finally on track to really begin paying down our student loans and debt? I certainly hope so…

Net Worth


Our net worth is up 6% from last month and 20% from May (our worst month in 2014). I'm so ready for it to be in the positive! Unfortunately, assuming everything stays the same (which it won't), Mint says we won't have our student loan debt paid off until 2028 – 13 years from now. Doesn't that just make you sick?

Other Thoughts For This Month

• I obtained a second job this month editing a book. While it did take me away from family time during my dad's birthday weekend, I'm grateful for the extra income.
• We used Travelocity to save $100 on a hotel for a weekend getaway as we attend a wedding this November in FL. It's nice being on top of planning in such a way that saving money is possible.
• I took advantage of a sale at Neiman Marcus where I bought $100 worth of merchandise for $50. This put us ahead in buying wedding gifts for 3 of the 5 weddings we will be attending this year.
• Justin & I opened a Discover It card which is currently giving us 5% cashback on gas purchases, 0% interest for 12 months, and no transfer fees for what we owe on our other credit cards. This means we can put the $100 that was going toward interest toward our payments instead. YAY!
• Justin did our taxes yesterday and we are getting back a sizeable amount since we are claiming the marriage benefit … otherwise we would owe in the thousands (claiming "married but filing separately"). I definitely recommend doing up your taxes multiple ways to see which way will benefit you the most.

Your Turn

How is 2015 looking for you? Are you on track to meet your financial goals for the year? Or what about in the short term – for example, the month?