Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah: 2015 A-Z Review

One of my favorite rides at Walt Disney World in Florida is Splash Mountain. It's based loosely on the book by Joel Chandler Harris entitled Uncle Remus. At the beginning of the ride (as with most) everything is pleasant and happy. Absolutely nothing could go wrong! Until it does. You get caught and tossed into the briar patch! (Or take a nasty spill down a waterfall.) Ahhh! But y'know what? This is a children's story: at the end of the day everyone is singing and happy. :)

♫ "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah… zip-a-dee-a… My oh my, what a wonderful day! Plenty of sunshine heading my way! Zip-a-dee-doo-dah… zip-a-dee-a…!"

Isn't that pretty similar to life itself?

You have all of these ups and downs, a roller coaster of emotions, and, hopefully, at the end, everything ends up just as it should. Maybe it's not how you planned or what you expected, but, no matter, it works!

During the past month, participating in the A-Z blogging challenge has been that roller coaster ride for me. While I was already blogging 5 days a week, it was a little more challenging to try to find intentional words to fit into my blogging "scheme". As if that weren't enough of a challenge, I upped the ante for myself by visiting as many blogs as it took to get 5 comments written for other bloggers per day. Sometimes I visited more, sometimes less, but I'm fairly certain that in the past few weeks I have visited at least a few hundred blogs! I know that the hosts made an attempt to visit all of the blogs and comment at least once and I am so impressed with their agility in visiting nearly 2,000 other blogs involved as well as keeping up with their own blog writing! (Do you all have jobs and families too?!?!)

One of the biggest differences for me between this year and last is that last year my days were not planned at all AND my husband and I were leaving to go to Europe. I ended last year on V (for Victory!) and never looked back.

Well, today I'm looking back, at 2014's posts and 2015's. Before I get to the end of this blog post I also plan on sharing 5 (more) of my favorite A-Z bloggers whom I hope I will continue to enjoy following long after the April A-Z 2015 is completed! 

• Beautiful Clothes – featuring Worn on TV and my favorite Anthropologie dress ever - the Geojacquard!
J is for Top Gun – I love 80s movies and Top Gun is definitely a favorite! Watching the making of the movie on Youtube was really enlightening, and I love that I went against the grain and talked about something that didn't technically start with the letter J…
Now & Then: 5 Favorite 90's Movies – Children's movies were awesome in the 90s. :)
Post-Easter Cupcake Deliciousness – The images of these delectable treats make me so happy!
Scatterbrained & Stressed + So Much Candy! – Yum!

Absence – In this post I discussed the Germanwings crash as well as He Wanted the Moon by Mimi Baird. I feel like I was really able to pull the two topics together well, and I was grateful for all of the comments and feedback I received on the post!
Georgia A-Z – I had a lot of fun putting these posts together and really considering what all there is to do in my home state. While I think my writing could have been a bit better had I given myself more time to research and put together my blog posts, it was a fun series and I would love to do something like this again!
Impressive! Cookie Love – Reviewing cookbooks combines a few of my favorite things: getting new products to try for free (specifically books), making delicious treats, and spending time with my super-understanding husband. Yes, I would definitely do this again. :)
Delicious Recipes + review of Sweetapolita – This was another fun cookbook review that I got to do on behalf of Blogging For Books. :) Have you entered my giveaway yet?

5 More Blogs I Enjoyed Reading During the 2015 A-Z Challenge:
Reel Focus Pushing the Pen A Postcard A Day Life In German Internet Marketing & SEO

Now that I've shared about my experience with blogging A-Z, tell me about yours. I'd love to hear from you! Be sure to link-up your blog and perhaps share a bit about yourself in the comments! I'd love to meet more of you!

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Georgia A-Z Pt. 8

Dear Readers, I feel that the end is upon us. April A-Z ends in 3 days and today marks the end of my exploration of Georgia/Atlanta A-Z. Sad, right? What will I do next? :)

If you've missed any of my other Georgia A-Z posts, you can find them in the links below, listed by letter.

A-D • E-G • H-K • L-O • P-S • T • U-W

I've really enjoyed exploring and sharing tourist attractions in Georgia from A-Z and I've learned a lot from my experience, but I know I have missed plenty! If you have any that you think I should have included (or perhaps don't think I know about!), please share in the comments. As it is, with Museum week here in Atlanta this week I've already learned about a few museums I didn't even know existed! (If only I had more time to visit and take advantage of the 2 for 1 offer going on right now!)

Anyway, the following are the last 3 letters of the alphabet which, in my opinion, are the most difficult to find a location for:

X. SiX Flags Over Georgia

Opening in 1967, Six Flags Over Georgia is a 290 acre theme park just west of Atlanta featuring many of Warner Bros. Studios cartoon characters including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Batman, and the Looney Tunes characters. The park was inspired by the six different flags that have flown over the state of Georgia: Spain, France, UK, USA, the Confederate States of America, and the Georgia state flag. That is the largest extent of historical themes found in the park, however.

Having been to the theme park multiple times in the past, I can't say that there is anything particularly memorable or striking about the park. Entrance is expensive at around $43 per person if you purchase online. Occasionally, in the past Publix grocery stores and Coca-Cola products carry coupons that can be used at the gate, but I haven't seen them in years. (Mainly because I don't go that often.) There are plenty of fun rides for kids and adults alike including lots of roller coasters, theatre shows, and carnival-like rides. If you go during the summer (and buy a separate pass) you can visit the sister theme park, White Water (which is more for kids than adults) that offers numerous water activities to keep the whole family both busy and cool during the hot Atlanta summers. (Don't forget sunscreen!!)

Y. Young Harris

A small town in north Georgia, this area offers fantastic views of the Appalachian mountains. It is the former hometown of Georgia Senator and Governor Zell Miller. It is also the location of the small, local private Young Harris College. You can visit the local Brasstown Valley Resort to hike, go horseback riding or play golf. It is also the perfect location to get away from the city/crowds and rent a cabin out in the woods. :)

While I attended college for a year in Young Harris, so much has changed that it's really hard for me to provide any recommendations for what to do there. One of my favorite restaurants up there was The Blue Otter which offered a view of a lake and mountains in the distance and they served some fantastic wings. (I don't even like wings if that says something!) Of course, the company I was with, my roommate in particular, may have tainted my memories of this place… Be sure to let me know if you ever go to Young Harris or this nearby restaurant in Hiawassee, GA to confirm whether or not it actually is good. :)

Z Zoo Atlanta!

Founded in 1889, when a businessman purchased a bankrupt circus and donated the animals to the city of Atlanta, the city opted to house the animals in Grant Park where they still exist today. The zoo continued to grow in the 1930s when another donate offered his private menagerie. By the 1970s many of the exhibits and attractions were looking outdated and in disrepair, so concerned citizens created the Atlanta Zoological Society raising funds to improve the zoo. In the 1980s, the zoo was privatized and went under aggressive restoration bringing in a pair of pandas as the star attraction.

As of today, the zoo offers a fantastic way to experience wildlife and provides many exciting events. Children can take advantage of the kiddie rides around the park (including a small train). If you are a public library pass holder in the state of Georgia, you can visit the zoo for free after requesting the pass from your local library. (It may be on hold or being used by another patron on the day you want, so be sure to stay flexible and ask in advance!) The zoo is open Monday through Friday from 9:30AM to 5:30PM and Saturday and Sunday until 6:30PM. The cost for an adult is $23 and children are $18. While, in my opinion, that's a bit high, if you stay for the day and perhaps leave the park to have a picnic lunch on benches outside of the park, it could be worth the cost in entertainment value. Do keep in mind, like other parks, drink and snack prices are also high.

So… what are your thoughts on my A-Z list? Do you have any other suggestions or recommendations? Have you been to any of these attractions?

X marks the spot. :)

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

5 ways to WIN!! when Teaching Kids Math Skills

image from here courtesy of PhotoPin

Over the past year, the third grader I watch has been sent home with a "bingo" sheet of activities she has to do for homework all related to math. She absolutely hates it because her big brothers have "real" homework with worksheets and such to do. Truthfully, I think the bingo sheet is awesome for third graders; they get to choose how they want to do their homework and it feels more like "play" than learning. Best of all, as I've seen when working with this girl we will call "M", is that she is entirely creative and imaginative when it comes to completing the homework. It's less about following the rules to a T and more about doing what works for her.

I won't go into what the bingo card entails, because 1) I don't have it with me and 2) the concepts are pretty simple – addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Normally, when I work with M to complete these tasks, we can do them the easy, boring way – following the directions exactly like her teacher assigned – OR we can be imaginative and do them in a more complicated, thoughtful, creative way – which is how I prefer to do it. :)

While I can see how worksheets can be a simple, easy way to reinforce ideas learned in school, when working with M and other children, I've often found that fun games and real life actives are more successful and beneficial for children. The following are just some of the alternative ways I practice math skills with the children I watch:

1. Chutes and Ladders

Originally, Chutes and Ladders was a game intended for preschoolers to teach addition (or perhaps moreso: counting). The board game is comprised of a grid of squares listing numbers 1-100, going back and forth zig zagging across the board from left to right (then right to left), and from the bottom to the top. You spin the spinner receiving a number from 1-6 and move up the board however many spaces you spin. As you move across and up the board, however, you may find yourself landing on a ladder or chute (AKA slide). If you land on the ladder, you advance further up the board; if you land on a chute, you have to slide back down the board.

When M and I play, we change up the rules completely. One minute we are going up chutes an down ladders; the next we are starting at 100 and working our way back to 1. Oh - and the most important difference is that we use Star Wars figurines (very important!) and dice instead of a spinner. As we move up and down the board, I have M add/subtract numbers in her head before she makes a move. i.e. If she throws a 2 and a 3, she must add 5, and, for example, subtract from 100 before she moves her figurine to square #95. Sometimes it's super easy – we only change one rule, for instance. Other times, it can be quite complicated as you think through all of the changes you have made to the rules. One of the things I love about this method is that it gives new life to an old game and reinforces what kids are learning in school. The game becomes more interesting and fun to play then perhaps it would be otherwise.

2. Darts

In this game, the goal is to reach a specific number faster than the person you are playing against (basically, just like normal darts except with multiple turns). M came up with this game on her own, and I've found it to be a fantastic way for me to practice aim. The game moves along really fast, and even M's brothers are more than happy to practice "math skills" with her. :) As you play different rounds, it can be fun to change up the numbers on the dart board so that they are more difficult to add/subtract/multiply/divide. You can start with a goal number of reaching -say, for example- 1000 or you could work backwards from that number and try to reach 0. You can even make it more difficult for the player by indicating they can only be in a certain area of the room … or they have to throw the dart while facing backwards. No matter how you play, the kids are practicing essential math skills in a creative and interesting way.

3. Monopoly

I haven't played this for educational purposes with the kids I watch, but I still feel that it is a fantastic game to teach numbers, counting, and finance. You do have to be careful, though, because if a child isn't old enough yet, they can get bored pretty quickly. When I play with M and her brothers, M always wants to be the banker. While I know this is beneficial for her in learning to count and deal with money, about halfway through every game I want to inwardly scream at how long it takes her to deal the money. And all of the corrections that must be made! Nevertheless, playing games like this as well as practicing real life situations by taking children to stores and giving them a certain amount to spend is a really practical and educational way for children to learn about finances, handling their money, and counting it. It can be a bit bland and boring seeing the numbers printed in a word problem at school.

(Another idea I've seen used successfully is giving fake money as rewards and payment for chores that can be turned in for treats.)

4. Alton Brown, Cooking, Fractions

Breaking away from games altogether, Justin went a different route when showing another group of children I've babysat for about fractions. These kids were interested in making bread. They had seen it done in a bread maker, but to make it with their bare hands? It was a really fun experiment to do while the parents were away. For one, the kids didn't want to get their hands dirty when touching the gooey dough! Secondly, they had a ton of questions that only Alton Brown sock puppets could help them with. (And funnily enough, even the 3 year old was intrigued by the cooking show sock puppets!) Finally, I consider food to be a fantastic opportunity to talk about fractions. How much of a cup do you need? If you want to split a loaf of bread three ways, how much does each kid get? Etc… Etc… Now I can't guarantee that every child will take a personal interest in learning math skills this way, but it is definitely a fantastic, fun, edible alternative to intangible problem-solving worksheets.

5. BlackJack

I have to admit that before watching M and her brothers I knew very little about poker and most other card games. One week while their mom was out of town, their dad had to help M with her math homework. Apparently he got bored with the math games quickly too, so he settles on teaching his children BlackJack. With coins, no less! All of a sudden, I found myself babysitting for little gamblers! ;) It was fun, though. The kids taught me BlackJack which is where the dealer has two cards and deals each of the players two cards apiece. You turn your cards over so that the table can see them: If the numbers total over 21, you are out. If the numbers added together equal 21, you can't ask for more cards. And if the numbers total less than 21, you can ask for more cards until you reach 21 or go over. The person who is closest to 21 (or exactly on 21) wins. I have to admit it was fun for a little while, especially when you included betting, but after a while, it too lost it's charm. Perhaps there is a more interesting way to play this with kids? Or maybe I don't know all of the rules? Either way, this can be a fun way to practice math skills.

If you have kids, do you use any unique and alternative ways to reinforce math skills at home? If you don't have kids, what were some of your favorite games to play as a child? Did you mix any up and change the rules?

* Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)
** Blog prompt thanks to 30 Days of Lists and Listers Gotta List.

Recalling High School Movie Favorites

My senior year of high school was absolutely my favorite year in school ever. I had been challenged to break away from my old group of friends (who were more interested in canoodling than spending time with me) and meet some new people. And meet new people, I did! For once in my life, I felt semi-popular. People would literally show up at my front door, without calling first, just to hang out… no matter what time of day or night.

While I can't remember all that we did, I will never forget how we crammed onto my queen-sized bed and watched movies together. Sitting so close gave us a feeling of comfort and made us feel like we weren't alone in the world. We had one another's backs … literally and figuratively … or at least for that year.

Even though my group of friends disbanded shortly after we went off to college, there are still a number of movies that I look back on in fond memory.

1. Mean Girls

A sarcastic look at high school culture from director Tina Fey made this movie a win in my book.

2. Win A Date With Tad Hamilton

This movie wasn't that great. The part that was great? When Justin and the main male character (Topher Grace) say the exact same things at the exact same time… "Wonder whose getting together in this movie?"

3. Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Justin and I recently watched this with a group of kids. We had a lot of fun even though the kids knew what was coming the whole time.

4. The Breakfast Club

What happens when five students who have nothing in common get detention for a day? Nothing good. ;)

5. Breakfast at Tiffany's

This was a movie I had been meaning to watch for years… I finally got my chance in high school and it quickly rose to one of my favorites. :)

6. The Princess Bride

We watched a lot of 80s movies… but at least this one isn't your average everyday ho-hum fairytale. :)

7. Mission: Impossible 2

I didn't have the chance to watch the original, but I definitely enjoyed the second one!

8. Memento

This was an intense movie that really made you think…

9. The Matrix

I was pretty late in seeing this for the first time, but I really enjoyed it when I did finally see it. 

10. Finding Nemo

Last but not least, this movie was really fun to see in theatres. As one of Pixar's first as well as featuring the amazing Ellen DeGenres, of course it was going to be amazing! Best of all: Finding Dory, the sequel is set to come out this year! Hooray!

What were some of your favorite movies from high school? Do seeing movies from that time in your life bring back any special memories?

* Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Delicious Recipes + Review of Sweetapolita

Over Easter break I discovered the fantastic blog of Rosie Alyea, author of Sweetapolita. Before ordering the book, Justin and I attempted the scrumptious Meringue Dream Cake – a cake that combines yummy meringues with a delicious dark chocolate cake. Aside from the rabbit, the cake was the highlight of our lunch that day!

When I received Sweetapolita last Friday, as with all cook books, I had to find the perfect recipe to make that night. Justin was tired from work, so if I wanted to make something, it had to be me doing it (for the most part, that is). While meringues, sprinkles, and milkshakes took the cake (haha) for being the easiest and requiring the fewest ingredients, I ended up settling on the Buttermilk Cake. With a total of eight ingredients and confectioner sugar topping, I assumed this would be one of the best (read: easiest) recipes for me to begin with without the need for grocery shopping. When going to the grocery stores takes a minimum of 20 minutes, at 7PM at night after a long day of work, you avoid getting back in the car even if it means cutting the recipe in half – which is exactly what we did. Using Justin's brain power (I trust his more than my own.), I basically managed to throw the recipe together in about 30 minutes. We then threw (yes, threw!) the cake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes (rather than the 20-22 minutes suggested) while we ate dinner. Given my baking skills and Justin's tiredness, the cake came out far from perfect. The center wasn't all the way done (we did one cake pan rather than the suggested 2 since we had cut the cake recipe in half to begin with), but the cake was fantastic when served with ice cream!

After messing up the Buttermilk Cake recipe and still getting good results, we moved to something a bit more difficult – the Pastel Vanilla Birthday Cake – feeling the desire to give the book another shot at glory. After having spent a month making delicious sweets beginning with the book Cookie Love, as well as making the Meringue Dream Cake, and the Buttermilk Cake, it was time for us to go shopping and stock up on baking ingredients. We spent $40 at the store on flour, milk, eggs, sugar, baking powder, etc, etc… It was quite the investment, but then again so was the cake we were about to make. It took us between one and two hours to put this confectionary dream together, but we did it! One step at a time… We began at 4PM and did not finish until 8PM with dinner included. The cake ended up being light and fluffy with a similar consistency to that of Angel Food Cake. And the icing? The icing was a kid's dream! Tons of sugar! None of the people who ate the cake with us (all adults) could finish simply because it was soooo sweet! (In the future, I would make the cake with a less sweet icing, but that's just my opinion.) The inside layers of the cake included an eggless sugar cookie dough which was a fun touch! My step-grandmother was so thrilled that she immediately began writing down the 4 page recipe! In fact, she wanted me to include in this review that this recipe is her very favorite cake recipe that she has ever had in her (more than) 70 years of living! (Quite an accomplishment!)

While I have really only shared about the experience in making Sweeapolita cakes, the book actually offers tons of other recipes that I can't wait to try in the future! The sweets are all very colorful and fun, and the author provides tons of information for getting the recipes just right. Justin loved that she used weight measurements in her recipes saying that this little detail made it far easier to get the recipe just right. He did comment that you need to read the recipe in full before attempting it though. Sometimes the recipes contain unexpected surprises (cookie dough in the icing?) and sometimes the pictures aren't accurate to what the authoress indicates in her recipe.

Just so that you can get an idea of what else to expect in the book, let me list off a few of my must-bake recipes for the future:

• Coney Island Cheesecake (NYC peeps: Is this really a thing? It looks delicious!)
• Edible Chalk and Chalkboards (Fun idea for kids!)
• Pink Candied Carnival Popcorn
• Campfire Deluxe Cake

FYI: Best Friends For Frosting shared the Pastel Vanilla Birthday Cake recipe if you want to check it out. :)

Have you seen this book or read Rosie Alyea's blog?

Now for the fun part.

I have some spatulas, measuring cups, and a $5 Amazon gift card to give away! Want a chance to win?  Share something food or baking related with me. It can be absolutely anything – a story of cooking with your children, a favorite recipe, a baking or cooking tip, or anything else you can think of! Then enter the rafflecopter below. You will have two weeks to enter and you can enter as many times as you want! There will be 7 winners in all with one winner receiving the Amazon gift card. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)
** I received this book for free in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
*** Giveaway is sponsored by me and not Rosie Alyea, Swwetapolita, the publisher, or anyone else.

Georgia A-Z pt. 7

Whether or not you are an avid follower of my blog or just visiting for the first time from the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, welcome! Over the past month and a half, I have dedicated every Tuesday to listing out tourist attractions in Georgia from A-Z. Today and next Tuesday I will be conquering some of the most difficult letters in the alphabet. With that in mind I am skipping to the letter U which is where I left off in my last post. I'll get back on track again tomorrow… :)

Before I begin, if you've missed any of my other Georgia A-Z posts, you can find them in the links below, listed by letter. Be sure to check them out especially if you are planning a future trip to Georgia!

A-D • E-G • H-K • L-O • P-S • T

Underground Atlanta is made up of buildings that were constructed during the city's post-Civil War reconstruction era between 1866 and 1871 when the population of Atlanta doubled to 22,000 residents. The oldest building in this section of town is currently the train depot which served 100 trains per day with routes between Atlanta and a number of other cities including New York City, Cincinnati, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. During the 1920s (and the prohibition era), storefronts moved to upper floors (where they were more visible), and the ground floors were transformed into basements for storage and service as well as speakeasies and juke joints. Shortly after the 1920s, as street level continued to rise, Underground Atlanta was effectively forgotten.

Around 1960, two Georgia Tech grads "rediscovered" the area and attempted to restore it to it's original glory establishing it as a retail and entertainment district. The area re-opened in April 1969 and was considered an upscale area where men and women could consume alcoholic beverages so long as they came dressed to the nines. The popularity of the area only lasted a decade, however, when neighboring Deklab County began to allow alcohol in the early 70s. With the dress code restrictions dropped, fights became more commonplace and the area became dangerous closing once again in 1982.

The most current renovations for Underground Atlanta occurred in 1982 with the area re-opening in 1989, but it has not seen near the influx of people or money as it had previously. While the area itself is pretty empty and a little boring (unless you are interested in bars), hope has been restored to the community when in 2014 a new contract was placed on the area wherein developer WRS is set to turn Underground Atlanta into a mixed-use development with retail, restaurants, and above ground apartments, which will const between $150-$200 million. It will be very interesting to see how this effects the city. Similarly developed Atlantic Station has done quite well improving and changing the concept of what it means to visit the city of Atlanta. Will the new developments do the same for Underground Atlanta?

With nearly 233 acres, this state park located near the Chattahoochee National Forest was one of Georgia's first state parks and was construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The park offers a variety of outdoor activities for visitors including camping, hiking, fishing, and swimming. Located at the center of the park, visitors can enjoy the beauty of Lake Trahlyta.

I've only been to the park once when I went for a picnic, but that was years ago and I can't recall what all there is to do there. Rated highly on their website and located in the mountains of Georgia, it is certainly a beautiful area to visit with your family for a day … or a week if you intend on campaign, fishing, and hiking through all there is to see. Let me reiterate though that this is not a place you go for shopping or the city experience. Then again, if you are considering going to a park, I doubt that's what you are looking for anyway. :)

One of the most obvious tourist attractions (and traps imho) is the World of Coke museum which opened in 1990 and sat across from Underground Atlanta until 2007 when it was moved closer to Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia Aquarium. Having never visited the newest museum, I can only comment on the older museum noting that, from what I've heard, the newer museum is pretty much the older museum at a higher cost. Upon entering the museum, you are allowed to walk through 3 levels of Coke advertisements and memorabilia in chronological order beginning at the top floor and working your way downward. As you reach the lower floor, you have the opportunity to try coke branded products from all over the world as well as shop at the gift shop.

While I imagine this museum could be fun and a fantastic way to broach the topic of "other countries" with younger children, this museum is not one I would recommend for your Atlanta must-do list. It is fun trying all of the different drinks from all over the world, but it is a bit more educational and exciting to go to those places and try the drinks as opposed to paying an $18 entrance fee to be advertised to. That's just my opinion though.

Have you ever been to any of these locations? Do any of them spark your interest and make you want to travel to Georgia? Is there some place I've missed in my A-Z list that you think should have been included?

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

The Phone

image from here courtesy of PhotoPin

I read a lot of blogs about saving money, because I'm always looking for new methods to the madness. How do I pay off debt quicker? How can I cut costs and be more efficient?

One of the methods I read about last week discussed completely cutting cell phone coverage…

Shocking, right?

In this day and age, who doesn't have a smart phone? I know 12 year olds with them! And 80 year olds too! Basically, the premise was that if you cut your cell phone plan, you can just rely on wifi for texting (WhatsApp, iMessage) and calling (Skype). The US (not my experience with Europe) provides plenty of free wifi access points making this easier and easier to do. Not only do Starbucks and McDonalds all have easily accessible internet, but there are (or soon will be) whole cities with free wifi. (Google Fiber anyone?)

While I've only had one experience as an adult without a cell phone years ago, I could totally see this being a fantastic opportunity to save money. At $100 a month, we'd be saving $1200 a year, and that's a low number. Justin and I are part of a family plan for the purposes of saving money; however if you aren't part of a family plan, you could save even more depending on how much you pay per phone per month! With an average savings of $1200 a year, you could pay for a plane ticket to Europe! Or make a downpayment on a new car! Buy new furniture! Drink 600 cups of coffee (at $2 a cup)! The possibilities are (almost) endless!

On the same note, but kind of different, I was challenged recently to delete 5 apps on my phone and add 5 more. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to learn which apps I use and are worth keeping and which apps are just taking up space.

These are the apps I deleted:
1. Trivia Crack – How often do I really play? It seems like more often than not I find myself losing games because I don't respond in time. (iTunesGoogle PlayAmazon)
2. Lounge Buddy – I downloaded it because of a travel blog's mention, but I never used it. Out it goes! (iTunesGoogle Play)
3. Mindsnacks Learn German – This was another case where I contemplated how often I used it. Yes, I did pay for it, but I had also completed all of the levels. While I could keep the app and use it for review, in the past year I haven't opened it or used it once. Similar to cleaning out my closet, I knew this app had to go. (By the way, it's a fantastic app for learning the basics of any language! There is a wide variety of games that are fast-paced which make learning easy and fun!) (iTunes)
4. Honeywell Home Security – We had a security system in our last house that we were able to use our phones with, but we don't have one in our current house. It was time for it to go. :)
5. Light Leaker – This was an app that allowed you to add "light leaks" into your photos when editing them on your phone. It was pretty fun for a while, but I rarely edit photos that intensely on my phone. (iTunes)

These are the apps I added:
1. Amazon Prime Music – Justin and I have Amazon Prime, but I didn't have the music app. I had heard good things about it – like being able to listen to whole cds without paying for them – which is why I downloaded it. (iTunesGoogle PlayAmazon)
2. Target Cartwheel – Another opportunity to save money? Sure! (iTunesGoogle Play)
3. Chase Mobile – With 2 new Chase credit cards in my name, I decided this would be the easiest way to keep up with them. (iTunesGoogle Play)
4. Learn & Play Languages – With one language learning game gone, I decided to find another. (iTunes)
5. My Disney Experience – Knowing that Justin and I would be going to Disney World this year, I decided to take control of the experience and try a Disney app. Time will tell if it is useful. (iTunesGoogle Play)

After a week with the new apps, I found myself re-downloading Trivia Crack, loving the Amazon Prime app (!!), and deleting the Learn & Play Languages App (Too boring!). I have yet to try any of the other apps. :-/

If you were to add/delete 5 apps on your phone, what would they be? Would you consider giving up your cell phone contract and relying solely on wifi to save you money? Share! I'd love to hear your input! :)

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Der Osterhase

Clearly it had to be served on a bed of carrots and celery!

On Good Friday, I got off work early and drove over to the Farmer's Market to meet Justin for Easter weekend grocery shopping. Being Catholic, he had fasted all day. Also being Justin, not only was he hungry but he was also ornery – something only a bit of food could help with. After consuming a muffin and chatting outside with his parents on the phone about Easter, we headed inside to begin our shopping…

Since Justin is the main chef at the majority of our family holidays, he (and I) get the privilege of picking out the entree. Over the past week we had joked that the only "appropriate" meal to eat on Easter was either chicks, lamb, or rabbit. As you might imagine, everyone who was invited to the Easter celebration turned their noses up at these suggestions – imho, rightly so. As we wandered the gigantic store, we kept circling around the same ideas – steak, chicken, or BBQ – none of which pleased my husband. I guess we've had all of these things so frequently in the past that they've lost their sparkle. (However, if they do indeed sparkle, I can say with utmost certainty that I understand why Justin wouldn't want to eat them in the first place!) Rather than wander around the freezing cold store for eternity (I swear they keep it at like 30º!), Justin and I finally agreed on a combination of steak and rabbit. While I wasn't certain I would actually consume the rabbit myself, (I'm the one in the kitchen complaining about Bambi and Nemo being cooked! "Fish are friends NOT food!!") I couldn't pass up the comedic aspect of letting Justin cook (and eat) the "Easter bunny" on Easter. Justin used The Joy of Cooking to make the rabbit, and surprisingly enough, all of the family gave the poor guy (bunny) a taste!

One thing to note is that, while I thought eating Easter bunny was an original and unique experience for the holiday (most Americans eat ham or so I thought…), I was surprised to learn that perhaps eating rabbit for Easter is not as unique and original as I had first imagined. (Thanks Google for bursting my bubble!)

Despite that, it was quite fun listening to my grandparents recall their childhood when they would eat rabbit for dinner (and apparently kill and sell rabbit for a nickel in downtown Atlanta!). My step-grandmother mentioned to Justin that his rabbit tasted better than the one her mother made when she was a child! I know this made Justin happy (and gave him tons of extra grandson points!).

Now! Where does the German Osterhase (Easter hare) come into play?

It doesn't.

Or maybe it does?

It depends on how you look at it…

1. If Google is correct, the idea of an Osterhase began in Germany … or, at the very least, the idea of the American Easter bunny originated from immigrants that came from Southwest Germany to Pennsylvania in the 1800s. At the time, Easter was not purely a Christian celebration but rather it was also a pagan ritual in which kids would leave out their bonnets for the Easter bunny to deposit eggs, candy, and gifts while they were asleep, much like what Santa Claus does with stockings at Christmas time.

2. On that particular day, I messaged a German friend about how Justin was cooking an Osterhase knowing he would be amused. (He was, I think.)

3. I needed an O food word for food Friday. :)

Have you ever eaten rabbit? What is your traditional Easter dinner?

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Nothing? Or Everything?

This morning I was joking with my husband. I asked "what should I blog about today? The letter is N." He didn't have a clue. So I followed up by saying "nothing?"


And now, 7 hours later, I'm about to leave the house for the afternoon and I still have "nothing".

The best I can come up with is my nephew… which is far from "nothing".

18 weeks along and now the size of a sweet potato.

Never will life be the same when he is born. :)

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Moi! & What I've Been Up To

One of my favorite times of the month is when I get to share what I'm up to in my currently post. I started sharing in December during a blog challenge, and I've loved doing it ever since. It gives me a bit of a blogging break, and it allows me to share a few of my favorite current things that perhaps I don't actually want to write a whole blog post about. :)

Listening to: Undisclosed, Serial, and NPR.

I'm not a podcast girl. Justin loves podcasts and talk radio, but I just don't. When I'm driving I need actual music, not some idiot (or intelligent person) talking at me. NPR journalists are a different beast entirely though. Their voices are sing song, calm, collected, and, as I read elsewhere on the internet, they could be talking about paint drying on a wall and it would still be interesting. I don't listen to NPR frequently or even that much at all, but I can't say I'm entirely disappointed when there isn't any other choice on the radio. I especially love hearing about the issues I find interesting like money, travel, the shipping of roses at Valentine's Day, the production of cheese in Switzerland, the school systems in Germany compared to the US, and topics related to immigrants and what the US does and doesn't do to protect their rights.

While NPR provides amazing stories that I would never have considered researching prior to hearing on the radio, I was still not terribly interested when Justin mentioned that I should listen to one of NPR's newest podcasts entitled Serial.

First of all, when Justin told me about "Serial" I thought he was referring to a breakfast food. I was thinking that's a pretty cool name for a podcast that airs in the morning. It could have a ton of implications… like something you do regularly along with brushing your teeth, making your bed, and watching the news. Despite my lack of initial interest, I gave it a listen. The basic synopsis was that NPR's journalist Sarah Koenig decided to delve into a year's worth of investigation and committing 12 episodes to one of my newest intrigues – that of the murder investigation of Hae Min Lee and whether or not prosecutors were correct in incarcerating Adnan Syed, a Pakistani who was 17 at the time, for life. Of course when I listened for the first time, I found the story interesting … and even perhaps a bit compelling, but it wasn't necessarily something I considered spending a lot of time listening to.

A few months later, by January of 2015, I started noticing that many of my friends were sharing articles about Serial on social media. Turns out this little podcast, that I had initially dismissed, was taking the world (or at least the US) by storm! Clearly I had to finish listening to this podcast!

So that's what Justin and I did. We listened for 4 hours on the way to a wedding in Nashville, Tennessee and 4 hours on the way back. I have to admit, at one point my ears were so tired of listening (they do that!), that I fell asleep. It's not that the story or the way she was telling it was boring – it wasn't! I just don't like listening to people talk for that long. Anyway, I finally discovered that the most productive way for me to listen was to edit photos while listening. So, last week during my spring break, I finished the podcast.

And then, I watched Raubia Chaudry talk at 3 different schools via youtube.

I was hooked!

If you don't know, Raubia Chaudry is an immigrant lawyer who has been friends with the Syed family for as long as she can remember. She has maintained Adnan's innocence from day one, and she is the person who first approached Sarah Koenig with the story hoping that new material would be uncovered that would help Adnan Syed's case.

While I do certainly believe that NPR tells interesting stories, there was so much more to this story than NPR, and more specifically Serial, could cover in 12 episodes. Along with the obvious – imprisoning a 17 year old for life based on one individual's testimony – there were also questions regarding issues of the treatment of race, how Adnan's lawyer handled the case, and the lack of evidence that was used during the proceeding. Is Adnan actually innocent? What all did Sarah Koenig skip over during Serial?

That's where Undisclosed comes in.

Undisclosed is a new podcast that just began this past Monday featuring Raubia Chaudry and two other lawyers as they discuss the case from that of a lawyer's perspective (given that they are all, in fact, lawyers). Without giving spoilers, there is a lot that was overlooked during the initial trials when Adnan Syed was convicted of murder. Perhaps through his story going public, through both Serial and Undisclosed, we can learn how to avoid this in the future…

In the mean time, I recommend giving Serial and Undisclosed a listen (in that order). Even if you hate podcasts and talk radio, you may find yourself surprisingly interested. :)

Remembering: going to Europe last year.

I've been editing images from the trip – one at a time, very slowly. As it turns out, I don't care about my images being truthful, I just want my images to ideal and perfect. There was one image I shot from Cinque Terre that I thought I was done with. But no. Nearly 6 months later I went back and edited it some more. I guess that's just the way I do it…

Giggling About: "Shut Up & Dance" by Walk the Moon

The little girl I watch showed me this music video.

What is this world coming to? ;)

Oh - and if you already know something about Serial, you should watch this. Justin made me – it's pretty hilarious. :)

Planning: TRAVEL!

Justin and I are talking about going to Asheville in the coming weeks to see the tulips and go biking. After that, we will possibly be going to Florida for a graduation. I love traveling, so I'm pretty excited about what's to come. :)

Anxiously Awaiting: the arrival of Sweetapolita on my doorstep!

I haven't reviewed enough cook books (dessert books?) recently. :)

Interested to Know: what Justin's and my finances will look like in a year.

We're currently in a transition period. We have the opportunity for our finances to grow a lot (or at least reduce our debt by a lot)! But there's also the chance that our savings will shrink … by a lot (trip to Europe, new car, etc…). I guess we will just have to wait this year out and see what happens.

Keeping A Secret:  I've really been enjoying date nights (and days) recently.

Justin and I have been so busy doing things for other people that it's been really nice for us to get out and do something for ourselves that isn't an errand.


Justin made oatmeal scottchies from Cookie Love over the weekend, and they were pretty amazing. :)

I've also, like I said, been photoshopping.

image from here

Reading: The End of Summer and Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M by Sam Wasson

Unfortunately my actual reading has been going pretty slow this month, but I'm still hoping to meet my goal of (a minimum) of 2 books for the month.

Here are the other books I've read and reviewed so far this year:

• the After series by Anna Todd
• A Lion In Paris by Beatrice Alemagna
• I Sold My Soul to the Devil For Vinyls … Pitiful, I Know on Wattpad
• Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
• Refinery 29 by Piere Gelardi and Christene Barberich
• Frites by Anne de la Forest

• Summer Rain on Wattpad
• Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer
• How to Travel the World on $50 A Day by Matt Kepnes
• Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

• No Capes on Wattpad
• The Bro Code on Wattpad
• He Wanted the Moon by Mimi Baird

• Cookie Love by Mindy Segal

So what have you been up to recently? Have you read any of these books or listened to any of the podcasts I mentioned? What are some of your currentlys?

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Load the Bases! (Georgia A-Z pt. 6)

Remember yesterday when I said that Justin and I got to go see an Atlanta Braves game for free?

So! Great news!

That was this past Sunday.


Turner Field was next on my Georgia A-Z list!

So let's talk about it!

Originally built as part of the city renovations for the 1996 summer olympic games, the stadium was converted into a baseball park to serve as the new home for the Atlanta baseball team, the Braves, who were moving less than one block away from their original stadium, the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium where games were held from 1966-1996. Turner Field stadium contains more than 5,000 seats, 64 luxury suites, and 3 party suites (according to Wikipedia). Shortly after the completion of the stadium, the city of Atlanta renamed the section of Capitol Avenue on which the stadium sits to Hank Aaron Drive giving it the street number 755, after Hank Aaron's home run total (because sometimes Atlanta and driving around it makes a lot of sense?).

While the stadium is younger than most Major League Baseball stadiums, "Braves executives have recently complained that Turner Field's downtown location restricts game attendance because of traffic into the city and the shortage of onsite parking" which is why a new stadium is being built in the northwest suburbs outside of Atlanta "near the geographic center of the Braves' fan base" (Wikipedia). The new stadium began construction in 2014 and will be finished in 2017. After the Braves team vacates Turner Field, something new will be built in it's place. Currently in talks, Georgia State University has expressed interest in buying the field as a new stadium for the school's football games and creating new residential, retail, and student housing for the school.

Justin and I bought tickets through StubHub to attend the Braves versus Mets on Sunday afternoon. Stubhub is a reselling platform for people who have bought tickets and are unable to go. I don't know too much about what happens if the ticket you are sold isn't legit, but a google search reveals that the company has pretty good ratings. Justin and I were recommend the service which is why we tried it. They don't just sell tickets to baseball games though. You can use them to find tickets to theatre productions and concerts too, among other events.

Having only been to the stadium three times in my entire life (once was on Sunday), I was excited about the chance to do something new but concerned that I would find a baseball game boring. Luckily, the more I attend baseball games, the more I understand what's going on. Justin made the trip even more exciting by buying funnel cake and bringing some delicious, delicious sour patch kids into the stadium. (Are you allowed to bring food in? I have no idea. It was one of those things he had in his pocket but forgot about until we got into the stadium. We enjoyed them though!) Drinks and food are quite a bit expensive inside the stadium with the funnel cake costing $7, beer costing $9, and water costing upwards of $5. There were a ton of food options including (unsurprisingly) Waffle House, Chick-Fil-A (except on Sundays), Batter Up! (where Justin got the funnel cake), pizza, hot dogs, King of Pops popsicles (expensive, delicious popsicles local to the area), and cotton candy among other (fancier and not) options. If you aren't too interested in food, you can also peruse the gift shop for Braves attire.

Despite the high cost of "extras" Justin and I enjoyed arriving to the stadium early and exploring most of the first and second floor and some of the fourth floor before going to our seats. What I learned from this experience is that the fourth floor can be a bit overwhelming if you are afraid of heights. The walking area is very limited and you should have good balance. The view of the game was fantastic if you get the right seats. Just don't look down until the game has started! :)

After the game, there is a MARTA bus you can take back to the metro station … or you can deal with the long walk to your car and horrific traffic conditions as you attempt to leave the jammed up parking lots. Your choice. :) (And your choice might be different depending on what games you go to see and what time of year it is. Riding MARTA with a bunch of hot, sweaty people crammed into one car that you have to fight to get into because of how little the metro runs on the weekends can be pretty comparatively unpleasant to sitting in traffic trying to get out of an expensive parking lot, in my opinion.)

While I'm not certain if I will have the opportunity to visit Turner Field again before it shuts down for good (given how infrequently I attend games), Justin and I had an enjoyable experience at Turner Field and a fun date day (that I got paid for! Hallelujah!). I highly recommend that parents with young children (say ages 2 or 3 and still in strollers) stay on the lower floors of the stadium. I also recommend arriving early. There is so much to do and see within the gates that it can be fun to just go exploring! Some days, the stadium hosts events for specific groups of people like families or cancer survivors. (On Friday nights, they have a firework display for families. This past Sunday they released a bunch of purple and white balloons in honor of cancer victims.) Going to a game, even if the Braves aren't playing a well-known team can be an experience to remember!

What has been your experience with going to baseball games? Are you a fan? Have you ever been to Atlanta's Turner Field or seen the Braves play?

To see some of my other Georgia A-Z posts click on the links below:
A-D • E-G • H-K • L-O • P-S

* The Braves lost 4-3 against the New York Mets when Justin and I went on Sunday. Unsurprising but sad. :(
** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)

Winning the Jackpot … And How I Didn't …

The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel: Paris, 2014. 

Another month … another dollar.

Last week I told you about all of the credit cards Justin and I have signed up for in the past few weeks/year. While we are still working to meet those bonuses and get that extra money (!), we find ourselves continuing to trudge along slowly as we work to pay off student loan debt. Some days it feels like an uphill battle. Two steps forward, one step back. Other days, it is much easier… We can get a few extra bucks for going to an Atlanta Braves baseball game?! Let's do it! (True story.) Eventually we'll have our debt paid off and life in order, but there is no telling how long it will take to do it. Below I'll talk about where we are at this point after 2 years of fighting the debt monster.

First, let's talk about what Justin and I are doing right.

- Our networth is growing. There is a $30,000 difference between this year and last.
- We keep improving our spending to saving ratio by saving/paying down debt up to $2,600 a month. Imagine how nice it will be for us when this number is truly surplus and not going toward student loans? :)
- Our debt is decreased by $17,000 from last year and $2,000 from last month.
- In contrast our assets have increased by $12,300 since last year and by $1,000 in the last month.

We are on track to have our credit cards paid off by January 2016 and our student loans paid off by November 2019.

Two caveats –

1. While we could pay off our credit cards a lot sooner, we are taking advantage of 0% interest on the remaining fees and paying them off over time but before the interest rates go up. We have decided saving money and paying off debt with higher interest rates is a better use of our money.
2. Justin applied to refinance his student loans over the weekend which would bring his interest rate down from 10% to approximately 3.5% saving us a few thousand a year.

Finally, not necessarily financial but sort of, kind of financial… Justin and I both, through applying for credit cards, lowering our interest rates, and improving our net worth have improved our credit scores in the last month by at least 30 points. This means it will be easier for us to be approved for loans and cards in the future. I definitely feel this is a positive for us since we are hoping to buy a house in the near future. (No idea when exactly. Just generic near future.)

Here's what we are doing wrong:

Staying on budget.

During March, we went over budget on nearly every category. We spent a ton on wedding and baby gifts, we traveled to a wedding, we spent too much on clothes, work accessories, and food, and even our fuel expenses were high! Granted, Justin and I still make more than enough to cover all of this extra spend, but when we do that, we have less to put toward paying down debt. I'm just grateful that going over budget doesn't necessarily equate to going into more debt for us. That would just add to our stress. :-/

On top of not staying on budget, Justin and I also spent more in March than we did in February. :(

A little more thought:

I feel like there is ALWAYS an excuse on why it's ok to spend more. There's a birthday, a holiday, a wedding, a baby shower… But the thing is, there is rarely an excuse to spend less. Is there a way to mentally feel the need to spend less without actually requiring that you do spend less? How do you prioritize spending less over other values? And is it even really necessary (aside from a means to pay down debt/increase savings faster)?

Assuming you are able to spend less and –say– take a spending fast, would you then feel deprived? And if that deprivation causes you to spend more the next time you are able, is it worth it in the end?

I know that everyone is different and everyone has different values, these are just the things Justin and I discuss when it comes to our finances. I value traveling and new clothes; he values good food. I know that I could not give up my desires for 5 years given our current living situation where we are depriving ourselves of so many other things we want … and I doubt Justin could either. It definitely makes me feel in awe of both those who are able to give up what they want in pursuit of being debt free and those who are forced to stick to a strict budget for lack of means. You are awesome.

Your Turn

How are you doing with regards to finances? Are you strategizing to make your money go further (like getting a lower interest rate on a loan or credit card for example)? Have you stuck to your monthly budget? Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for me?

** Participate in the A-Z blogging challenge with me! You know you want to! :)