Seven Spoons! Or Forks…

One of my favorite things to do with Justin is watch him cook. As for myself, I can easily burn a boxed cake or brownie mix, but Justin seems to have a knack for bringing ingredients together in an almost scientific way. By looking at a recipe, he has a good idea not only of what is involved in making the item but also what it will taste like and how he should alter it based on what he has available to him in the pantry or fridge. Perhaps one day, after watching him cook for so long, the skill will seep into me…

Meanwhile, as an effort to continue to watch my home's master chef grow, I'm quite fond of breaking free of our typical cooking by suggesting we try new recipes from cookbooks and pinterest. The majority of the time I have no idea what the recipe I'm suggesting will taste like or how well it has been tested; I usually base my decision on ingredients that I am familiar with and, of course, the picture.

When Justin and I picked out Seven Spoons together, we spent a few days just looking at cookbook reviews, "reading" the first few pages of the books on Amazon and attempting to make judgements based on that knowledge. After a few days of searching and reading, ultimately I made the decision to try Tara O'Brady's Seven Spoons. The good reviews on Amazon and lovely pictures certainly helped in making the decision, but ultimately I was swayed by her blog and my desire to support others in the blogging community. After all, you can never tell how good a book will be until you are holding in your hands and experimenting with it in the kitchen…

About two weeks ago, Seven Spoons arrived on my front door stoop. I'd like to say we jumped right into making recipes, but that would be a lie. We had already made plans to go to Asheville, NC that weekend and then north Georgia the following. With Justin's hectic work schedule, last night was our first experience using the book.

Early in the book, the authoress sets up her reader for making something bigger than the simple recipes she has inside. She talks about what it was like to grow up in a household where dinner parties are the norm and cooking is an important part of character building and how all of that changed when she married someone with an entirely different taste palate than herself. As with most good cookbooks and stories, she discusses the growth and transformation that altered her cooking and more reflected her household after marriage. She then goes into discussing ingredients, how she chooses what she does and what she keeps in stock before delving into over 80 recipes that she wishes to be "as useful on special occasions as it [is] in the day-to-day."

Recipes in the book include "Breakfast, Lunch, Soups, Snacks and Starters, then Suppers, Vegetables and Sides, followed by Treats, Sweets and Sips, and a chapter of Staples." A few of my favorites include Flat Potatoes, A Pot of Braised Vegetables, Fuss Free Roast Chicken with Lemon and Herbs, Caramel Apple Pie, and An Uncomplicated Cheesecake. Her recipes often include a few obscure ingredients that will need to be obtained in odd locations. For example, a few recipes call for specific cheeses, yogurts, and salts which can be bought for relatively cheap at a local farmer's market or more expensively at Whole Foods, Sur La Table, or William Sonoma. It also should be noted that the majority of her recipes offer up an Eastern Indian or even Greek vibe with a bit of Vietnamese thrown in there too. These recipes are (most likely) not the ones your grandmother has been cooking for years and years; more likely, these recipes are ones that will invoke a taste for new cultures and foods that perhaps you've never had. Or at least that was certainly the case with me…

Justin and I began our venture into Tara Brady's Seven Spoons last night with one of her more simple recipes: Twangy Blueberry Sauce. I wanted something fast and easy that I wouldn't necessarily need Justin for. It started out simple. We gathered the ingredients and measured them out one-by-one. Then, we put the blueberries on the stove and set the temperature. Waiting, adding ingredients, taking the recipe one step at a time and being careful as we went while stirring occasionally. Then, finally, to my surprise, within only 30-ish minutes or so, it was done! We scooped the delicious sauce out of the pan and placed it on angel food cake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some whipped cream! Yum!!

I'm always hesitant to add recipes without the author's permission, but the twangy blueberry sauce recipe has been shared here, if you are interested. Like The Vanilla Bean Blog, we too altered the recipe by adding a pinch of salt (but not the extra teaspoon of vanilla that she includes). I could easily see using this thick sauce as a topping for waffles, crepes, or even as a delicious pie filling. As it seems, and just as Tara O'Brady envisioned, the possibilities are nearly endless with what you can do with it!

From what this first taste of Seven Spoons has indicated, we can't wait to try more!

To find out more about Seven Spoons, check out Tara O' Brady's blog. She provides many of the recipes from her book there, so that you can essentially try before you buy!

However, if you are already convinced that this book is a must-have, click here to purchase it on Amazon!

Had you heard of Tara O'Brady and Seven Spoons before? Will you be buying her book or trying one of her fantastic recipes in the future?

* I received a copy of Seven Spoons for free in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
** Quotes are from Tara Brady's book and blog.

Joy Williams – Venus Review

Ever have one of those days when it seems like nothing is going right? It could be as simple as you forgot your phone at home or it could be more traumatic like a medical emergency.

Shortly after I began college, I had a few of those days. Both types, because I know you are curious. ;)

When I had those days, I would typically turn to music for relief. Specifically this song:

It was a reminder for me to embrace the good and bad in each day no matter what. We get one chance at life and we shouldn't squander it away on things we will regret later. 

It also made me realize that it was okay to feel. All of the things. So many times we are told to toughen up and be strong. Why cry over spilled milk? But the truth of the matter is, if that's what you feel, then feel it! Don't worry about what other people think about you. It's your life!

All of this leads me to … Joy Williams' new album Venus coming out on June 30th!

With such a close connection to her older music, when I received the opportunity from One2One Network to review Venus, I knew I wanted to! Impatiently I watched my inbox for the notification that I had been accepted, and immediately, when I was, I downloaded the album. "What's in store for me?" I wondered. Would her music, as a non-Christian artist still hold the weight and beauty of her music as a Christian artist?

Joy Williams began working on her newest album Venus in June 2013, a few days before her son's first birthday. She wanted to make something completely unique that would bring together all that she had learned during her time in the music profession. Her goal was to use the album to branch out and create, in a new way, a second (or third) break out album. Most of the music, from this album, was written alongside Matt Morris who provided therapeutic support as Joy worked through her inhibitions of being "so afraid to say anything that [she was] risking not saying anything at all". He told her to be brave and write her feelings into her music. Venus was "literally [Joy] just talking, one line at a time". The album was a way for Joy Williams to "find [her] own voice again and to stand on [her] own two feet" describing in both detail and emotion how she is working toward "becoming the woman [she's] always wanted to be."**

When I heard the album for the first time, I was shocked at the changes not only to Joy William's style but also to her as a person. If this album was, as she claimed during her interview with One2One Network, about authenticity, then I feel she has changed a great deal since I first became aware of her. Were these good changes or bad?

While I'm not sure that my ten-year-ago-self would have enjoyed this album (in comparison to the other music of William's I was listening to at the time), I think, by creating this album, Joy has definitely grown and changed maturing into the artist she is today. I may not have listened to this music ten years ago, but I don't think Joy Williams could have written it ten years ago either. Her new album makes a number of statements about what it means to be a woman and a mother as well as including a breadth of emotion as she considers what her life is like now that the band she was a part of, The Civil Wars, is broken up. The songs I especially enjoyed were "Not Enough" and "What A Good Woman Does" that fully display emotion, much like her work did from years ago. There were many songs I didn't enjoy as much, but, with so many intense and heartfelt songs on this album, I think almost anyone will be able to relate to it.

Interested in finding out more? Check out the Official Joy Williams site for more information on the album. You can also follow her on social media (FacebookTwitterInstagram) or check out her most recent videos on Youtube.

Pre-order Venus from Amazon or iTunes.

Are you familiar with any of Joy Williams older music? Or perhaps the band The Civil Wars? What do you think of her new song "Woman (Oh Mama)"? Share! I'd love to hear! :)

* I participated in the Joy WIlliams Venus album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided an album to review but all opinions are my own.
** All quotes are from an interview posted on One2One Network from an interview with Joy Williams.

Asheville, NC – Holiday Inn @ Biltmore East

Destination: Asheville, NC
Date: May 2015
Hotel: Holiday Inn
Brand: IHG
Status: Platinum (with the IHG branded credit card)
# of travelers: 2

Hotel & Brand: Making the Decision

image from IHG website

Justin and I had been planning to return to Asheville since February, but we hadn't made it back since. Right around Mother's Day, we picked a date and decided to just go. I looked everywhere and couldn't find a low-cost hotel to stay at, so I decided on an AirBnb house located near a lake. The owners requested that if you only intended on staying one night that you book within 48 hours of your stay. So that's what we did.

We had some errands to run that morning before we drove to Asheville and while we were out and about, I received a message on AirBnb that our home renting had been denied for whatever reason. :( Luckily, I had spent some time the night before checking out other hotels in the area and had decided if, for whatever reason, the AirBnb fell through, we would stay at the Holiday Inn Asheville-Biltmore East. It looked pleasant in the pictures, provided a picturesque view of the mountains, and offered a lower cost than Hotel Indigo, which was Justin's first choice.

Getting There, The Lobby, Checking-In, & Status

Obviously, as usual we drove. I have to say 4 hours of scenic mountainous views definitely isn't the worst experience in the world. ;) I may have slept the majority of the trip as Justin listened to monotone podcasts. When we finally arrived, an hour before check-in, I was thrilled that the manager, Brian, helped us. One bat of my eyelashes and he had us upgraded to a room with a view. Score! He also gave us a coupon for $2 off a drink and 500 bonus points for being an IHG platinum member.

image from TripAdvisor

The lobby itself was pretty rustic with deer antlers on the walls, a tv, a fireplace, cozy furniture, and books. It was somewhere between comforting and odd. I wasn't entirely sure if I was staying in a log cabin, a hotel from the 70s, or something else.

Parking, Room, & View

image from IHG website

When we checked in, Brian recommended Justin and I drive around to the back of the hotel and enter from the back for the quickest access to the elevator and our room which is just what we did.

Our room was on the third floor just beyond the elevators and to the right. We were on a pet friendly floor, and Justin claimed to have seen a bunch of dogs during his stay. (Oblivious me, on the other hand, not so many.)

Using the key card, you just touch the door lock and it unlocks! Nice!

Our room was decently spacious and fairly old-looking. There was stain on one of the curtains. :( But overall, the view was nice and the rustic room offered plenty of space for a couple to spread out. There was a couch and a desk on one side of the room, a king size bed in the middle, a decent-size bathroom with toiletries and a blow dryer, and an awkward-to-get-to cupboard between the bathroom and the exit door in a weird and unexpected cubby space. Clearly, this hotel was trying to use all of the available space they could to offer their clientele as much room as possible.

Disability Access, Property, & Pool

Justin and I didn't explore the hotel property too much, because the weather was overcast and rainy during much of our stay. The property, as seen from the hotel entrance and our room, looked lovely. As we discovered, the pool area with outdoor swings is closed and locked after 10pm, which made me a bit sad since we didn't have much (read: any) spare time to visit when it was open. :(

As for those with disabilities, I'd say this hotel is definitely a decent retreat. Obviously staying on the first floor is ideal since the one elevator in the whole hotel is extraordinarily slow and stairs (for the non-disable) are difficult to find and lead to the outside rather than any place actually useful. (What do people do when there is a fire? Or the elevator needs to be fixed?) I'm guessing, however, that lower room floors also won't provide the mountainous view you come to this hotel for, which would make it less worthy of the money spent than it might otherwise be. Aside from those issues though, this hotel isn't nearly as disability-unfriendly as some of the hotels my husband and I have seen in Europe. That, my friends, would be enough to keep a person home.

Free Breakfast & Hotel Restaurant

image from IHG website

One of the key elements I look for in a hotel anymore is a free breakfast. Justin gets grumpy if he doesn't eat breakfast and have his coffee within a few hours of waking up. I usually don't care enough about breakfast to deal with long lines, and I get aggravated having to spend precious money on Starbucks when a glass of water could be gotten for free. That said, the free breakfast makes it so that we can go on about our day without focusing on where we are eating or whether or not we have enough time to wait in the long lines.

This hotel's breakfast was very similar to most other hotel breakfasts in the US. They offered make-your-own waffles, low-fat yogurt, plain scrambled eggs, scrambled eggs with peppers, sausage, bagels with cream cheese, and muffins to eat as well as coffee, hot chocolate, milk, water, and orange juice to drink. There was plenty of seating in the dining room, and we even saw some groups eating outside.

We did not try to the hotel restaurant (located in the same place as the buffet breakfast), but Trip Advisor has good reviews.

Other food options include the snack foods you can buy right in the lobby – water, candy, cookies, crackers, and chips. They also sell postcards, mugs, magnets, and other traditional traveler goodies. The prices did look pretty high though beginning at $2 for a water bottle.

image from IHG website

Overall Review:

★★★ (average)

Nothing stood out and made this hotel a must-see for me. The staff was very nice and accommodating and it felt good to be given "extras" for my status. The parking was easy to access and the room, although old, was decent. We were visiting while the weather was overcast so our view wasn't as good as it could have been, but there was nothing the hotel could do about that. We didn't get to enjoy the property or pool as much as we would have liked due to the early closing times, and the breakfast was merely decent and enough to fill our bellies before we started our day. If you have a pet, this a fantastic location to get away; however, if you are anybody else, you might find better hotels for the price elsewhere in Asheville… Then again, seeing as I haven't, you might not…

Your Turn

If you were to go to Asheville, where you would you stay? Have you been to this hotel, the Crowne Plaza Resort, or the Town Country Inn & Suites? What makes a hotel stay worth the money in your mind?

Memorial Day

Remembering those who have died fighting for our freedom today
and every day. – image from PhotoPin

Happy Memorial Day!

I hope that however you are spending this gorgeous day, it is doing what you love with the people you care for! (Or making money … Whichever.)

Caution: Pizza Ahead!

Yo! I wasn't planning on writing this post! Thank goodness for PhotoPin!

One of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta is Antico Pizzeria. The pizza place has only been open since 2009, but it has already received nationwide recognition from celebrities and the like for it's amazing pizza. Owner, Giovanni Di Palma, imports many of his ingredients straight from Italy and then proceeds to make the pizza in wood-fire ovens right in front of you as you wait at long family-style bench seating in the kitchen. It is truly an experience!

Unfortunately, one of the downfalls of Antico is that they only make pizza until they run out of dough. It's really depressing when that wood-fire oven pizza is what you crave, but it's 5PM and the restaurant ran out of pizza dough hours ago! :(

I'm not entirely sure if that's what inspired Justin to take up pizza making or if it was something else, but he has definitely refined his recipe to nothing short of extraordinary! He began by making a simple pizza dough and sauce for me, a long time ago, of which I ate merely to appease him. I had never had good pizza and I didn't know what I was missing. I can tell you one thing though – it was not that.

But Justin didn't give up! Next came Alton Brown's recipe. And then there was margherita pizza. Now that was something I could get behind! Delicious tomatoes, tasty mozzarella, a hint of basil? Yum!

While the pizza I'm sharing today isn't a straight margherita pizza, it definitely has some of the same characteristics…

A few things to note first, though: If you've had chain restaurant pizza, the recipe I'm about to share is not that. From what I understand, real Italian pizza has anchovies and other fish on it … ICK! This isn't that either. This recipe is about much more than dough, tomato sauce, and cheese. It's about heart. And bravery. This recipe is for the fearless.


• Flour
• Dough
• Olive Oil
• Salt
• Tomato paste
• Tomato sauce
• Minced Garlic
• Shredded Italian Cheese or Pizza Cheese
• Buffalo Mozzarella
• Tomatoes,
• Pepperoni (preferably Boars Head)
• any other toppings you choose 

Helpful Tools: 

• Pizza Stone
• Pizza Peel
• Dough Docker/fork
• Pastry Brush 


1. Heat up the tomato sauce and pasta in a pan on the stove. Mix in the garlic and let simmer.
2. Meanwhile, place your pizza stone towards the top of the oven where you will eventually bake your pizza. (warning) Rig the oven to stay on even when opened. (warning) Set your oven to the highest temperature using the broil setting. Let it preheat.
3. Sprinkle a bit of flour on your working surface and roll out your pizza dough. (We get ours from Publix to make this process faster, but homemade dough will work just as well!) Roll out the dough and stab a fork into it a gazillion times. (Using a dough docker might be easier!) You are trying to prevent the dough from rising too much in the oven. Then, turn the dough over and do it again. Pour approximately a tablespoon of olive oil onto your dough and spread with a pastry brush. (Just the one side. – Add more if you need it.) Sprinkle a bit of salt on the dough and you are ready to place it in the oven (on your pizza stone) until it turns brown. Keep your eyes on it! This happens quickly! (As in within a few minutes, not seconds!) If the pizza starts to expand, carefully reach into the oven and stab the expanding portion with your fork. (If you can't, don't worry about it. It's not worth burning yourself over! Just make sure to stab better next time.)
4. After the first side has baked, pull the pizza out with your handy dandy pizza peel. Turn it over and stab it a few extra times if you think you need to. Repeat the process you did a few minutes before by adding olive oil and salt to the dough. Stick it back in the oven until that side turns brown.
5. When both sides of the crust have browned, take your tomato sauce/paste/garlic mixture and spread it out evenly over the pizza pie. Follow this up with shredded cheese.
6. At this point you can begin to make the pizza your own. Justin adds tomatoes cut, with the seeds and juice removed, buffalo mozzarella, and tops with pepperoni, but you can add whatever you like. Try to keep the cheese between toppings to hold everything together.
7. Place back in the oven until you can see the cheese has fully melted.
8. Pull out of the oven and CONSUME! 

Sidenote: Your pizza may have flaws and burned spots. Embrace it! That's what makes this pizza so good! :)

So what are your thoughts? Will you be taking on the pizza-challenge and making this exquisite treat? … Or will you avoid a fire and order one from your local restaurant? ;) Either way, have a fantastic holiday weekend! And stay safe!

SoCo the German Shepherd

Who could say no to that face? (19 mos. ago)

My parents have a dog.

Thrilling, right?

He is one of the most adorable creatures ever. He will cock his head ever so slightly when you are talking to him. And if you use the words "ball" or "bed", he knows exactly what to do. Justin has even worked with him on commands like "sit", "stay", "lay down", "shake", and "roll over". He's not too good at the last one… Sometimes Justin even changes it up and works with him using the German language. We always assume that if he's not obeying commands it's because he's a German shepherd … not an English-speaking one. Clearly we are the ones speaking the wrong language!

Technically, the dog is actually my brother's. When he bought the dog about two years ago, my parents adamantly exclaimed "NO! We are not taking care of him for you!" But of course after a few months when my brother got busy with college exams and volunteering, my parents were all too happy to take on the dog for a few weeks. Those few weeks turned into a year … going on one and a half. Now every time Justin and I go on vacation we contemplate bringing home a new pet for the sole purpose of sharing with my parents. It's only fair, right? We could always offer up a hermit crab, a gerbil, or some fish…

Anyway, along with the dog, came smells. This is a 90 pound inside-dog. The wood floor is permanently damaged by sharp claws and there will always be fur everywhere, but what could they do to eliminate the dog odor? They've tried nearly everything. First they got some pet sprays from Wal Mart. Then they moved on up to Yankee Candle, Febreeze, and even borrowed some of my Anthropologie candles. Nothing worked.

Insert Renuzit Scented Pearls… which showed up on my doorstep a few weeks ago.

In an effort to make nice and be helpful, I offered it to my mom to try. She loves candles and fragrances far more than I do, and I know, without a doubt, that she desperately wishes she could have the clean house smell she had prior to her fun-loving, cutie pie, 90lb. lap dog. The After the Rain scented pearls were just what she needed. They were nice and contained so that they wouldn't spill and make a mess in the living room … and the smell they added to her home in a very short period of time was nearly overwhelming yet wonderful. It was definitely refreshing to smell something not dog. Plus, the pearls are so pretty, you don't have to hide them in your decor! When the pearls run out, you simply buy some more! Renuzit Scented Pearls come in a variety of scents like blue sky breeze, seductive pineapple,  tranquility, and serenity. After seeing how well this is working for my mom, I can't wait to try some of the other smells!

Do you want to try renuzit scented pearls? If so, enter my giveaway by June 4th for your chance to win one of two coupons!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* I received this product (and giveaway coupons) for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Courtyard Marriott – Jacksonville Beach, Florida

image from PhotoPin

Destination: Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Date: May 2015
Hotel: Courtyard Marriott
Brand: Marriott
Status: none
# of travelers: 2

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision

image from Marriott website

About 3 weeks before the University of Florida's graduation, my parents informed me that my future sister-in-law wanted Justin and I to be at her graduation. My parents were making plans to drive down the night before, spend one night at the beach, and then continue on to Gainesville, FL for the duration of their trip. Justin didn't have the flexibility to get half of a day off on Friday, so we decided to simply pay for a room at the beach for Saturday night and make the hour drive to and from Gainesville for the ceremony.

I didn't do much research to decide which beach was closest to Gainseville; instead, I stuck with the beach that my parents had said they were going to go visit only later realizing that perhaps St. Augustine might have been closer with better hotels and a better beach. Oops.

Anyway, when it came time to book the hotel, which I waited until the last minute to do, there were very few options available. I typically try to stay away from Marriotts after the dispute where they purposely charged customers extra for using their internet while also disrupting those same customer's cell phone data plans so that there was only the one option if you needed internet at Marriott hotels. The main problem is that none of my other choice hotels were available. Club Carlson was non-existent, IHG was too far from the beach, the Hilton was full, and, if I recall correctly, Hyatt was full too. My only other option was a Best Western, which I'm not too fond of either. So my choice came down to one of two hotel chains that I dislike: Marriott and Best Western. Given that they were priced similarly, I decided to try the more upscale of the two brands – Marriott.

Getting There & Getting Around the City – Public Transportation Options

After a five hour drive from Atlanta to Jacksonville Beach, Justin and I were ready to just relax, soak up some sun, and enjoy the ocean. Unfortunately, my car disagreed. At 13 years old with over 200,000 miles on it, it's bound to have some problems; I just wasn't expecting it on this trip. Shortly after Justin got off the highway, we started seeing smoke coming from the front of the vehicle and Justin complained that the brake peddle was a little soft. He pulled off of the road, gave it a look and decided to head toward the nearest Home Depot to get brake fluid. Honestly, I'm not a car person so I'm not going to go in depth explaining what was wrong, but we ended up having to take it to a mechanic. In that way, we became much more familiar with our transportation options in the area as we waited 4 hours for my car to get fixed. (Argh.)

Brakes-4-Less was only located about a mile and a half from our hotel and the beach, so we started walking. One of the great things about walking around a place like this, that is pretty pedestrian friendly, is that you get to see far more than you would if you were merely exploring with your car. For example, in our case, we would have driven straight to the hotel, checked in, and enjoyed the beach for a few hours. Rather than enjoying the beach for hours on end, we walked through neighborhoods, checked out garage sales, and looked in local shops. There were plenty of sidewalks and the places we walked were pretty flat; the worst park about the experience was the sunburn we had to deal with after the fact.

As we were walking, we noticed a public transportation bus that ran through the area. One woman got off the bus and then reached for her bike which was located at the front of the bus. Other options that we temporarily considered included a rental car, uber, or a taxi. In the end, we just walked. I'm not sure if there is an airport nearby, but once you get into the JAX beach area (as they refer to it), it would seem you have a number of options for getting around, none of which include a train.

The Lobby, Public Spaces, & Checking In

After a 1.5 mile walk in humid, upper 70 degree Florida weather, I'm pretty sure Justin and I were in sad shape when we arrived at our hotel to check-in an hour early. Nevertheless, the concierge kindly smiled at us and pointed toward the check-in desk while offering to help us with anything we might need during our stay.

The lobby was a decent size with easy-to-clean couches (as opposed to plush, comfortable ones), laminate flooring, a single computer of which they consider their business center, and a Starbucks café located off to the side of the front desk serving a small amount of food as well as your typical drinks. There were plenty of windows with views of the ocean and the hotel pool/pool deck.

The front desk was quick to check us in providing us with a parking ticket for our car. At the time, we didn't need a whole lot from them, but their assistance did come in handy later in the trip. As our trip came to a close on Sunday, we asked the front desk if we could have a later check out time (yes – they gave us an extra hour). The nice thing was that the lady at the front desk also offered to give us a key card to let us continue to access the pool and ocean until we left Jacksonville Beach later that day. It was very nice and one of the things I will best remember about the hotel staff. :)

Room, View, & Price

image from Marriott website

One of the first things we did was locate our room on the third floor at the opposite side of the building from the lobby and elevators. Our room, in particular, had us entering from outside the hotel; in other words, we went up on the elevator, exited the hotel hallway to a concrete walkway and entered our room at the end of the walkway. It was definitely a weird set-up that suggested that perhaps the hotel had been renovated at some point in the past. In the end, it was neither here nor there as the room itself was spacious and provided a beautiful panoramic view of the ocean from a veranda with seating options.

The hotel room itself was pretty basic and nothing like the one my husband and I enjoyed on Panama City Beach last year. It almost looked as though it were designed for easy cleaning rather than as a home away from home. Everything was very simple. It was definitely nice that there were plenty of seating options around the room as well as a mini fridge and microwave. If we had been staying longer than a night, those could have been useful in saving us money on food. The bathroom contained soaps and shampoos as well as a hair dryer for those that may have left their products at home.

As for the room price, we paid quite a bit extra to stay in a room on the beach; however, that number was very similar to what other hotels were charging. It wasn't as if the hotel was having us pay extra because of their brand name or anything. As we discovered during our stay, the similarly priced Hampton Inn would have been better because it provided breakfast (but it was unavailable when I went to book hotels) and the nearby, more expensive One Ocean Resort & Spa was simply gorgeous (and also might have been a better choice had it been available). So, if all of the hotels in the area are similarly priced and available, I recommend checking out One Ocean Resort and Spa followed by the Hampton, in that order. The Marriott was fine, but those hotels look like they provide a much better experience for the money.

Disability Access, Parking, Pool, & Other Guest Amenities

Obviously, this hotel is just as disability-friendly as most other American hotels. There were plenty of elevators and the only hinderance that could be found would be the large number of doors that were necessary to get to our specific room. The room itself also had a step that you had to walk over to get to the veranda which I suppose could also prove to be a challenge.

Parking for this hotel was a little odd as they shared it with the Fairfield Inn across a pretty busy street. When Justin and I stayed at the Holiday Inn at Panama City Beach, the hotel provided an underground walkway as well as golf carts to get to your car easily and safely. This hotel, while having very little parking, did not provide such easy access. In fact, I found it a little offensive that people who had paid less money for the other hotel had access to the parking at our hotel. Granted there is no real reason why they would be using it aside from easier access to the beach, but still! If I pay more for a specific service a hotel offers, I want to have the full advantage and not have to share it with someone who paid a little less.

The pool for the Marriott was lovely and smallish. It was designed in a pretty way. There was enough outdoor seating for the spring crowd (might need more for the summer) and an outdoor bar for the thirsty. On the other side of the pool, there was a deck that was meant to be part of the Starbucks Café offering tables, chairs, and umbrellas for families choosing to eat outside. Overall I could see this as a pleasant experience for families wanting to enjoy the outdoors.

If you got tired of the pool and hot tub, you could always go for a walk on the beach or swim in the ocean. The hotel offers towels you can take out to the beach as well as the ability to rent surfboards, swim boards, kayaks, bikes, beach chairs, and umbrellas. In other words, if you forget anything, this hotel has you covered! Justin and I didn't take advantage of any of these offerings, but I'm sure after reading this blog post, he will wish we had! :)

Finally, if the water simply isn't your thing (What's wrong with you? And why are you staying at this hotel?), the Courtyard Marriott offers weights and cardio equipment in their fitness center. I didn't really look for it or use it, so I can't say much about how good it is.


The Courtyard Marriott, unfortunately, does not offer a free breakfast. Luckily,The Metro Diner is within close walking distance and offers an amazing breakfast to make up for it. Seriously! The locals know the staff quite well and we were seeing things off-menu being made in the kitchen while we sat at the bar. Oh - and this place gets crowded!

I digress.

Don't expect much from the Marriott/Starbucks Café. Justin and I ordered a chicken ceasar salad for lunch on Sunday. The chicken was cold like it had just come from the fridge and the salad was so-so. Overall, even in comparison to the boring Firehouse Subs we ate on Saturday when we were stuck due to car issues, the Starbucks Café was easily one of the worst meals I had during the entire trip. I imagine the Starbucks drinks are on par with typical Starbucks fare though, so if that's what you want, this is a great location.

Don't expect much better from the poolside bar. First of all, there are no food options there. Secondly, if you like having fun drinks at the beach (read: margaritas or daiquiris), this isn't the place for you. I recommend going for a walk down the beach to One Ocean Resort & Spa for lunch and a fun fruity drink. (They also have fancy scotch if that's more your style.) The Marriott Courtyard food and drinks were simply not worth paying for.

Overall Review

★★★ (average)

While the view was fantastic, the room was large, and the staff was nice, the hotel didn't offer anything particularly amazing or noteworthy. Everything was pretty average in comparison to other hotels providing some of the same benefits. Overall, if you are planning on visiting the Jacksonville Beach area in the future, I recommend trying either the One Ocean Resort and Spa or the Hampton Inn over this hotel. If neither are an option, this is certainly not a bad place to stay. Just keep in mind that it is not the best either… (Note: I haven't ever been to One Ocean Resort & Spa or this Hampton location, so I am only guessing.)

Your Turn

Have you had good experiences with Marriott in the past? Have you ever visited Jacksonville Beach before? Share! I'd love to hear your insight! :)

Anthropologie Sales in Anticipation of Memorial Day Weekend

One of my favorite stores is at it again! They just marked down a bunch of new items, and if you order today and use the coupon code HELLOWSUNSHINE you can get free shipping when you purchase $150 or more! The following are a few of my favorites:

I recently ordered the Savan Jacquard Gown when it was 20% off. It's an online exclusive and has so-so ratings, but I knew I would be upset with myself if I didn't give it a shot. As I've mentioned before on this blog, ordering items from Ebay is ten times worse than ordering from Anthropologie to begin with since you are usually paying regular price without any options to return things that don't work, fit or look the way you want them to.

I won't have tried on each item I share in this blog post today, but I did try this one so let me provide a little feedback. :) First of all I ordered a size 2 in petite. Normally I would have ordered a 0 in regular, but given that this dress goes to the floor and reviewers were complaining about this being a small dress, I decided to size up. Thank goodness I did! First of all, I'm 5'2" and have a relatively small chest. When I put this on, it fit extremely well (almost tight) through the arms, waist and chest. You can't lengthen or shorten the straps, so it was pretty important that it fit. The empire waist however was pretty big – almost to the point of being too big on me. If I have my way and get the dress altered like I'm wanting to, I will probably have it taken in just a bit. The other key problem for me was the length. This dress was at least one foot longer than me. If have it altered there will be so much extra fabric … perhaps enough to make a purse, for those of you that are creative, have the time, and are willing!

While I do love this dress, with all of the alterations that will need to be made for me to wear this, I'm not sure if I will keep it. Do keep what I said in mind if you purchase it though. It's a lovely piece, but it may not be so lovely for the price, if it costs that much more to get it to fit you.

The large number of full length dresses including the Watercolor Garden Maxi and Anthemon Gown make me happy. Because I'm so short, I almost always have to have these types of items altered, but I love the elegant look they give. Unfortunately, this dress was not quite my favorite. I ordered a size 0 in petite and it was a little bit too long and I hated the sound the fabric made when I walked. Plus, the dress style wasn't my favorite either. The colors are beautiful for a summer day though. If you are tall and need a beautiful dress for a wedding or a cruise, I think one of these might be just the thing. :)

As much as I wanted to love this dress, I found after ordering it, that it has vertical stripes. Maybe some of you looking at it right now are thinking "duh!", but to my eyes the patterns looked varied and crazy … not vertical and stripe-like. Needless to say, I don't wear stripes. Plus, this dress has a white zipper down the back that just looks out of place. I do have to say the fit of this dress is fantastic! I ordered my regular size, and, aside from the stripeyness and the white zipper, it fit perfectly and could easily be an extremely fun dress to wear. As for me, though, it's going back to my local Anthropologie. Since the size 0 is sold out online, I'm pretty sure I'll make someone somewhere happy when I eventually get it returned! :)

Within the past few years, I have become more of a dress and jeans person. I don't wear skirts at all. However, one of my favorite skirts ever is one I bought at a vintage store in Atlanta years and years ago. It's a beautiful black, heavy 1950s number that barely fits me, but makes me feel like a princess when I wear it. The skirt has definitely had better days before it even reached my closet which is why I ordered the Floristic Tulle Skirt. The keyword in the title being "tulle" which is the one word I didn't pay attention to when I ordered. Oops! So yeah, this skirt is amazing, full, long (at least as long as it is on the model), and tulle, which is the main reason I'm returning it. If you buy it for the beautiful vibrant flowers on the skirt and you don't mind the tulle aspect (or the weight), you'll love it! If you are looking for more of a vintage knock-off like I was, this may not be the skirt for you…

While looking for a shirt (because I'm always looking for new tops), I saw this gorgeous turquoise top that fits loose but still has a bit of shape to it, so I ordered it. I was both surprised and happy when I received my usual size XS in the mail. I'm still getting comfortable with the rounded neck (I typically wear v-necks or a combination of layers that look more like a v-neck than rounded), but overall the shirt is light, comfortable, and a perfect transition piece for the spring. Now if only Georgia weather understood was "transition" and "spring" meant… Did you know that the weather here is already in the upper 80s/low 90s?!

Finally, these are items I have yet to try but love all the same. :)

Is there anything on sale (or not) at Anthropologie that you are loving currently?

A Super Easy Mother's Day Breakfast

Over the weekend Justin and I had a crazy schedule. Despite this, we tried very hard to work it out to be in favor of the mothers and grandmothers in our lives. Because of our lack of time and the way the schedule worked out, I convinced Justin to help me fix a delicious breakfast/brunch for my mom and grandmother. And now I'd like to share that recipe with you so that you can make it as well! :)

Justin began with a simple idea: he wanted to make crepes for breakfast. Crepes are not my favorite so I convinced Justin we needed to find something really creative to do with them. That's when I began my search for an exciting crepe recipes. There are a lot of fantastic looking crepe recipes out there: steak with balsamic glaze, caramel apple brie, vanilla bean with peaches and creme… Justin and I were looking for something simple though. A cream cheese filling seemed to be just what we needed to fulfill my visions of crepe happiness!

Here's the recipe:

Strawberry Banana Crepes 

• crepes of any kind (the one we used was from The Joy of Cooking, but any recipe will do. How about this one from Julia Child?)
• cream cheese filling
• whipped cream
• bananas, strawberries, and any other fresh fruit you want to use 

To make the crepes, Justin followed the recipe combing all of the ingredients and then placed the batter in our vacuum sealer and sucked all of the air out. He let his science-ing stand for about 30 minutes. While this step isn't necessary, Justin was trying to hurry the process along; typically, in Alton Brown style, he has let the crepe batter sit in the fridge over night (7-8 hours) to better hydrate it. When it came time to cook the crepes, he poured just enough batter onto a nonstick crepe pan to cover it and waited, cooking it just like you would a regular pancake. After about a minute or so he would flip it to make sure the crepe was thoroughly cooked. One note: do be careful when flipping these paper thin "pancakes"; if they stick, you will end up with a hole in your crepe which isn't pretty. Use butter between cooking each as needed. Also, lift the pan from the stove between each allowing it a chance to cool so that your next crepe will cook evenly no matter where you pour the batter first. 

After you have the crepes done, it's time to work on the filling! This part is pretty easy. The directions here provide a list of ingredients for just the filling and all you have to do is follow the last instruction in the recipe. So easy right?! The hard part is not licking all of the tasty filling before it goes into the crepes! 

When each crepe is filled with yummy filling, rolled and platted, top with delicious fresh fruit and then add some whipped cream. Justin used the Sweetapolita whipped cream recipe which can be found here. It's not exactly the same but it's close. The recipe in the book calls for gelatin which makes the whipped cream more stiff to hold up against the warm crepes and heavy fruit. Store bought whipped cream would work just as well if you want to go that route. Keep in mind that this breakfast is incredibly sweet, so I recommend going light on the sugar in the whipped topping. A little goes a long way.

In total, the recipe took us about an hour and a half to cook and made approximately 20 crepes total. It was a fun breakfast and seemed like a perfect fit for the beautiful spring weather we are currently experiencing. 

Even though Mother's Day has already passed, would you consider making strawberry banana crepes in the future? Have you ever made it or something similar before?

I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend! :)

20 Tunes For Thursday

The following are a few songs that seem to encompass my whole life… Take a look and enjoy the youtube music videos. Maybe you'll discover a new favorite! :)

1. A song from your childhood

George Straight – "Check Yes Or No"

You know you are from the South when your first music memories are of country music. :) A lot has changed since I was in elementary school and I'm pretty sure most kids now listen to something between pop and rap. Nevertheless, that wasn't my childhood.

This song is super sweet and pretty adorable. I always imagined that I'd find my "true love" in elementary school … and so many years later, I have discovered that I did! Justin and I had the same 4th and 5th grade teachers! It's funny thinking back to that time in our life and seeing how much has changed and how much we have grown since then.

2. A song that reminds you of your most recent ex-boyfriend/girlfriend

Steven Curtis Chapman – "I Will Be Here"

I've only ever dated one person in my entire life – my husband. This isn't "our song", but it is the song we picked for our wedding. Sorry I didn't pick something more dramatic! No Taylor Swift for me! :)

3. A song that reminds you of one or both of your parents

There is not just one song that reminds me of my dad. It's like all 70s. Any 70s.

Tony & Dawn Orlando - "Knock 3 Times"

This song, on the other hand, is a song my mom would go around the house singing quite often when I was young. She also would play old records (especially at Christmas time while making cookies) and use the expression "It's raining cats and dogs outside!"

And because I can't move on without mentioning it, I have a song that reminds me of my grandparents:

Barry Manilow - "Mandy"

Aside from Enya and classical music, this is the song that stands out most. My mom's mother gave me my nickname from the first time she saw me in the hospital. I have no idea if it was in relation to this song. All I do know is that I first heard "Mandy" at their house when I was growing up.

I've only had two people in my entire life sing this to me upon meeting. :) And they were both pretty young to have even been aware of this song's existence!

4. A song that calms you down

George Gershwin – "Rhapsody In Blue"

I first heard this song when I went to see Disney's Fantasia 2000 and I fell in love with the cartoon associated with it. I'm not sure it really calms me down, but I definitely pay attention when I hear it in a store or in a commercial. I've listened to it so much that I can recognize and think to myself "They're playing Rhapsody in Blue!!" It makes me happy.

5. A song that is often stuck in your head

Meghan Trainor - "All About That Base"

Obviously, the answer to this question changes quite frequently. This is the current one. In the past it's been Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off", Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe", and "Gangnam Style" by Psy among others… Seriously. It changes almost daily.

6. A song that reminds you of one of your friends

During Christmas of 2003, my friend and I were in chorus together. As a class shortly before Christmas we all went caroling together. I drove to my friends house and we rode together to the school … sang Christmas carols, drank hot chocolate, and we were all around in a good mood. As we left the school this song came on in her car and she turned it up really loud and sang along dancing the whole way home. I just sat in the passenger seat laughing. Some people.

7. A song that reminds you of this past summer

Pharrel – "Happy"

I took some of my favorite teenagers bowling last year. They were fighting and not getting along, and I was slowly losing my cool. Then this song came on and some of the girls started jumping around, dancing, and singing. You have no idea how relieved I was! This song definitely made me happy. :)

8. A song that reminds you of your first love

Matchbox 20 – "Unwell"

Remember how I said Justin was my first and only love? It probably could have ended badly for us. As I tried to determine what "our song" was, I kept hearing this song. Seriously. Every single time I saw Justin. This is so not what you want your song to be. It was that or "Sweet Home Alabama", which I suppose would have been a much better choice. ;)

9. A song on the soundtrack of your favorite movie

Blue Swede – "Hooked On A Feeling"

My favorite movies change as often as songs that are stuck in my head – by which I mean often! One of the best movies I've seen in a very long time is Guardians of the Galaxy in so much as it made a lasting impression and I would definitely enjoy watching it again if given the chance. All of the songs on the soundtrack were fun and I don't technically have a favorite. I really only picked "Hooked On A Feeling" because it was used so often in the trailers and it is the first in this youtube video, one I've watched fairly often over the past few months just to hear the awesome music. :)

10. The last song you heard

Raspberries – "Go all the Way"

Yeah. I'm listening to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. Sorry to disappoint!

11. A song that reminds you of a former friend

Michael W. Smith – "Freedom"

I received this album by Michael W. Smith from one of my former friends when I graduated high school. It was suppose to be an indication of what life would be like after high school – freedom! The song itself is quite lovely.

12. A song that reminds you of your boyfriend/girlfriend

Lynrd Skynrd – "Sweet Home Alabama"

Technically this song reminds me of every summer in Georgia. (Is it suppose to remind me of Alabama?) Luckily, I've gotten to spend more than 10 years of summers with Justin, my husband. Does that make this song work? (Sorry, it just seemed a tad more fun than "our song".)

13. A song that you love singing along to

Don McClean – "American Pie"

Truthfully I think the answer to this is "Sweet Home Alabama" or any song stuck in my head, but "American Pie" is pretty fun too…

14. A song that has made you cry

Pearl Jam – "The Last Kiss"

I don't cry when I listen to songs, but this one is just depressing…

15. A song that makes you want to dance

Walk the Moon – "Shut Up & Dance"

It's so upbeat! And happy! :)

16. A song that you love that you rarely listen to

Bobby Darin – "Beyond the Sea"

This song, if I don't think about Finding Nemo, reminds me of the summer after my senior year of high school when we would sit by the docks of a local lake and just enjoy the peacefulness of the world. It always makes me happy. :)

17. The first song on your iTunes

Michael Bublé – "After All"

After I lost all of my music in the great computer crash of 2012, I only have music on my computer that I have been given to review. :-/ I'm not sure that was suppose to be the goal of this question… I mostly listen to Pandora or Amazon Prime Music. *shrugs*

18. The last song on your iTunes

Michael Bublé – "Young At Heart"

I promise that I have more than Michael Bublé in my list even if all of my music was for reviews! What happened to Madonna? Or Train?

19. A song that someone has sung to you

Barry Manilow – "Mandy"

It always makes me laugh … and I frequently wonder how people know this song… 

20. A song that you cannot stand to listen to

Katy Perry – "Roar"

I'll listen to it, but I can't stand it…

So how would you answer these questions? Are you familiar with any of the ones on my list? Any new favorites? Or old ones you've forgotten about?

* List of songs from Beefy House O' Fun

Currently: Wednesday WindDown

For whatever reason I've been really tired this week. Last week my excuse was having just gotten back from a whirlwind vacation; what is this week's? :-/

Watching: nothing really.

With the kids this week I've been watching lots of Disney channel. Dog With A Blog, Liv & Maddie, Teen Titans Go!, Jessie… Then yesterday I watched Jurassic Park for the first time. Blech. Needless to say, it's not my favorite. I don't think I will be going to see Jurassic World when it comes out in theaters…

Over the weekend Justin and I went to see the newest Avengers movie. Would it make you laugh to know that I didn't know who the Avengers were? Yeah… When the movie started I whispered to Justin "Is that Robert Downey Jr. and is he playing IronMan in this movie too??!" Of course it was! Sometimes I am just sooo clueless! It was a good movie. Not necessarily what I would consider great, but I wasn't bored either…

Reading: Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M by Sam Wasson

I've been reading this same book for 3 months now. It's not that it's a bad book, it's just that I always find something else to do or another book I need to read with an actual "due date" (for reviewing purposes).  I'm looking forward to finishing this book though, because I would love to read Fatal Vision (similar story to that as told by Serial season 1), All the Light We Cannot See, At The Water's Edge (another book by Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants), Reading Like A Writer (a good book for people who are attempting to learn to write better – like me!), and Go Set A Watchmen (the new book by Harper Lee coming out in July). Of course, don't be surprised if I read something entirely different in the next few months. I'm known for changing my mind! :)

Here are the other books I've read this year (since I'm keeping track!):

• 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
Sweetapolita by Rosie Alyeah

Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren (Click on the book title to check out my giveaway!)
Salsas & Moles by Deborah Schneider

Listening: to lots of Meghan Trainor.

M, the girl I babysit for, loves Meghan Trainor and especially the song "Title". While I think this song is a bit risqué for a third grader, since her mom lets her listen to it I do as well.  As for me, I'm pretty amused by the lyrics in "Dear Future Husband"…

Really, it's the little things like…

"You got that 9 to 5
But, baby, so do I
So don't be thinking I'll be home and baking apple pies
I never learned to cook
But I can write a hook
Sing along with me
Sing-sing along with me (hey)"


"After every fight
Just apologize
And maybe then I'll let you try and rock my body right
Even if I was wrong
[Grin] You know I'm never wrong
Why disagree?
Why, why disagree?"

Yes. Meghan Trainor definitely provides fun lyrics.

Making: food. All of it.

Seriously! Have you seen how many cook books I've been reviewing lately?!?

Feeling: tired. 



As of last Wednesday, the weekend I was suppose to catch a break (May 8-10) was already filled to the brim with things to do. It started out fine, albeit stressful, until my friend, who is moving to Germany, cancelled her plans with me, which basically means we won't be seeing one another before she moves. Stress + that = Feelings. Aggravation, frustration, sadness, disappointment, irritation.

Then there was Mother's Day. And you know how mothers are: more feelings.

Don't even get me started on the work I had to complete over the weekend. And the late nights resulting from said work.

Can't I just have a break from all of the feels?

The good news: as of today I am mostly caught up. Who knows how long that will last though? I give it a day. :)

All of the travel! courtesy of PhotoPin.

Planning: a trip to Asheville and north Georgia.

Technically I'm also planning trips to Europe, Charleston, Disney World (Orlando), New Orleans, Washington state, and San Francisco, but everything is up in the air right now. The only dates I actually have set are for Asheville, north Georgia, and Disney World. With Justin's limited vacation schedule I need the biggest trip planned before I can think about the smaller trips. Maybe I'll have that soon. Or maybe not. Who knows?

On a far smaller scale, I'm also planning to visit Chevron to take advantage of the current Amex offer tonight to get gas ($5 off of $25 ends 5/15), 1-800-Flowers to buy chocolate ($5 off of $5 through paypal, not sure when it ends), and Sam's Club to purchase a gift card of some sort ($25 off of $50 through Amex, ends 9/30). Yay deals and free money! :)

Loving: my husband for his patience, my friends who have stuck around, and my family for always being there for me. Oh and did I mention my readers? Comments make me soo happy! Thanks again (and as always) to all who make my life special! I certainly don't say "thank you" and "you're the best" enough…

So what are you up to my lovelies? Are you doing anything exciting on this gorgeous day? What are your currentlys?