Fall Themed Meals & Treats to Get You in the Halloween Spirit

While the kids prep for Halloween with costumes-a-ghoul, the adults have a much more exciting prospect: what to eat?

Let's start with breakfast.

Cranberry Pancakes • Baked Oatmeal
Caramel Apple Parfaits • 
Easy Pumpkin Cream Biscuits

Moving on to lunch…

Butternut Squash & Pumpkin Soup • Pesto & Applewood Bacon w/ Arugula Apple Salad
Apple Cheddar Grilled Cheese

Finally, dinner…

Housewife Chicken, Apples, & Fall Vegetables • Chicken Bacon Pumpkin Gnocchi • Pumpkin Chili
Three Cheese Baked Penne with Tomatoes and Basil • Pumpkin Beef Black Chili • Melting Pot Beer Cheese Soup

And, most importantly, dessert! :)

Caramel Apple Pie ßundaeSnickers Popcorn
Caramel Apple Nachos • Sautéed Pears with Vanilla Whipped Cream

Are you planning on making anything special for the holiday? Do any of these recipes strike your fancy?

Decade by Decade Music: 1970s

After working my way through the 40s, 50, and 60s, we have now arrived at the 70s. Time of the Brady Bunch, bootleg jeans, platform shoes, and some of the best music ever! I'm only a little psyched that this day has arrived. Now, there is the question of how I will be able to keep my list to 10…

To have a look back at the other posts I've written in this series, check out these posts written earlier this month:


1. Queen – "Bohemian Rhapsody" (buy)

Written in 4 parts, Freddie Mercury stylized the song as a "mock opera" or progressive rock song. The song begins with a 5 part a capella harmony before Mercury begins his ballad. He tells the story of how he killed a man and instructs his mother (and the world) to carry on if he's not "back again tomorrow". A guitar solo enters just before the song enters into a complex operatic section with a variety of rhythmic and harmonic changes as well as vocal multi-tracking making the narrator's story even more complex. Before the song concludes, Mercury throws in a guitar riff and takes on the hard rock section of the song. Finally, "Bohemian Rhapsody" reaches regular tempo again and we hear the narrator repeat that "nothing really matters to me…"

The song is complex and intricate … and 6 minutes. The band feared that it would be cut when played on the radio or, worst of all, that it may not make it to the charts at all. Shock and surprise, the song hit #1 on the UK singles charts and #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. And the song was kept complete when played on the radio! In the time since, the song has reached platinum in both the UK and US as well as being featured in the movie Wayne's World providing it with a new audience and chance on the Billboard Top 100 as recently as 1992 where it reached #1. In 2004, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Clearly this song is truly one of the best of it's time. :)

2. Don McLean – "American Pie" (buy)

When Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, Don McLean was inspired to write "American Pie". Since that time he has refused to share the meaning behind the song stating that "You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me ... Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence." The song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

3. Aerosmith – "Dream On" (buy)

A power-ballad by the Boston native band, the song is best known for it's climax to showcase frontman Steven Tyler's screams. The song peaked nationally at #59 in 1973 and an edited version was reintroduced in 1976 debuting at #81 and eventually breaking into the top 40 at #6!

4. Lynyrd Skynyrd – "Sweet Home Alabama" (buy)

Anthem of the south (even for those from Georgia), the lyrics were written as a response to two songs by Neil Young "Alabama" and "Southern Man" that depicted racism and slavery. The song reached #8 on the Billboard chart and was certified gold. It is often played at most southern functions and festivals in particular at the Stone Mountain fireworks shows during the summer in Georgia right alongside other favorites like "Georgia" by Ray Charles.

5. Eric Clapton – "Layla" (buy)

Inspired by classical poet of Persian literature, Nizami Ganjavi's The Story of Layla and Majnun, "Layla" is the story of unrequited love. The second movement or piano coda is my favorite part; I could listen to it over and over again for hours and hours on end. :) The song reached number 10 on the Hot Billboard Charts and Gold certification in the 70s.

6. The Eagles – "Hotel California" (buy)

According to The Eagles, the high life in California is not all that it's made out to be… or something like that. In "Hotel California" a weary traveler sees a hotel and decides, after a long day, that he's tired and would like some rest. At first, it's great and he's enjoying it, but slowly things start to change for the worst. Then, when he tries to leave he's told "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." Some claim the song is about an actual hotel in California while others suspect the singers were speaking about a mental hospital. The singers, as I mentioned before, claim to just be speaking about excess in America. The song peaked on the Billboard Top 100 charts at number 10 and reached gold certification in the US. It has also received a grammy and been featured in the Guitar Hero World Tour game.

7. Billy Joel – "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" (buy)

Let's take a turn away from the 70s rock scene and take a moment to recognize New York great Billy Joel, whom I could not leave out of this list. While I love so many of Joel's songs, I decided on this one because of it's fun melody and thoroughly New York lyrics. This song reached 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it was released in 1977. Later it became a broadway hit in 2002 when Movin' Out (the musical) was introduced to broadway featuring many of Joel's hit songs. Movin' Out is the story of immigrants, specifically Italian but Joel was hoping any immigrant would be able to relate to the lyrics, working their way up through the system. At the very least, it's a fun song … and the lyrics sometimes feel all too true.

8. Three Dog Night – "Joy to the World" (buy)

I think Justin would be disappointed in me if I didn't include this one. :) This song was produced in 1970 as a silly song meant to bring the band Three Dog Night back together. Surprisingly, it topped the charts reaching #1 status in the US and became one of the best-selling singles of all time. The band claims it is not one of their best songs ever recorded, but it is definitely one of the most popular!

9. David Cassidy (The Partridge Family) – "I Woke Up In Love This Morning" (buy)

As a non-traditional child obsessed with the TV Land channel and watching tv shows older than myself, one of my favorite shows was The Partridge Family, so I knew I had to include at least one of their songs in my list. Unsurprisingly, David Cassidy and his real-life mother Shirley are the only ones in the band that actually could sing. David Cassidy is now in the news for other reasons, better or worse, but his happy days on The Partridge Family always make me smile.

10. The Jackson 5 – "ABC" (buy)

Before Michael Jackson (singular) had taken the world by storm, he was part of the boy band The Jackson 5, a group made up of him and his brothers. They sang crooners like "I'll Be There" as well as kid friendly hits like "ABC". It kicked the Beatles "Let It Be" (!!) out of the Billboard top 100 #1 spot and is considered one of the band's signature songs. And a great one it is too!

10+. Tony Orlando & Dawn – "Knock 3 Times" (buy)

I couldn't let the 70s pass by without mentioning this song. My mom used to walk around the house singing it randomly. :) Dawn, as you might can tell from the music video is the make up of 2 female singers going under a single name, specifically Toni Wine, and Linda November. Orlando originally heard the song, a story about a man who is in love with the woman who lives below him, from another singer and decided that, if produced the way he envisioned, it could be a hit. He was correct with the song skyrocketing to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and on charts in other countries across the world.

As always, there were songs I simply didn't have room to include in my list of 70s favorites. AC/DC "Highway to Hell" comes to mind as well as The Pretenders "Brass in My Pocket" and ABBA's "Dancing Queen" among others. Did I include any of your favorites? Or miss out on any that you think deserve to be on the list? Share with me! I'd love to hear what your selections would have been!

Wordless Mosaic

    Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Atlanta, GA – September, 2015 

Planning A Disney Vacation – Booking The Hotel

What Disney is best known for – the castle!

Recently, as I began a month long journey into Disney planning, I became aware of what a headache it can be. I've learned a lot … and I have a lot more to learn before my husband and I travel there in only a few weeks, but I thought I would take that time to share with you the intricacies of what I've learned through planning.

Last week, I talked about MagicBands. This week I'm going to backtrack a bit and talk about hotels.

Back in January, a friend of 11 years contacted me with the date of his wedding. He had been engaged since before I got married as he worked his way through his last semesters of college toward his lifelong dream of working as a movie editor. While he didn't make it to Chicago as he had originally envisioned, his fiance's hometown, he has pulled his career together and is in a really great position to begin a life with the one he loves.

Anyway, once I had the date, I started looking for hotels. In my opinion, you can never start travel planning too soon. When I saw that Travelocity was having a sale of $100 off a 3 night stay, I thought perfect! and was then forced to stay up late booking since Justin and I had plans that kept us out all day preventing me from looking. Immediately when we returned home, I rushed into search-mode taking in all of the reviews and pictures I could find from TripAdvisor and Flyertalk. A few hotels intrigued me, but when I looked at the traveler pictures from some of those hotels, they became  a lot less exciting. (Getting an Ariel room at the Art of Animation Hotel? No thanks – I'm not too keen on having a redhead watch me sleep. Creepy.) Finally I picked my hotel – one that fit into the terms for the $100 off and was reasonably priced.

Disney's Wilderness Lodge

But how did I get there? How did I know where to look? And what's the big deal with choosing a Disney hotel to begin with?

When you visit Orlando, you have a myriad of options. You can choose to stay on Disney property or off. You can stay in Orlando, Lake Buena Vista, or Kissimmee. You can stay in a Disney owned hotel (boutique style) or an American chain. Really it comes down to what you desire and hope to experience during your stay.

If you are going for a need-to-take-the-kids-but-can't-afford-it approach, you may want to check out Costco for cheaper prices, get in touch with a Disney travel planner (who can get you discounts on rooms and tickets), and/or stay in a hotel off of Disney property.

Here are the prices I ran into when looking at these options –

• Costco offered a 3 day hopper pass + 4 nights at a hotel off of Disney property that included free breakfast and a shuttle to the parks for $1000.
• The Disney Travel planner I contacted got me a room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge (a higher rated hotel than the one Justin and I are currently booked to stay at – on Disney Property) for 4 nights with 2 day park hopper tickets for $2000.
• Since the time of my booking I have seen hotel prices outside of the Disney property (condo anyone?) as low as $60 on websites like TravelZoo. Some have breakfast included as well as shuttles to the parks.

As it turns out, with my early booking and signing up for the Disney credit card, Justin and I will be staying at the Port Orleans Riverside for 3 nights and Coronado Springs for 1 night. We purchased 2 day park hopper passes. Our total comes to approximately $1000 without breakfast included. If we hadn't taken advantage of the credit card offer, it would have been more in the range of $1200. So why didn't we go with the cheaper Costco offer and get more days in the park plus breakfast? Or why didn't we choose a condo for $60 a night and drive to the parks?

The Contemporary Resort

With such cheap prices available for staying off of the Disney property, why did I decide to stay on site? 

Let's look at the perks:

1. Early entry. Late exits.

You can enter early or leave late from specific parks during certain days if you are staying at a hotel on location. For example, my husband and I will be able to enter the Animal Kingdom an hour before opening (and before crowds) with our park hopper passes enabling us to ride the best rides and do the best things before we have to worry about lines and foot traffic. On our last day at the parks, we will be able to stay 2 hours after closing time at Hollywood Studios to take advantage of the Osborne Dancing Lights Spectacle. (Have I mentioned that I'm really excited about that?) If we stayed on property outside of the parks, our days would be a lot shorter and we wouldn't have that extra bit of time without crowds. I think this perk is most useful for people who have limited time at Disney World.

The Monorail makes navigating Disney World easy!

2. Free transportation to the parks from the hotel and not having to pay a parking fee.

Want to get drunk at the EPCOT Wine and Food Festival? You can if your hotel is a shuttle ride away from the park. And who actually wants to pay fees to park at the parks anyway? Then you have to do a tremendous amount of walking back to your car (after being on your feet all day) and driving back to the hotel late at night (when all you want to do is sleep). Seriously, I'm looking forward to being a boat ride away from Port Orleans Riverside to EPCOT. That will be nice. And if we do decide to drive, parking is free because we are staying at a Disney hotel.

One more thing worth considering – not having to pay for a rental car. Saving a few hundred during our trip on a car rental may not be worth it for some, but it was for us.

3. Magical Express Shuttle.

If you fly into Orlando, Disney will transport you from MCO airport to your hotel (and back) for free. They even send you luggage tags so that you don't have to pick up your checked luggage from the airport; instead it goes straight to the Magical Express shuttle and is delivered to your room magically. Nice, right? :)

4. Moving Luggage Between Hotels.

Justin and I are in a unique situation in which we will be staying at 2 different hotels during our time at Disney, both on the Disney property. When I contacted our hotel about early arrival and holding our baggage for us, they mentioned to me that of course they could do that, but they could also transfer our luggage from one hotel to the other while we enjoyed our time at the parks. Magically, that is. It's not just McDonald's, at this point, saying "I'm lovin' it!" More time at the parks? Heck yeah!

Only at Disney World can you dine on Mickey's head

5. Make meal reservations early and pick out FastPasses before anyone else.

Not only do you get free magicbands with your stay, but you are also able to book meal reservations and pick out your fastpass attractions before others who are staying off property. I didn't take advantage of this, so I can't comment on it, but, from what I understand, you have the most options if you are early to the game. :)

6. The Disney Resorts are lovely.

Yes, some are definitely touristy … or extremely kid friendly. No, you may not be able to gain points or use status at these hotels. But, from what I've heard, the resorts are practically parks in themselves. Carriage rides, good food, tons of shops, spas… Seriously, if you want to do it while on vacation, you can. Disney will help you.

So, with all of this knowledge on hand, what would you choose? Would you stay on Disney property to take advantage of their perks? Or would you rather stay off property and save money?

As it turns out, what it all comes down to is you. Your preferences, your vacation. You make the trip what you want. I think this is one of the things I like best about the travel planning experience so far – being able to decide what is and isn't important to me and making decisions based on that. Isn't that what travel planning all boils down to anyway?

Harry Connick, Jr. – That Would Be Me Review

After coming off of a 60s music high (Is anyone looking forward to the 70s? *squee!*), I've jumped straight into Harry Connick Jr.'s new album That Would Be Me.

I have to admit I wasn't too thrilled to be reviewing this album. I mean my first thought was … Isn't Harry Connick Jr. just another Michael Bublé type artist with jazz style covers? Surprisingly, while the new album definitely has a jazz flair, I was shocked to discover that whoever this Connick, Jr. guy was that I was remembering from a few years ago is not at all who he is now. And that makes sense, because Connick, Jr. has been out of the spotlight since his last album's release in 2013. 

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of record store owners, Connick, Jr. started learning the keyboard at age 3, performing publicly at age 5, and recording with a local jazz band at age 10. Needless to say, music has been a part of his soul since birth. By the time he entered college, Columbia Records thought he was good enough to sign and sign him they did with his first record coming out soon after entitled Harry Connick Junior. The artist has only been growing and changing since as he went from instrumental artist to singer gaining awards all along the way.

For the production of That Would Be Me, Connick stepped out of his comfort zone working with producers Eg White (Sam Smith, Adele, Florence And The Machine), and Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Pink, Weezer, Fall Out Boy). While it may seem like those styles would clash greatly, in the end what has come together is more of an engaging album "full of surprises and stirring musical conjurations" that encourages dancing and fun.

There are so many unique and different sounds on the album. The upbeat "(Like It When You) Smile" is catchy and invigorating. This is followed up by the lovely and inspiring "Do Like We Do" written by someone who attended high school with Connick, Jr. years ago.

Just give the album a listen… I don't think you will regret it!

Order That Would Be Me on itunes or amazon, and find out more about Harry Connick, Jr. on facebook, twitter, or his website.

* I participated in the That Would Be Me album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided an album to review but all opinions are my own.

Warm Drinks For Cold Weather

Now that fall is upon us, it's time for warm drinks. The following are some of my favorites. :)

1. Let's start with French hot chocolate.

If you've spent your whole life drinking Swiss Miss, you've been missing out.

When Justin and I went to France last year with some friends, they all got espressos and coffees for breakfast. Because I am a fan of neither (aside from the delicious smell!), I got a taste of my first truly French hot chocolate. Thick, creamy, sooooo HOT!! (ouch!), and darrrrrkkkk… It was seriously a combination of bitter and sweet that I have never gotten over. It was far too much for a breakfast drink and I had to pass it on to one of the coffee-lovers. Nevertheless, since I returned to the states, I have been on a search for that sweet, sweet (yet bitter) decadence that I just couldn't drink in France. Funny thing is – here, in the US, bitter/sweet is not really a thing. It's one way or the other. It's Swiss Miss fake chocolate (that I can no longer drink without gagging) or it's something not chocolate at all and very bitter (certain alcoholic beverages come to mind). I haven't made this recipe shared by Erin from Well Plated yet, but I'm looking forward to it. There is nothing better than a pure French hot chocolate and this one has made my to-try list.

2. Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

Because one hot chocolate type is never enough, I give you a recipe from The Beautiful Mess. If we were going for creamy, bittersweet magnificence in the last recipe, I think we are going for true salty sweet gluttony with this one. Caramel is my mother-in-law's favorite flavor and while she is not a fan of sickeningly sweet chocolate, I think a bittersweet chocolate with a touch of salt would be just up her alley. And I must admit, I wouldn't allow her to drink it alone. Heaven in a cup is what this is. Thankfully, if I make it (or my husband does), there will be enough to go around. :)

3. Now, let's get away from the hot chocolates before I have a coronary. Next up is Slow Cooker Caramel Apple Sauce. (I said I wanted to get away from chocolate not caramel!)


Don't you have a Halloween extravaganza coming up? No…? Oh well. Guess you and your family can enjoy all of that delicious, delicious cider by yourselves. Shame. :)

4. Continuing with the fall theme, how about a Pumpkin Steamer?

It has all of the flavors of autumn and it's warm. I'm not sure I would always be a fan of this pumpkin flavored concoction, but I don't see a problem in giving it a try. Plus, it doesn't have all of the extra calories found in chocolate and caramel, so it's got to be healthier for you, right?

5. If odd flavors aren't your thing, consider the Vanilla Steamer.

This drink in particular is great for kids. Y'know the ones who are like "I don't want that because it's different!" Well, this drink isn't all that different. Vanilla + hot, frothed milk.

What's that? You don't know how to froth milk?

You've come to the right place!

Take this thing:

Slide the switch to "on" while the spring looking thing is immersed in a cup of warm milk  for a few seconds and BAM! Done! Just like that you have frothed milk! And it's super-easy to clean too! Just spin it in a cup of soapy water.

I am so glad I am now the proud owner of a milk frother with which I can make all of my delicious fall and winter treats.

What are some of your favorite fall and winter drinks? Do you have an exciting milk frother to give those drinks an edge?

* I received the milk frother in this blog post at a discount in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Decade By Decade Music: 1960s

While the 40s were fun because of the connection to my wedding, I must admit I wasn't too thrilled to list favorites from the 50s. Now that I'm in the 60s though, I'm pretty thrilled. This was the era my parents grew up during, so I've heard a lot of this music over the years… I especially remember hearing it around Christmas time when my mom would pull out old records of, for example, The Jackson 5, the band of brothers that existed long before Michael Jackson ever became Michael Jackson. Although I suppose most of that music will be featured in the next Decade By Decade Music Post.

To have a look back at the other two posts I've written in this series, check out these two posts written earlier this month:

1940s (sort of but not really) • 1950s

Now for my top 10 of the 1960s!

1. The Temptations – "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" (buy)

"My Girl" is probably more popular, but I absolutely love this hit from 1966. Written by Norman Whitfield and Edward Holland, "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Pop Chart and reached number-one hit status on the Billboard R&B charts for eight nonconsecutive weeks! It's the song of an individual pleading his lover to return to him. Surprisingly it's pretty upbeat and optimistic despite its dismal message. (Obviously, the begging works…)

2. The Beatles – "Twist and Shout" (buy)

I thought for two seconds about including the Beatles music video, but instead decided to go with Ferris Bueller's. (His day off was amazing and reason number 543 for me to take a day off as well.) The song itself was recorded originally by the Top Notes in 1961 and then again by the Isley brothers in 1962. In 1963, John Lennon took on the lead vocals which were the last to be recorded for the Beatles' first UK album Please, Please Me. It sold over a million copies and reached number ten on the national charts. The song never reached number one, because another Beatles song "Can't Buy Me Love" held the spot.

3. The Supremes – "The Happening" (buy)

Who doesn't like the Supremes? "The Happening was a song recorded in 1967 for a film of the same name that flopped while the song soared making to the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The Supremes are better known for songs like "Stop In the Name of Love", but I always feel like the best known songs are overplayed. Of course, all of the Supremes songs are wonderful and they recorded a lot before the band broke up in 1970! Go check them out on youtube! :)

4. Booker T. & the MGs – "Green Onions" (buy)

A few years ago, Justin and I went to see Booker T. perform "Green Onions"; the experience and seeing Booker T. was amazing; I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance. Named after a cat whose way of walking inspired the riff (or at least that's one of the reasons Wikipedia says it was named the way it was), the song peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on the Soul Singles Chart. "Green Onions" has been used extensively in film, tv, and video game soundtracks making it one of the best known instrumental songs in the US. As a character from the movie Blues' Brothers comments "I believe that this tune can be equated with the great classical music around the world. Well now you go to Germany, you got your Bach, your Beethoven and your Brahms. Here in America, you got your Fred McDowell, your Irving Berlin, your Glenn Miller, and your Booker T. & the M.G.s!" I couldn't agree more! :)

5. The Foundations – "Build Me Up Buttercup" (buy)

Such a fun and happy song, it's like people in the 60s were immune to the lyrics. At the very least, Buttercup could have let this poor guy down easy. *sigh* "Buttercup" hit number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was quickly certified Gold by the RIAA for over one million in sales.

6. The Beatles – "Here Comes the Sun" (buy)

There is not a Beatles song that I don't like. Making a decision for which to feature was tough, and, honestly, I'll probably regret it the minute I press publish. "In My Life", "Hey Jude", "Yellow Submarine", "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", "Octopus's Garden", and "Let It Be" to name a few… As such, I think I'll go listen to a few Beatles' songs rather than listing out information on this amazing band… I suggest you do the same. :)

7. The Monkees – "Daydream Believer" (buy)

First heard this song on Dawson's Creek and immediately downloaded it. "I'm A Believer" is more well known, but this song takes on that happy vibe that seems to be very consistent with the 60s. "Daydream Believer" peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and remained for four weeks. The Monkees are best known as a manufactured "Beatles" that were created for a tv series in the 60s. "Daydream Believer" is just one of the many fantastic songs created by the band.

8. Ben E. King – "Stand By Me" (buy)

Originally written by King in the 1960s for the music group The Drifters,  inevitably, King recorded the song himself when they refused to. After working on another song in the recording studio, King had some extra time and the studio producer's asked if he had any other songs that needed to be recorded. When he shared "Stand By Me" with them, they liked it and decided to record it. "Stand By Me" went to number 1 on the R&B charts and was a top ten hit on the U.S. charts twice where it peaked at number 4. Eventually, the song was re-recorded to coincide with the release of a film by the same name. The structure the song has become known for now called the 50s progression is also often called the "Stand By My changes" after the song. "Stand By Me" has been covered by many artists including John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Otis Redding, and Imagine Dragons.

9. The Angels – "My Boyfriend's Back" (buy)

When I started thinking about female groups (aside from Diana Ross), I had a really hard time choosing which one to feature. Others I'd include if I had room in my top ten list would be The Chiffon's "One Fine Day", The Crystals "Then He Kissed Me", The Dixie Cups "Going to the Chapel of Love", The Shirelles "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?", Lesley Gore "It's My Party" and The Chordettes "Mr. Sandman". Seriously. Decisions were hard!

10. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (buy)

Included in the grammy hall of fame in 1999, the song has humble origins. Written by the now famous duo Ashford and Simpson, they felt like song could be there "golden egg" into the industry. After being recorded separately by each, Terrell and Gaye, the vocals were combined at a later date. The song peaked at number 19 on the Billboard pop charts and went to number 3 on the R&B charts. Later, in 1970, it was covered by Diana Ross who also had a Top 20 success with it, her first solo single. Since then, "Ain't No Mountain" has been recorded by such greats as Whitney Houston, Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, Lionel Richie (with Stefanie Heinzmann) and Michael Bolton (with Kelly Rowland). It is a song that continues to touch generations years later.

What are your favorite songs from the 60s? There were so many more that I simply didn't have room to include. The 60s was a great decade for music, so I know you must have at least one favorite that I didn't list!

All of the Things! + Wordless Wednesday

Charleston – September 2015

Listening to: I have John Cougar Mellencamp "Authority Song" stuck in my head. (I blame Pandora.)

Maggie has been playing Steve Perry's "Oh Sherrie" every time she gets in my car, but at least it's better than her second choice Taylor Swift's "Red". I hate the song "Red"!

My current preferences are: Def Leppard "Hysteria", Queen's "Under Pressure", and LeAnn Rimes' "Can't Fight the Moonlight".

Yeah, I'm all over the place. :)

Remembering: Ellie, my favorite babysitting charge. She just added me as a friend on instagram and I made sure to tag her in a picture I took of her pet guinea pig that she got for her birthday 3 years ago! Love that girl and miss her so much!

Planning: trips to Savannah, Orlando, and Europe. This week I ordered supplies for decorating my MagicBand (going with turquoise glitter and pink polka dots a la Minnie Mouse!) as well as booked rooms at two amazing NYC hotels for this December/January. Check out this page to follow all of my travel planning. :)

I'm also considering starting a Tuesday series on Disney vacation planning. I had no idea how complicated it actually was. Then again, I research everything thoroughly before making decisions which makes travel planning take 2 to 3 times longer than what I might consider the "normal" travel planner's travel planning time.

Anxiously Awaiting: the arrival of The Martian and my new Disney credit card to my door stoop! Yay!

Interested to Know: how all of this travel will pan out. Sometimes you pick amazing hotels and things go so smoothly and sometimes … it doesn't (and you don't).

Keeping A Secret: Christmas gifts. I need to get on it.

DIY'ing: my magicband, which I guess is more about crafting than anything else. Still. An x-acto knife and glitter duct tape will be involved. Oh - and maybe a sharpie. :)

Reading: Sara Gruen's At Water's Edge and soon-to-be Andy Weir's novel The Martian! Check out this post from last week or follow me on GoodReads to see all of the books I've read in the past year.

What have you been up to this past month? Anything exciting? Please share! I'd really love to hear. Or you can join in by answering these prompts on your own blog and share a link with me. I love reading new blogs!

Disney MagicBands

Guys (and gals), planning a trip to Disney World is complicated. I remember way back when you could go get your ticket at the gate, rush to the restaurants to make reservations (Cinderella's Castle FTW!), and stand in line for hours waiting to ride the most popular rides in the sweltering heat. Honestly, I'm surprised no one in my family melted a la wicked witch of the west style from Wizard of Oz. Florida heat can be miserable.

Recently I've been dealing with MagicBands for the first time ever. I booked our hotel at Travelocity back in January, but then I had to add a day due to complications. When I went to add that day, our hotel was sold out, so I had to pick another hotel. Because of our intentions not to get a rental car (or drive the 7 hours to Orlando), we decided to stay one more night on the Disney property. A bit more expensive than other properties elsewhere in the city, we were hoping to saving money in other ways.

Somewhere between the second hotel booking and my purchase of Disney park tickets from Undercover Tourist, I became (more) aware of magicbands and why my husband and I might need them.

So, first, let's talk about what magicbands are.

• are your ticket into the park (or can be). If you have a magicband, you can link your e-ticket and not have to go to will call to pick it up. This means fewer lines and more fun.
• hold your hotel room key. Use your MagicBand to enter your Disney Resort property hotel. (This does not work at other Orlando area hotels.) You can ask for a regular rfid card if you are uncomfortable with using magicbands.
• get you onto rides faster using FastPass. After you sign up for an account on the Disney website and link your park tickets to the magicband, you can choose up to 3 rides per day to skip the line for. You'll get all of the important rides done faster and have more time to enjoy the park.
• If you make restaurant reservations online, you can scan your magicband when you get to your restaurant to let them know you are there.
• offer other perks as well. The bands have long range readers allowing Disney to provide you with a personalized experience a lot like casinos. If they know you've been waiting in a line too long at one ride, they can offer a free ice cream cone… or something to make up for that and keep you happy.
• link your credit card to your magicband. No need to carry a purse or wallet at Disney World if you don't want to!
• link any dining certificates to the magicband in case the kids want to go off with grandma.
• can be connected to any shuttle reservations you have to get you back to the airport.

I had a complicated reservation with Disney World wherein I booked one hotel (Port Orleans) through Travelocity and one (Coronado Springs) through the Disney website. When I booked CS through the Disney website, I was prompted to pick a magic band color, because every person who stays at a Disney resort gets a magic band for free. I was also able to link up my tickets almost immediately (before I even received the bands in the mail!). Then, through phone conversations with Disney I hooked up our Travelocity hotel (PO) and shuttle reservations to our bands. All of this will make travel easier and keep us from losing our minds when we are there.

All of this is to say:
• If you book a DISNEY RESORT hotel using a third party website (Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, etc…), call Disney and ask them to link it to your account. If you don't already have a MagicBand, this should prompt the website to offer you one.
• Do make an account with the Disney website especially if you want FastPasses, Restaurant reservations, or magicbands. It doesn't cost anything and prevents you from having to use a credit card to hold your restaurant reservation when it's for a Disney dining property.
• If you are staying at a hotel off of Disney property, you will not get a magicband. You will need to buy one for $12.95 at the Disney store (online or at most malls in the US) or at a store on the Disney property (there are many located outside of the parks that you can access if you want/need to).

Magicbands are complicated. You don't need them; they have their benefits (and drawbacks). It's nice to have fastpasses and to only worry about a wristband rather than your whole wallet, but at the same time, who really wants Disney using long range readers to know exactly how many times a day you go to the bathroom? And if they know how much people like me usually spend at their restaurants, will that prevent them from offering me a discount? This is definitely Justin's least favorite part of the Disney planning experience; he is not thrilled with the data Disney can obtain with these bracelets.

Readers, what do you think about MagicBands? Have you ever been to Disney World? Share your experiences with me! I'd love to hear what you think! 

Autumn Edition: Movie Monday!

Over the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of getting to see some awesome and not-so-awesome movies. It's been fun and it helps me to feel a little more in the loop when discussions of pop culture come up among Justin's and my friend group. The following are the 3 movies I've seen most recently, my review, and whether or not I recommend them…

The Intern

When I saw a preview for The Intern, I was excited. A Nancy Meyers comedy with Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway and newcomer (in my experience, anyway) Adam DeVine. There are definitely days when I want to see a light, humorous comedy to break up the drama that can be life.

The story begins when a fashion forward e-commerce company agrees to train seniors as part of a community outreach program. A retired executive, 70-year-old Ben Whitaker is one of many applicants after he decides retirement is boring. Jules Ostin is the hard-working CEO of About the Fit, and the person assigned to train Ben. When she initially brings him into her office, she informs him that she will e-mail him when she needs something done. Patiently waiting for days on end, Ben discovers other ways to help out around the office including cleaning up a table that Jules has on her to-do list. Finally, he makes an impression on Jules and she agrees to let him help her. His assistance starts off slow as he does small things like chauffeuring her to various events, but over time her world opens up to him; he meets her family and even goes so far as to break into her mother's house to protect Jules from having an embarrassing e-mail read by her mom. Truthfully, the shenanigans in the movie are a little bit over the top, but Jules and Ben form a close friendship that is sweet to watch as they help one another discover what it is they are most looking for in life.

If you want a plot that is easy to follow and doesn't really go anywhere, this is the movie for you. Otherwise, for comedy I recommend one of Nancy Meyer's other films … or any other film for that matter. As for a De Niro or Hathaway movie? Well, let's just say there are better options for both of those too. This movie is The Devil Wears Prada done opposite. For that matter, just go see The Devil Wears Prada; it's much better on all levels. Don't even bother with The Intern unless you are bored. In my opinion, it's not worth it. (#SorryNotSorry)

The Martian

Love. Faith. Science. :)

Botanist, Mark Watney is left on Mars when a horrific storm causes an antenna to come lose and knock him unconscious as his team boards the space shuttle for their return to earth. Unable to see in the weather but with all indications suggesting that he is dead, the crew depart the planet mourning the loss of their teammate. Meanwhile, hours later, Mark Watney awakens finding himself stranded and alone on a planet with only enough supplies to get him through 30 days. It will take 4 years for NASA to return to Mars and, worst of all, he doesn't have any way to get in touch with NASA to let them know he is alive. Through a death-defying journey, Watney enjoys upbeat music like Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" and Gloria Estefan's "Turn the Beat Around" as he "science[s] the sh*t" out of his environment for survival purposes. The combination of the music and Watney's attitude, despite his perilous experience, take this film from a gripping adventure to something a little more pleasant and uplifting.

The Martian is particularly great for science fanatics, Ridley Scott adorers, Matt Damon enthusiasts, or if you just want to see a good, fun movie. I do not recommend it if you are looking for dark, and possibly twisted, science fiction; instead check out Interstellar, which is also amazing, but on a totally different level. So – The Martian. Interstellar. See them. <3.

(Sidenote: I enjoyed The Martian so much that I just ordered the book.)

The Walk

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Walk is a historical retelling of Philippe Petit's famous walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. The story is told from Philippe's perspective as he stands atop the Statue of Liberty. It begins one year earlier when Philippe is trying to make a living as a street performer in Paris with wire walking and juggling acts. He practices after hours at the circus big top and makes plans (and dreams) for walking between the twin towers after seeing the buildings in the newspaper. Eventually he is discovered by Papa Rudy who helps him pull together his first real event – of which he fails at and ends up falling into a lake. To redeem himself, he walks a rope tied onto the Notre Dame Cathedral and succeeds! But is ultimately arrested… Finally he gathers the courage to take his act to New York City where he spends days (and weeks) researching the area, studying every crook and cranny, and collecting accomplices to help him before the big day. Will he be able to pull off the walk? (I think you know the answer.)

While not quite French, I really enjoyed Joseph Gordon-Levitt's portrayal of Philippe Petit. The story was charming and fun. It was filled with hopes and dreams and the people that helped make one man's wish come true. It wasn't incredibly funny nor was it terribly dramatic. It was just good and not in the way of "I have to see it again and own it on DVD!" – because, honestly, very few movies make that cut – but just good. I did not see it in 3D, but I imagine it would be that much better in 3D. The views from atop of the World Trade Centers were incredible! And beautiful! I recommend seeing this if you have free time on your hands; it's worth at least one viewing.

So what movies have you seen lately? Anything good? The next movie I'm hoping to see is the new Tom Hanks' movie Bridge of Spies. Have you seen it yet? Share! I'd love to hear about other good movies I may not know about. Do you know of anything that is in the theatre horizon?

Cast Iron Recipes & Tips

One of my husband's favorite cooking methods involves using cast iron pans. He especially loves the flavor that cast iron pans give to the food he makes, and who can blame him? Everything–literally, everything–tastes better when cooked in a cast iron pan. And there is absolutely nothing I can think of that you can't cook in cast iron.

Take a look at a few options:

Southern Style CornbreadPineapple Upside Down Cake
Skillet Zucchini
Skillet Huevos RancherosSplayed Roast Chicken

And that's only the beginning! Seriously. You have so many options when cooking with cast iron! Just google it! Or check out this cookbook! You could make something in your new (or old) cast iron pan every day of the week for every single meal and have something entirely different each time! Crazy, right?! :)

Something to keep in mind when you take your first steps down the cast iron rabbit hole is that cleaning your skillet is a task that should not be taken lightly. NEVER use soap and water. EVER!! It will strip your pan of seasoning, which, by the way, you should make sure to do prior to using it for the first time.

Here are a few other tips:

• If this is your first time ever buying cast iron, season the pan with oil or butter by applying a thin coat to the cast iron and sticking it in the oven for an hour at 325ºF. When done, the skillet should be smooth, shiny, and anything you cook on it should not stick. You can season your cast iron as often as needed both after your first time buying it or even after years of use.
• Don't use soap and water. And if you do, re-season the pan.
• Metal Utensils can scratch your cast iron. Avoid them.

Now I know you are wondering "How am I supposed to clean this if I can't use soap and water?"

Salt and a paper towel, baby! :)

Or, for the really tough baked on grit, you can use a chain mail scrubber like this.

A not-so-true chef (except in my mind), Justin had been looking for one of these to use for the longest time. Salt and paper towels can get messy really fast. And Lord help you if you get your kids to help you clean in the kitchen! But, upon use, Justin found that this particular chainmail was a little too tough on his lovingly cared for cast iron. As it turns out, not all chainmail scrubbers are made equally. Perhaps in the future, we will try Lodge, a brand that is known for their high-quality products (with regards to cast iron) and attention to detail.

Do you love your cast iron pans as much as we do? Have you made any exciting meals on them recently? Be sure to share your recipes and tips in the comments! New ideas are the best. :)

* The chain mail scrubber was received for free in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review x 3 + GoodReads

I love you all and I love my decade-by-decade music posts. They have been so much fun to do so far, but my poor planning has made today a book review day. All the better, because I've only read like … 3 books in the last 2 weeks! ;)

Anyway, I decided to join GoodReads this morning and started filling in all of the books from my 2015 challenge. Honestly, it's been a stressful year trying to read so many books in so little time. I have no idea how others do it. According to GoodReads, I've read 8373 pages in 25 books of which 7 were published in 2015. Let me just say – WOW! That doesn't even include (most of) the Wattpad books I've read! My original goal was 24 books in 2015; should my new goal be 10,000 pages before 2016? I think I can do it…

The book list so far…

• 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
• Salsas & Moles by Deborah Schneider
• Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson
• Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady

• All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

• Fatal Vision by Joseph McGinnis
• Color Mixing Recipes for Watercolor by William F. Powell

• Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford
Walking the Highline by Joel Sternfield

• Captive by Ashley Smith
• 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper

• The Conversation Handbook by Troy Fawkes
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy by Dinty W. Moore

And now for the new books reviews…

Apparently this month I've been all about self-improvement, and that started with The Conversation Handbook. If you knew me personally, you would know I'm not a great conversationalist. Half of the time I can't think of how to respond to questions and statements alike. And if there are multiple people in the conversation? I may as well just disappear. I will not fight for talk time and thus my thoughts and opinions are kept to myself. I think I once heard that it's better to appear dumb then open your mouth and prove it, a truth I've held dear for a number of years since.

One of the great and more useful aspects of The Conversation Handbook is that author Troy Fawkes not only talks to you about conversing, but he also provides questions and activities to get you thinking about how and why you converse in the style you do. Do you think you are gaining something by keeping quiet? Then he goes in depth about how to be a better listener, how to communicate ideas better, and how to relate to others. He even provides further reading ideas if you are interested in continuing to learn about this topic.

Most of the concepts within The Conversation Handbook are shockingly simple and things you will be thinking to yourself "I should have known that!" but other concepts, for example easter eggs in conversations (who would have thought?) are a little bit more complex. While I'm not entirely sure this book was extremely helpful for me in terms of conversation, I'm hoping to go back and work through the activities at a slower pace for helping in terms of blog writing. Apparently, writing and speaking are very similar forms of communication, and reading this book sparked ideas for how to communicate more effectively, for me, through my writing as well as my speaking.

The Conversation Handbook will be most useful to people who can read books on a kindle or tablet (it's only an e-book currently in PDF form) and who are interested in improving their communication skills. I recommend taking the time out to answer the author's questions and complete the book in it's entirety to get the most value from it. Plus, it's a nice and easy read! I got through my copy in less than a day! :)

Check this video out to discover why
Kristin Hannah wrote The Nightingale.

Next up, I tackled Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, a fantastic historical fiction account based in France during the 1940s. I must admit I was a little concerned when a family member mentioned being aware of the authoress, but I had no need to be. The book started off a little bit slow, but only developed as the author and her subjects became more aware of their situations.

The story begins when 18 year old Isabelle, a vivacious teenager, is kicked out of her boarding school. (Or at least that's where the story caught my attention.) She returns to Paris to her father, but he will have nothing to do with her. He works out a deal with a family friend to get Isabelle to the country so that she can live with her sister, Vianne. At this time, he is completely aware of what is going on with the war and how the Germans are taking over France (and specifically Paris), but he doesn't share this information with Isabelle. Finally the day comes for her to leave. The minute she gets in the vehicle a woman looks at her and asks what she brought with her, a seemingly friendly question. When Isabelle responds with "books and clothes", the woman has a few angry words to say and treats Isabelle like a nuisance for the rest of the ride. Only, they run out of gas before they make it to Vianne and Isabelle becomes separated from the family she is suppose to travel with. Rather than stay at a hotel she cannot afford, she begins the long journey to the countryside later being joined by an ex-convict who has been let go and is interested in defending France in the war.

When Isabelle finally makes it to Vianne's lovely countryside home, Vianne's husband has left to fight on the front leaving Vianne's daughter Sophie, Isabelle, Vianne, and a German billet living in the home. Day by Day, Isabelle's anger towards the Germans gets worse and worse until her sister is no longer comfortable with Isabelle living with them. All is well though because Isabelle has a plan that involves returning to Paris and helping her compatriots get to spain and out of the German grasp. Can she do this without getting killed herself?

Meanwhile Vianne speaks up for the Jews (and therefore against the Germans) at work and manages to get fired. Running out of her husband's money and with very little food and objects to sell, how will she keep herself and her daughter alive?

At first, the German billet was super nice and offering to help with providing food for Vianne, and I was thinking "psh! Where is the real story? Did this author know anything about the war or was I reading a chic lit kind of book?" It only got worse when Isabelle meets the ex-convict who asks for a kiss in exchange for taking her with him to the front. Anyway, while the author, Kristin Hannah, does border on chic lit at times, the story finally does become more realistic as it gets further along and further into the war (which makes sense).

I recommend this book if you are interested in good historical fiction stories and (as was recommended to me) if you like Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. It's nice to see a book about female heroism although I'm not sure how accurate this author's depiction of the war was. Don't let the female heroism color your view on the book though – you will read of death and despair both inside of concentration camps as well as out. This is not a book you take to the beach and read to make you happy. It's a thought provoking, dark book with just a hint of love and beauty. I did enjoy it though, and definitely recommend it. :)

I decided to take on Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy in an effort to hone my craft. I've been saying for a while that I wanted to read some writing related books, but so far the only one that had caught my interest ended up boring me after about 2 paragraphs. It's one thing to read a drawn out fictional book that bores, but to read a non-fictional help guide that you can't relate to? Honestly that's even worse!

When I picked up Moore's book, I was excited to take on a fun, humorous book on writing. I hoped to gain inspiration from the author and develop my skills. What I got though was much less than expected. :( With ratings of near 5 stars on Amazon, I had high hopes and expectations. I turned away other potential good reads for one funny book. *sigh*

Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy is written in a combination of letters written to the "author" and his responses as well as mini essays to emphasize his points. The essays are great – very well written – and the book itself is an easy read. I read all 187 pages in one sitting. Even the picture "sticky notes" are an exciting and fun way for the author to communicate with his readers. But overall, I found myself skipping over whole sections because I was just that bored. I found myself often thinking "Can't you get to the point?" It was just a struggle

Point being, pick another writing book. I don't recommend this one. Sorry Mr. Moore. :(

And a teaser…

What have you been reading this year? Any of the books I've read? Do you have any recommendations for me? 

* I received Dear Mister Writer Guy and The Conversation Handbook for free in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.