Remembering March & Planning For April

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Like an idiot, I kept waiting and waiting for the #30List prompt to appear this morning not even realizing that today is day 31! :) So I'm taking a break before jumping into 26 (or less) days of A-Z travel (or recounting my January/December trip to Europe in extreme detail) starting tomorrow.

Included in this post: how I've done at accomplishing my goals from this month, the goals I've set for next month, and a list of the blog topics I intend on sharing in April.

Goals From Last Month Completed –
✓ Did something cultural: attended a book launch, caving, and visited a local museum
✓ Created a blog plan for April.
✓ Read 3 books!
✓ Participated in at least 2 blog link-ups this month.
✓ Booked hotels in Savannah for May
✓ 1 more link at top of blog working

Additional Successes –
✓ 
Began research for a potential July NYC vacation.
✓ #Boston2016 became #Charleston2016 when I found out about #Savannah2016
✓ Go-Pro fun! :)

Future Goals For April –
• Stay caught up. (This is going to be a crazy month for blogging!)
• Do something cultural. (We have another book launch event that will probably fill this void.)
• Read 1 book.
• Continue researching July travel.

And what you've all been waiting for… a sneak peek of what's to come!

April A-Z:
A - Anxiety, stress, and planning a trip overseas during the holidays
B - (skipping)

C - Crud! Delta delayed my flight! + Review of the beautiful Waldorf Astoria!
D - Don't miss out on… Christmas in NYC!
E - Escaping the ordinary at The Standard Highline Hotel
F - Festive Christmas lights in Brooklyn
G - (skipping)
H - (skipping)
I - Seeing the Eiffel Tower and being inspired by the Intercontinental Le Grand in Paris.

J - Joyeux Noël! in Paris
K - "Knocked down" by the stunning view from our hotel room at The Brighton
L - Laid-back, likable Strasbourg
M - Meek, modest Regent Petite France
N - Spending new year's eve and day in Germany!
O - One more post featuring Germany! 

P - Pretty, peaceful, snow-covered Prague
Q - Quiet Hotel Angelo
R - Rebellious Dresden
S - Serene Hotel Bellevue
T - My timid trek through a snow (and ice) covered park in Germany

U - Uncertainty on the train as we headed back to Paris
V - Westin Vendôme review
W - Feeling wronged and weary in NYC as we dealt with tourist "traps"
X/Y - youthful, exuberant Hyatt Jersey City Hotel review
Z - feeling "zonked" on our return flight home

So … thoughts? Anyone else excited about April A-Z? Have you accomplished all of your March goals?

4 Media Inspired Locations I Want To Visit

Ever read a book or seen a movie and thought "Wow! Now that is a place I simple have to visit!"? For me that happens a lot! Unfortunately, I can't think of any place I've actually travelled to that was inspired by the media. Usually I just visit local spots nearby or places that other people in my life want to visit.

Anyway, the following are places that various forms of media have inspired me to plan my future travels around…

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1. Wilmington, NC

When I was in high school, Dawson's Creek was the show I was obsessed with. Everyone watched it, and no one admitted to watching it. I mean it was probably looked down on just as much then as it is now. (Maybe it's looked down on even moreso now?) Anyway, the show inspired me to find a group of friends I could be close to – people who were like family, people who would inspire me to try new things and be there for me any time I needed them.

Around this time, my parents were planning to go on vacation. Uninterested in being away from my friends, I decided to take over the planning for myself. If you can't beat it, join it? I think the original plan was to sit on some beach in Florida for a week. Yuck. Without much real effort, I managed to turn that vacation on it's head and suggested a drive along the coast. We would visit Savannah (GA), Hilton Head (SC), and Charleston (SC). Of course my original plan had us moving up the coast toward Wilmington, NC, but instead when we decided to plan the trip "by ear", Wilmington was cut. We found ourselves enjoying Charleston far more than we anticipated.

While I'm not sure if there is any real reason for me to visit Wilmington, NC now, I might still do it just to say that I have. I've only ever experienced the mountains of NC, never the beach. Perhaps it's worth a view? … Then again, maybe not. There's only one way to find out!

2. Cypress Gardens in Charleston, SC


You guys, this scene. :)

First of all, I have to say, if you've never been to Charleston or Florida, this is exactly what the weather is like in the summer. One minute it's perfectly sunny, then it starts raining. The rain lasts maybe 10 minutes? You get drenched and the water is up to your knees. Then it stops just like it started and it's sunny the rest of the afternoon (or for at least 10 minutes). I promise – the weather is crazy there! ;)

And because of that (and the humidity), I have yet to set foot in the beautiful Cypress Gardens. I only live about 7 hours away, you'd think I'd have gone by now.

One day… :)

See some other locations from The Notebook here.

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3. Saint-Malo in northern France

Have you seen my review of All The Light We Cannot See? Basically, it was one of the best books I read last year – a beautiful novel depicting the lives of two ordinary European children whose lives are completely turned upside down with the onset of the second world war.

Supposedly, the inspiration for All The Light We Cannot See began, in part, when the author was on a book tour visiting Saint-Malo, France. While I may have had the desire to visit a beautiful beach on the coast of France, after reading Doerr's descriptions in his book, I knew that Saint-Malo would be the first I would visit should I ever get the chance.

Here is Anthony Doerr's description of Saint-Malo which was used in Scribner Magazine:

I first saw Saint-Malo while I was on book tour in France. It’s a ghostly, imperious walled city in Brittany, surrounded by emerald green sea on all four sides. It was night, and after dinner I went for a stroll on top of the ramparts, peering into the third-floor windows of houses, the low-tide beaches glimmering in moonlight, the town glowing. I felt as if I was walking through a city plucked from the imagination of Italo Calvino, a place that was part fairy-tale castle, part M. C. Escher drawing, part mist and ocean wind and lamplight. You walk its cobbled lanes, you smell the tides, you hear the echoes of your footsteps, and you think: this city has survived for well over a thousand years. But Saint-Malo was almost entirely destroyed by American artillery in 1944, in the final months of World War II, and was painstakingly put back together, block by granite block, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. That a place could so thoroughly hide its own incineration, and that my own country was responsible for that incineration, fascinated me. 

And finally,

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4. Prince Edward Island, Canada

Because after seeing the movies inspired by Lucy Maud Montgomery's books, you cannot unsee the beautiful Canadian landscape.

What movie or book inspired locations are you hoping to someday visit? Are there any that you have already been to?

That Sinking Feeling… #MoneyMonday

Sometimes it feels like money just flies away

I'm soo tired.

By that, I mean I'm tired physically, but also mentally. I'm tired of spending money to save money (or in some cases, make money). I'm tired of staying on top of our finances to pay down debt. I'm tired, I'm tired, I'm tired. Paying down debt is not invigorating; it's stressful.

Anyone else know the feeling?

The problem I've been forced to face and deal with this month is the following:

As humans we are given only a finite amount of time on earth. If you want to do something, you only have a limited time in which to do it. Making matters more complicated – there are only so many years in one's life in which they have the freedom and energy in which to be adventurous. Aside from God himself, who knows how long my husband and I have to travel and experience life?

So, with that being said, Justin and I went on dates this month. We went out to eat, explored Atlanta, sat through a book talk, and started thinking about traveling to NYC for a summer vacation. And with that: we spent money. More money than we should have, but less than we could have.

Can I just say that I hate being young-ish and in debt?

It makes every choice that much more complicated. Do I want to x or put that money toward debt? And if I choose debt, am I giving up a time-saver? So then my decisions are – save time by purchasing a thing or pay off debt and lose time … that we are already short on.

Am I giving up experiences? Do I get one less chance to see and do something because I have to put that money toward a thing that I already saw and did? … that thing that was suppose to pay out in a big way and get me a job making millions of dollars a year?

Then when you have friends and family involved, paying down debt becomes even more complicated. You can't (or shouldn't) pass on weddings and events just to pay down debt more quickly. I mean: what does that tell them? That you're ability to pay down debt is more important than your relationship with them? Umm… no. Relationships are always more important. Always, always, always. I would rather owe a million dollars than be alone in this world. Relationships are priority.

So how do you balance life experiences, relationships, and debt-paydown?

Honestly, I don't know.

Here are the graphs from this month's attempt:

Spending
green = this year; yellow = last

• Spent more this month than March 2015 and more than we spent in February 2016. There may be a few store returns that we make which might get us back on track, but we'll see…

Income
green = this year; yellow = last


• YAY! We made more money this month than we did last year! Woot!

Net Income Graph
green = positive; red = negative

• Particularly glad to see more green in this graph. We were struggling the last time I checked

And Numbers?
• November 2016 payoff date for credit cards
• July 2021 payoff date for student loans
• Investments down 5.54% :(

So, what are your thoughts on debt payoff? If you owe on student loans, do you get as frustrated as myself and my husband when deciding how to spend money during the month? If you are debt free, do you have any good advice for me?

Friday Five – Happiness Edition

Cathedral Caverns – March, 2016

2016 hasn't gone quite as planned. There have been ups and downs, lefts and rights. It's been crazy. So today I'm going to share with you the five best things that have happened in the past 3 months.

1. I got to start the year in Germany!

We also explored Prague, Paris, Strasbourg, and NYC. I seriously can't wait to return!

And just as a heads up, April (for the A-Z challenge) will be filled with my travel experiences beginning on day one A with all of the planning I did in preparation for my 2015/2016 year end/year beginning trip to Europe and ending on day Z when Justin and I were "zonked" after our travels and returning home.

2. As of this month, planning a trip to NYC!

We will be exploring Brooklyn, Queens, Chinatown, and neighboring Jersey City all during one of the busiest and craziest American holidays of the year. I'm blessed to have the opportunity to go and a husband that wants to take me. 

3. Getting to try a GoPro!

After my 2014 trip to Europe, I decided I needed a lighter camera. GoPros are awesome for video, getting wet, and sports photography/videography. Mirrorless are a good DSLR replacement that is light in weight and offers the opportunity to swap out lenses.

Having the opportunity to try a GoPro at no cost has been so awesome! I only have it for 3 weeks and I'm trying to figure out how to get me and it to the beach to test the "waters" so to speak. I've already been taking advantage of the video features and playing with how to connect it to my phone.

4. Going caving for the first second time! (Does Ruby Falls count?)

What started out as a day trip to Huntsville, Alabama where we were going to explore the botanical gardens turned into a cave trip when it started raining. Apparently Cathedral Caverns was the perfect choice for a rainy Saturday afternoon! At $17 a person, it wasn't cheap, but the half mile walk inside the beautiful caves got me excited about possibly entertaining a new hobby – caving! Of course the realization that most caving takes place in wet, muddy, cold environments that require crawling and old clothes tempered that excitement almost immediately. Oh well! It was a fun and memorable experience while it lasted. :)

5. February's #LoveBlog and this month's randomness. (Or at least it feels random.)

I have received nearly double the views on this blog since changing up the format! Are you all enjoying my writing style? Is the format more conducive to clicking? I don't know what's going on, but I love you all too! ;)

Anyway, hope everyone is having a good Friday (on Good Friday!). Have a fantastic Easter weekend! :) And feel free to share some of your favorite things that have happened this year in the comments! I'd love to hear! :)

Linking up for Friday Five with
Eat Pray Run DC
Mar On the Run
and You Signed Up For What?!

5 Things I Do In My Spare Time

Due to today's #30lists prompt, this post might look pretty similar to last Wednesday's mid-month update. Sorry. :-/ I promise to throw something new in here! :)

1. Listen to music

My commute is a minimum of 45 minutes each way. Way back when I lived 10 minutes from work, I would use this extra time to do other things: read, blog, photoshop, etc… Now I find I'm a bit more limited in what I can do. Thank goodness for Pandora! And NPR when I'm sick of music.


But occasionally, awesome companies like One2One provide me with free (in exchange for a review) music like Gwen Stefani's new album This Is What The Truth Feels Like  (iTunesTarget). That's when the real fun of commuting begins! Who wouldn't enjoy rocking out to a new Gwen Stefani album during their daily commute?


I distinctly remember when No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom came out in the 90s; it was my first real exposure to Gwen Stefani and I wasn't sure if I even liked her. Over time though, she grew on me … and the world. If she wasn't a household name prior to Tragic Kingdom, she was soon afterward when 6 singles hit the charts from the one album. Those chart-breaking songs, including "Just A Girl" and "Don't Speak" were such big hits that they are still played on the radio to this day, nearly 20 years later!

Despite the numerous multi-platinum selling albums Stefani has recorded to date, more recent hits haven't really appealed to me including "Hollaback Girl" and "Rich Girl"; her newest album, however, is a call back to the 90s, a refreshing reminder of what Gwen Stefani's music is capable of. This Is What The Truth Feels Like highlights impassioned themes of love and loss especially found in newly released "Make Me Like You", "Used To Love You", and "Where Would I Be". 

This Is What The Truth Feels Like is, in my opinion, one of Stefani's best albums yet and I happily look forward to many more hours commuting knowing that I have her sweet and sultry voice to keep me company. 

Unfortunately, all of my time spent on the road listening to Pandora, NPR, and Gwen Stefani leaves little time for much else, but somehow I still manage to…

2. Read

I do have a goal to reach this year!

Just yesterday I finished The Flower Workshop by Ariella Chezar and Julie Michaels and Your Idea Starts Here by Carolyn Eckert.


The Flower Workshop was an amazing read and one that has inspired me to try putting together a beautiful flower arrangement using one of the many recipes and tips she provides in this prettily designed how-to. In fact, this is a book I highly encourage anyone with the tiniest bit of interest in floral design to get. The authors provide lots of useful information about how to arrange flowers, which flowers are best in which seasons, and how to care for your newly designed floral arrangement. All 250+ pages make for a fast and easy read (unless you are reading Germany For Beginners) as you ooh and ahh over the images. Trust me – you want this book. And if you aren't a flower person, you can always impress visitors and break the ice by using it as a coffee table book. I won't tell. ;)


Your Idea Starts Here, while good in conceptualization and an equally fast read (as compared to The Flower Workshop) didn't quite live up to the high standards I had for it. You know how I like using blog prompts as lead-ins to help me write my blog posts? That's what I expected with Your Idea Starts Here, and maybe you get a tiny bit of it, but, I have to be honest, no prompt in the book made me excited or intrigued and ready to start a creative-process. I don't have any other book recommendations for idea-needing people, but I can suggest saving your money and using pinterest or google in your creativity process. Sometimes something as simple as sitting down with a pen and paper and creating a mind map can be helpful. (Apparently you can do this online as well!)

Then there is …

3. Photoshop

which I don't do nearly often enough. I get irritated with color matching. Then I publish an image I'm not certain of on Instagram and get 20 likes almost immediately…

A photo posted by Mandy on


I'm not asking questions.

4. Blogging

I love to write. Yes, I would love it if you all would click some links for me and buy some things, but, really, I don't know what I would do if I didn't have my daily creative outlet of writing. 

Probably go crazy. 

Or be lonely…  

Something like that.

And finally… 

5. Travel

Really it's the planning that I love. 

And the going.

And everything in between! :)

What do you like to do during your spare time? Anything on my list?

* Both the books and album were received for free in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

In 10 Days Or Your Money Back!


Today's prompt for 30 Days of Lists is: Important Qualities In A Friend.

My answer: Disney World.

I know. It makes no sense.

Or does it?

As we all do, whether in answering questions from friends, colleagues, or teachers, we have to answer based on our own personal experience. How do we want to answer the question? What exactly is it that we want to communicate to our audience?

My answer is based partially on "wordless Wednesday" and the pictures I have available for editing as well as a run-off from yesterday's blog post.

First of all, I wouldn't have this picture except for my attendance at the wedding of a friend in November. Justin and I spent our time in Orlando (before and after the wedding) visiting my favorite theme park in the world. (I haven't visited very many, so I'm not sure that counts for much?)

Then … there are so many aspects of this found in the Disney theme parks, but have you ever seen the attraction "It's A Small World"? The gist is that we are all different/unique but still one world: an important message after the Brussel's attacks yesterday. (Anyone else sick of the "Be afraid! Be very afraid!" message the media is touting? How about we just come together in support of the people in Belgium?) Anyway, that "same but different" message can also be found in Cinderella's castle. In fact, all throughout the park you see a conglomeration of cultures through architectural design and amongst the rides and food that make everything and everyone seem as though they are one.

Of course there is also beauty in celebrating differences as being different … and not one. But whatever. That's not what I'm trying to emphasize here. ;)

So what am I saying? What does the Disney castle or theme park have to do with "friendship qualities" anyway?

Well, in my humble opinion, the idea comes down to this: Differences are beautiful. :)

A good friend will love you and be there for you no matter what, even if you are different (and maybe occasionally make the wrong decision even where they are concerned). They will love you where you are at. Because only in doing so, in loving you just as you are (Thanks Billy Joel!), it provides you (the friendee?) the opportunity and freedom to grow and change … and become an even better, stronger, more courageous, confident individual (and perhaps a better friend to them in the process!).

Got it?

Be the friend you wish you had, accepting of all, and discover how you can become a better person in the process.

Can I sell that? Maybe if I add the phrase "in 10 days or your money back!"? ;)

Does all of this make sense?

Man! I hope so. The mind is a confusing place, and trying to write it out can get complicated!

Hope everyone is having a good week so far. We've made it halfway through! :)

Facing Fears Through Travel Abroad

Germany – May, 2014

Over the past 15 or so years, I've been talking with a guy who lives in Germany.

I only vaguely remember the first conversation we had…

I had just signed up for German language class at my high school. My best friend was taking it and she said the teacher was easy and fun! Easy, I thought? Sure! Why not! My first choice might have been French, but I was hoping to ace all of my classes in high school so that I could get into a good the best college. In that sense, an easy class sounded like a win to me!

At the time, during my first few weeks of classes as a freshman in highschool, I didn't have a lot of homework. My English class was easy – we watched movies all the time. I'm pretty sure my English teacher didn't believe in reading and writing. And math? Meh. I could handle algebra; it was geometry that gave me issues. Then there was orchestra and gym which didn't require any homework. And then biology. We had a new teacher that scouted out the biggest, most complicated Waffle House order you could get … and a kid that went by the nickname of OJ (for orange juice). *sigh* To be a freshman again… ;)

Anyway, since my best friend always had migraines and I couldn't drive yet, I spent most of my afternoons online in chat rooms talking with strangers. (Oh how my after school activities would make today's helicopter parents cringe!) In the end, I think it was good for me. I learned so much about the world through the eyes of these other people. My online friends ranged from people in my same state to people from all over the world. Really, it was a fantastic learning experience! 

Italy – May, 2014
But back to the story…

One day I was doing my typical chat room thing when this guy came online. As it turns out he was German and we had a really crazy long conversation. Like … 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon until maybe 6 or 7pm? Yeah, long. It was really a lot of fun though. I remember my parents had to practically drag me away from the computer; they wanted to go out to eat. (Funny how a person remembers the most random things!)

Of course this wouldn't be a story worth sharing if that had been where the friendship ended. 

I don't remember if we did the long conversation thing again the next day … or the day after that … or the day after that. Heck! I don't remember if I met him on a Friday or a Tuesday or a Wednesday. I have no idea what we talked about, and I don't even know when or why or how we exchanged contact details. But we did. Apparently. Because there were many more long conversations over the course of that year and in the years to follow.

In fact, I remember inviting him to a few parties jokingly. It was like you're not really going to come, but why not?

And then I invited him and his (now) wife to my wedding.

If you've been following my blog for any length of time, you know this story. This isn't the first time I've shared it. If you haven't, here's the gist: He came. 

I had friends that live in the US that couldn't even be bothered to come! People that live in the same state as me! I had to call and beg people in my wedding party to show up on the day of my wedding! Argh! Like, seriously?!

Italy – May, 2014

Anyway, so when these Germans showed up at the wedding, I didn't have to tell Justin that reciprocation would be imperative. Of course, the question was: when?

Fighting the battle between paying down student loan debt and deciding when to take what we deemed as an elaborate vacation, our hearts and minds struggled to make sense of European travel. But when our friends announced their engagement, I knew the time had come. (Or at least if they wanted us there, anyway.)

Planning that trip was beyond stressful. Apparently, my parents had ingrained into my mind that you don't go to Europe or fly anywhere unless you are rich. And then the knowledge that we, as Americans, get angry when people come to our country and don't know English freaked me out even further. Basically, to go to Germany for a wedding, I had to face many of my biggest fears.

In the end, everything worked out. Justin and I managed to get by in France without a translator, somehow we got to Germany even though we didn't understand the French GPS, we made it through a German wedding despite my lack of people-skills, and … in the end we were better for all of it.

I learned many valuable things about myself and what it means to travel during that first time abroad. Like…

• You don't have to be rich to travel. You just have to be savvy and take advantage of deals as you see them.

• Booking a plane ticket when you've never done so can be confusing and complicated. Always check and re-check before ordering.

• Hotel points help you save money, but can also cost money if you aren't careful.

• The geography there is not as complicated as I originally thought. I learned more about the map through planning (or helping to plan) a trip to Europe than I ever did in school. 

• Language isn't as important in Europe as it is in America. If you don't speak English (or in some cases Spanish), and you visit the US, you are out of luck. In Europe though, you can get by. (This doesn't mean you shouldn't try to learn the language – just that it's ok if you aren't good at it.)

• People there are generally pretty friendly and will try to help you out if you need assistance. I had been warned that the French were mean … and recently, through web searches, discovered that the Germans are rude. Try not to make assumptions before you go; you may find yourself surprised!

• I've also learned far more about history and art while traveling than I ever did in a class.

I'm so grateful that I had a push (or friend) to encourage me to venture out of my comfort zone.

So what do you think about travel? Have you ever been abroad? If you have, did you face any of the same fears and worries that I had?

***Linking up with Lauren on Location, Marcella from What a Wonderful World, and The Sunny Side of This

Germany For Beginners Review


Happy second day of spring, my friends!

Can you believe that the first season of the year has already come to a close?

While I'm sad to see the chilly months of winter go, I must admit that March has already been far more exciting and fun than February ever could have been. I haven't been sick once this month (Yay!), and our weekends have been filled to the brim with new and exciting experiences.

One of the more interesting things I have had the opportunity to do this month was read and review Germany For Beginners, a book written by expat bloggers that is complete with blog entries written on various topics important to expats living in or considering living in German-speaking countries. Of course, even if you aren't considering becoming an expat, Germany For Beginners is rich in the intimate details of the German culture which makes Germany both more and less familiar to Germany visiting travelers.

Despite the fact that my husband and I have gone on multiple trips to visit with German citizens whom we consider friends, Germany For Beginners still had a lot to teach us. Here are a few things that we didn't know:

• Wait at least 30 minutes if you accidentally hit another car in a parking lot or you can get heavily fined.
• Tithing goes through the government and is dispersed equally among churches.
• Your college path (or not) is decided in elementary school.
• German dogs must be trained. (It's as important as providing food for them!)
• You can irk a German just by opening a window on the train! ;) #ThingsToTry
• And no matter what, never ever ever go to a sauna in Germany. (Personal life lesson.)

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and was disappointed when I got to the end. Germany For Beginners doesn't flow, is far from concise, and feels a bit clumsy in structure, but it provides lots of useful information for Germany enthusiasts. I had fun comparing my knowledge of the culture to what was shared in the book.

Germany For Beginners is a great book for those interested in learning more about the German culture (albeit from the eyes of an expat observer), and for potential (or current) expats trying to make their way through the very unique life change that is moving to Germany.

While the book is not yet available for purchase, keep an eye out for it to become available later this year here. You can also check out the German-Way blog here to learn more about the authors and familiarize yourself with other topics regarding expat life in Germany.

So… what are your thoughts? Are you ready for spring? Are you intrigued about cultures different from your own? Do you think a book written by and for expats can be just as useful (in a different way) for travelers to foreign countries?

Packing 101 – Items I Am Most Likely To Forget

Prague – January, 2016

On Tuesday I shared a few of the lesser thought of items you should take with you when you are going on a trip. Sometimes though, even if you are extremely well-organized, you forget things. Travel planning can be a hard, long, involved process that I can only imagine gets more difficult when you incorporate traveling out of the country or taking along kids. While I don't have kids and I don't frequently go beyond a state or two away from my home, the following are the things I am most likely to forget when I travel:

1. Sunscreen.

And unfortunately, I'm picky. I like the Aveeno Sunscreen Protect Plus Hydrate Lotion SPF 70. It doesn't smell nearly as strong as other sunscreens and it doesn't leave my skin feeling oily. And best of all: because it doesn't feel oily, the product doesn't run down your forehead and into your eyes causing them to sting or hurt! (I hate that feeling! And it makes you feel so gross when your sunscreen runs! Ick!) I will quite literally go out of my way and pay more to purchase this product over more traditional or store brand sunscreens.

2. Acne Pads

Up until recently I didn't really deal with acne too much. I'd get a problem spot maybe once or twice a year? Maybe. But shortly before Christmas, I ended up with three spots right in a row. After a month of using my typical methods, I decided to try the Mario Badescu buffering lotion; desperate means call for desperate measures. I wanted clear skin for Christmas. Three months later I have red spots on my face that are proof of my desperation. :( Argh. Was it caused by the new product? Was I just not patient enough? Will I ever get the "You've got great skin!" compliment again?!?

Now I'm all for pre-treatment – there is no waiting when a pimple is involved. The moment I think a spot may be a-brewing, I reach for my creams (benzoyl peroxide) and pads (salicylic acid). Of course, when you are on a weekend vacation, it's hard to imagine that it only takes a day for that spot-of-dread to appear. If I remember, I like to have my Neutrogena Rapid Clear Treatment Pads with me. Not only do they rid my face of the nasty acne that has magically appeared overnight, but, when I'm at the beach, they also help to keep my skin shine free. Score! x 2!

Pick a color! Any color!
3. Hair Ties

Last summer Justin and I had ample opportunity to spend time at the beach. We were going practically once a month.  And, I kid you not, every single time I would forget a hair tie. Every time. Most trips I would just ignore it, be hot, try to work with bobby pins, and immediately get my hair done at the salon upon returning home. (Blow outs ftw!) But finally, on one particularly complicated trip to Charleston where I walked downtown in shoes that wouldn't stay on my feet and picked a particularly awful hotel (in terms of customer service, the room wasn't bad), Justin decided to buy me new flip flops and hair ties at a local convenience store. That was the trip (and moment) when I became one of those girls that constantly has a hair tie wrapped around their wrist. And you have no idea how useful I have found doing that one thing has been for me! Now, whether I'm grocery shopping or hiking, I can put my hair up on a whim. Who needs to remember a hair tie when you always have it wrapped around your wrist? #GoodIdeas

4. Bandages – Specifically for Blisters

I don't seem to have a problem remembering allergy medication or aspirin, but bandages?! I never have them when I need them! Those shoes that were comfortable two hours ago? Now they aren't. I'm getting a blister. Argh. And even if I did remember to bring a band-aid of some sort, it's probably in the hotel room or my car. Why would I have what I need with me when I need it? That would make too much sense! So into a drugstore or convenience store we go paying far too much for something I could have brought from home for so much cheaper. Oh well. Maybe next time.

5. Chargers, of some sort.

Nine times out of ten, I tell Justin to pack his chargers right after he pulls his whatever off of them before we go on a trip. Done charging your phone? Into the bag goes the charger. Done charging your ipad? same. But, even though I rarely forget my chargers, there is always one that Justin leaves behind. Typically, as odd as it sounds, it's the charging cable for the battery he uses to charge his phone when he's not near an outlet. Go figure, right?

So, lesson learned? When you are ready to pack a device, put the charging cable in your bag first. From personal experience, you are less likely to forget the actual device.

"Another one bites the dust!"
6. Headphones

I had a pair at one time that I got in exchange for the return of a scarf I received as a gift at Christmas time. I was quite proud of those $15 turquoise and black headphones which I managed to hang on to for years and years and years. Then, finally, I lost them. In Asheville, NC. We were getting out of the car to go into our hotel for the night and I stuffed the headphones into my pocket thinking I could listen to music if I couldn't sleep. As it turns out, I didn't have any trouble sleeping and only remembered the next morning as we pulled away to go home that my headphones were missing. And that my friends, is the beginning of the story of how I now lose cheap and expensive headphones every time I travel. 

7. Memory Cards for the Camera

I always have at least one 64 gig – in the camera. If that's not enough …? I actually ran into that problem recently at Disney World. My options were: 1) spend countless moments deleting images and wasting time or 2) go ride the rides and forget about it. I went along with option 2 which was only sad because we were there to see the Osborne Dancing Lights, a Christmas light show that (as of this year, 2016) is no longer in existence. Needless to say we learned from that mistake. Before going to Europe in December, Justin and I bought no less than 4 new memory cards and a credit card size holder for them. Woot!

Hotels only provide so much
8. Hygiene everything.

I've already talked about acne pads, but what about razors for beach travel, tampons for that time of the month, deodorant for sporty-trips, and toothbrushes for … clean teeth? I know I'm not the only one to have walked out of the house and forgotten one of those things. They are so easy to forget when 99.9% of the things you are packing are found in the bedroom while these are all found in the bathroom. I guess, like your phone/camera/ipad/laptop charger, after your last use of these items before your trip, take the time to put them in your travel bag. 

Another idea? Keep spare toiletries in your travel bag at all times. Just make sure you remember to reconfigure your bag/toiletries so that they will pass TSA regulations so that you don't get stopped or checked at the airport. That would be frustrating.

9. PJs or Sleepwear

What? You didn't want to sleep in the nude, did you?

OK, so maybe you did. – My bad. Carry on. ;)

Realistically though, my husband and I tend to schedule our trips wherein we: wake up … and drive. To the airport, to the location, wherever.  The last thing we touch in the morning is our sleepwear. So, in a mass of tangled up sheets and blankets from where the bed was(n't) made, you can find our forgotten sleepwear (or not). 

Of course, I'm usually pretty particular. The bed has to be made before going somewhere. Everything in the room has to be picked up and clean. If we were to die on our trip, I'd want the first people that enter our living space to think: "Wow! They were so clean!" If only we could maintain that frame of mind for our everyday living as well. 

10. And finally, snacks.

As of this morning I'm loving on the Quaker Breakfast flats. So crunchy and delicious! I'm not sure what "other natural flavors" are but the cranberry almond flavor is delightful! 

To be truthful though, when I travel I'm not that healthy. Yes I do love the freshly squeezed orange juice that you find all over Europe. And the breads without preservatives?! Hot chocolate made with real chocolate. And cheese. And salami. (I won't touch salami in the states!) And wine. All of the wine.

Yes, European food is heaven.

But for the plane I like to go bad to the boneFrench lemonade and gummy bears, please! 

It's a good thing I don't fly much.

So what items do you typically forget? Do you bring special things depending on your mode of travel? Are you more likely to forget an item for one particular type of trip over another? Is there anything you do to prevent future packing forgetfulness?
* I'm blogging my way through the #30Lists in March. You should too. :)

My Family x 2


You met my family last month in this post. We are a conglomeration of misfits.

Marriages, divorces, arguments, distance, step-grandparents, step-cousins, second cousins… All of it! Depending on how you count Justin and I have: 6 grandparents living, 4 parents, 14 aunts and uncles, 19 cousins (not including significant others), 1 nephew, 19 second cousins, 1 sister, 1 brother, 1 sister-in-law, and 1 brother-in-law.

Phew! Things get pretty intense!

Because of that, for this blog post, I'm going to focus on my chosen family: my husband. He's the least complicated of everything and everyone else in my life.

He can best be described as: loving.

Think about it.

I blog about him: he sticks around. I keep him so busy that he doesn't have a chance to relax: he loves me anyway. I argue with him; we fight. He stays. I spend all of his money on clothes and books; he gives me more. (Ok, maybe that's just a wish.) Point is – he is a good husband. He loves me unconditionally. If I were to marry again tomorrow, I can only hope that I would choose a man as honorable, trustworthy, and understanding as he is.

Justin is my one call away. :)

"No matter where you go
You know you're not alone. 

I'm only one call away.
I'll be there to save the day.
Superman got nothing on me.
I'm only one call away."

Thanks Charlie Puth. :)

Oh – and you too, husband.

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

* I'm blogging my way through the #30Lists in March. You should too. :)

March Mid-Month Update

Disney World Magic Kingdom – November 2015

Remembering: nothing and everything. Europe, Disney World, last year at this time, Fuller House?!?!

My problem is usually that I remember and think too much. I'd rather not.

Planning: Another trip to Europe. What can I say? I'm obsessed! I haven't booked tickets or anything, but I'm on the watch for a good/great price. And I'm not too picky about where I'm going either. I just want to start getting places checked off of my bucket list.

Anxiously Awaiting: my future. I feel like it's very uncertain/unstable and that scares me.

Interested to Know: why I can't figure out a good color workflow. Images look great in photoshop and then I go to print and BLEH. Is there something wrong with my eyes? My laptop? The lighting in the room where I edit? There are so many variables. I don't understand how so many people consistently get everything right without knowing the first thing about photography or photo editing. Of course, clearly I know less after 10 years of experimenting than I ever thought I did. I just find it so aggravating! Why can't I get it right?

Listening to: 80s pop, 90s country, and NPR. 

Oh – and Charlie Puth. Specifically "One Call Away":



I'm not sure I'm a fan yet, but he has a good voice (and plays the piano!). I'd like to see what he does next. The kids I watch are obsessed with this song. I think they like the Superman part. :)

Keeping A Secret: I have a box in my car trunk that needs to be shipped (and has needed to since January). I keep putting it off. #Life #Adulting

DIY'ing: I'm not really DIY'ing anything, but I think maybe I should be translating those German books we got in January for my nephew. I close my computer every day at 8PM and try to do things offline (which typically includes reading). Maybe I should be translating instead? Then again, I'm reading a pretty awesome book…

Reading: an advanced copy of Germany For Beginners written by some of my favorite expat bloggers. As it turns out I'm not just obsessed with going to Germany (and Europe), I'm also obsessed with trying to understand the culture.

I'm also reading a few other books including Anna Karenina. I have a hard time focusing on one book when I receive another awesome book for free!

What are you up to this month? Anything fun or worth sharing about?

Remember To –

Prague – January 2016

When you are traveling, it can be easy to get caught up in packing lists, shopping, and planning, but there are a few other things you absolutely must not forget – especially if you are going abroad! This list is geared specifically toward the American traveler, but it's possible you can use it as guidelines if you are from another country.

1. Have an ID with you. 

 If you are going out of the country, you MUST have your passport or passport card (for travelers to Canada or Mexico) with you. You'll need to check with your cruise line if you are planning on taking a cruise. Also, be sure you have plenty of empty pages if you plan on traveling between countries. And check to make sure it is not expired. If it is or you need additional pages, you'll need a minimum of 6-8 weeks to get your new passport. 

A driver's license is also crucial if you plan on driving or renting a car. You can obtain a translation of your driver's license from AAA, but that isn't absolutely necessary. (Plus it costs. And expires.) Be sure to take a passport photo with you if you do decide to get the translation.

2. Print your hotel information and any tickets (for events, flights, etc…) to take with you. 

While in Prague, one hotel claimed I had only purchased one room when I had, in fact, purchased two. They could not find the additional room in the system. The internet on my phone was flakey, so I was grateful to have a piece of paper in my bag that had my information and confirmation on it. Would they have required us to pay for a second room if I had not had that sheet of paper? I don't know, and I never want to find out… 

What happened to me at the hotel could happen to you … at a hotel, at the airport, or even for a ticketed event. As long as you have proof with you that you purchased whatever it is, you should be fine even if they are forced to give you a refund. I also recommend always purchasing these types of things with your credit card so that you can dispute if things go wrong. (Some credit cards also offer insurance – travel, rental, and purchase protection). 

On another note, if you find yourself in another country where you don't speak the language, you can always get directions by showing others the printed information you have with you. 

3. Let banks know of your travel plans. 

What happens if you make a purchase in Alabama one day and New York the next? … Or China?!? Most likely, especially if it is a large purchase, your bank will go "WWHHHHAAATTTT?!?!" and block your account. You only thought you were going to travel. Now you are stuck without any ability to get or use money. Even if you call the bank, they will most likely have to send you a new card … to your home address? :( Sucks to be you. 

But if you let your banks know in advance, you can avoid the risk. 

Chase Sapphire is awesome. If they see you make a hotel purchase (or two or three), they will email you and say "Hey! We see you are going out of town! It's cool. Have fun!" 

And Schwab? No exchange fees! Woot! And they have even offered to ship debit cards to our hotel, if we needed them to! Instead we offered to pay for 2 day shipping so that we would get the cards before traveling. But seriously – that customer service?! The best!  

4. Let family, neighbors, and the postmaster know of your travel plans. 

Want your mail piling up in your mailbox? Or what about packages being stolen from your front stoop? Tell the postmaster to hold all of your mail until you return … 

Or get family (or a neighbor) to come by and collect your mail. You could also get them to check on a pet or house sit too. 

But most importantly – let someone know where you are going. If something happens, like 9/11 or the more recent shootings in Paris, someone will know how to get in touch with you to find out if you are alright. The last thing you want is for people back home to worry needlessly. 

5. Finally, and this is the best advice you will ever receive (and the hardest to follow!), lay out everything you think you need and take half (or less). 

Think the airline won't lose your checked luggage? Think again! That's what the Unclaimed Baggage Store in Alabama is for. 

Think you won't forget something? Yeah, right. 

Think rolling bags make it easy to get heavy luggage from bus to train to cab to plane? Think again. How much faster could you walk with a backpack? 

Anything you could possibly need can be found elsewhere. Try to pack only the necessities. Your back, arms, and cab driver will thank you. 

Is there anything I've missed on my list? What do you consider vital for traveling?

* I'm blogging my way through the #30Lists in March. You should too. :)

Movie Monday!: Spring 2016 Edition

About a month ago, Justin and I had the opportunity to house sit near where I work. Instead of a commute time of an hour or more (!), my commute time became two (!!!!) minutes! (Yes, you read that correctly. I could literally walk to work.) Anyway, while we were staying there, we decided to take advantage of some of our favorite things to do in the area – mainly watching $6 movies within 10 minutes of the house. (See a movie on a work night? You can do it when you live so close and the movies cost so little!)

Anyway, here are a few of the movies we saw and my review of them:


Deadpool

Sometimes it's hard to determine what will be a good movie and what won't. I distinctly remember sitting in the theatre watching the trailer for this movie and thinking to myself: "I am never going to see this movie. Ever." Spiderman-guy with white eyes? creepy. But it's Marvel. And rated R. (Don't take your kids.) And did we mention Blake Lively's husband Ryan Reynolds is in it?

Anyway, Deadpool is the story of a guy who falls in love, proposes, then discovers he has cancer. Rather than go through chemo treatments and radiation, he decides to take up an offer to become a "super hero", leaving his super model girlfriend in the middle of the night praying he will one day be able to return to her in full health. The thing Deadpool doesn't realize is that this "becoming a superhero" business isn't all it's cracked up to be. After the loss of his beautiful facial features (he is Ryan Reynolds!), Deadpool decides that enough is enough and blows up the joint attempting to kill the "doctor" who ruined him. But the "doctor" survives coming after Deadpool and his wife-to-be. This is a superhero movie, so I won't give away who wins, but, let me tell you, this is a fun, sitting on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of movie.

Go see it.

Without the kids. 

You deserve it.


Zootopia

After you get back from Deadpool, go watch it again. ;) But then you can take your rug rats to see Zootopia, which you've no doubt heard tons about every time your kids have turned on the tv. (Does Disney channel repeat the same commercials over and over a zillion times a day?)

Zootopia is the heartwarming story of the little rabbit who could. Judy Hopps grew up in a small town called Hoppville just outside of Zootopia. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a cop, but her parents discouraged it "No rabbit has ever been a cop, Judy! Don't you want to be something else?" Nevertheless, Judy followed her dreams becoming the first rabbit to ever complete cop school … only to find herself in Zootopia as a Meter Maid, not exactly her dream job. When Judy gets wind of a kidnapping ring, she decides to solve the case herself. Her boss gives her 48 hours; the end result is a wild "goose chase" full of comedy, tears, and lessons learned. Will Judy become the cop she has always wanted to be? Will she make a difference in the world?

The story is heartwarming and gives children a positive message.



Hail Caesar

I loved the Coen Brothers movie O' Brother, Where Art Thou?, so I was excited to see Hail Caesar. Would it be as uniquely styled? As funny? No matter – a movie with Scarlett Johansen and George Clooney is a must-see!

Eddie Mannix has an offer to change away from his movie studio job in California at Capital Pictures during the 1950s, and the offer couldn't have come at a better time. All of the actors and actresses under his authority seem to be finding trouble and he has to discover a way to head off the media. The company's most famous actor has been captured by communists, a singing cowboy gets placed in the acting role of a snooty ballroom dancer with money, and one of his beautiful, dancing swimmers finds herself pregnant and unwed. Can he solve all of their problems? Should he move on to a better-paying job?

Hail Caesar wasn't what I imagined it would be, but it was still good. Perhaps 3 out of 5 stars? There was comedy (Hello Clooney!) and surprises that kept me entertained throughout. Even the design of the picture was lovely. Who knows how hard it is to recreate Hollywood 1950? … But would I watch it again? … No, probably not. The story seemed to mis-mashed for me. It was hard to follow and not really believable. (How many people would be kidnapped and just accept it without trying to break free?) If you like the Cohen Brothers though, you might like this. Just give it a shot – that's the only way to know. :)

Have you had the chance to see any awesome movies recently? Have you see any of the ones I mentioned in this post? If you have, what did you think? If not, will you be seeing them any time in the near future?