The Places I've Been…

Not too long ago, I read an article about using travel to improve your photography. People are always saying "buy this or buy that". It can be easy to get lost in the maddening cycle of debt as you purchase new equipment that will supposedly improve your photography.

Until it doesn't.

The idea is that new equipment doesn't really change your mindset. It doesn't give you new experiences or challenge your creativity. Yes, you might be able to get a closer shot from where your standing with a telephoto lens than with a macro lens, but what about using your feet to get closer? This isn't to say that your feet will solve all of your photography desires, but pushing yourself to go further with the equipment you already have will certainly help.

Sometimes, when we are in the same place for an extended period of time, we learn to see what we expect to see. A flower is just a flower. That building that was there two days ago? It's still there. And so you take a picture (or not) and move on. It's all haphazard with a "who cares?" attitude. You aren't taking the time to see anything in a new light.

Travel, on the other hand, forces you to see things differently. While people who live in the desert see sand (or perhaps an annoyance during dust storms), you, as a visitor, may see it as a majestic new landscape. The snow others are so used to in the north may not appear nearly as beautiful as it might to a visitor from the south who rarely sees it.

And thus, just like that, your vision of the world is changed. You have managed to capture something in a different way that perhaps someone who lives there has been blinded to. Yes, you are probably still going to go in debt (please don't!), but the money spent will be on memories rather than objects.

Of course, I also think that you can focus too much on capturing memories or moments and lose sight of actual events or things you are doing. There is definitely a balance between capturing the beauty of the world and still remaining a part of it.

Through my ongoing effort to become a better photographer, my husband has fully supported me by taking me to more than 22 cities in 5 countries within the past 4 years, sixteen of which we have visited in this past year alone!

Take a gander at my favorite images from the places we've been and consider: does travel improve your photographic vision and help you to become better? Do you think it's worth more than, for example, a new camera lens?

Trump Building: NYC, NY (July 2013)

Boston, MA (July 2013)

Montparnasse Tower: Paris, France (May 2014)

south Germany (May 2014)

Neuschwanstein Castle: Schwangau, Germany (May 2014)

Austria (May 2014)

Venice, Italy (May 2014)

Portovenere, Italy (May 2014)

Calanques National Park: Marseille, France (May 2014)

Bowens Island Restaurant: Charleston, SC (May 2016)

Biltmore Estates: Asheville, NC (November 2014)

Delta Queen Hotel: Chattanooga, TN (October 2013)

The Sundial at the Westin Hotel: Atlanta, GA (August 2013)

Sunset Coastal Grill: Port St. Joe, FL (May 2014)

Jacksonville Beach: Jacksonville, FL (May 2015)

Botany Bay Plantation: Edisto Island, SC (July 2015)

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom: Orlando, FL (November 2015)

Strasbourg, France (December 2015)

Stuttgart, Germany (December 2015)

Schwäbisch Hall, Germany (January 2016)

Prague Castle: Prague, Czech Republic (January 2016)

Dresden, Germany (January 2016)

Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz:
Schandau, Germany (January 2016)

Have you been to any of these places? Do you have a favorite place to visit and photograph? Do you think travel can really expand your mind and help you to improve your photography?

* This list and number of places been does not include Savannah or DC, neither of which I could find pictures of. :-/

*** Wanderful Wednesday hosts: Lauren of Lauren on LocationVan of Snow in TromsoIsabel of The Sunny Side of This  and Marcella of What a Wonderful World

Memorial Day

Photo courtesy of Skeeze via Creative Commons.
Thinking of all the veterans who have served for my country on this beautiful Monday…

and vacationing with my wonderful husband. :)

Happy Memorial Day all!

Memorial Day Sale!

I haven't done a fashion post in a while and, as of next Friday this blog is about to go knee deep into travel posts (and Friday food posts), so we are going to go light for this post as I share a few of my most desired clothing prospects. Bare with me–

Blair Empire Top $49.95 and on sale this weekend for an additional 30% off

Cafe Dress $158 

Tassel Fringe Poncho $59.95 (+ additional 30% off)

Willa Rancher $59.95 (+ additional 30% off)

Swing Out Sister Sweater in frappe $39.95 (+ 25% off)

Mary-Jayne Flat in gold-glitter $99.95 (+ 25% off)

Are any of your favorite stores having a sale for the holiday weekend? Is there anything in my list of likes that you would consider buying for yourself?

Top 5 Helpful Travel Blogs For Planning Your Getaway

Planning travel can be challenging. Believe me, I know. The following are a list of travel blogs I follow that keep me updated (and inundated) with all of the newest travel news, whether it is great prices on flights or hotels, how to earn "free" points toward a "free" stay/flight, and, most importantly, what to do when you get to where you are going.

Through these sites I have learned about:
• TSA Pre-check
• the usefulness of the Chase Sapphire credit card
• how to get and maintain status with hotel chains (It's easier than you'd think!)

and been one of the first to know about
• crucial changes in travel (like Delta changing their upgrade policy for frequent flyers)

Travel blogs can be incredibly useful for not only helping you find the perfect deal to get you in the air, but also helping you to know what to expect once you are on the ground, wherever that may be! Read through a few of my descriptions and see if following any of these blogs is the right choice for you!

A conglomeration of bloggers are combined together in this blogging community. Topics are vast and varied and in some cases seem to not relate to travel at all! Learn how to better save your money, and, when you are spending money, discover new ways to make that money go further and get you more. The bloggers in this community also often feature giveaways providing you a chance to win free travel and amenities!

Most bloggers on this site focus their topics toward American readers, however, recently they've been growing to accommodate a wider audience. Now, occasionally, I see German, Spanish, and Canadian posts as well, which I imagine are more accommodating for people who live in those other countries. :)

Overall, I find the site to be incredibly useful, and highly recommend using a blog reader to stay caught up on the goings-ons of the Boarding Area bloggers. You never know when something useful will be shared! :)

The Points Guy (or TPG) was one of the first travel blogs that I ever began following. I had learned about the Travel Hacking Cartel on The Penny Hoarder, but I wasn't interested in paying for "free" travel opportunities. One blogger (of whom I never followed and thus can't direct you to) recommended following The Points Guy and keeping up with FlyerTalk Forums. Frankly, I'm typically too busy to keep up with a forum as big as that one, but a blog is definitely feasible! Now, any time I know I'm going somewhere, I google "tpg" or "the points guy" + wherever I'm going, to see what he recommends. Usually he lists out hotels with their prices and point requirements for all of the major American chains as well as activities and restaurants that you can find in the area. And he has covered a lot of ground! As if that's not enough, you can download the TPG app, if you are an American, and use it to browse the website, keep track of your credit card rewards, and decide which credit card will benefit you the most when you are out and about spending money.

Personally, I love TPG and his app. Sometimes, I don't know how I ever lived without it! (hint: I didn't travel then.)

Justin and I actually had the privilege of going to hear Matt Kepnes speak about his book How To Travel The World On $50 A Day. While I wasn't thrilled with the book, I do enjoy reading Kepnes' blog posts and watching his travel tutorials on CreativeLive. It's nice seeing a down-to-earth guy living out his dream of traveling and blogging. Plus, recently he put together a non-profit organization called FLYTE where he sends underprivileged youth on trips around the world! Truly, Matt Kepnes is one of my favorite travel bloggers and such a delight to read and learn from!

If deals are what you are seeking, Fare Deal Alert, Flight Deal, and Mighty Travels all have you covered. I'm not sure how they do it, but they scope out the best flight deals around the web and put them all in one place for easy finding and clicking. Keep up with the blogs on a reader though, because otherwise you may miss out on a really great deal! Recently I've seen posts featuring flights to Europe for as low as $300 for the fall! And flights to Australia for as low as $500! When you follow blogs like these, you never know what you will find!

5. Extreme Hotel Deals

Another site featuring great deals, Extreme Hotel Deals are definitely extreme. Dates shared can range from tomorrow to next year, so it's helpful if you have a trip already in the making before you begin to follow EHD. Hotels at good prices sell out quickly, and the ones shared here are no exception! In fact, these hotel deals are probably the rule since more than your typical two or three travelers are following EHD. Keep an eye out and plan well in advance are the lessons you will learn from EHD.

So, what are you waiting for?! Get started planning your next trip now! :)

Are you a fan of travel blogs? If so, which ones? Did you already follow any of these?

May Budget Update

Photo via VisualHunt

Some of you are new to my blog, so let me recap:

In the first few months of marriage, I let my husband handle all of the expenses. I didn't take time to look at anything financial. That was his job right? As husband? As "head of the household"? (Of course, this goes against the assumption that I would ever let anyone rule over me! I'm pretty stubborn.)

Anyway, only a few months into the marriage, I realized nothing was happening. Instead of our debts being paid down, we were … doing the opposite?

So, with pen and paper in hand I wrote out all of our monthly expenses. I organized our bills so that, the two times of month Justin got paid, would be split evenly among all. (My payment schedule used to be monthly and is now weekly, so we've never gone by that.)

The experience of writing down all of our bills and splitting them up was excruciating, time consuming, and hurt my non-analytical brain. To make matters worse, I didn't even get everything right! I missed accounting for a large number of bills! The first month an extra charge occurred for a bill I hadn't account for, I found myself in shock! Was I going to have to go through the whole process again?

Well, the answer was yes. By December of 2012, I was at it again. Comparing our budgets and breaking them apart, making them work for us rather than against us. That's when I realized that budgeting and dealing with finances is not a one time thing; it's something you have to do over and over and over again…

I started blogging about my financial goals to keep me in check. Blog readers are a great way to keep one accountable to their goals.

And so, once a month (typically), I update the blog on #moneyMonday sharing where I am and what I have achieved. I've definitely noticed in the time since beginning this project that what is going on in my life and how stressed I am definitely affects how well I do on any given month. It can be hard to stay on top of budgeting!

If you want to read my financial story, I recommend starting here. All of my other posts related to the topic of money can be found here.


green = this year; yellow = last

Spending (this month only)
green = this year; yellow = last

• We have spent less this month, so far, than we did last year or even last month! Yay!
• Problem areas seem to be food (Justin's fault) and travel (mine).
• But look at how little (clothes) shopping I've done recently! I'd call that a win! :)
• Justin managed to get the sebring fixed last month, so gas (despite being higher in cost) should be lower overall this month. (He was driving a Ford F-150.)
• Fees and charges: We had to pay for our Chase Sapphire rewards card which we agreed was worth it. Since owning it, we have been able to book and pay for 4 one way seats on Amtrak from NYC to Boston (~$400), reserve rooms at the Hyatt Regency Jersey City Hotel (~$200) and Hotel Bellevue ($486.47) in Dresden making our total cost of owning the card this year ~+$986.47. Yeah, I think it's worth owning/paying a fee for. :)
• 90% of the business service charges and $150 spent in travel will be reimbursed.


green = this year; yellow = last

• Income should be higher this month than last, which will help us with our goals.

Net Income

Net Income Graph
green = positive; red = negative

• We faced a slump from November to January and then overcame it. Our current average is +$882/month. I'd like to see that number improved, and I'm sure it will once August falls of the graph (when we bought my car).
• Then again, ticket prices for Paris just went up (and we don't have ours yet). :( I'm not sure what to expect from that and how it will affect our net income.

• June 2021 loan payoff date (improved by one month!)
• Jan 2017 credit card payoff date (worse by two months)
• emergency fund: $10,813 out of $12,000 goal
• Investments @ -5.13% :(
• Justin got approved for the Delta Gold Amex! So his credit score went up, he will be receiving 60,000 Delta miles, and a $50 credit!
• He also got approved for the Citi Double Points Rewards Card which, when we cancel our Capital One Venture, will put an additional $50/yr back in our pockets and still give us the 2% back we deserve!

How do you keep yourself accountable? Do you have a budget that you look at monthly? What are some of the best ways you've found to save money?

Five Favorite Foods I Discovered Abroad

During my travels abroad, I have come across some realllllllllyyyyy good food and some realllllllyyyy bad food. The following is my list of good food, because, frankly, my list of bad food would probably be too long to fit in one blog post. ;) I'm a picky eater.

1. Raclette

Photo courtesy of Kent Wang and nchenga via Creative Commons.
I had tasted raclette in the US before, but I'm not entirely sure it counted… Y'see, raclette in the US is (from my experience) served a bit differently than in France. Here's the gist (if you want to cook it yourself):

Sautée thinly sliced potatoes with butter. Remove the potatoes from the pan and place in a cast iron skillet. Then place chunks of raclette over the potatoes and heat in a 350º oven until melted.

So, yeah. That's cool and all. Very tasty. But it's not the way the French do it. :)

Buy here.

The French place a half round of cheese on a Bron Coucke (?) and heat until the cheese is melty. They serve raclette with cornichons (sweet pickles), bread, meat, and potatoes on the side. It can be very expensive to eat in Paris and most restaurants require that there be two or more people eating it. (I think you can see why!) However, despite the high price (which is actually even higher in the US, if you can believe that!), and the multiple people requirement, eating raclette cheese with a delicious glass of wine can take a so-so trip to Paris (or France, really) and elevate it to extraordinary. This dish is extremely good! And waiting on the cheese to melt makes the experience take even longer!

Our first experience with raclette was in a small restaurant that was well rated on yelp. We poked our head in and asked if the manager had any openings since most of the good (They are all good. Excellent, maybe? Or well rated on yelp?) restaurants in Paris require reservations. Apparently we were early enough that he did! He sat us down and gave us some of the best service we have ever had at a restaurant paying close attention to when we needed something and standing back when we were fine (very untypical of European restaurants!). Anyway, most people were ordering small dishes, but Justin wanted to go fancy. And thus, raclette it was. The whole dining experience was truly something I will never forget which is why raclette is at the top of my "favorite foods from abroad" list!

2. Brioche

Photo credit: snowpea&bokchoi via Visual Hunt / CC

Aren't all French pastries delicious? Yes, I hear what you are saying. They are indeed. But this, brioche, is very different from the American brioche loaf, which was my only experience with the bread before. I've had brioche as "French toast" which was meh, but when I saw brioche dressed up as Christmas trees and stars at my hotel in Strasbourg, I didn't have a choice but to try it! The call of the brioche was even louder than any of the other sweets that had available! (And they had a lot of sweets available!) The Alsace region of France went above and beyond all expectations for this bread, of which I didn't know the name of until after I had eaten it! Because I can tell you, had I known the name, I probably wouldn't have touched it, expecting it to be as bland and boring as what we have in the states. No, Alsatian brioche is the best. I have recipes for it in two of the French cookbooks I brought back from France; I just have to take the time to make it/try them!

3. Flammkuchen (German pizza)

Photo credit: Katrin Gilger via Visual Hunt / CC
I believe the first time I had Flammkuchen was in Paris (I know, right?!) with German friends. We had just finished watching the sunset over the eiffel tower from a tall building and they saw the restaurant and said "you have to try this!", so we did. As we walked in, our friends asked for German menus, which made ordering (for me, at least) all the more exciting. As I looked through the description of certain "pizzas" I would wonder if X ingredient was what I thought it was. Usually, it was. And then I'd wonder how do all these ingredients work together? They don't sound like they should go together! That's probably why I'm not a great cook. Either way, we ordered like 4 pizzas. One had ingredients I knew I liked, and the others were mixed bags. Mostly, I was unsure of the onions. Then, when the pizzas arrived, I was shocked to discover that the one pizza I knew I would like, I actually hated. And the pizzas I wasn't sure of? After picking off the onions, I loved them! (Yes, I was rude by picking off the onions, but the staff thought I was 12 anyway, so why not? Plus – no worries! The onions got eaten anyway! Just not by me.)

So, then when Justin and I went back to Europe for the second time in our lives, when we saw flammkuchen at the alsatian restaurant our hotel recommended to us, we jumped at the chance to try it again! This time, I did not pick off the onions! (And lived to tell the tale!) Flammkuchen is definitely a fun snack and worthwhile meal to have at least once while you are in Europe. It comes in a number of varieties from savory to sweet! Try ordering the Tarte flambée if you find yourself in pure France instead!

4. Trdelník

Photo credit: elPadawan via Visual Hunt / CC

A sweet pastry found in Czech Republic made from rolled dough that is wrapped around a stick, then grilled and topped with sugar and walnut mix (wikipedia), this delicious sweet captured my attention as I researched all that there was to do in the big city of Prague. My first experience with the pastry was at a Christmas market on a cold January night. We bought our Trdelník from a street vendor; it was warm, sweet, and delicious. Perfect for the winter night!

5. Croque-Monsieur with Pineapple

Photo credit: magerleagues via Visual Hunt / CC

During our return to our friend's home from Dresden, Germany, we stopped at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the side of the road for lunch. One look at the menu and I knew I was in trouble. Fleisch, fleisch, and more fleisch. (Meat, for those of you that don't know German.) Alternatively, I think I may have seen salat (salad) on there. But still, not what I was looking for. Didn't they have like warm vegetables that could be consumed on a cold winter day? … No? … :( I told Justin of my predicament – the only thing I wanted was eis (ice cream). (I know, that makes no sense – cold/cold, but I love ice cream and can eat it any time of day, any day of the year!) I asked Justin what should I order? He points out the Croque-Monsieur which I recognize as a French ham and cheese sandwich. But I have no idea what ananas are (pineapple). Or if they will be good with ham and cheese. Frankly, it sounds disgusting! Anyway, I order it despite my fears of grossness. Luckily, I am quite pleased when not only does my ham and cheese sandwich come with delicious, delicious pineapple (a fruit I could eat almost as often as ice cream!), but also with a maraschino cherry on top! (I swear they must have known that what I really wanted was an ice cream sundae!)

In case you are curious, fruit + ham and cheese is really good! Think about hawaiian pizza and how they serve ham, cheese, and pineapple together. Yeah, like that. So instead, this is kind of a Hawaiian ham and cheese sandwich! Or sandwich sundae! It is delicious. And I quickly got over my lack of desire for meat. How can you not when you are eating something so good? :)

So, what do you think? Have you had any of the delicious foods on my list? Will you be trying my recipe for raclette? What are some of your favorite foods you've had while traveling (whether abroad or not)?

Charles E. Moore and Timothy Keiderling's Bearing Witness

Tough decisions are what the men and women in Charles E. Moore and Timothy Keiderling's book Bearing Witness had to make. Shunned for their belief in Christ, they had to stand up for their beliefs even though they might die for those beliefs.

Take Justin Martyr for example. Once a believer and follower of Greek philosophers (including Plato), a discussion with a Christian man on a beach (possibly Ephesus) led Justin to a turn of events in which he became a strong Christian preaching the gospel as "true philosophy" and denying the Cesar was the true Lord. Justin's outspoken lifestyle gained him enemies of which intended to see him killed. Eventually Justin and a group of fellow Christians were captured and arrested, taken to speak with Junius Rusticus. When asked about his beliefs, Justin told the truth; he thought that "through prayer we can be saved on account of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we have been punished" (16). Obviously this statement angered and insulted Junius Rusticus who demanded that Justin be executed. Christians went afterward to retrieve the bodies and rejoice that so many had remained faithful to their beliefs.

But of course, Bearing Witness doesn't just provide the stories of early Christians. There are stories of modern day martyrs too.

Sarah Corson was an American missionary stationed in Sapecho, Bolivia when her opportunity to serve the Lord came knocking at her door. Military had arrived to kill her and all of the people of her town, but she was ready. Kindly she welcomed the soldiers into her home, rifles and all saying that "Because of [Jesus Christ], I can tell you that even though you kill me, I will die loving you, because God loves you. To follow him, I have to love you too" (190). The soldiers heard her livelihood plea yet gathered up the women of the village anyway to be sent to a camp where they would be raped; however, after taking some time to think it over, the head officer changed his mind. He sent everyone back to their homes knowing he could be killed if anyone ever found out. He informed Sarah that he would be attending church with the village on Sunday, whether or not she came also. And come she did! All of the villagers came and greeted the head officer with hugs and kindness proving to him, once and for all, that God does exist. He decided that perhaps death and killing weren't the best ways to interact with his enemies; perhaps there was a better way. :)

Overall Review

While at some points, Bearing Witness felt a little contrived and perhaps overdone, overall the book leaves a positive impression on the Christian faith providing encouragement for those who are perhaps struggling to follow the lead of God. The stories can be read in short snippets whether from front to back or back to front. Read only about the martyrs that interest you … or just about the early Christians. You can literally pick and choose which stories you want to read as the table of contents separates and lists out each martyr in one of four groups: early Christian martyrs, radical reformers, early modern witnesses, and recent witnesses. The stories are compelling and interesting, even if not always the most accurate. (How do these editors know exactly what was said?)

If you are looking for an encouraging book to help you continue on in your faith, Bearing Witness may be the book for you. This book reminds us just how blessed many of us are to live in a world where we are uncommonly prosecuted for our beliefs.


Want a chance to read Bearing Witness? Buy it here or…

Leave a comment…

1) Telling me about one time where you felt anxious about doing something, but did it anyway. (Like approaching a guy/gal you liked and asking them out? Or asking your boss for a raise?) 

2) Alternatively (or in addition, if you'd like), you can share your favorite martyr or martyr story (Like, for me, it would be Joan of Arc).

3) Finally, share a link to this blog post on social media (twitter, facebook, instagram, or pinterest).

and be sure to include your email address, so that I can contact you if you win. One comment per entry. Up to three entries per email address. US and Canada entrants only, 18+. Giveaway ends on 5/26/16 at midnight.

So, thoughts? Is Bearing Witness a book you would be interested in reading?

* Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.