Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wattpad - Revolutionizing the Way We Read & Write

Ever heard of Anna Todd, writer of the book After? I had not until One2One introduced me to the One Direction fan, soon-to-be published author. Married at the young age of 25, she worked at a wide variety of jobs until 2013 when she began writing the story After using Wattpad, a free social reading and writing app on her phone. The nice thing about Wattpad is that she was able to write during her free time, wherever it came from. If she was out running errands or at an appointment, she could write while she waited. By 2014 (as of the publishing of this post), Anna Todd's story has had over 1 billion reads and more than 6 million comments! More shocking than that, Simon & Schuster turned the story into a 4 novel book series with the first title released this past October while Paramount Pictures is currently working on adapting the story into a movie! Crazy, right?

The story of After, a One Direction fanfic about a college freshmen who falls in love with a "bad boy" Harry Styles (name changed in the published edition), was written using the social and mobile app Wattpad. Wattpad allows you to read and write on the go connecting readers and writers all around the world. It is free to participate, and readers can provide comments and suggestions to the writers recommending plot twists or even creating original artwork to go with the stories they read. With more than 40 million readers and writers on Wattpad, over 80 million free stories available and stories available in 50 languages, you are certain to find something of interest in the social and mobile app.

While After is not a story I would find myself typically reading, I do feel that Wattpad will be a game changer for how readers and writers interact in the future. I especially think that this would be a fantastic app for literature teachers to use, allowing students to interact and read one another's stories, make comments, and provide insight. All of the "extra help" can only encourage young writers to become better, allowing them to obtain a stronger voice and be more direct with their future writing.

What do you think about the story of After and Anna Todd's overnight fame? Will you be trying out Wattpad to get your reading and writing fix?

Barnes & Noble | E-reader

* I participated in the After by Anna Todd blog program as a member of One2One Network. I received compensation but all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Remembering: Last years card-making extravaganza and all of the glitter! Everywhere!

Giggling About: "Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei." (Everything has an end, only the sausage has two.)

One of my favorite Youtube channels is Germany vs. USA. I think I stumbled across it during the FIFA World cup. Anyway, last week, they were discussing Awesome (German) Sayings and Expressions. Most of them were kind of eh, but this one stood out to me especially when the German gave an example of how he might use it. (You'll have to watch to hear his example; I'm not giving it away.)

Planning: Sooooo many things!

Tonight we're going to meet my bff's German boyfriend at my absolute favorite restaurant. She's about to move to Germany with him, so it's kind of a big deal that I meet him for the first time. Justin is planning on speaking to him in all German just to get under her skin; sounds like fun to me. lol. (She doesn't speak hardly any German and understands even less than I do, so it will be exciting when she moves to Germany!)

Then, for the blog, I have a book review (or 5) and a bunch of product reviews coming up. (Influenster and Crowdtap are keeping me busy!) Honestly, it makes me a bit anxious and stressed knowing I have so much to do before Christmas.

As for Christmas I still have shopping, wrapping, card-making, and shipping left on my to-do list. AHHH! I feel sooooo busy! (And stressed!)

Anxiously Awaiting: Santa?

The only thing I'm really anxious about is getting everything done that needs to be done before Christmas.

Interested to know: if I will like the Klipsch x11 headphones I ordered from Newegg. They are the most expensive headphones I've ever owned and I am scared to death I will either 1) love them and never be able to go back to the cheap ones or 2) lose them. (I just lost my 5 year old turquoise $15 Sharper Image headphones that I loved, and the x11 are my replacements.)

Baking: nothing. This is totally unusual because Justin is always baking something at Christmas time… a cake, a French baguette, cookies… But this year he is right there with me trying not to get sick and keep up with all we have to do.

Keeping A Secret: presents, of course. :)

DIYing: As part of my review for some books coming up, I'm wanting to make a batch of Jeni's splendid ice cream, create a paper flower, and do a Christmas craft. That's what reviewing is about right? But first, this weekend, Justin and I get to make Christmas cards. A bit late? Absolutely. Maybe our friends and family will have them by the new year. :-/ Luckily we have the Silhouette Cameo to help speed the process along.

What are your 'currentlys'? Are you stressed out with Christmas preparations? Or are you cool as a cucumber, prepared and ready for the holidays?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Town Country Inn & Suites (West) – Asheville, NC

Destination: Asheville, NC
Date: December 2014
Hotel: Town Country Inn & Suites Asheville West
Brand: Club Carlson
Status: Concierge
# of travelers: 4

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision

Back in October we had planned to visit Biltmore Estates in Asheville, NC at Christmas for my mom's birthday (hint, hint), but no final decisions were really made until the week before we were suppose to go. We talked about staying in a log cabin one of my dad's friends owns up in the mountains, but the two hour drive was almost as bad as the three hour drive from my home especially when we discovered that our booked viewing of the Biltmore house wouldn't be until 10:45PM. While we may have played with the idea of staying at a hotel prior to that little tidbit of info, once we knew we had a late viewing, we decided (or really, Justin decided) that driving so late at night wasn't in the cards. As seems to be typical for me anymore, I began a frantic search for a hotel a mere 2 days before needing it. Doesn't anyone plan anymore?!?!

I began my search with my typical favorites: IHG and Hilton. Was IHG having a points break at any hotels nearby? No. I then branched out to Club Carlson, Marriott, Omni (specifically the Grove Park Inn), and any hotels available with Groupon. I saw one promising prospect on Groupon, but as it turns out that particular weekend in December was a black out date. :( I haven't been too happy with Marriott and their *need* to have people pay for internet while blocking internet from cell phone companies nor have I been impressed with their push for guests to tip housekeeping staff. Needless to say, silver status or not, they are not at the top of my list of places I want to stay. I really wanted to stay at the Grove Park Inn, but considering I have no status with Omni and they were charging in the $400 range for a room, I put my desire aside to go for something a bit more practical with the knowledge that prices will go down once the holiday season is over. Actually prices are what let me to decide between the IHG Crowne Plaza Resort, which I had stayed at before, and the Club Carlson Town Country Inn & Suites West, which I had not stayed at before. Since I began writing blog reviews of the hotels I've stayed out, this has inspired me to experience the unknown and try new hotels even if I have a hotel I've stayed at before that I like. Plus, the Club Carlson hotel offered free breakfast whereas, for close to the same price, the IHG one did not.

Getting There & Getting Around

We drove 3 full hours to get there. And if you think your driving is done once you arrive at the hotel, you are sadly mistaken. Asheville is a very large area with a lot to do and never enough time to do it. You can visit the city center for delicious hot chocolate, a peak into one of the many bookstores, or taste some of the fantastic food there. If cities aren't your interest, there is so much land dedicated to parks, trails, and gardens around the city that I'm not sure you could ever truly see it all. I have had the pleasure of visiting the backwoods walking trails of Montreat, the Botanical Gardens of Asheville, the city center (of course), the view from Grove Park Inn, and the private residence of Biltmore Estate. Next in line: North Carolina Arboretum. :) The main problem you will find with visiting all of these places in Asheville is that you need to drive because they are so spread out. There aren't many public transportation alternatives other than trolleys that can help you navigate the city center, which is walkable anyway.

The Lobby, Checking In, & Public Spaces

After driving 3 hours through the meandering hills in the rain, we were quite happy to arrive at our hotel mid afternoon on Saturday right at check-in time, 3PM. The front desk staff was super nice and checked us in almost immediately providing us with a local map, directions to get to different places, and the times for the breakfast buffet.

The lobby was beautifully decorated for Christmas with an elegant staircase in the front room, a fireplace with some seating, and the breakfast room within a stone's throw. Also in the lobby, you were able to get coffee, tea, hot chocolate (swiss miss), and chocolate chip cookies. Yum! My parents were particularly enthused with that having never stayed in a hotel with free cookies. :) Plus I knew that Justin would take complete advantage of the free coffee making our stay less expensive with fewer Starbucks runs.

Price, Room, Breakfast, & Status

from Club Carlson website

During the Christmas season, prices are generally more expensive in Asheville, NC. Recent searches have shown that were I to book the same room during January or February, I would be paying half of the price. While paying half of the price would have been fantastic, I was pretty happy with what my family got for the price we paid. Free breakfast, coffee, and cookies really make a difference in how I perceive my stay. Furthermore, the internet was fast, there was actually a full bedspread on the bed (instead of those half bedspreads that have recently become popular in hotels), and the room was decent-sized. The only thing that could have been improved was the view; unfortunately, a view of the parking lot just doesn't do anything for me. :( All of the rooms included toiletries, a blow dryer, and a fridge.

Breakfast at the hotel was very simple and what you would expect from most hotel buffet breakfasts in the states any more. You had your choice of waffle, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit (oranges, apples), muffins, toast, bagels, eggs, sausage, biscuits with gravy, and cereal. Juices included peach, apple, and orange with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk, and water also available. It was a very basic breakfast and tasted pretty basic without any interesting flavors or foods to write home about. It was nice knowing that we were saving at least $60 by having our breakfast at the hotel rather than in a restaurant though.

If you have concierge status, you are in for a real treat. Obviously you have the ability to check-in early or late, but the hotel staff also brought us two bags of goodies immediately after checking-in. Each bag contained 2 water bottles, candy, chips, and peanut butter crackers. It was fun receiving a treat just for visiting the hotel, my first stay ever at a Club Carlson hotel. (I won my status in a giveaway and have not had a chance to use it until this trip. I will definitely be considering the Club Carlson credit card to keep my status and enjoy perks any time I stay at one of their hotels in the future though!)

Disability Access, Parking, Pool, & Exercise Facility

The hotel definitely seemed disability friendly. I noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Elevators, first floor rooms, and parking in the front should make it easy to get around.

There is minimal parking in front of the hotel, so most people will be forced to park in the back. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem except that there isn't an entrance to the hotel from the back parking lot. :( There is at least one side entrance accessible at this time of year though, so that's good. The other side entrance is located next to the outdoor pool, which is currently closed. (Big surprise, right?) I'm not sure if that entrance is accessible or blocked by a gate preventing wanderers from accessing the pool during the summer.

We did not attempt to find the exercise facility, but the website claims there is one…

Overall Review

image from Blue Ridge Kitties

★★★ (average)

For a one night stay, this hotel was a fantastic little place to get away for a night. The hotel had enough luxuries to make you feel like royalty without being over-the-top. I really enjoyed having a full bedspread for once in my life at a hotel, especially since the weather is much cooler in Asheville than Atlanta. It was especially fun to go during the Christmas season and see all of the beautiful decorations. The staff was wonderful and the treats were fun. I would definitely recommend this hotel for a family getaway.

Your Turn

Have you ever been to Asheville, NC? Or visited a Club Carlson hotel? Were your experiences different than mine? Would you consider staying at this hotel for a stay in Asheville?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Anthro Clothing Review Christmas 2014

As the days creep closer and closer to Christmas and New Years, I find myself out shopping more and more taking advantage of deals, enjoying the crowds, and doing a handful of secret shopping jobs that usually encourage me to spend more rather than save the small bit I've made. :-/ While these days haven't been so kind to my wallet, I decided to share with you a few reviews … that will hopefully make my shopping addiction worth something.

Some time after Thanksgiving I finally got my hands on this beauty – the Bobble Poncho from Sleeping on Snow. It went out of stock the day before Thanksgiving then came back in stock shortly before a non-Black Friday Anthro promotion at which point it sold out again. If you can get your hands on this beautiful, online-only, now-exclusive Anthro beauty, I highly recommend it. Sleeping On Snow provides some of my favorite Anthro winter goodies, and this one is no exception.

Now for the details… This product looks more purple in person than pink. It caught me by surprise. Its comes in one size, which probably looks best on thinner people. Also, take notice of the little balls in the fringe; they exist and you should know it. I bought the poncho thinking that if I didn't like those balls, I would just cut them off. I didn't know they existed (before I received the poncho) until I started reading reviews on Anthro's website. Since I bought it on sale, I didn't really care about maintaining the freshly bought look … As always,  shopping for clothes for me is about finding things I like or making things I dislike work for me. Luckily the balls did not detract from the overall look and I have had no reason to pull out my scissors. Plus, the super soft warmth makes this poncho really fun to wear as well as looking gorgeous on. :)

While returning another item at Anthropologie I discovered the Switch Stitch Cardigan in beige and off-white. Because it was the last item of its kind on the sale rack I purchased one in a petite xxs and one in a regular size xs.  They both look good even if the petite xxs has gotten more wear. It's an inch or two shorter than the regular xs and not quite as wide through the shoulders. They are very close in size though, so if Anthro is out of one size, you shouldn't feel too badly about buying the other. The main reason I wear the petite xxs over the regular xs is the color; I wear off white far more than beige. That's just the way I am… You'll find that the fabric is soft, but it is also pretty thin for being a sweater. I like it, but I also live in the south where winters are warmer than other parts of the world. If nothing else, this is a fantastic transition piece getting you from fall to winter and winter to spring.

My most recent purchase is the Shawled Wool Sweatercoat that I bought during the last day of the 30% off sale items last week. I was expecting to hate it; it looks like a coat for tall, extraordinarily thin people, neither of which I am. I ordered in a regular xs. The jury is still out on whether I should keep it and wear it, but it fits exactly as it looks on the model. The arms are slim but the fabric is stretchy conforming to your body (or whatever you have on your body). The jacket ties like a robe making my main complaint my inability to tie a pretty bow. Overall, this jacket is slimming and gorgeous. The purchase I intended to take straight back to Anthro (after confirming it made me look like a slob) is now hanging in my closet. Dang you Anthro! I really need to save my money!

I bought the Maisy Lace Turban in a rich green color, and I'm loving it so far (especially at the 30% off cost I bought it at). I have so many green dresses (and now a green coat!) to wear it with. It's nice and soft (rather than itchy) and not too tight around your head. (Do I need to provide head measurements?) I highly recommend this beautiful headband to dress up any outfit.

I bought this Asymmetrical Leather Belt on sale to wear with…

the Plenty by Tracy Reese Petal Fete Dress I've been waiting on to go on sale. Paired with a denim jacket, this outfit looks down to earth and fun. It's soft and light filling on and looks WAY BETTER in person than it does on the model. Just trust me on that. The colors are bright and fun. I tried on a size 0 which fit me perfectly.

In mass quantities on my local Anthro sales rack, I was tempted to try the gorgeous Lavendel Dress on. Compared to the Petal Fete Dress, I loved that this dress was sleeveless, one of my favorite styles. The fabric was dense and stiff not soft and flowy. The main problem this dress had was the zipper; even off of my body I was struggling to get the zipper up on this dress. Perhaps at a deeper discount I might consider it. This is a dress I would not be able to wear frequently unless the zipper was replaced and that is really off-putting when it comes to buying an expensive anything.

Also on my wishlist but inevitably not making the cut was the Odense Crochet Topper. I tried the small which fit, but I wasn't in love. The sweater looks very business-like, which if you work in a traditional office setting, is great! I don't. I could not see myself wearing this sweater in a casual setting. It was thick and stiff, and as such I imagine it would not stretch like other sweaters do. Still, a $50 sweater that doesn't get worn is a waste of money for the person who doesn't wear it. Back to the rack it went.

The Frye Parker Lace-Up Boots have been the most extravagant thing I have spent money on in the past few weeks. I'm still trying to decide if they are worth the money, but since they only had one size 6 left in stock, I bought them. I usually wear somewhere between a children's size 4 and adult size 6; while these fit a tiny bit big at the size 6 I purchased them in, they didn't feel loose given how tight you could tie the laces. I'd compare them to the fit of ice skates: loose through the foot giving you room to move your toes and keeping you from feeling claustrophobic but tight through the ankle and calf muscle allowing them to stay up comfortably. The good: they are comfortable and cute. Apparently they are made from real, soft leather, so you will need to treat them like you would a leather jacket making sure to condition them. If you take care of them, Frye says that they should last you forever. While these boots do need to be laced, after the first lacing, they have a zipper that you can use from that point on. On my short, petite frame, the boots end within one inch of my knee. The three inch heel is barely noticeable when you are wearing the shoes as they are that comfortable. You might find the laces to be a bit short though, especially if you have thicker calves. The tongue of the shoe is large enough to accommodate for a wide-range in calf sizes which is nice even if the laces have to be replaced with longer ones after purchasing this shoe.

Overall, if you value comfortable well-made, leather boots, you will probably like these. As for me, I think I would prefer them on sale. It's really hard to fathom spending so much on boots, well-made or not. Of course, even my best not well-made boots cost upwards of $100 making me feel even more uncertain about the true value of these boots versus any other kind.

You can purchase these almost anywhere in any color, not just at Anthropologie. Check out the stock at Belk, BloomingdalesMacys or Von Maur, for example. Don't wait too long though; these boots (at all of the various retailers) are going out of stock fast!

What products have piqued your interest lately? Have you been taking advantage of any crazy sales during the pre-holiday shopping extravaganza? Have you taken the time to enter my beauty giveaway?

Friday, December 12, 2014

V5800 2-in-1 Foodsaver Vacuum Sealer Review

If you've been following my blog for a while now you know that my husband and I are working to pay off our debt and have been doing so for nearly 2 years. One of our biggest struggles is food. On a daily basis we struggle with the desire to eat out or spend too much at the grocery store. We prefer natural and organic foods with few preservatives which, of course, has a big influence on our bill. After all, it's always cheaper and easier (it seems) to eat junk food (McDonalds, Lays potato chips, Oreos, Hamburger Helper, etc…) than to make your own food or eat somewhere that serves vegetables. Luckily, for me, I was given the opportunity to review a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer, a product that not only helps my husband and I save money, it also provides various new and exciting ways to cook.

Back in October when we first received the FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer, I had Justin pull it out of the box. As an engineer, I knew if he didn't know how to work it immediately, no one would. It took a bit of fiddling, but within the course of an hour he had it working and was already using it to take the air out of food items and seal packaging. He did this successfully with oreos making it more detrimental to actually consider eating them … (If someone unseals them to eat a cookie or two, they have to reseal it if they don't want anyone else knowing what they did. It keeps one from messing with a sealed package especially if that person doesn't know how to fix what they broke! It makes it great for weight loss or keeping kids out of treats!) Of course some people will use this product for what it is actually designed for … sealing food (and not just to keep hands off things). We did this with pecans as well as a number of our Thanksgiving foods that we transported from Atlanta to the north Georgia mountains. It was nice being able to seal things like cranberry sauce and gravy in bags knowing we would then be able to transport them without them spilling everywhere. The vacuum sealing option for stuffing, vegetables, and meat made it possible to save a bunch of room in our cooler. Yay!

While we haven't tested the limits to see how much longer a product sealed with the vacuum sealer can last in comparison to a product simply placed in the fridge (or one in a ziplock bag for that matter), thus far we are extremely happy with the 5800 2-in-1 FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer and would highly recommend it. Replacement bags can be bought for a relatively low cost at Costco (or Wal Mart if there isn't a Costco near you). We are looking to get such additions for our FoodSaver as the Wine Saver Bottle Stopper Vacuum Pump and a Sous Vide water oven. It's nice being able to save money on the things we already purchase and fun for Justin to experiment with new ways of cooking.

Do you have a Foodsaver of any kind? Are you interested in purchasing one? Share your experiences with me! I'd love to hear about them!

• I received this item for free in exchange for my opinions. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In Honor of My Mom – A Giveaway

Ever since I was little, my mom has always loved the month of December. She would go crazy decorating the house, bake a million cookies, and listen to so many Christmas songs! (Seriously! – All of them!) So when Justin and I told her about a deal to go to an extremely Christmasy place for her birthday, she was all over it. (See picture above.)

In honor of my mom, her favorite month, and all that she has done for me, I have put together a little giveaway featuring a few of her favorite things.

8 winners will receive…

– 1 Klean Kolor Nail Polish (There are 12 colors including every color of the rainbow!)
– Skintimate Shave Gel in Raspberry Rain Scent (It smells wonderful!)
– Celestial Herbal Tea
– Sweet 'N Low Sample

And 2 (of the 8) winners will receive a 4 pack of Schick Quattro shavers!

So how do you enter this awesome giveaway? Start by checking out the rafflecopter below. Through this weekend you can get some additional entries as you guess where we went for my mom's birthday (or until I share on the blog). You have a whole month to enter (because Christmas and New Years are thrown in) and tons of ways to receive multiple entries a day, so get started!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* Some of the products in this giveaway were originally introduced to me by Crowdtap, but this giveaway is sponsored by me. All opinions are my own.