Monday, December 31, 2012

Favorite Photos of 2012

Every year I like to post my favorite photos that I've taken throughout the year. This year instead of doing 10 photos, I'm doing 12. Simply because I couldn't decide what two photos to leave out.  This year it was a bit harder to choose, because I don't have as many travel photos as I normally do.  This year, instead of twelve months of travel photos to look through, I only had six.  Just another downfall of not living in Europe anymore!  Also, I apologize for the large watermark across the photos, but this past week I found out more people were stealing my photos and I believe some of them were obtained on my blog. So I'll be watermarking my photos on here from now on.

1.  This is one of my very faves and Sean's too. He actually has it hanging up in his office. It's from our trip to Dublin this spring. To me, nothing says Dublin like a photo of a pint in a pub.

2. I took photos at a small wedding of a friend of a friend last February. I ended up borrowing a camera and flash, as my camera and equipment weren't enough for a dark, inside wedding, but I got some good shots and this is one of my favorites.

3.  I took a second trip to Paris this May with a friend and her husband (which I still haven't blogged about) and I love this photo of cafe chairs. Paris has cafes all over. It's like that IS Paris. So, I love this shot very much because it does remind me so much of Paris. Plus, I love the bright colors of the chairs.

4. This is another Paris photo,although you'd never know just by looking at it. I love Vespas and try to get photos of them as much as I can. This yellow Vespa was so cute and cheery that I had to photograph it. I love this print so much, that it's actually hanging in my guest bedroom.

5.  This photo was taken at my parents' house last January, when I'd come home for Christmas.  I love silhouette shots and I wanted to get a shot of something that made me think of Oklahoma. It was just a bonus that the stars were so bright when I was taking this photo.

6. Poppies in the spring in Italy make for a great background. Unfortunately I never got my own photo taken in the poppies, but I did get to photograph a friend and her daughter in them.

7.  This is a photo from our trip to Seville last February. Seville was my favorite city in Spain. So beautiful and photogenic. I could not stop taking photos while we were there.  These oranges were all over Seville and to find a fountain full of them was a nice surprise.

8.  I've been to Carnevale for three of the four times I could have gone while we were in Italy. My favorite part was taking photos of all the costumes. In fact, I didn't do much else but take pictures of costumes. Well, except for eat, but that's to be expected anywhere I go.  This is one of my favorite costumes that I've photographed. Probably because I love the colors so much!

9.  I love peacocks. In fact, I'm kind of obsessed with them. The colors are gorgeous and the feathers are to die for. I don't even like the idea of getting a tattoo, but I would get some kind of peacock feather tattoo. They are that pretty!  This peacock was in Seville at the Real Alcazar. You could say I stalked this poor peacock to get a bunch of photos of him.

10.  When I went home for a visit this summer, after we'd moved back to Oklahoma, I took this photo near my parents' pond. It was someplace I used to walk to a lot when I was younger and I always find it very peaceful.

11.  This is a fountain in the Plaza de Americas in Seville. If you ever in Seville, go here! It's gorgeous at night, but even better by day when you can see all the different tiles and the canals.

12. Last, but not least, this photo is from my last trip to Venice before we moved. I've taken photos of the Rialto Bridge before, but this is by far my favorite. I timed the gondolier moving underneath it perfectly and to me it says "quintessential Venice".

Happy New Year's Eve to all! Here's hoping 2013 is even better than 2012!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Wrap-Up

I'm happy to say that the first Christmas in four years that Sean and I have spent together in the States was fantastic. I had such a great time with my family and although certain things about spending Christmas in Europe is fun, like different traditions and Christmas markets, I am all about Christmas in the States. Plus, it's ten times easier for me to shop for gifts living here. The Saturday before Christmas was my Mom's side of the families get-together. I always look forward to this so much, because this side of the family is much bigger and the more the merrier is what I always say! Here are a few photos from that night.
One of my favorite parts of our gathering is the fact we now do Dirty Santa/White Elephant Gift exchange instead of drawing names. Last year I got this huge pair of panties, so I re-gifted it. My cousin got it and was a great sport about wearing them.

I got a Camo hat as my present, this was after I stole a gift and then got it stolen from me.

My Dad ALWAYS hangs out under the mistletoe. I don't think it's intentional, it's just where he always is. This year, we put my cousin up to surprising him with a kiss. It was hilarious!

Our next big night was Christmas Eve. My immediate family has a snack night and we watch Christmas movies while we snack. Christmas Vacation is always one of the movies, but we also watched Elf and some claymation Christmas movies as well. We also open up one present, which is always our Christmas Pj's. This year, I got Sean and I matching shirts.

Snack night goodies. Bacon wrapped water chestnuts, Lil Smokies, Spinach dip, Mozzarella dip, Jalapeno Popper dip, shrimp cocktails and all sorts of other goodies.

This year for gift tags for Sean, I addressed them to correspond to what was inside the gift. For example: This was a Pulp Fiction print, so I addressed it to Vincent Vega, From Mia Wallace.

On Christmas Day morning, my immediate family always opens gifts. Sean and I were quite spoiled by my parents and brother.  A few things I got were:

A new office chair, Hungry Girl cookbook, Hallmark ornaments, Clarisonic Mia, Poster Art of the Disney Parks book, 2 season of Sex and the City, sander, blender and food dehydrator.

At noon, we go over to my Dad's side of the family to eat lunch and open presents with them. Although I had a good time with that side of the family and got more awesome presents, my favorite part of the day is when I stumbled upon an old photo of a group of soldiers. When I asked my grandma about it, she mentioned it had been her aunt's second husband's unit in WWII. Then she said, "Oh, I have his uniform as well hanging in the closet."  Sean and I had our mouths open. I've never heard about an uncle of my grandma's being in WWII and the fact she had his uniform was even more amazing. Turns out, his daughter had tried to throw it away after he died, so my grandma rescued it from that fate. She ended up giving the uniform (and photo) to Sean and I and refused to take money for it.  So far, we've determined he was in the 357th Infantry, attached to the 90th Infantry, which was part of the Third Army, which Patton was head of.  From the info about the 90th Infantry, he should have been at Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, etc..there was only one service ribbon on the uniform and I know there had to have been more at some point. I'm sending off a request for info from the National Archives, so I'm hoping we'll get some good info from that. We plan on putting the uniform in a shadow box to preserve it and it will end up hanging in Sean's office with the rest of his military items.

Although the original forecast for Christmas, was for us to get a couple inches of snow, it never happened. However, once we got back to Lawton a few days after Christmas, we were greeted with leftover snow. 

How was your Christmas? I'd love to hear about what you got and what you did.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Cinema

In my love of all things Christmas, I have to mention my love for Christmas movies.  Over the last few years, I've been collecting my favorite Christmas movies (and Sean's too) off of Amazon during the off parts of the year.  I have a decent collection right now, but I still have quite a few movies on my list to get.

So, here are a few of my favorite movies!

1. White Christmas- I LOVE this movie so much. I finally bought the soundtrack this year and play it around the house. The costumes, the songs, the storyline....I love everything about it.

2.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas- I am a sucker for the Grinch. In fact, one day I want a tree with just Grinch ornaments. I love that he's this prickly bad guy, who changes and comes to love Christmas. However, I do not like the version with Jim Carey. I'm a purist, who only loves the original animated version.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (the original)- This is actually one of Sean's favorite movies too. Although he refuses to watch anything but the black and white version. The story of Susan, the Santa Claus skeptic is wonderful. I love that she is won over in the end (as is the rest of the adults in the film) that Santa does exist!

4. It's a Wonderful Life- Watching the story of George Bailey gets me everytime. Donna Reed is divine in this movie and I'd be lying if I said I didn't find Jimmy Stewart to be all sorts of 1940's tasty. However, watching George Bailey find out just exactly how much he means to the town and his family makes this one of THE best Christmas movies.
5. Christmas Vacation- this movie is by far, my very favorite Christmas movie of all time. I've watched it so many times that I can quote about every line. I have t-shirts of the movie, as well as ringtones on my phone from some of my favorite lines. Clark Griswold and family are hilariously inept when it comes to Christmas and watching their dysfunction (especially Cousin Eddie) makes me laugh everytime.
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What are some of your holiday movie favorites?

Friday, December 14, 2012

My Christmas Decorations

I was so excited to decorate for Christmas this year! In anticipation I pinned a gazillion pins on Pinterest and I don't think I did any of them...but in my defense it got to the point where I could either buy Christmas decorations or buy Christmas gifts, so we all know which I decided to do.

Even though my decorations aren't where I hope they'd be, I'm still pretty pleased with what I was able to come up with this year.

Let's start first with my front door. I considered making a wreath, but after my Halloween wreath fail, I decided to just put up the wreath I got on sale at Michael's last year.

In the entryway I have a few little stand-alone decorations set-up and one of three Christmas signs.

My little entry table with my basket of Christmas cards and my Christmas bokeh photo.

Next up:  My shelves and their decorations. Plus I have my hatbox I picked up at Goodwill to hold my Christmas books and magazines. On the shelves I have various printables I found on Pinterest, as well as my own photos that I've framed.

A close-up

My two other shelves: Mostly more Christmas photos, figurines

My Christmas trees are on top. The one on the left is from Poland, the one on the right from Italy and the middle on is just from Wal-Mart with some of my ornaments inside.

A few close-ups of some of my fave photos I put out.

I put up some garland, both on the bar area of our dining room/kitchen and above one section of our cabinets. I got the two green vases at Goodwill for 99 cents each. Score!

The dining area: I did it in a retro vibe. I framed a couple of older records, did a white tree complete with pink, silver and white ornaments to complement my Barbie ornaments I put on there. My tablescape is pink, blue and green. I got silver chargers, put white plates I found at Goodwill and bought some cheap pink and blue ornaments from Hobby Lobby as decorations on the plate.

Last, but not least, my trees! The green one is in our living room and the white one (as mentioned) is hanging out in our dining room.  It's the first year I've been able to put up the green tree, as it's been at my parents' house the last few years.  I actually have another tree, but didn't put it up this year. In the future it will probably become a travel tree.

There you have it, my Christmas decorations! I still have a lot of work to do before I have the amount of decorations I want in my house at Christmas time, but I feel like it's a nice start.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Picking the Perfect Gift

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is picking out gifts for people. To be honest, I have more fun giving people gifts than receiving them. It's always a great feeling when someone opens your gift and you can tell they absolutely love it.  So, I thought I'd share some of my tips for finding the perfect gift.

1. One easy way is to ask if they have an Amazon Wish List. Sean and I both have lists and throughout the year I add items to it and then let my Mom know so she can have a large number of items to look through and choose from.

2. Check out their boards on Pinterest (if they have one). A lot of people, like myself, have a board titled something like "Want to Buy". Or just browse some of their other boards, I also have a board that has all items I like on Etsy. Another added bonus is you can get a better idea of what things they like just by looking at their boards.

3. Speaking of Etsy, it's a great place for gifts. They have a whole page dedicated to gift ideas for anyone and everyone.

4. Really think about who you are buying for and what their interests, hobbies and obsessions are. Do they love their home/current state? Maybe a cute t-shirt or vintage map of their state would be appreciated.  Are they obsessed with all things 80's or vintage toys? Browse Ebay and buy them the Lite Brite they never got as a child.

As a example for #4: My Dad has always lamented the fact that my Grandmother gave away his pedal car (which was a yellow dump-truck) when he was a child. Since vintage pedal cars are ridiculously expensive, I went a cheaper route. In the past, Hallmark dedicated a series to these pedal cars and had the exact car that my Dad had as a child.

When my Dad unwrapped his gift, he teared up. My Dad is not the crying type, so his reaction was unexpected, but I loved the fact that a gift brought back such great memories and emotions for him.

5. Holiday magazines always have tons of gift suggestions. It's one of my favorite parts of the holiday issues.  In fact, just this year, I got two gift suggestions for people out of these magazines.  In my opinion, Real Simple, Martha Stewart and  Food Network Magazine are the best when it comes to these suggestions.

6. Make it personal with a photo gift. Over the years, I've made more than my share of photo gifts. I've made photo puzzles for my brother who loves puzzles, photo books about family trips for my mother, photo collage posters for friends and calendars for my grandmothers.

7. Maybe some kind of experience is more up their alley. This year for Christmas, I got my Mom and I tickets to go see the Nutcracker ballet. It's something we've talked about seeing for several years, so this year I thought it would be fun to do something together and would be a nice memory for us.

Do you have any suggestions or stories about finding the perfect gift?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Items of Interest

I put together a list of things that are Christmas related, that I felt like are worth sharing with you guys.

1.  I love doing Christmas cards every year, but Sean is a pain when it comes to trying to get him to take a photo for our cards. So, this year I gave him a break by ordering customized portrait Christmas cards from BrookeLynnDesign on Etsy.  She did a fabulous job on ours, was super easy to work with and we got our cards really quickly. I highly recommend her! I'd show you what our cards look like, but I'm waiting until I get them sent out before I ruin the surprise.

2. Hickory Farms contacted to let me know that they are offering free shipping to APO and FPO boxes, as well as a section of military gifts on their website. The link is here.

3. Every year I like to buy Christmas t-shirts. Most years I buy Christmas Vacation shirts, as that movie is my favorite. However, this year, I ordered these Home Alone shirts for both Sean and I because I think they are hilarious.

4. Of course, I can't forget my Christmas Vacation shirts, so here's a few of those as well.

5. My own Etsy shop, Around the World in 80 Frames, has various Christmas prints for sale, as well as other photos from my travels around the US and Europe. My blog readers always get 15% off anything in the shop, just use the code blogfriends.  Also, in the next week or so I'll be having a giveaway for items in my shop, with two winners, so check back for that soon!

6. Every year I add to my Christmas CD collection.  This year on iTunes I put the White Christmas soundtrack on my wish list, as well as a few others. Imagine my disappointment when I went back to buy the soundtrack a couple of days ago and it's no longer on iTunes. So, after some searching, I found out that I could download it on Amazon for the same price that it had been listed on iTunes. Problem solved!

A few other albums I liked this year are:

Jack Livingston's Big Band Christmas

A Most Excellent Jazz Christmas

I  mentioned the following albums within the last few years, but they're worth mentioning again.

Diana Krall- Christmas Songs
A Very She & Him Christmas
Michael Buble- Christmas
Christmas Cocktails- There are 4 albums now, I just have the first two. I highly recommend them.

There you have it! My list of things you should know about Christmas!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving- What are you making?

My favorite time of year is upon us! I love, love, love Thanksgiving and Christmas and the time in between the two is just so much fun for me.

This year, for the first time in six years, Sean and I are not making the entire Thanksgiving meal.  I feel almost like I have nothing to do, because normally at this time I would have made several to-buy lists, already bought my turkey and other Thanksgiving groceries and would have already started prepping several of my dishes.  This year I'm just bringing one dessert and one appetizer to each of my grandparents' homes. So a total of three things to make is a vast difference for me.

This year I'm making:

A cheese and meat plate

Cranberry and apple crumble via Skinny Taste.  For the record, I taste tested this already and it's really delish. The only thing I'd change is to cut down the honey that's called for in the recipe. It made it a bit runny.

Oreo Bark- it's two ingredients and looks super easy. I'm going to try it out at Thanksgiving and if it's a hit, I'll be adding it to my holiday treats that I'm giving out.

I actually tested these tasty chocolate and cream cheese cupcakes as a possible dessert, but although they were tasty, they didn't have as much of a cream cheese taste as I would like, so I nixed them from my possible Thanksgiving dessert list.

What are you making? An entire Thanksgiving meal? Side dishes? Or dessert?

Friday, November 16, 2012 Review

About a month ago I was contacted by a representative of to ask if I was interested in choosing an item off of their website and doing a review of it.  To be honest, before this I'd never heard of Eshakti, but once I googled them, I saw that there were many other bloggers out there that had done reviews of them. Most were favorable, some were not, but I myself, had a fabulous experience with them.

One reason why I like Eshakti and their clothing so much is because they will customize whatever piece of clothing you want to your measurements. Also, you can remove pockets, add short sleeves, make the article sleeveless, etc.  Or if you prefer not to customize your clothing, they have standard sizes as well.

I chose a beautiful cream and gold jacquard dress that had a retro Mad Men vibe to it. In fact, I'm considering buying a crinoline slip to wear underneath it. Within a week of ordering the dress, it was delivered to my doorstep. I went ahead and customized the dress to my measurements and was pleased to see it fit perfectly. The material is heavy and feels expensive and well made. Honestly, pictures do not do it justice. It's beautiful in person. I plan on wearing this dress to a dinner we have later this month for WTU and I'm thinking it will be my Christmas dress as well.

I actually did my hair and make-up and took photos in the dress, but after seeing myself in the photos, I was not digging my pale, washed-out self, so instead I'm sharing a photo of the dress from the website.

I highly recommend Eshakti. They have some gorgeous clothes  on their website right now and plenty of dresses that would be perfect for your holiday parties!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Normandy Trip

Considering Sunday was Veterans Day, I thought a post about our trip to Normandy would be fitting.  I've actually been meaning to blog about this trip and several others we took before we left Italy, but I just keep putting them on the back burner.

Although we had a fantastic time in Normandy, there were a few factors that I wish I could have changed.

1. I'd preferred not to have to drive 13 hours each way and instead have flown to Paris Beauvais and then rented a car, but with Boomer (our Min-Pin) and nobody to watch him, we had no choice but to bring him along.

2. We did this on essentially a three day weekend. Although we saw lots of the D-Day sights, there were so many other places in Normandy I would have liked to have visited as well and with our limited time, that just wasn't possible.

That being said, we still had a fantastic time and this was actually our last trip that we took while stationed in Europe.  Normandy, specifically the D-Day beaches and other sights were high on both Sean and I's to-see list, so I'm really glad we got to see such a historic place before we moved back to the States.

Sean and I left for Normandy on a Thursday evening in a rented car. I wasn't comfortable taking our Cobalt that was sans power steering through mountain passes. Turns out, the Fiat Panda we were driving wasn't much better.  We didn't realize until it started raining (driving through those mountain passes) that the windshield wipers would not wipe the rain off the windshield! Sean has awful night vision to begin with, but the car was a manual, so he was stuck with driving it. A few weeks earlier I'd had an awful dream where Sean and I drove off a cliff and I woke myself up as I was dying in my dream. So imagine how scared I was driving in the rain, near cliffs, through mountains, in the dark, with a car that's windshield wipers weren't properly working.  Because of the rain, it made the drive slower and it was 2 a.m. before we stopped on our midway point of getting to Normandy.

I'd reserved rooms at an Etap hotel for both the first night and then the next two nights outside Bayeux.  Normally I try not to stay at chain hotels, but since we had Boomer and they allowed pets and they had good prices, I went ahead and booked them. Let me just say, I was pretty impressed with them.

1. They had free breakfast included. Not to mention the breakfast was nothing to sneeze at. Fresh baguettes every morning? Yes, please.
2. The rooms weren't huge, but they were plenty comfortable for two people.
3. They had air conditioning, TV and free wif-fi. All of those get high marks in my book.
4. Although the Etap was outside Bayeux, it was only about a five minute drive into the town and they gave us a coupon for a percentage off the restaurant that was next door to our hotel.

Some lovely views on the drive to Normandy

I don't leave home without my trusty Rick Steves guidebooks. We also used Major and Mrs. Holt's  Battlefield Guide to the Normandy D-Day Landings. It was pretty extensive and another great resource to have if you're ever in Normandy and are wanting to visit the D-Day sights.

Our first day in Normandy we stopped by the German cemetery.  Although I've been to several war cemeteries in Europe, I'd yet to go to a German one. It was an interesting change from the American cemeteries. For one, it was less crowded and it was very plain and simple.

This is an unknown German soldier's grave.

We also stopped by St. Mere Eglise, featured in the film and book The Longest Day.  This is where during the night before the invasion of D-Day happened, that a paratrooper was stuck from the top of the church.  They still have a dummy paratrooper hung on the corner of the church, although I've been told it's the wrong corner.  Inside the church are some beautiful stained glass windows dedicated to paratroopers.
This is one of the windows inside the church.

The second day we started out by visiting the floating harbor near Arromanches.This is what is left of one of the two floating harbors that were constructed so that vehicles and supplies could be brought ashore after the invasion.

This one of several gun batteries that the Germans had installed along the coast of Normandy. These are at Longues sur Mer.  It was so amazing to see these huge guns that were left from a war over 60 years ago.  Down closer to the cliff there was a battery you could actually go into and see the view that they had of the sea.

This is the view from the gun battery

Looking down the Normandy coast. Much farther down is Omaha Beach.

This is a map, showing the invasion on D-Day. This is located above Omaha Beach and below the American Cemetery.

Stormy skies above the American cemetery

One of the many who sacrificed their life on D-Day.

Looking out at Omaha Beach

Another shot of Omaha Beach.  To the left, you can see some of the cliffs/ high places that surround Omaha Beach.

Bomb craters at Point du Hoc, where the Rangers scaled the cliffs. The Allies bombed this area for weeks leading up to the invasion.

The Ranger Monument at Point du Hoc

We revisited St. Mere Eglise the second day we were in Normandy, simply because there were several things we didn't get to see the first day, including a paratrooper museum.

We stopped by the 101st Easy Company memorial on the way to Carentan (another episode on Band of Brothers)  This is actually the second memorial we visited dedicated to Easy Company. The first one we saw was near Bastogne, Belgium where the Battle of the Bulge was.

This is the Dick Winters statue (commander of Easy Company) that was dedicated just a couple of days before we got to Normandy.

This was a church in Angoville au Plain where two American medics tended both the wounded Germans and Americans. What makes this church special and kind of haunting, is that you can still see bloodstains on the pews, where the wounded were lain.

These were located outside the museum at Utah Beach.  Seeing some of the obstacles left over from the beaches was honestly, kind of chilling.

On the path to Utah Beach

Utah beach.  Let me just comment on the fact that Omaha Beach was somber, quiet and had monuments on it. Utah Beach was teeming with people (although you can't see it in this photo) sunbathing, swimming and playing ball. It kind of weirded me out to see it. I just don't know that I'd want to treat a beach where many men died, as a recreational area. But hey, that's just me.

Obviously these are just a few photos from our trip. And there are some places we visited, like Brecort Manor (another Band of Brothers site) that there was nothing really to take a photo of. 

Our last night in Normandy we went into Bayeux to eat dinner.  I used Tripadvisor to pick La Fringale, a restaurant with some good reviews. Let me just say, we were not disappointed.  I wish I'd taken photos of our meal, but I was so enjoying the delish food put in front of me, that it didn't even cross my mind.  Sean and I both chose the three course fixed menu, although there was also the choice of a 5 course or 2 course meal.  I had a Kir Normand drink to start out with (fabulous!) fish pate as an appetizer, veal with cream sauce for my entree and creme caramel for dessert. Everything I had was fresh, homemade and tasted amazing. If you're ever in Bayeux, I highly recommend this place.

Normandy was fantastic! I'd go back in a heartbeat. The people were friendly, the area had lots to see, and seeing such a place ingrained in our American history was just amazing. I never though I'd have that opportunity when I first learned about this place back in my high school American history class.