Thursday, July 24, 2014

/ / Basic Blogging Essentials + Canon Rebel T3i Giveaway!


 I've had this blog for about 4 years now (really?!), but I've only really committed to posting regularly since last December. I'm still learning so much, and lately I've been trying to get a bit more organized. That said, I keep things pretty basic around here. Although I'm crazy about cute planners, I just haven't found the time to actually put one together. Turns out my computer holds everything I need to keep me organized when it comes to scheduling blog posts, brainstorming topics, and organizing sponsorship info. I like having everything I need in one place!

Google Calendar: I just love love love this calendar. This is where I plan all of my posts. It's easy to access (I always have it open in a tab) and incredibly simple to edit. I schedule blog posts days, weeks, and sometimes months in advance. I also move things around a lot, so I love that you can just click and drag topic to different days when plans change. Easy peasy and no erasing or scribbling out. Yay!

Google Docs: I use Google Docs to keep my sponsorships organized. I document tweets, pins, and feature posts to keep track of numbers. 

My phone/camera: This is an obvious blogging essential. I carry my iPhone 5s everywhere, but for the last month I've been borrowing Madison's DSLR. It's pretty much amazing, and the quality of photos is incredible. Aside from photos, I use the notes app on my iPhone to document blogging ideas  that come to me. My google calendar is connected to the calendar on my phone, so I have my blog schedule everywhere I go! Convenient, right?

If you don't have a DSLR, don't worry about it. These 22 bloggers and I want to give you a chance to win one! How would you like to get your hands on a brand spankin' new Canon Rebel T3i? Yeah, we thought you might. Just use the Rafflecopter below to enter.

Win a brand new Canon Rebel T3i!

The giveaway will run from 12:00 am EST on July 24th until 11:59 pm EST on July 30th. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only–sorry international friends! Please be honest with your entries because no one likes a cheater. Good luck, and be sure to visit the other bloggers who helped bring you this opportunity and give them a big "THANKS!" :)

Good luck! Now tell me, what are your blogging essentials?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

/ / An Impromptu Trip to France + An Announcement

   We never imagined we'd be going to Europe for our one-year anniversary, but when one of my amazing classroom parents offered to hook us up with standby tickets to anywhere in the world, we just couldn't pass that up. We had been planning our trip to Greece since about May and spent hours researching Santorini and even made some reservations for our hotel and a catamaran cruise. We just couldn't wait to explore Greece!

Well, we never made it to Greece.

 Here's what happened:  The flight looked pretty good and open, so we weren't too worried about getting on it. What we didn't expect, was that 30+ people would decide to book a flight to Greece at the last minute! When we didn't get on, I'm pretty sure we were in shock. We just stared at the plane as it started backing out of the gate, not saying a word. We knew that was the only flight and that the next few days the flights were nearly booked.

Quickly, we got online and cancelled our reservations (didn't get full refunds), and went to talk with someone about what our next steps were. We pretty much were throwing out every possible idea:

 "Should we just stay in New York and sight see?"
"Let's just go home."
"Let's just get to Europe and take a train to Greece."
"Let's just see where else Delta flies tonight."

  We decided to go with the last one. We were helped by a super awesome Delta woman and she listed some places Delta was flying that evening (by this point it was nearly 7pm): Amsterdam and Nice. Lamar and I never heard of Nice before (I know, terrible), so we looked on a map. When we saw it was on the coast of France, I squealed and said, "That's it! That's where we are going!"
We transferred our buddy passes to that flight, and we raced down to the terminal. We only had to wait about 30 minutes before they began to show which standby passengers had made it onto the flight.
We were just standing there in the middle of the floor staring up at the monitor. When we saw our names shown, we jumped up and down, kissed each other, and raced to get in line. "We're going to France!" is what we kept saying over and over. We texted friends, family, and started looking on our AirBnB app for somewhere to stay while we were boarding. We literally knew nothing about the place we were about to visit. It wasn't even an hour before that we were saying, "Nice? Where is that?"

We amazingly were seated next to each other, almost too excited to sleep. Soon enough, though, we were snoozin'. Dreaming of the beach, baguettes, and all the macarons we could eat. 

   8 hours and a rough landing later, we were in Nice, France! I We step out of security and into the open air and our excitedness turns to a bit of confusion. We had no idea how to get to the city. Mind you, we weren't able to research this at all! To top it off, the wifi was terrible and we couldn't access internet. Folks, we had to rely on what the cavemen used--actual maps(gasp!). Once we finally made it in the city, we went to the nearest McDonalds (free wifi yo) and confirmed a place to stay with a lovely couple in their apartment. If you've never used AirBnB before, you so should! We headed towards their apartment, got lost (still using an actual paper map), but finally found their apartment. Happy happy joy joy! They had the most lovely apartment with an adorable little courtyard right off of our bedroom. It was so charming!
  Oh, did I mention our luggage was lost and we wouldn't get it until "maybe" the next day? Yea.
To H&M we went! After we got some fresh clothes, we did some sightseeing. Have you ever been on one of those open-air tours? It was my first time, and y'all, it's seriously the best way to explore a city. We were able to see all of the major sights and take note of the ones we wanted to go back and visit. Sure, you will look like a major tourist, but who cares? 

We sight saw all day, then we had a lovely dinner of pasta and bread. 
We thought we were in Heaven. 

Up next on my France recap: Our hiking adventure up to a beautiful monastery and garden. The scenes were stunning!

  Before you go, I have an exciting announcement! I'm teaming up with Victoria of Through For By for a one-time linkup focused on testimonies. She and I discussed that the community of Christian bloggers is so big, yet we both feel we don't know everyone's beginning. We will be sharing our testimonies with you and we encourage you to write yours and link up on August 5th. We really want to hear your story. Our goal is to bring glory and honor to God as we share the mighty things he has done in our lives. It will be a time for us, as bloggers and sisters in Christ, to come together and praise God for what He has done in our lives.

  So, if you feel led, write your testimony and link up with us on August 5th. Feel free to use the graphic below in your post. :) I look forward to hearing about how God romanced you, changed you, and brought you to life.

Dearest Love

Do you think you'll join us?

Monday, July 21, 2014

/ / Stitch Fix Box #2

 On Friday, I came home to happy mail! The custom cat food I won from Madison's Petbrosia giveaway (Thanks, Mads!) had arrived, as well as my second Stitch Fix box! Woo hoo! When I got my first Stitch Fix box last month, I was super patient and waited a whole day to open it. This time, I pretty much tore into it as soon as I walked in the door. I just couldn't wait to see the goodies they sent me this month! Eep!

   In case you've never heard of Stitch Fix, it's a company that sends you a box of unique clothing items and accessories for you to try on. You keep what you love, and you send back the rest (free shipping). It only costs 20 dollars for each fix, which goes towards the money you spend on the clothes you keep!

   Before your fix is sent, a stylist is assigned to you. They peruse your Pinterest boards, and they listen closely to your style preferences. You will also fill out a survey where you describe your body type, style, and specific wardrobe needs. They are pretty much awesome!

  Just so you know, the day these photos were snapped (yesterday), it was raining and extremely humid on the patio. If you look close, you can see my hair getting more curly as each photo is taken. Gotta love Georgia humidity.

   Lately, I have been trying to fill my wardrobe with quality items that can be worn for work, but that can easily be worn to dinner or drinks with friends. I'm okay with spending a little more on the quality items that Stitch Fix sends, because I know they will last. Also, my biggest rule for when I get each fix is to only keep what I absolutely love. I definitely don't need any pieces in my closet that I won't actually wear. I've gotta be picky!

My Fix:

1. The first item I pulled out was this super soft flutter sleeve belted dress. It is super cute, but it just isn't me. Plus it was a bit too short for my taste. So, back it went!

2. The floral print button-up blouse is so pretty to look at and I felt so comfortable in it. It would have been great for work and for fun. The reason I didn't keep it is because it was super hard to take off. I had one of those panic moments where I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to take it off. Ha.

3. I really liked the lace trim top, but the sleeves hit at a funny part and I didn't feel very confident in it. It is pretty to look at, though! I sent this one back,

4. Take a look at those black skinny pants--really, when I held them up they looked tiny so I lost hope before I tried them on. Boy, was I surprised! They are super stretchy and they fit perfectly! I kept these babies, and I just know I'll be putting them to good use. I'll wear them with flowy tops this summer, and with boots in the fall. So excited about these!

5. I'm such a fan of cross body bags, so when I found this one in my fix I was so happy! I have had the same mint green cross body bag since early this year, so I'm definitely in need for a new one. I asked my stylist if she could include a black bag and she did! This one is perfect. It's stayin' with me.

This is my second fix, and it is even better than the first one. I am so glad I kept the knit top from my first fix because I wear it all of the time. I think it'll look great with my new black skinny jeans and bag paired with some boots this fall! Have you ever tried Stitch Fix? I highly recommend trying it at least once. Click here to sign up for your first fix!

  I'm excited to introduce you to an amazing sponsor of mine, Hayley of A Beautiful Exchange. It has been such a blessing getting to know her over the last couple of months. She's a sweet and super creative mama who blogs about everything from DIYs to blogging tips. Her tips for writing guest posts really helped out earlier this month, and I can't wait to make this garland for my sister's baby shower. Show her some love, y'all!

What is the story behind your blog name?
 When I was choosing a blog name, I really wanted something that would represent my life as a whole and the true vision and purpose of my blog--sharing my story and the love of Christ. Because Jesus took our place, what He did for us was an "exchange." So, inspired by a Hillsong United song, A Beautiful Exchange was born. You can also read this post for a little more behind the name of my blog.

What's been your go-to summer recipe?
 Lately, I have been loving fresh caprese salad paired with spaghetti afterward! My dad makes the best spaghetti and has taught me all of his best tricks! 
What is your favorite part about blogging?
 Blogging brings me so much joy that this is truly hard to narrow down! I guess I really appreciate the platform my blog gives me for sharing my story and thoughts on a day to day basis and I adore the opportunity it gives me to meet awesome people. Since blogging, I have made three friends that I talk to almost daily and their friendships have truly been a gift from God. It's the coolest thing to watch these relationships continue to grow!

Blog  +   Twitter  + Facebook  +  Instagram

Interested in joining my sponsorship team for August or September? I'd love to have you! Use the code JULYHAPPY to get 20% off any ad space!

Friday, July 18, 2014

/ / Our Wedding: The Reception

   I can't believe it's taken me so long to share our reception with you! The last wedding post I did was back in April when I shared about our ceremony. Our reception was so much fun! It was seriously the best party ever, and it went exactly how I hoped. It even got a little crazy (at one point a grown man started dancing on a table), but it sure made for good memories. 
   Before I found this venue, I had visited at least 6 others and they just didn't feel right. Most of them were crazy expensive, or they made us commit to purchasing things that I didn't really want or need (like a 500 dollar centerpiece!!). So, when I stumbled upon The Brickyard, I knew it was the one. The exposed brick was perfect, it was walking distance from the church, and I could walk to it from my house! It was the perfect spot for us. 

   Before Lamar proposed, I knew if we'd ever get married that it would be a DIY wedding.  I've always been the crafty one in the family, so it was a given that I wanted to create and plan as much for the wedding as I could.  I knew the decor would be handmade with simple, muted colors. I was immediately drawn to soft corals, aqua greens, and ivory. It wasn't until I stumbled upon the most perfect gold polka dot bridesmaids' dresses that gold polka dots joined my color palette/theme. 
   As we were planning the wedding we realized the two things that mattered to us most in regards to our reception: we wanted each and every detail to reflect us a couple, and we really wanted the it to be a dance party. I had so much help from family and friends which made planning and executing a DIY wedding so much less stressful and way more fun!

For the entire day, there was an incredible amount of joy inside of me and Lamar, and we couldn't have felt more loved. 

Like I've said before, it was the perfect party and I wouldn't change a thing at all. However, there were some little mishaps that took place, which I think just add to the character of the day. ;)

  • My shoes were beautiful, but they killed my feet. I actually spent at least 50% of the reception in dun dun dun....flip flops! I cringe. 
  • We ran out of ice. Warm tea in July is not a good thing. Good thing most of our friends were drinking beer and wine which were perfectly chilled. #priorities
  • When we cut our pretty little cake, it was so awkward. We fed each other little pieces, and no one clapped or did anything. So we did it again...silence. So we just stood there eating cake while everyone looked at us. Super awkward, y'all. 
  • We had a photo booth, but Lamar and I forgot to go in it together! So no photos of us in the photo booth. There are, however, shameful photos of Lamar and his goofy groomsmen. Ha.

Read more about our wedding day: 

Have an amazing weekend! Xoxo

Thursday, July 17, 2014

/ / 6 Things That Have Made Me Happy This Week

1. I've had this bag on my Etsy Favorites list for a while now, and just couldn't resist it any longer.  Plus, I had a dream about it the night before I bought it. That's serious business. I can't wait for it to come in!

2. Double-dates with Lamar, my sis, and her boyfriend. On Sunday we went on a little Atlanta bar hop. We started by watching the World Cup at Big Sky in Buckhead, then we headed over to Lure (one of my favorites) for cucumber cocktails and oysters, third was Fontaines, and we ended the night at "Rooftop" 866. I put rooftop in quotes, because it wasn't really on the roof! Such a misleading name! We had so much fun, though. The conversations we had were hilarious and we laughed all night. I love those people.

3. Finally, it is 100% official. I am a 2nd grade teacher...again! Yippee! This whole job-searching thing was such a roller coaster. After 6 interviews and 3 offers, I'm finally where I need to be. Jesus is so good (more on that later). So the next two weeks I'll be moving my things into my classroom, preparing lessons, and learning more about teaching in a public school. I'm so excited!

4. I'm still thinking about the yummy oysters from Lure. Oh, they were good. I'm a newbie to oysters, so it's fun trying different kinds. Who even knew there were different kinds!? Are you a fan of oysters?

5. My Lucy cat and my cat mug (filled with yummy coffee). This is what my morning looked like.

6. At the end of each year, I give my students my address so that they can write me over the summer. I don't receive many, but one of my most special students has been my pen pal for over 3 years now! She was in my first year class, and she continues to touch my heart. When I begin to doubt whether I should be a teacher, I just have to read one of her letters and I know. That is why I teach. She's so precious to me!


Now, I want to introduce you to two of my amazing sponsors and friends. I urge you to head over to their blogs and check them out. They are wonderful!

 Rachel of Oh Simple Thoughts

Blog   +    Instagram   +   Twitter

...& and Whitney of Journey Mercies
Blog   +   Instagram   +   Twitter

Are you interested in sponsoring Dearest Love? View my sponsor details here and enter JULYHAPPY at checkout to receive 30% off!

What are the things that are making you happy this week? I wanna know!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

/ / Recreating Our Wedding Meal

     While we were in France two weeks ago, we celebrated our one year anniversary. We spent our actual anniversary taking a day-trip to Monaco, which was only a 20 minute train ride away from Nice. Right when we got there, clouds rolled in and smarty-pants us, we bought tickets for an open air tour bus. Ha. So of course it started pouring rain halfway through the tour. So we spent the rest of our tour huddled under an extra shirt we brought along (who brings along extra shirts??), and tried to see the sights through the downpour. We soon decided to head back to Nice where we went out to a super delicious meal to celebrate our one-year anniversary. More on that later.
     Before we planned our trip to Greece France, I had planned on surprising Lamar with a special meal. I would recreate our favorite parts of our wedding meal. Our wedding food was seriously delicious. People kept telling me before the wedding, "Oh, yea, you won't eat at the wedding. You wont have time!" Every time I wanted to say something along the lines of, "Well you don't know me very well then, because I'm definitely parkin' it and chowin' down." The food was too good not to eat! So after our first dance, Lamar and I were served our meals and we probably looked something like wild animals who haven't seen food in days. We sat there, stuffed our faces, and smiled as people walked by.  I'm sure it was a beautiful sight.  "What a lovely bride", I'm sure most of them were thinking.
    We really only sat and ate for about 8 minutes tops, but girls I got a full meal in. I cleaned my plate, and so did Lamar. Then, we were swept off to greet guests and celebrate.

   Our favorite parts of our meal were the chicken, the bow tie pasta, and the potatoes. Yum town. I could eat that bow tie pasta all day long. The caterer won't give me any hints on the recipe, but I made up what I thought was in the dressing on the pasta, which was actually pretty close! Yay me.

Here's what was on the menu:
mashed potatoes (they weren't twice baked like what we had at our wedding, but still yummy)
grilled chicken with mango salsa
bow tie pasta with roasted almonds and cranberries
local wine

  I even brought some decorations from our reception to the patio to make it extra special. Lamar had no idea I was doing this, so when he stepped onto the patio he was pretty surprised. I then asked him to grill the chicken, because I can't work a grill for the life of me.

   It was so fun to reminisce and enjoy a meal very similar to the one we really enjoyed on our wedding day. I definitely think this will become a tradition, so that means I really need to work on perfecting the bow tie pasta recipe. I'm pretty close, I think!

What is your favorite meal? Have you ever tried recreating one that is special to you?