Why We Love Horseback Riding at Barnsley Gardens

By now, you’ve seen some of our posts about our love for trying new things and exploring new places. Barnsley Gardens continues to top our list for one of our favorite closeby places to visit. In case you missed our first post about Barnsley and how much we love it here, check out our post from earlier in the spring here. Last Christmas, my parents gave a horseback riding trail ride to Grant and I along with my sister and brother-in-law. After a crazy first half of the year and a hot summer, we finally booked our trail ride at Barnsley Gardens this past weekend.

My sister, Morgan, and I grew up riding English and have been comfortable around horses for most of our lives, with our horses even living at home for part of our time growing up. Grant has always helped out with the horses, whether it was hauling hay from Mr. Gantt’s feed store down the street or going to visit Dakota with me and bring his favorite treats. We went on our first ride together last fall at Brasstown Valley Resort, so he was excited for this ride at Barnsley. Morgan’s husband, Stephen, had never ridden a horse, so we had quite a range of experience and comfort levels with horses going into the day’s trail ride.

Here are our top 5 things we loved about our experience at Barnsley:

  1. Amazing horses – Barnsley truly has the most incredible horses! Such sweet dispositions and manners make the trail ride enjoyable for any rider – regardless of past experience. They also have some great names. Grant’s personal favorite was his horse, Mr. Deeds. I think he might have tried to take him home with us if we lived closer (and actually had grass in the backyard)!
  2. Fantastic staff – Growing up riding, I was always taught that for every hour you spent riding, you spent two taking care of your horse. It was a special treat to have the amazing Barnsley trail guides that saddled our horses and had everything ready to go for us. The trail guides were so personable and informative during our ride, and they had a story about each of the horses. It made it feel like it truly was a little family and community, rather than just a job and a paycheck.
  3. Trail route – Barnsley offers several different trail ride options that include a one hour ride, a 90 minute ride, and a history ride. Their trail rides are an awesome way to see the property before exploring on your own. With the trail heavily wooded, it was a nice reprieve from the hot sun even this early in the morning! About halfway through the ride, we also rode past some of the immaculate holes of their Jim Fazio golf course. The end of the ride concluded with a ride down the lawn, starting at the Woodlands Grill back past the ruins.
  4. Other animals by the stables – So if you didn’t know already, we are huge animal lovers. And one of us in particular (Grant) absolutely loves pigs! On our last visit to Barnsley, we discovered their new porky buddies, so we were excited to visit them again. We also saw goats, llamas, miniature horses, and chickens. They are all super friendly and makes us want our own little herd of farm animals!
  5. Getting to make a day trip – With Barnsley less than 60 miles away, it’s the perfect day trip that makes you feel like you’ve left the real world behind. We only wish we had more time to explore and enjoy! We had a great lunch at the Woodlands Grill, but still have yet to spend the night at the new Inn. With cooler weather ahead, we just might have to plan a weekend trip back to take advantage of their cabins and fireplaces and s’mores in the evening!

Looking for a fall escape? We highly recommend Barnsley Gardens and be sure to stop by the stables to visit some of our favorite friends! Be sure to follow along for more fall adventures on our Instagram www.instagram.com/thelocalbells

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We Bought a House! – How We Did It and What We Wish We Knew

Our big announcement from this summer is that we are officially homeowners! We went under contract in early June, but didn’t close until mid-August, so it was a pretty quiet summer for us in terms of travel and eating out. We had a goal after signing our apartment lease back in October 2017 to find a house to make a home before that lease ended in November 2018 (check out our 2018 goals here). Between planning a wedding, adjusting to married life, and knowing that we needed to save aggressively if we were buying a house in 2018, it has been a whirlwind of the past 9 months. We had an awesome real estate team, mortgage lender, and support from our families during the process, so we’d like to pass along some tips on how we planned/paid for a wedding and saved for a house in less than a year along with some things we wish we had known before starting the home search process.

What were we looking for in a house?

  1. Move-in-ready Home: For the most part, Grant and I were on the same page with what we wanted in a house. We knew we preferred a single family home that our family could grow into over the next several years, but we were open to townhomes as well. Even though Grant is very handy and has a background in construction, we wanted to find a place that we could move into right away rather than having to do substantial and probably costly renovations to right off the bat. During the home search process, we saw quite a few fixer-uppers that we weren’t quite ready to tackle in a first home!
  2. Open Kitchen: We usually cook at home every Sunday through Thursday, so having a big, updated kitchen was very important to us. There were a lot of quirks in our old apartment, like no pantry, having the laundry “room” (more like a closet) in the kitchen, and cabinets that were too small to fit even regular sized dishware. We joked that we should have brought a plate and a wine glass with us when looking at houses to double check that the cabinets were big enough! We never really got the chance to entertain at our apartment either, so having an open space where our friends and family could gather was really important to us – especially as football season kicks off!
  3. Outdoor Space: For Grant, having a backyard and a place to grill was at the top of his list. With the fire hazard of having grills at apartment complexes, Grant’s grill has been at my parents’ house for the time being. Eventually, we also want to have a dog, so having a nice outdoor space was important long-term.
  4. Room to Grow: We were really grateful to have decided on a 2 bedroom apartment as opposed to a one bedroom, but after the better part of a year, we were ready to have room to unpack completely and grow. A lot of our wedding presents were still packed up since we had limited space, so we wanted to have the room to not feel cramped. We didn’t have a particular square footage in mind when looking at homes, but we knew we wanted to find a place that we could grow into as our family (hopefully!) grows in the future.

How did we do it?

  1. Planning in Advance: We knew that our first apartment was just temporary and already planned that we wouldn’t renew our lease before we even signed the initial one! With that in mind, we knew that the biggest hurdle we had to face was being disciplined and diligent in our saving for a down payment. We knew a lot of homes go on the market in the summer time and the area we wanted to live and at our price point was a hot market. We did some preliminary research with our mortgage lender, explaining how much we felt comfortable spending monthly and were able to determine our price range along with anticipated costs of putting 20% and closing costs. After that, we reached out to our awesome team of realtors (thanks, Mary Beth and Liz!) in late April and started looking at several homes on and off over a 6 week period.
  2. Automated Savings: To be perfectly honest, we were pretty easygoing with our budget post wedding. We do eat at home a lot, which saves considerably over the course of a month. Neither of us are big “stuff” people and prefer more to spend money on experiences. During our “extreme home closing budget” period, we did have to cut back some on the experiences, but were grateful to have some gift cards leftover from our wedding presents and some credit card cash back money to splurge along the way. The easiest way for us to save was to set up automated payments to our savings account on payday, so we never really had to think about saving. Each paycheck, Grant and I had roughly 15% of our paycheck automatically transferred to savings, so it started to add up quickly.
  3. Lots of chicken and eating at home: Once we were under contract, we did cut back considerably on our discretionary spend, with the big one being only eating out dinner once per week (thanks, La Parilla!). We had to get creative with our recipes and continued to bring lunch from home instead of eating out during the work week. Sunday was our day to plan out our meals for the week, and making a grocery list helped us stick to just what we needed rather than filling up the cart with impulse purchases. We typically shopped at Costco to get our meats in bulk and Kroger to take advantage of some of their Kroger Plus discounts and coupons. We are also extremely grateful for our friends and family that had us over for meals during our “cut back” time.

What do we wish we knew at the beginning of the process?

  1. Save more than you think. Having enough saved for the down payment is not enough – you need to think about closing costs as well as what your emergency fund looks like. You’ll have a few smaller payments along the way for the earnest money deposit, inspection, and appraisal. This goes back to one of the first steps in the home-buying process – while you may be approved for a much higher value house, really think about how much you can budget each month. Because of this, we actually found that we were able to make our budget work with a slightly higher monthly payment for a 15 year mortgage versus the traditional 30 year, which will save us tens of thousands of dollars in interest over the course of the loan. Big thanks to Eric at Supreme Lending for answering all of our questions throughout the process!
  2. In some cases, you’ll have to make a decision very quickly. I think Grant would agree with me that we both like to take our time when making decisions to weigh all of the options and do our research. Unfortunately, in a hot housing market, you often don’t have the luxury of time on your side. We looked at our now home on a Wednesday evening, made an offer the next morning, and found out it had been accepted by lunchtime. It blows my mind that we made such a huge life decision in less than 24 – and then, we had 67 days until closing! So while some parts of the process are very quick, you may also hit some slow parts leading up to closing.
  3. Once you move out of an apartment, you should never move yourself again. I was very fortunate that Grant, his brother, my uncle, mom, and countless other family members helped out so much on the big day of the move. Grant and I worked for several days after closing to move some of our more breakable things and anything that wasn’t furniture, so that only furniture was moved on the day we rented the Uhaul. We have already agreed that this will be the last time we move ourselves. The whole home-buying process can be stressful, but the move is definitely the most strenuous, especially when it comes to furniture. With more space than we had in the apartment, we’ll likely add more furniture over the years, and when it comes time to move again, we will be bringing in the professionals! TLB Fun Fact: We did not purchase a single moving box for this move! 
  4. Closing was actually very easy! The wire transfer was the worst part – you see so many warnings about wire transfer fraud and just hope that it all goes okay until you get the confirmation from the closing attorney. The actual transfer at the bank is pretty anti-climactic (until you see your bank account after it), and once that is done, you are basically in the home stretch to getting your keys. The whole closing process took just under an hour, and I’m not certain we could have done it any quicker! The closing attorney briefly explained all of the documents we signed, we practiced our autographs on about 25,762 different papers, and then we got the keys and a stack of paperwork! The best feeling was driving up to our house after the closing, knowing all of the hard work and stress was finally worth it.

We are so thrilled about this next chapter in our lives! For anyone considering buying a home, we hope our experience helps you plan and encourages you to keep working hard towards your goals.

With fall and football season just ahead, be sure to check out our Instagram to keep up with what’s next for the Local Bells! www.instagram.com/TheLocalBells

Tiki House Beach Getaway Part 2 – Food

You can’t go to the beach without enjoying some amazing seafood, so we made it our mission to find some great places for dinner the three nights we were on our beach vacation last month.

One of the best parts of visiting the beaches on the Florida Panhandle is the distance from Atlanta. We made the trip down Thursday morning, and arrived before lunchtime to explore the Rosemary Beach area before checking into the Airbnb. Our first stop was  the Havana Beach Rooftop Lounge at The Pearl hotel. With the breathtaking view of the Gulf Coast, it was the perfect spot to toast to the start of vacation! They have a great happy hour starting at noon ($5 glasses of wine and $5 beers), but their food menu was quite pricey.

We continued our quest for seafood the first evening by visiting Pompano Joe’s Seafood House at Pier Park. The Pier Park area is home to a variety of different restaurants and shops – perfect if you’re not sure what you want to do that evening! The best part is that it’s right across from the beach. We had a nice table outside, away from the loud hustle and bustle inside the restaurant. We had a reservation at 5:45, and it was already slammed by the time we got there! While slightly more expensive than your typical beach dive, Pompano Joe’s had great portion sizes. With a fish entree, you got vegetables, another side like rice and beans, and hush puppies.

Our second night, we went for the views at Barefoot on the Beach, rather than solely food. We sat outside on their huge patio with an awesome view of the beach and ocean. The service here was a little sub-par, but if you are there to just relax and take in the views, it’s a nice place to still enjoy the beach without being on the beach and covered in sunscreen. They had a few Happy Hour drink specials and a good selection of seafood options on the menu. We highly recommend doing one of their seafood baskets, either blackened or fried. You start off with a side salad, get a large portion of shrimp, and another side, so you definitely won’t leave here hungry!

Our best dinner hands down was at the Saltwater Grill. Unlike most places that typically only had Happy Hour drink specials, Saltwater Grill also had specials on some of their most popular entrees before 6 PM. And best of all, your order just had to be in by 6 to get the deal. The food was so good that we honestly didn’t snap too many pictures before digging in! We recommend the Creole Redfish, the Prime Rib, or the Seafood Cappellini if you are there for their early bird specials – and you end up saving up to $10! They also had some great drink specials, with $6 martinis, $5 glasses of wine, and $4 mixed drinks. And while this restaurant wasn’t on the beach, they had a huge aquarium that wrapped around the bar area, so you still got the tropical feel of being at the beach.

And to end our vacation, we couldn’t leave without visiting Thomas’ Donuts for some of the most incredible donuts! Well worth the long wait in the sun to dig into these.

Any places we missed this trip that we should put on our “must visit” list for next time in the Panama City Beach area? Share with us below in the comments! 

Follow along with us on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/thelocalbells 

Tiki House Beach Getaway Part 1 – Accommodations

After a very busy May and most of June, we are back from a much-needed beach trip for some rest, relaxation, and vitamin “sea.” Grant and I had talked about taking a trip to the beach this summer for a few days, but initially ran into issues because most beach rentals only rent by the week during peak summer season. After scouring VRBO and Airbnb, we finally found a house that checked all the boxes for our group of 6: 3+ bedrooms, walking distance to the beach, and budget-friendly for a 3 night stay. And best of all, the owners didn’t have weekly rental restrictions, so we booked it and waited with anticipation for the trip to finally arrive!

TLB Tip: Airbnb now has a rental split feature that allows you to divide the cost of the rental across all people in your party. It makes it so easy to get everything paid for without the hassle of Venmo requests. If you are a new user, be sure to use our link to sign up and get a $40 travel credit!  

After a quick lunch and trip to Publix, we finally arrived at the Airbnb, fondly dubbed the “Tiki House of PCB.” In actuality, the house set in between Panama City Beach and Rosemary in the quieter Laguna Beach area. The Airbnb hosts, Jeff and Ana, were there to greet us and give us a quick tour of the house. We were impressed by how clean the house was, and Jeff let us know he had just finished cleaning the pool as well. For a ranch, the house was surprisingly big with 4 bedrooms sleeping up to 11 total people. A major plus was the fact that there were two King beds and two Queen beds – we’d had a hard time finding homes that had this many “normal” size beds! The house was decorated in a “tiki” Polynesian style, with the garage converted to a Tiki game room and the outside pool shed also incorporating many of those island vibes as well.

Having a pool in the backyard was an awesome addition to the property. When it started to get too hot at the beach around 3 o’clock, it was the perfect spot to come back to. And if you ask Grant, his favorite part was the color changing pool lights for the evening swims! It was great to have access to a beach cart and beach chairs through the Airbnb, which helped considerably to tote everything to the beach. For $150 a week, the hosts also had a golf cart if you preferred a faster mode of transportation. TLB Tip: If you prefer to sit in the shade, be sure to bring your own umbrella! We only lasted a few hours at a time in the direct sun, so an umbrella would have helped tremendously.

The location was great, just a 10 minute walk to public beach access. We got down to the beach around 10 every morning and never had a problem finding a spot, even at the peak of summer. The house was only a few miles away from the Pier Park dining and shopping – but be warned – traffic could make the short 5 miles take 30-45 minutes during the dinner rush.

All in all, we had a great stay at the Tiki house! Size, location, cleanliness, access to a full kitchen, private pool, beach chairs, and keyless entry were huge positives. A minor inconvenience was a problem with the water and septic in the Master bedroom, so we had to make due with only one bathroom and shower for the entire weekend. Additionally, while it was great to have access to a full kitchen, there was kind of a hodge-podge cookware. If you need a frying pan for eggs, we recommend bringing your own! And be sure to pick up a bag of ice on your way in, as the freezer didn’t have a working ice maker. Check-out seemed a little early too (10 AM), which made it tough if you wanted to enjoy a little more beach time before heading home. Other than that, we would definitely recommend this home for groups that are looking to have a low-key vacation with all the comforts of home just a short distance to some of the most picturesque waters and delicious seafood.

To see the full Airbnb posting for the Tiki house, take a look here.

Stay tuned for more about some of the great food we had at the beach! Follow along with us on Instagram at www.instagram.com/TheLocalBells

6 Things I’ve Learned in 6 Months of Marriage

This month, Grant and I celebrated our first 6 months of marriage! I can’t speak for him, but the first six months have been some of the best. We’ve been communicating better than ever, settled into our lives as husband and wife, and had some fun times along the way! Reflecting back on the time that has flown by, here are the top 6 things I’ve learned in our first 6 months.

  1. Marriage is not 50-50; it is 100-100. This is an interesting one. Both Grant and I have full-time jobs, so we both are away from home starting at 6 AM until sometimes 7 or 8 PM each evening. That makes for a long day, especially when there are still things like cooking, cleaning, and laundry to be done! I typically cook for us during the week nights, and I honestly enjoy that time to unwind from the day and watch Wheel of Fortune. Now, if we decided it was only fair that we split the cooking during the week, I imagine that would cause more fights (and hungry stomachs!) than the system that works for us now. Grant has been the “designated” dish washer and trash taker-outer, which I’ve really appreciated. It’s sometimes the small gestures like that that can mean the most. For example, we try to carpool on Fridays since both of our offices are within a mile of each other. I am not the biggest fan of driving, so it’s a special treat when he drives and I get to just go along for the ride!
  2. It’s okay to do your own thing and not do everything together. This is one that I want us to keep pushing each other to remember. While we have a lot of similar interests, it’s okay to take some time for yourself and do what you want to! If Grant wants to go to a concert with a band I’m not into, go for it! We had our own friends and interests before we met and dated, and it’s an important piece of your identity to do the things that fulfill you personally. I’m very grateful that we have a lot of similar interests too and have learned to appreciate each other’s unique interests, but marriage doesn’t mean the end of your “you” time.

    One of Grant’s stipulations before we got married was that I had to watch all of the Star Wars movies – and turns out, I actually ended up liking them!

  3. Not combining finances makes you feel like more of a roommate than a partner. For the first few months after marriage, Grant and I kept all of our accounts separate for no reason other than we just hadn’t found time to combine our accounts. But around month 3, it started feeling like every transaction had to be analyzed – if I bought groceries, then that meant Grant bought dinner. We’d always been open with our spending habits and both have comparable salaries, so we finally made the leap to combine everything into a joint account. Since then, finances have actually felt less stressful. We talk to each other more, especially for purchases that are the “nice to haves” (new running shoes for me, concert tickets for Grant), and have enjoyed the transparency that comes with sharing this part of our marriage.
  4. A healthy life starts with a healthy body and mind soul. Getting married, you gain a new, permanent roommate. Schedules get busy and some days it seems like there are just not enough hours in the day to mark everything off the to-do list. But we were given one body to take care of in this lifetime, so we’ve tried to focus on exercising and eating healthy over the past few months. We’ve established good habits of eating at home most weeknights and typically kick off our Saturday with a trip to the gym. And beyond just the physical benefits, it’s a time to decompress and relieve stress rather than taking out the stress on each other.

    Lucky to have this man running with me at the RaceTrac 5K!

  5. You learn a lot about someone when you use the self check-out line at the grocery store. This is one that needs to be added to all of the “100 Things You Should Talk About/Do Before You Get Engaged/Married” books! This may be a silly one on the list, but you learn to have patience with your spouse and to not get irritated or upset by the little things. If I had only counted the number of times we’ve gotten the “please wait for assistance” flashing screen during our weekly grocery trips! Neither you nor your spouse are perfect. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll have little quirks that annoy the other person, and sometimes you’ll just have an off day. But it’s learning to no sweat the small stuff that will bring you closer together, rather than focusing on all of the tiny insignificant things.
  6. It’s not about the quantity of time; it’s about the quality of time. You would think that once you are married, you’ll get to spend so much more time with your significant other compared to when you were dating and only saw each other on the weekends. News Flash: we actually don’t see each other that much more with our long days. I’m pretty sure the majority of time we spend together is when we are both asleep! But the time we do spend together now is spent talking about our goals and still learning more about one another (rather than the non-stop wedding planning talk of 2017!). Some of my favorite memories these past few months have been our honeymoon trip and our Park City trip because we truly got a chance to explore new places together, relax, and have fun! We’ve really come to value the mental breaks from work and the time to let go when you are on vacation, so don’t let those precious vacation days go to waste!

    Flashback to snorkeling on the honeymoon and wishing we could go back!

Bonus: Comparison is the thief of joy. I feel like this one is applicable at any stage of life, but it’s been one that we’ve been challenging ourselves to remember. Once you’re married, there is no perfect timeline of when to buy a house or when to have kids. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of comparison with others who having seemingly nicer houses or take more frequent vacations, but you have to take a step back and remember that everyone has different priorities. You can’t have everything you want, but you can have anything you want if you put a plan in place to tackle one goal at a time. 

We’d love to hear from any other newlyweds and some of the things you’ve learned or experienced during your first few months as well!

Follow along with us on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells 

Local Eats: Food Truck Edition

A few weekends ago, we had the opportunity to attend the Children’s Charities Denim & Diamonds Benefit at Shannondale Farms – an awesome evening to raise money for an even better local cause! One of the most unique parts of this event was the food options for the evening. Instead of your usual buffet or plated dinner, they had “Food Truck Wars” featuring six different local food trucks. Each served up a small sample of their specialty and guests had the opportunity to try as many as they wanted! Participating trucks included Cousins Maine Lobster, Big C’s Chicago Kitchen, Sunshine Alchemy, Smokin’ Mo’s BBQ, Just Loaf N’ Po Boys, and Chef Q’s Soul Shack. Take a look to see some of the best small bites from the evening:

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Some of the best Connecticut lobster rolls we’ve ever had from Cousins Maine Lobster food truck!

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Chicago Style Italian Beef from Big C’s Chicago Kitchen

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Jambalaya and Crawfish Dip with Chips from Just Loaf N’ Po Boys

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How many beignets are too many?

And as if one night of food trucks wasn’t enough, we spent Sunday afternoon exploring downtown Alpharetta at Truck and Tap and Smokejack BBQ!

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Rooftop patio at Truck and Tap Alpharetta is makes for the perfect afternoon!

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Couldn’t resist trying the loaded tots from Cousins Maine Lobster truck

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Beer and food truck options change every day at Truck & Tap Alpharetta

We continued our food tour of Alpharetta by heading to Smokejack BBQ in downtown Alpharetta.

Queso at Smokejack BBQ

Fried pickles and spicy mayo sauce from Smokejack BBQ

We definitely recommend checking out some of the local food trucks! With so many unique offers you can’t find anywhere else, it’s a great place to go to try something new.

Follow along with all of our adventures on Instagram at www.instagram.com/thelocalbells

Barnsley Gardens Adventure

Well, we took our own advice for a great springtime date! This past Saturday was the perfect spring day, so we decided to take a drive up to Adairsville to visit Barnsley Gardens and enjoy the beautiful weather! From Alpharetta, it’s about an hour and twenty minute drive, so we were ready for lunch when arrived at the Woodlands Grill. The menu changes seasonally, so you always feel like you are getting the freshest choices. After lunch, we took time relax and enjoy the beautiful day before exploring more.

Although it’s not far from home, the Barnsley Resort transports you to a place far away. Once home to a gorgeous Southern estate, the resort still pays homage to its history with the focal point being on the ruins of Godfrey Barnsley’s Manor House and antebellum Rice House. The resort is comprised of quaint, colorful cabins that remind you of a tiny European village and line the main pathway between the golf course up to the ruins of the Manor House.

We hadn’t visited the resort in a few years, and they have added some many amazing new features. The newest additions include the 55 room Inn and the Georgian Hall event center. With horseback riding, a gorgeous spa, Jim Fazio golf course, and a sporting club, there really is something for everyone! And on top of the newest architectural additions, they’ve also added some new animals as well!

The highlight of the trip for Grant was getting to meet the pigs (and horses and goats) of Barnsley. Grant’s dream is for us to one day have our own pet pig…I think we’ll start with a dog before anything else!

Feeling like taking an escape from the city? Check out Barnsley’s website to book your next trip. We know we’ll be back soon – next time for some horseback riding!

Follow along with us on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells to see what we’re up to next!

Top Springtime Dates

It is finally starting to feel like spring in Georgia! Fingers crossed that the beautiful weather stays and we get to enjoy more of these warm and sunny days. With the days getting longer, we’re excited to enjoy some of our favorite outdoor places and events in the coming weeks. Here are some of the springtime date activities that we are looking forward to most.

Zoo Atlanta – Who doesn’t love the zoo? We love getting to learn more about all of the amazing animals at Zoo Atlanta and typically try to go at least once a year. Spring is great before it gets too hot and humid during the summer months. If the heat and crowds aren’t for you, they have a lot of awesome evening events throughout the year, like Sippin’ Safari and Brew at the Zoo (coming up Memorial Day weekend!).IMG_1409

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Taste of Alpharetta – It’s been awhile since we’ve gone to this, but we are making plans to attend this year with it being walking distance away for us! On Thursday May 3rd, downtown Alpharetta shuts down for over 60 local restaurants to set up booths offering small plates and drinks of some of their most popular menu items. You can purchase tickets for the food and drink items, and it’s a great way to try a taste of so many great restaurants. Plus, there will be live music throughout the evening!IMG_2100

Barnsley Gardens – If you want an escape from the hustle and bustle, a trip to Barnsley Gardens in Adairsville may be just what you need. From their beautiful pre Civil War manor house ruins to their championship golf course to their gorgeous new Inn, it’s the perfect weekend or day trip from Atlanta! The Woodland’s Grill and Beer Garden are perfect to enjoy the nice weather and they have several walking trails if a picnic is more your style.

What are your favorite springtime dates that we should add to our list this year? Follow along with us on Instagram at www.instagram.com/thelocalbells

Homemade Croque Madame

Having tried Croque Madame sandwiches in both France and the Be Our Guest restaurant at Disney World, we know that this is one of our favorite savory sandwiches! Awhile back, we decided to see how difficult it would be to make them at home. The recipe turned out to be surprisingly easy, with tracking down Gruyere cheese being the most challenging part! A few weeks ago, we were trying to figure out what to make for breakfast and realized we were inching closer and closer to lunch – the perfect opportunity to whip up some Croque Madames!

Most of the ingredients are ones you probably already have on hand in your kitchen: butter, flour, milk, salt, and eggs. The only other ingredients are Parmesan and Gruyere cheese, thick cut sourdough bread, and sliced ham.

You start off by making the bechamel sauce with the flour, milk, butter, and Parmesan cheese.

While that is finishing, you can start grating your Gruyere cheese and begin prepping your bread on a cookie sheet with ham.

Spread half of the bechamel sauce on top of the ham with half of the Gruyere before adding another slice of bread.

Next step is to toast the bread on a skillet until it is toasted on each side before topping the sandwiches with the remaining bechamel and Gruyere.

The sandwiches go into the oven on broil to melt the cheese and give it a golden brown toast while you finish off the sandwich by frying eggs. We were extra hungry so we did two per sandwich, but one is what the traditional recipe calls for.

Once you pull the sandwiches out of the oven and top them with the fried eggs, it’s time to dig in! One of our favorite brunch items that looks and sounds way more impressive than anyone would guess! Bon Appetit!

To see the full recipe we use, check out: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alexandra-guarnaschelli/croque-madame-sandwich-recipe-1922870

Follow along with us on Instagram to see what we are up to next: www.Instagram.com/TheLocalBells

5 Reasons Why You Should Study Abroad

10 years ago, Grant and I signed up for our school’s spring break European studies trip to Greece and Italy. Fast forward to now, and we are married! Had it not been for that trip, we would have never met and been where we are now. Since that first trip, Grant had the opportunity to go on another European studies trip to Paris, London, and Rome in high school, while I spent 11 weeks traveling and studying in Europe during college. All incredible experiences that we wouldn’t trade for the world! Thinking about studying abroad? Read our 5 reasons why you should definitely take that leap and experience other places.IMG_2670

5. Opportunity to see so many incredible places, often that are planned for you. During all of our study abroad adventures, we were part of a larger group that traveled together over the course of the trip. When it comes to getting reservations at museums like the Louvre or the Vatican, going with a tour group is awesome for getting priority. Traveling to a new country can seem daunting at first, so it was really nice to have a group of people that were in the same boat with you. As you get more familiar with the area, not only do you feel more confident in planning your own excursions during downtime, but you have people to enjoy it with you! Between the two of us, we’ve been to Italy, France, Greece, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, England, Austria, and Africa.

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The Vatican Museum

4. Experience new cultures, history, and food that is completely different than life back home. When you think about the fact that the United States was formed back in 1776, we really don’t have the rich history, architecture, and culture that you find in most any city in Europe. The Roman Forum dates back to 800 BC by some accounts and many of the original arches, buildings, and ruins are still standing today. It’s absolutely amazing to see these incredible sites that had stood the test of time. While we love to visit the typical tourist attractions like the Colosseum or Eiffel Tower, getting local recommendations on where to get the best gelato or margarita pizza really allow you to see the authentic culture.

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Palace of Versailles in France

3. Learn more about yourself by honing real life skills like having to manage a budget, navigating new cities, and being independent. During my high school study abroad, we had multiple chaperones (thanks, Mom & Dad!) and teachers that did most of the planning and money management. When I studied abroad in college, a lot of that quickly became my own responsibility. Knowing that I had a set budget for the entire summer, I had to figure out my budget by city and how I wanted to allocate it. When gelato and having to use the bathroom cost the same (yes, Europe still charges to use public restrooms in most places!), you have to make that tough call.

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View of Florence from Michelangelo’s Hill

2. You likely won’t ever have the time to travel and experience this much of the world. Now, several years out of college, it’s harder and harder to take time off and budget for long trips out of the country. You don’t realize how precious your time is, and there is no better time to travel and experience the world than when you are young and have limited responsibilities. A lot of college programs also have financial aid options and scholarships for study abroad, which was how I was able to spend those 11 weeks abroad. I had known since high school that I wanted to do this particular program, so I started researching financial aid and scholarship options so that I was prepared. As working adults, we just don’t have the vacation time to travel like we used too, and with international flights costing $1,500+, it’s hard to convince yourself that a 5 day trip would be worth it.

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Mykonos, Greece

1. You never know who you might meet! Grant and I met back in 2008 in Greece and Italy, and my sister actually met her now husband during our study abroad trip to Europe in 2012. For both of those trips, I really didn’t know many people. When you are thrown into a whirlwind adventure, you start making connections with people you might have never met before. It was a great opportunity to build new relationships outside of our friend group. And for some of these friendships and relationships, they have proved to be lifelong.

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Study Abroad 2008

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Study Abroad 2012

So, have we convinced you to consider studying abroad? What is on your list of “must visit” locations? And if anyone comes up with an “working adult” version of study abroad, sign us up!

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