Reflecting on 2018 Goals

Wow, it’s hard to believe that we have closed out another year and it’s on to 2019! In some ways, it’s felt like it went by so quickly, but on the other hand it feels like there was so much crammed into 2018 that it couldn’t possibly have been just one year. In one of our very first blog posts, we wrote about our goals for 2018 (take a look at the full post here). To be completely honest, it wasn’t something that we talked much about on a regular basis throughout the year, but we kept the list posted on our fridge as a constant reminder of what we were working towards.

So how did we do? I was a little nervous pulling that sheet of paper off the fridge to evaluate whether we had achieved our goals or had fallen short. Here’s a quick snapshot of how we did:

  1. Exercising 30 minutes at least 3 times per week Yes! Overall, I’d say we did a pretty good job on this one during a typical work week. I workout with my mom and sister twice a week, which holds me accountable, and the gym is on my way home for at least one more workout each week. Grant stops by the gym most days after work when he’s not traveling and we try to have at least one weekend workout together as well. I’m hoping we can keep this positive momentum rolling in 2019!
  2. Cook dinner at home at least 4 nights per week – Yes! Another one I am really proud of us for achieving! Not only do we save a significant amount of money eating in, but it gives us healthier options and more time to spend together. Another habit from 2018 that we are hoping to continue. And if you have any great recipes, send them my way – we are constantly looking for new easy meals to try.
  3. Save enough money for a house down payment by October – YES! By far my proudest accomplishment from 2018. We began our home search in May, a bit earlier than we had originally planned. By early June, we were under contract for a house and set to close in August. It took a lot of discipline to save and watch our spending those first 7-9 months of marriage, (and a lot of meals at home with chicken) but it paid off! We are incredibly blessed to have found a home that we can grow into in an area that we love.
  4. Max out 401K – Kinda. Grant and I both have employer sponsored 401K accounts and each have a separate Roth IRA account. We both continued to contribute to our employer accounts in order to get the full employer match, but are still working up to maxing out our Roth contributions for the year. Automating these contributions and our savings in general will help us to hopefully get closer with this in 2019.
  5. Less than $10,000 student loan debt and car loan – No. This is one where it would have been beneficial to track this progress more closely throughout the year because we were really close. We ended the year at about $12,500 left on student loans and car payments, so we were just shy of meeting our goal. When I checked the accounts and saw we were so close yet didn’t meet that goal, I felt disappointed and a little dejected. And sometimes that’s how you feel when you don’t meet a goal – you focus on what you didn’t accomplish rather than what you did. So I looked at what we were able to do in 2018 and I found that we paid off nearly $15,000 in student loans and car payments! That is incredible!! Yes, we fell short of our goal, but we should be proud of what we accomplished in 2018 and keep pushing forward in 2019 to officially be debt free (minus our mortgage).
  6. Use every vacation day – In progressWe are still working on this one, but we each took some time off around Thanksgiving and between Christmas and New Years to spend time with family and friends and relax and recharge before heading back to work. Both Grant and I value quality time together more than anything else, so we’re working to make it a priority to use our vacation/PTO time. And more to come, but we have officially booked a 12 day trip to Italy in May! 
  7. Plan a first anniversary trip in November – Yes! We actually were overachievers when it came to this goal – we had a mini stay-cation for one night at Chateau Elan the weekend of our actual anniversary and then planned our big anniversary trip to Disney World after Thanksgiving. We had an incredible time there and will be sharing some tips and tricks soon on ways we made the most of our time and saved money (TLB tip – we booked a free dining offer and Disney is currently offering it again for July-September here! If you want recommendations or have questions, we are happy to share our experience.) 

So there you go. We didn’t achieve all of our goals, but rather than feeling disappointed by what we didn’t do, we are celebrating all we were able to accomplish this year and know that 2019 holds even more exciting times!

Thanks for following along and happy new year to everyone! We are excited for all that is to come in 2019, so be sure to check out our Instagram

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Behind the Scenes at Porsche – CHOA’s Rolling for a Reason

A few weeks ago, we had a chance to go behind the scenes at the Porsche Driving Experience for a charity event benefiting the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. We’ve said this before, but Children’s holds a place near and dear to our hearts, so we are always grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at these events and bring awareness to such an amazing cause. This night was nothing short of spectacular, and we’re sharing some behind the scenes photos from this incredible event!

The new facility was opened in 2015 and is located just south of Atlanta right next to Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The best way to describe the Porsche Driving Experience is a real life “Test Track” for car enthusiasts. From the history of Porsche, to their wall of paint colors, to the driver development track, this place is a car lover’s dream!

If you are looking to go on a drive, we heard rumors that the blue car was the fastest!

Our evening started with a cocktail reception on their patio, which overlooks their test course and has views of the planes taking off and landing next door at the airport. Combine that with a gorgeous sunset, and it’s hard to find a view that will beat this one! The CHOA VIP attendees had the opportunity to go for a ride around the test course in one of the many Porsche models. While we didn’t get to fulfill our need for speed this time, the Porsche Experience Center offers a variety of different driving experiences here. Prices vary depending on which experience you choose, but still are a bit out of the Local Bells’ budget – guess we’ll have to make do with getting our fast car fix at Test Track this November! (Stay tuned for our tips and tricks on how we saved hundreds on our Disney vacation!)

When the sun went down, the games began and the stakes were high! You had your pick from whatever your game was – whether that was roulette or blackjack, craps or Texas hold’em. Everyone started out with $1,000 worth of chips to gamble as you pleased. For some, they went big but didn’t have to go home early thanks to a donation buy-in that let them stay in the game. Midway through the evening, we heard a moving speech from the Blythes, the honored patient family this evening, about their son’s battle against cancer and the love and support they’ve received from the Aflac Cancer Center and CHOA. Hearing those stories and knowing that the proceeds from this evening go to real people like the Blythe family truly puts everything into perspective.

Shout-out to ONEHOPE Wine for the amazing wine this evening! They donate to a different cause with the purchase of every bottle of wine – a winning combination in our book!

At the end of the evening, we traded in our chips for raffle tickets for some amazing prizes – if you’ve ever been to a CHOA event, you know the silent auctions and raffles are outstanding! Let’s just say Grant and I shouldn’t quit our day jobs to play blackjack professionally…

If you are interested in ways to support Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, we invite you to check out their website, www.choa.org. There are so many ways to give back, whether through amazing events like this or volunteering in their hospitals. For one of their exciting events coming this October, be sure to check out Polo in the Pines at the Atlanta Regional Polo Center! Two days of polo, delicious food, fantastic silent auction prizes, and supporting a great cause. We hope to see you there!

Follow us on Instagram for more of our fall fun to come – 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 

Do You Want to Build a Snowman? Or Ski? Or Snowmobile? – Adventures in Park City (Part 2)

When you think Park City, one of the first things that come to mind is their world-class skiing. Park City is home to Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort, the annual Sundance Film Festival, and was also the site for the 2002 Winter Olympics. The ski season typically ranges from November until April, though can sometimes extend into June if they have an awesome snow season. This year was a late start for snow – a lot of locals told us if we had come a month prior, there wouldn’t have been much snow at all!

So when you are in a city known for its amazing snow and skiing, you make it a point to see what all the hype is about! We decided that we would ski at Park City Mountain, as it offered the most extensive options for ski lifts and runs, particularly for beginners. Meagan skied growing up, but it had been about 12 years since she had hit the slopes. Grant had never skied before (he had tried snowboarding once), so we knew we needed to start slow. TLB Tip: We did some research online and found we’d get the best deal on lift tickets by purchasing directly through Park City Mountain at least a week in advance. We were a little taken aback by how expensive the tickets were – over $400 for two people skiing on Friday and Saturday, so definitely keep that in mind during your ski trip planning. The tickets were mailed to us before our trip, so we didn’t have to wait in the super long lift ticket line once we arrived, which was a huge plus. The passes ordered ahead of time look a lot like a credit card. You stick it in any of your jacket pockets and the Park City Mountain staff is able to scan it right through your jacket before you get on the lifts.

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Before we could hit the slopes, we stopped by the Ski’N’See rental shop in the Prospector lobby to rent our ski equipment. TLB Tip: We made a reservation for our equipment in advance and ended up saving about 25%! Two days of rentals including boots, skis, poles, and helmets ran us just under $200 total. Luckily, we were able to raid Meagan’s family’s ski bag and borrow some of the other winter weather essentials like goggles, gloves, and hats.

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Friday morning, we hit the road at 8 AM to get to Park City Mountain before it opened at 9 AM. Again, the Park City Transit bus system was a super convenient (and free!) way to get us to the mountain, with the only disadvantage being having to carry all of our ski equipment with us there and back. Once we got there and the lifts officially opened for the day, we popped our skis on and made our way to the aptly named “First Time” lift for our first run of the trip (and first time ever for Grant!). Luckily, we made it on and off the chairlift successfully! We spent the rest of the morning continuing down the “First Time” run to get more comfortable and confident before heading up the “Payday” lift to a longer green run, starting about halfway up the mountain.

This new run, “Homerun,” is a 3.5 mile long green run that takes you down the mountain right back to the resort center. Meagan isn’t a huge fan of the chairlift (thanks, fear of heights), so this was a great long run before having to head back to the lifts. Both Friday and Saturday, we stuck with the green runs, not quite ready to make the jump to blues. It was a little windy out too, but luckily temperatures stayed in the 30’s so we really weren’t that cold. Despite not getting any fresh powder, the runs were groomed beautifully and the ground snow conditions were still pretty good for us novice skiers. The picture below perfectly captures how we navigated the mountain!

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All in all, it was a successful two days of skiing! You do forget how physically demanding it is to ski all day, so it’s likely we would stick to 2 or 3 days in the future (or shorter days). A big success was no injuries on either side (luckily the snow was soft for the few tumbles that happened). Unfortunately, we forgot to have our snowball fight and didn’t build a snowman – but that gives us something to look forward to next time!

If skiing isn’t for you, Park City has a ton of other snow activity options including snowmobiling, snowshoeing, or sleigh rides. Meagan had the chance to go snowmobiling earlier in the week before Grant arrived. If you’ve ridden a Jet-ski before, snowmobiling is very similar. Meagan went to Red Pine Adventures for a 2 hour guided tour that took the group on trails up and down the mountain, getting as high as 10,000 feet. The views were stunning and if you have a need for speed, then this activity is right up your alley!

Stay tuned for our final post on the best eats and drinks in Park City. Follow along with us on Instagram at www.instagram.com/thelocalbells 

Chops Lobster Bar Review

We had a great Valentine’s Day celebration Wednesday night, cooking and relaxing at home instead of fighting the crowds and bad service with all the other couples. Instead, we decided to have our big celebratory dinner Friday night and visit one of the most iconic Atlanta restaurants – Chops Lobster Bar.

To put it simply, Chops Lobster Bar is home of some of the best steak and seafood in Atlanta, and consistently ranks in the top 10 steakhouses in the U.S. The intimate cavern-like dining room creates an inviting atmosphere as you walk in and see the seafood bar front and center. While we waited for our reservation time, we had a seat at the “Lobster Bar” and settled in with a cocktail to kick off our evening.

When it was time to be seated, we were escorted to a table towards the back, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the dining room. One thing to note about Chops Lobster Bar is their incredible staff. We were always addressed as Mr. and Mrs. Bell, making it feel very personal to us and almost as if we were regulars.

Since it was a special occasion (and also because we had a gift card to offset some of the cost), we decided to take our time through each of the courses. We started off by splitting the signature lobster tail – you can’t go to the iconic Lobster Bar without eating lobster! The 1/4 lb lobster tail was flash fried and served with warm drawn butter and a Greek honey mustard aioli. The batter was light and crispy, though not overpowering for the juicy, buttery lobster. Definitely recommend this as a shareable starter!

For our next course, we selected the French onion soup and the Chops chopped salad. The soup was served in the tradition crock with copious amounts of cheese, making it a truly decadent soup. The salad had some of the freshest romaine lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, endive, and onion and was tossed in a creamy basil vinaigrette. For appetizers, both dishes were generously sized and could easily be shared by two.

When it came to entrees, we decided to get one steak and one seafood option, representing both of the specialities of Chops Lobster Bar. We chose the 20 oz. bone-in ribeye and the horseradish crusted black grouper. Both were incredible! Though I don’t think there is a bad option on the menu. All of the steaks are custom aged and broiled at 1700 degrees, locking in the juicy flavors. The fish was flaky and light, with a subtle rather than overpowering flavor of horseradish. Again, generous portion sizes for both. We split a side of the smoked Gouda mac and cheese too, which was so decadent and delicious that not a noodle was left behind.

After stuffing ourselves with appetizers, soup, salad, and entrees, we were too full to properly enjoy the dessert course and decided to pass this round. All in all, an incredible experience from the food to the service to the ambiance of the Chops Lobster Bar. Such a great experience comes with a comparable price tag, so it’s unlikely we will become regulars but definitely a place to remember for special celebrations.

TLB Tip: Interested in checking out Chops Lobster Bar or one of the other Buckhead Life Group restaurants? Order an Ultimate Dining Card to get an extra 10% added for future purchases.

Paradisus La Perla – Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Happy Valentine’s Day! While we love this special day, it’s been the everyday married life for the past three months that has been so incredibly special. We knew each other for almost 10 years before getting married, but you learn so much about someone when you live together. We’ve learned that it works best when we each do our own laundry, but that we make a pretty good team when cooking and cleaning in the kitchen. While we’re still in this “honeymoon” phase of life, we thought it was only fitting to share some of our favorite things from our phenomenal honeymoon at Paradisus La Perla in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

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It’s hard to believe that just a year ago, we were knee-deep in wedding planning. There were three things on our list that we were most excited to plan – the food, the band, and the honeymoon! You spend so much time, effort, and money planning the perfect day to celebrate the start of your marriage, so it was important to us that we picked a honeymoon location that we could relax in paradise to truly begin our life together. Originally, we were going to pick three places and Grant would ultimately decide and book the resort, keeping it a surprise for me. But…..once we started looking, we decided it would be more fun to plan things together (and it took some of the pressure off Grant!).

I love planning and organizing, especially when it comes to vacations. I kept a spreadsheet with our options, including notes about number of restaurants, number of pools, included amenities, location, and traveler reviews. We probably had close to a dozen options we were considering. A big factor in our decision-making was finding a location where the weather and water would still be warm in November, a place that had direct flights from Atlanta, and a resort that was all inclusive, so we didn’t have to worry about budgeting when we were supposed to be relaxing.

I had been to Mexico before with my family and loved the resort we had always stayed at, the Moon Palace. But for our honeymoon, Grant and I wanted to experience a place that neither of us had been to. We narrowed down our options to Mexico or the Dominican Republic, and eventually zeroed in on Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Playa del Carmen is outside of the typical, touristy Cancun resort area that most people associate with Mexico. The resort we decided on was Paradisus La Perla and was about a 45 minute drive from the Cancun International Airport.

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We had some concerns from family and friends about traveling to Mexico, but neither of us ever felt unsafe during our visit. The resort arranged complimentary transportation to and from the airport, and the resort was only accessible by visitors staying there. The one thing that would have been a benefit to us was if either of us spoke Spanish. We knew a few words here and there, but not enough to carry on a full conversation. Maybe it’s time we start listening to Rosetta Stone on our commutes to and from the office!

It’s hard to narrow down our favorite parts of our honeymoon, but here are our top 5 favorite things about Paradisus La Perla:

  1. Royal Service – The name itself just sounds magical, and trust us, it was! Royal Service guests have access to a special concierge for booking preferential dining reservations and spa treatments, have their own personal on-call butler, have a private Royal Service only pool and bar, private Royal Service-only a la carte restaurant, and the “Free to Lounge” area with specialty snacks and top shelf beverages. Gilberto was our butler and was fantastic about getting us the dinner reservations we requested and just making sure we had a wonderful stay. We definitely took advantage of the “Free to Lounge” area since many of our reservations were later in the evening and found it the perfect place to have a quick snack and relax before dinner. img_1855img_1914
  2. Incredible Food – There are 14+ incredible restaurants here! So many that we didn’t even make it to all of them. When you think all-inclusive, you sometimes think it is equivalent with buffets or average food. Not the case at all with Paradisus. While we didn’t get a chance to try it this time, their Passion restaurant is run by Seven Star Michelin Chef Martin Berasategui and is supposed to be phenomenal. Our favorite restaurants included Hadar for breakfast, The Market (or a poolside snack!) for lunch, and Fuego and Bana for dinner. You really could not go wrong with any of their restaurants! And they were very accommodating with food allergies. Grant is allergic to tree nuts, and he received a card that noted his allergy in English and in Spanish that we gave to each of our waiters before dining. img_1911img_1921
  3. All-Inclusive – Similar to our comments about food, having an all-inclusive resort was amazing after a year of budgeting and paying for a wedding. The Paradisus staff was truly top-notch with customer service, and were genuinely appreciative when we did tip someone for exceptional service. The all-inclusive aspect really made us excited to try some new foods and drinks while we were there that we might not have spent the money on otherwise. Grant in particular enjoyed all of the frozen drink variations (Mango Tangos every day), and it was a special treat to enjoy so much fresh seafood. One of our favorite pre-dinner spots was the M Bar, a martini bar. It was so fun to try some new variations of the classic martini and take some notes for when we entertain at home. img_1883-1img_1885
  4. Variety of Things to Do – The Paradisus resort is a combination of two properties, La Esmeralda (family side) and La Perla (adults only). Having such a large, combined resort gave us a ton of options when it came to eating, exploring, and activities. While we were there, we got to go to a Mexican wine tasting class (TLB fun fact: per capita consumption of wine in Mexico is only one bottle per year!), went to a sushi making class, and went on a snorkeling tour. The wine tasting class and sushi class were both right on property, and we booked the snorkeling adventure through AquaWorld. The tour boat left right from the Paradisus beach, drove us out to the reef for an hour of snorkling, then brought us back – all without ever leaving our resort! img_1872img_1891img_1896
  5. Property & Views – Having access to two resorts in one was a great feature! We never felt bored and had some many places to explore. The pool areas were amazing, with comfy lounge chairs, easy access to the bar for food and drinks, and the ocean breeze to whisk your mind away to paradise. The beach was beautiful, and we took a few walks along there to feel the sand under our toes and smell the cool ocean breeze. They had an awesome Royal Service only section on the beach as well, which we tried out only once. 37 minutes under the direct sunlight, and we had to make a retreat for our pool chairs and umbrella! These two pale people can’t take too much of the Mexican sun! Our room was amazing as well – we had our own swim-up access to the pool, jacuzzi, and sitting area. The Paradisus team covered every detail you could imagine! img_1878img_1871img_1841

Sound like a place you’d want to go? Take a look at the website here to read more, see pictures, and book your stay! Have more questions? Comment below or send us an email at thelocalbells@gmail.com

TLB tip: join Melia Rewards (it’s free!) to get an even bigger discount when booking.