Tuesday, March 31, 2015

10 Things on Tuesday - Volume 35


1. I am SO FAR BEHIND on blog updates that this might be the easiest 10 Things post to write EVER, since I have so much to catch up on!

2.. I got a car! After over 5 weeks of being without after totaling my old car, it's so nice to have transportation again!! (I've had it for two weeks now, but like I said, I'm way behind on updates!)


It's definitely nothing fancy (2007 Chevy Cobalt with about 84k miles), but I really didn't want to spend more than I got from my insurance company to replace my poor beloved Mustang. The new one is 3 years newer than my old car, but there are a few things like manual windows and locks that will take some getting used to! Still, just having a way to get around again is fantastic!

2. In the the past four days, I've taken my car in TWICE to deal with tire issues! I noticed about a week ago when I drove it in the rain for the first time that it was hydroplaning quite a bit. Asked car dudes what was up, and garage dude looked at my tires and told me the back two were in crappy shape - even I could see that one was cracking and wasn't going to last long. (How did I miss this when I bought it?) Luckily, tires for this car are like half the price of what my old ones were, so I was able to put two new tires on and go on my merry way.

Except that things STILL weren't right. So I spent three bucks to buy a tire pressure gague at Target and check the front tire that looked low. Yup, that was it! The tire pressure was at like 21 instead of 31. This led to the comedy of me trying to put air in. First, when on earth did they raise the price of those tire air things from like 10-25 cents to an entire dollar? That's nuts!


Anyway, after totally exhausting myself trying to fill my tire back up (Is it supposed to be THAT HARD? OMG.) I put the little cap back on and spotted... a screw stuck in my tire. Well, that explains a lot! Took my car BACK in, and thankfully the repair was only $10. Not a bad deal, considering hat they also found a nail in the same tire! So basically, my front passenger side tire is my favorite, because it's the only non-troublemaker so far.

3. In non-car news, my mom is back in the hospital. :( She wasn't feeling great most of last week, and was finally feeling so weak that she agreed to go get checked out. The biggest bummer was that it was her birthday! Nothing says birthday fun like pizza followed by calling an ambulance! She's been there for a couple of days, and they're about to move her down to the rehab unit so she can work with physical therapists and get strong enough to move back home in about a week. Whew!

4. After an entire year of saving up all of the Amazon gift cards that I got from doing Swagbucks, Crowdtap, surveys, etc., I finally got a new camera! And yup, paid 100% in Amazon GC's, not a single penny of "real" money. Woohoo!

5. This is turning into a list of stuff I've bought recently, but since my ipod went missing during/after my car accident, I picked a new one up at a pawn shop for $35. It was full of music...

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...mostly country. The only problem is that it's formatted for Mac and I'm on a PC, so I'll have to wipe it before I can sync it with my iTunes. So for now, I've been browsing through the music that's already on it to see if there's anything fun that I haven't heard yet. 

6. I am drinking wine and watching Rachel Maddow while finishing this post up, even though I'm supposed to be working, because it has been that kind of week.

7. I'm planning a quick trip to Savannah, GA the end of next month, so if you've been there, let me know what you consider to be a must-do! 

8. My beloved Moe's has FINALLY opened a location in Branson, so I am totally heading there for dinner after visiting mom in the hospital tomorrow, and I intend to eat all of the salsa and queso they have in the entire place. 

9. I'm reading a book about the making of the Sound of Music, and even though I'm not even 1/4 of the way in yet, I am learning SO MUCH. I really do need to do a book review post soon!

10. Okay, y'all. I'm going to drink this wine and eat Easter candy and work for eleventy billion more hours and watch Maddow interview Elizabeth Warren and finish the Stitch Fix review post that I want to post tomorrow and then maybe nap or something? Sounds like a plan.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Helping Shelter Cats Find Forever Homes #FoodShelterLove

This post is sponsored by Hill’s. I am being compensated for helping spread the word about Hill’s® Science Diet® and Food, Shelter & Love™ Program, but Straight On Till Morning only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. is not responsible for the content of this article.

Jasper was not this into snuggles when I adopted him as a kitten, but he learned!


As I mentioned last month, Kitten Season is upon us, which means that animal shelters are super busy right now due to the huge number of kittens being brought in. What makes potential pet parents pick one cat over another? Personality is obviously a huge thing - we all want a pet who will be fun and friendly! If you're not up for adopting or fostering a cat yourself, most shelters would love to have you volunteer to spend some time playing with their cats! It can help nervous kitties relax, and teaches kittens how to socialize with humans.


Yes, he likes to wear a coat in the winter. He's a Florida kitty, neither of us are fans of the Missouri cold! Good thing we can cuddle up and keep each other warm!

Did you know that nutrition also plays a big role in making cats more adoptable? It's not something I had ever really thought about, but it makes sense! Cats fed a high quality food are generally going to be healthier, both in terms of appearance and energy, and people looking for a cat to adopt are naturally going to be drawn towards healthy, happy cats! The Hill’s Food, Shelter & Love™ program donates fantastic Hill's pet food to shelters across the country to give shelter pets the top notch nutrition they need to be at their best!



As a sort of sub-category of nutrition, weight also plays a role in which cats are chosen to be adopted. Often, overweight cats are overlooked in favor of cats at a healthy weight. Check out this awesome video that shows how Hill's Science Diet Perfect Weight food is being used to help shelter cats find forever homes!

 

How awesome is that? (I loved the part about all of the cat pics on their phones, by the way - my phone is the same way!) The best part is that using this food to help the cats lose weight is a routine that's super easy for their new adopted family to continue!

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Is there an animal shelter near you that you think could benefit by becomoing a part of the Hill's Food, Shelter & Love program? Check out the qualifications they need to meet here, and see if they qualify to join the almost 1,000 shelters across the country that Hill's is already donating food to!

Have you ever adopted a kitty from a shelter, or volunteered at one to help other pets find new homes? I'd love to hear your stories!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Digital HD Giveaway! (US/Canada - Ends April 1)


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is available on Digital HD now and will be coming out on Blu-Ray on the 24th! I'm a huge Tolkien nerd, so I'm pretty excited about this latest installment! Have you guys seen it yet? Here's the official trailer:

 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

River City Casino Hotel in St. Louis

Huge thanks to the hotel at River City Casino for the complimentary nights in exchange for this post! No other compensation was received, and as always you'll be getting my honest opinions!


image via River City's Facebook page

Although there are a lot of fantastic things to see and do in St. Louis, I don't generally think of it as a big tourist destination like my home cities of Branson and Orlando. It is, however, a city that a lot of people end up in on their way to somewhere else. If you're on a major road trip to almost anywhere in the US, there's a pretty solid chance you'll be passing through St. Louis. Flying across the country? Good chance of a layover here! And of course, everyone needs to make the stop to see the Gateway Arch at least once, right?

The thing about cities like this is that a lot of travelers don't take the time to look for an interesting place to stay, especially if they're just passing through. They stop at the first chain hotel they spot that they know they like and end up with a predictable yet generic experience. But seriously, y'all, it's time to start expecting a little more fun and variety from the place that you stay.


Cutest room key ever? Quite possibly.

I contacted the River City Casino about staying in their hotel during my St. Louis trip because "something a little more fun" was exactly what I was looking for. Whether you're a big fan of gambling or not, casino hotels are actually pretty awesome when you're traveling because you're almost always going to have plenty of on-site dining options, reasonable rates, some form of entertainment on property, and more often than not you'll be in a location that's convenient to nearby attractions. Plus, if you've had a long travel day it can be really fun to just head down and spend a couple of hours in the casino as your evening's entertainment rather than heading out into an unfamiliar city in search of a way to decompress from a long day behind the wheel! River City is just a mile and a half off of I-55, so you don't even have to worry about navigating very far from your travel route!

Of course, if you read the 10 Things On Tuesday post from the week after my STL trip, you already know that my plan to just head up to St. Louis, have drinks with a friend at the hotel's bar, play some games in the casino and then just kick back and relax at the hotel did not quite go according to plan! I don't want to go off on a huge tangent here when I've already told the whole crazy story in that post, but I do want to at least mention again how incredibly thankful I am that the woman I was in contact with regarding blogging about the hotel not only sent transportation to get me there safely after I totaled my car on the way up, but made arrangements for me to stay over a night longer than I planned when my body freaked out from the car accident stress the next day and I was too sick to even make it out of bed, let alone go anywhere. It wasn't just her, though.  Every single employee that I came into contact with throughout the entire property, from hotel front desk to the gift shop to casino security and on and on, was super nice and helpful, and that extra kindness meant a LOT when I was having such a rough day. The bellman was even awesome enough to take me around for a peek at some of the amenities that I might have missed seeing otherwise!

But you guys know that I'm a huge hotel nerd, so let's check out where I stayed!



Do I even need to tell you how heavenly this looked after one LONG day? I was ready to relax!




Ignore all of my makeup and such, and focus on the snazzy tv built into the bathroom mirror. I need one of these at home, please, asap.

Gotta love the combination of regular shower in front plus rainfall showerhead on top!

I spent a ton of time in this magnificent shower. I'd probably still be hanging out in there if I hadn't needed to check out and go home eventually. But trust me, between accident soreness and being sick the day after, there was nothing better than a fifty billion hour long shower on Friday morning to make me feel human again!

I also have to give the room points for being super quiet! Since I was sick my 2nd day there, I slept literally alllll day up until almost 9 pm. I'm a light sleeper, and I don't recall any noise at all waking me up. It probably helps that I was on an upper floor, so there wasn't much chance of noise from below, but my room also overlooked the river and valet parking lot, so there wasn't much to cause noise, anyway.



Ice covered cars the night I arrived


A much more cheerful view of my morning coffee overlooking the Mississippi River before I checked out. Hey, I can see Illinois from here!

The property as a whole is fresh and modern, with nods to the area's history sprinkled throughout. 


Cool St Louis history art piece in the lobby. 


The property also has multiple meeting and event facilities that are great for conventions or weddings! How great are the big clock shaped light fixtures in this meeting room??




And yes, for those of you who do that whole exercise thing, there's a fitness center equipped with free weights, treadmills, exercise machines, and lots of bottled water and fresh towels. 


The long stretch of the building between the hotel and casino is filled with restaurants, and was decorated for Chinese New Year during my visit.



Tons of dining options here, by the way, from buffet to steakhouse to coffee cart to really cute burger joint!


I had breakfast at the cute 50's style Lewey Nine's Cafe on my last morning at River City, and found both the food and the service to be fantastic! Since I was a little under the weather still, I stuck with a half order of biscuits and gravy (hey, I'm southern, y'all!) and coffee, but next time I'd love to check out their German chocolate pancakes with caramel pecan syrup! 

I did actually get to spend an hour or so down in the casino when I finally woke up on Thursday night. This is exactly why I love casino hotels - if you're traveling under circumstances more normal than mine ended up being, it gives you something fun to do for a couple of hours after a long day of driving without needing to head out and find your way around an unfamiliar city. Plus, free soda and coffee make me happy any day!


Being the high roller that I am, I stuck to the penny slot machines, but they do have a full array of table games and slots of all denominations. I was kind of hoping I might turn my luck around and magically win a big jackpot for a new car, but alas, this was the best I managed on my one dollar into the machine:


Totally doubled my money plus some! It's ok to be jealous of my big win.

The casino here is pretty huge - 90,000 square feet! That is approximately 120 times the size of my last apartment. It was nice to see that they had a few areas designated as non-smoking, since smoke smell is probably the one thing that bugs me at casinos. Plus, they clearly had slot machines aimed at my demographic.

Who knew they made slot machines just for cat ladies?

One especially nice thing at River City is that you need a room key to operate the elevator up to the hotel, and in the evening hours there was even someone outside the elevators checking keys. It was a nice little extra bit of security, to be able to know that you wouldn't have random casino guests able to just wander around the hotel hallways. 

Parting shot:


I would absolutely stay here again the next time I'm in St. Louis, although I'd also like to check out their sister property at the Ameristar, especially since their blues bar has weekly live music! The room was super comfortable and modern, the building is packed with dining choices, the casino is huge, the price is on par with what you'd pay for a mid level chain hotel that's way less fun, the location is convenient to a lot of St. Louis attractions, and the staff is first rate.

Looking for more info? You can find River City on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! By the way, they also have an awesome sweepstakes going on where you can win a night at the hotel, tickets to see Vince Gill perform, and a $50 dining credit! Click here to go check it out!

Do you ever visit casinos? What's your favorite kind of accommodation for a road trip? 

10 Things on Tuesday - Volume 34


1. My beloved Orlando City Soccer's VERY FIRST official major league game was this weekend! They ended up in a 1-1 tie with the (also new) NYCFC. Wish I could have been there in person! It wasn't the most exciting of games (other than that whole thing where New York's goalie ended up bleeding from the head twice, but just kept playing) possibly because the two new teams (both with imported superstars) were really evenly matched but finding their feet as a team, but it still would have been awesome to be there for the inaugural game!



2. If you've been wanting to try Stitch Fix but you're a little wary about the $20 styling fee, you're going to looooove this! They have a promo going on this month where new customers get their first month with NO styling fee! That means you only pay for what you choose to keep - nothing to lose! I'd obviously love if you use my affiliate link to sign up - just enter the code RISKFREEMARCH to waive the fee! (My next Fix is scheduled to arrive 3/17, so expect another review soon!)

3. Scientists have designed music specifically for cats. My cats seemed sort of interested in listening to it. I'd be curious to hear how yours react!

4. I went car shopping this Saturday, but I am still car-less. I liked the 1st one that I test drove, but I'm not 100% on it yet. 2nd one just didn't excite me much. Decided while driving the 3rd one that I'd probably take it, only to get back to the dealership and found out someone had just put a deposit on it. Arrgh! I've been going back and forth all day about what my next move will be. My plan was to go rent a car tomorrow and spend a day or two checking out cars, but the car rental place in Branson won't do one way rentals right now, so if I find something I like down in Bentonville or Fayetteville, AR (which seem to have the best prices for pretty much everything), I'd have no way to get both my new car and the rental back up here. I'm about 50/50 right now between just buying the first one I drove, or booking the $120 flight that I found down to Orlando next week and car shopping there, where I would have my friends to drive me around and WAY more to choose from. Of course, that would mean sunshine and fun and good times (YAY!) but also a 1000+ mile drive back home after. (Boooo.) What's a girl to do?

5. Speaking of cars, I found pics of my car online at a salvage auction site. I didn't get a very good look at it after the accident - it was getting dark and I was basically getting back and forth between the car, ambulance, police car and tow truck as quickly as possible since we were in the very snowy fast lane of a major interstate. I'd say the 2nd pic here totally explains why the cop said "Yeeeah, I don't think it's going to..." when I said I couldn't get my car to move:


6. This post was all set to actually go up on Tuesday like it was supposed to, but I haven't slept more than 3 hours a night since Thursday, so I somehow managed to fall asleep watching All In with Chris Hayes, so I hope I at least had really great dreams about him during the 5 hours of sleep that followed. (Although since I fell asleep with msnbc on, I probably dreamed about Hillary emailing me about yoga. Which would be pretty awesome, tbh.)

7. I get a lot of Amazon gift codes from things like surveys, Crowdtap, Swagbucks, and so on, and I've been saving them up for a new camera for over a year now. I'm *finally* less than $20 away from being able to order my Nikon d3200! The temptation to just pay normal money for that last little bit is HUGE, but I came this far on gc's, might as well ride it out! Should be able to order it within a few days though - SQUEE!

8. Swagbucks added a new section on their survey page where you can earn points answering profile questions. Somehow, I was asked this:

Um, that's kind of a personal question, you guys. 

9. Thoughts at 4::35 am : Maybe I should give up car shopping and just spend like 12 hours a day entering sweepstakes online where the prize is a car instead. Seems like about equal chances of success at this point.

10. I handed out approximately fifty billion buttons during my time as a Disney concierge, so this delights me way more than it should:

"And they lived happily ever after."


What's up in your world this week?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Car Shopping? Google your VIN!

Once I finish this whole crazy car shopping shindig, I plan to share what I've learned, but I do have one BIG tip so far!


Nothing fancy, but well within my price range, low miles, and pretty cute other than that red stripe. In fact, the price was a good enough deal that I got suspicious, so I Googled the VIN and found the car's past life...



Yikes! The front was dented in, too, just not quite as much. 

A car's title can be listed as "salvage" for all kinds of reasons, from serious wrecks like this to hail damage that would just cost more to fix than the car is worth. In my experience so far, Googling the car's VIN (it will be listed on any car shopping site) will pull up all kinds of handy info, but I think this is a dramatic example of just HOW handy that info can be! 

Sorry, little Aveo. I don't mind a car with a shady past, but you've just had a little toooo much work done for me!

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

10 Things on Tuesday - Volume 33



1. I finally got the insurance check for my car! WOOHOO! I mean, I'm still without a way to get to the bank to deposit it, and the weather is totally disgusting so I won't be able to go look at cars until Saturday, but still. It's something!

2. So, let's discuss all of the feelings I have about this video:



I pulled this up on YouTube to use as a snarky reply on Twitter, but then I was kinda captivated since I don't remember the last time I saw it. Here are some random thoughts:

* How did I spend most of my life not realizing that this song is totally not about dancing?
* I want to spend the rest of this year wearing nothing but the fashions featured in this video.  (Especially that skirt.)
* By the end of the video, all poor Whitney can see of these men is the part she's interested in. Um,  their feet.
* Can I pull off the leopard scarf tied around my head look? Probably not?
* I really miss the 80s, when videos like this were a regular part of life.

3. Know what happens when you are both snowed in AND without a car for almost an entire month? A freaking ton of online shopping. I got some super cute stuff on clearance from Target, including this sweater that was less than $8...

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I also got this teal lace top for $11, but in person, the super shiny rhinestoney buttons look a little too "juniors section" for my 33yr old self. 


I also got this dress for $9.78 (marked down from $28!)


But the medium just plain will noooootttttt fit over my boobs, and the large is sold out. Sadness!

4. I have also been getting my ebay on, like whoa. I'm a pro at finding SUPER cheap stuff. 

 

Cat scarf: $1.25, heart scarf: 85 cents. Both with free shipping. Woohoo!

Also got this adorable wallet for 83 cents. I've been needing something to hold all of my gift cards so that I don't have to dig through everything, so this is perfect!

5. So, the How To Get Away With Murder finale.... AHHHH! I have so many questions! One thing that I'm wondering after watching it a 2nd time.. (SPOILER ALERT! LA LA LA LA.....) When Sam makes that phone call near the end... are we sure it was Frank on the other end? 'Cause timeline-wise, it looks like Frank was on the scene almost immediately after. Oooh, ahhhh. (That's my one good theory, let me be proud.)

6. Real talk: I have been out of antidepressants for like 3 weeks, and my brain has turned to mush as a result. (My doctor gave me a trial bottle at my last appointment so we could see how I did on something new for a couple of months. Worked well, but I have to go back to get an actual Rx, and I've been snowed in and car-less ever since I ran out!)

7. You probably already saw this on my Twitter, but I'm so in love with this 70s Vogue pattern I found on Pinterest:

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I like to pretend it's the cover of a romance novel.

8. My next Stitch Fix is scheduled to arrive on the 17th - woohoo! I've had pretty hit and miss luck, so if you have any Stitch Fix reviews on your blog, leave me some links so I can go pin stuff I like!!

9. I was kicking ass at doing daily yoga before my accident, but then I was super sore after, and everything I read online said to avoid yoga for at least a week or so after, so now it's been almost an entire month since I've done anything more than some gentle stretching. I soooooo need to get back into it. I know I'll feel 100x better, but getting started is THE WORST.

10. Current favorite gif. Can't believe I haven't posted this yet!!


Friday, February 27, 2015

Kitten Season Is Coming! #FoodShelterLove

This post is sponsored by Hill’s. I am being compensated for helping spread the word about Hill’s® Food, Shelter, & Love Program, but Straight On Till Morning only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. is not responsible for the content of this article.



Spring is on its way, which means warmer weather (thank goodness!) and... KITTENS! Yup, spring is definitely kitten season at animal shelters, which often go from average to overflowing in a matter of weeks! The sudden flood of kittens that comes around March not only means that shelters might need a hand fostering some kittens, but also that older cats up for adoption are way more likely to be overlooked in favor of the irresistible little furballs in the next cage!

Did you know that Hill's has a program called Hill's Food, Shelter & Love ™ that helps out shelter animals 365 days a year through donations of awesome high quality pet food? So far they've donated over $275 million wort of food to over 800 shelters across the country! How cool is that? We can all do something to help out, though - anything you can do to help your shelter during this super busy season will make a big difference!

How can you help out your local shelter during kitten season?

  • Consider fostering! If you're an animal lover but not ready to adopt right now, fostering kittens is a fantastic way to help out! You free up some space at the shelter for a few weeks, the mother cat and kittens get extra attention (which will make them friendlier and thus more adoptable!) and a quieter environment to keep the momma cat less stressed, and you get the fun of hanging out with cute kittens for a while! It's a win-win-win! Fostering is also a great time to get the kittens off to the  best possible start in life by providing them with high quality nutrition, like Hill's Science Diet Kitten Healthy Development Food! (Want to learn more about kitten nutrition? Hill's has a great article here!)



  • Volunteer at your local shelter! Most animal shelters can always use an extra hand with caring for the animals, including things like playing with kittens to get them used to being around people. (Tough job, someone's gotta do it!) I spent some time volunteering at a nearby shelter taking photos of the cats up for adoption so that they could be posted online. It was a lot of fun, since I got to hang out with some awesome cats and make notes about their personalities to give those searching online for a new feline friend a better idea of what they were like!
  • Short on time? Shelters definitely appreciate donations of supplies, especially during kitten season! Beyond obvious things like food and litter, they can also use things like your old, clean blankets and towels to provide the kitties with a cozy place to snuggle up! 

I can't believe that it's already been over six years since I found Jasper at an event a shelter was having at the pet store I stopped at one day with no intention of leaving with a kitten! I will never forget how when I took him aside to play and get to know each other, and I pulled a pen out of my purse to wiggle around for him to play with since I forgot to grab a toy, he pounced on it like a boss, but then when I commented "Oh, you're so fierce! Grrrr!", the growly noise scared him and he ran to try to hide! How could I not fall in love instantly? We've been best buds ever since! (He's asleep at my feet as I'm writing this!)


It's hard to believe he was ever so little!


He got better at that whole "hunting" thing eventually.



Still BFF's all these years later! (And yes, he likes to wear a coat sometimes in the winter. He can't help being super stylish.)

Have you ever adopted a pet from a shelter, fostered shelter pets, or volunteered? I'd love to hear your stories!